Those of a certain age will remember the spectacle of seeing Jurassic Park on the big screen in 1993. The hype, the anticipation, and ultimately the payoff: the moment when the skeptics and scientists first look out over the park and see a field full of living, breathing dinosaurs. It was honestly awe-inspiring. It may seem silly today, but like those first visitors to the fictional Jurassic Park, real-world audiences were seeing something that they had never seen before.
The deployment of visual effects in Jurassic Park—not just the game-changing CGI but also its seamless blending with more traditional animatronics and live actors—was revolutionary. Think about the simplistic dinosaur effects that had come before: the prehistoric creatures of King Kong (1933), One Million Years B.C. (1940), Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959), The Lost World (1960), The Land that Time Forgot (1975), Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend (1985), TV’s Land of the Lost (1974-77)…or even the pseudo-dinosaur men-in-suit approach of Godzilla (1954) and his descendants. Nothing that came before could prepare audiences for what they would see in Jurassic Park.
For the first time ever, the bones in the museum grew flesh and moved. The lost creatures that had fueled our imaginations since childhood were there, in front of us, interacting with real people. All of a sudden, cinematic dinosaurs seemed real.
When Sir Richard Attenborough’s John Hammond intoned his breathless “Welcome to Jurassic Park”, it marked a new era in film.
Twenty-two years and hundreds upon hundreds of CGI dinosaurs later, Jurassic World suggests that the new era has become passe’.
Apparently, twelve years after the disaster of the original film (and ignoring the existence of its two sequels), the dinosaur park finally opened as Jurassic World on the infamous Isla Nubar, and it has become an international sensation. We join the action ten years on, at a time when Jurassic World’s brain trust has decided that the only way to protect its market share (from what is never really clear) is to introduce new attractions: in this case, an ill-conceived genetic mishmash dubbed Indominus Rex that is bigger, badder, and more terrifying than any dinosaur that Mother Nature could come up with on her own.
Believe it or not, Indominus gets loose, and hijinks ensue.
Are there kids and scientists and heroes and villains? Sure. Are there plot twists and third act surprises? Sort of. Does any of it matter? Not really.
This is a movie about dinosaurs, dinosaurs, and more dinosaurs. Everything else is a distraction.
The whole bigger-badder-more-terrifying thing has been much remarked upon since the release of Jurassic World, primarily because the movie is so self-conscious about it. When Bryce Dallas Howard, as the park’s operations manager, explains to a group of investors that “just” dinosaurs isn’t enough anymore—focus groups have told them that consumers expect something bigger and more exciting—the scene might as well have cut away to a flashing neon sign saying “WE’RE TALKING ABOUT THE MOVIE BUSINESS!” Then again, one shouldn’t expect subtly from a movie about a genetically-engineered sociopathic dinosaur.
The shame of it, though, is that the filmmakers actually got the theme wrong. It’s not that audiences are demanding “bigger, faster, louder, better,” as Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow suggested in one interview. It’s that Hollywood has found that “bigger, faster, louder, better” is simply easier to make than “original, interesting, challenging, smart”. It’s an industry that thinks a $20 million movie is more of a risk than a $200 million movie, because at least with the latter they have a formula to follow: formulaic scripts, formulaic characters, formulaic effects, and formulaic marketing. So, in a sense, perhaps it is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If everything is a formula, then really the only way to stand out from the crowd IS “bigger, faster, louder”.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean better.
The original Jurassic Park carved out its place in film history because of the “wow” factor and its industry-changing visual effects. But that’s not what made it an effective movie that stands up to multiple viewings. Jurassic Park is a taut, suspenseful thriller with strong characters, terrific acting, and a world-class director at the top of his game. That film’s climactic kitchen scene—the velociraptors stalking the kids in the theme park’s pantry—remains one of the great suspense scenes ever put to film. The movie still holds up terrifically today, 22 years later.
Jurassic World will not have that kind of shelf life.
Trevorrow, himself—who had exactly one feature film credit to his name prior to Jurassic World—got his start by way of “original, interesting, challenging, smart”. His feature debut, Safety Not Guaranteed, is a little film about a trio of magazine employees who pursue a story about a guy who places a classified ad seeking a companion for time travel. If Jurassic World is a gargantuan T-Rex, then Safety Not Guaranteed is a tiny little baby pigeon, but it is absolutely terrific. Somewhere along the way from tiny to titanic, though, Trevorrow lost his way. (That is, if Jurassic World’s $524 million opening weekend can be considered losing his way. Safety Not Guarantee, by contrast, grossed just under $100,000 its first weekend.)
None of this is to suggest that Jurassic World is a film without merit.
The early scenes, especially, chronicling a day-in-the-life of a dinosaur theme park, are legitimately inspired. From the crowds pouring through the gates to the wonder in the eyes of the kids seeing their first dinosaurs, you really get a sense of what a theme park like this would actually be like. And it’s awesome. You may not even realize anything is different when you see the IMAX theater, the food franchises (Margaritaville, anyone? Ben & Jerry’s?), and gift shops. Pretty standard stuff. But then you take your kids to the Gentle Giants Petting Zoo and saddle up for a ride on a triceratops. You take a self-guided kayak trip down dinosaur dwelling river ways. And you settle in for a riveting Sea World –esque water show (didn’t these guys see Blackfish?) on steroids…climaxing with a gigantic, 60’ long Mosasaurus leaping out of the water to munch a shark hanging from a steal hook. Eat your heart out, Shamu! Jurassic World’s Jurassic World is truly a sight to behold, full of spectacle and clever imagination. (Check out the park’s fully fleshed out Website at www.jurassicworld.com.)
Considering the fact that there have been interminable lines forming outside Disney’s It’s a Small World ride since it first debuted at the 1964 World’s Fair, somehow it seems unbelievable that Jurassic World patrons have already grown “bored” after just ten years.
The again, one patron, at least, grew bored with Jurassic World in less than two hours.
But maybe that’s just me.