The original Jurassic Park, 22 years later, is now an official cinema classic. Not only is it a superior thriller with lots of great action sequences and special effects the revolutionized the summer blockbuster, it contains a lot of unexpected commentary about the folly of man and what happens when they try to play God.
Jurassic Park was mostly built around character arcs. It was not a film about a T Rex eating people. It was about John Hammond watching his lifelong dreams turn to dust. I’ve made jokes about how incompetent inGen is not to perform background checks against a guy heavily in debt with access to their system, but that’s part of the point. inGen didn’t know what it was doing and innocent people paid the price.
It’s also about Dr. Alan Grant realizing just how foolish it is to be stuck in the past. He was obsessed with his fossils and discovering what these animals were like. It was to the exclusion of all else, to the point where he was unable to really relate to Dr. Sattler, hated children, and unable to use the technology that was revolutionizing his field. Once he found out that dinosaurs were alive again, he began to explore more options and was finally able to realize that the living people around him were the most important things in life.
That’s why the film works – because the characters actually have arcs. “Well, obviously,” you’re saying. “All great stories do.”
Someone should have told that to the creators of Jurassic World.
Absolutely none of the characters undergo any sort of change based on what they experience. They are convinced that either they were entirely right or the dinosaur attacks were not their fault. They have no new bond with anyone else and no new insight into the world around them.
The creators do try to introduce concepts that may be used to help characters develop, but even then nothing is ever done correctly. If I were to ask you how a Jurassic Park sequel would open, you would probably guess there would be some little teaser about a civilian seeing a dinosaur or being attacked by one. Jurassic World opens with a Christmas song playing as two kids prepare to go on vacation. The kids – who are so memorable and noteworthy that I’ve completely forgotten their names – are the nephews of Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who are going to Jurassic World. Claire is a workaholic inGen executive at the park who meets with investors so the facilities can open (I swear this is true) a Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritaville restaurant along main thoroughfare of the park. The whole point is that Claire would discover that work is not everything in the world and would bond with the two kids and discover her love of family. This doesn’t work because a) the first Jurassic Park already explored that theme and b) it’s the same problem with Aliens in the fact that it suggests women are only fulfilling their roles in society when they bond with children. Claire seems like she has a great career to me and nothing that happens in the film actually is her fault. Besides, she never actually does bond with those kids in any meaningful way. The most we get is a scene of her taking off her business suit top to venture into the jungle to save them, but still runs around in heels during the entire movie.
How does the other big star, Chris Pratt, fit into the film? He plays a game warden named Owen who seems to have discovered a way to train the velociraptors to obey commands. He also is tasked with using his training technique on a new species of dinosaur, which inGen created in order to help boost visitor interest in the park – some sort of cross between a T Rex and several lizard species. Of course the specimen escapes and wrecks havoc, killing many park staff members and trapping those aforementioned children in the jungle after they don’t follow the specified tour route. Owen and Claire do team up to go find the kids, but that’s not really any sort of great character change on his part. How does he feel about the dinosaurs being alive and his employer for thinking they can control them? I honestly don’t know. He has many one liners about how what they’re doing is wrong, but I’m never convinced Owen actually feels that way. Mostly he exists so that the film can show Chris Pratt in a leather vest carrying a Winchester rifle around. He certainly doesn’t undergo any deep revelations about the park or humanity playing God.
So what we’re left with is a movie that’s mostly about the attractions at a theme park turning a dream vacation into a nightmare. It’s a sound idea – showing Jurassic Park as a fully functional amusement park with all of the state of the art technology to give the 20,000 visitors to the island a once in a lifetime experience that quickly turns into a nightmare could lead to all sorts of wonderful moments. But it never does. By the time we get to the second act, the film almost becomes a parody of itself, with elaborate death sequences that undermine the tragedy of what’s happening and bad action one liners. While watch the pterodactyls attack park guests, I kept thinking about how much overtime the inGen lawyers would have to put in to settle the lawsuits. That’s not a good a sign.
Even the references to the original Park fall flat Mr. DNA, the animated character from the original who famously pronounced the name “dinosaurs” as “dihno-sahrers” does make a brief appearance in one of the exhibits and there is a bronze statue of John Hammond shown in the main visitors’ center of the new park. Dr. Henry Wu shows up again to give the lecture about how it’s wrong to turn nature into a commodity. (He goes on at length about how splicing DNA can lead to unexpected mutations – even though he was completely ignorant about this fact in the first film.) And inGen’s lack of corporate morality is still a plot point. Vincent D’onofrio plays a man named Hoskins who is convinced the raptors could be used as weapons for the military. But this never leads to anything worthwhile (unless you count raptors going on a “hunt” in the jungle) and just demonstrates inGen shares a board of directors with Weyland Yutani.
By the time the film ended, I was not sure what I had experienced. The pacing was very unusual and I could not think of a great sequence that stuck out for me. Still, the film is not aggressively bad. The special effects are decent – there’s a fairly good scene with Owen comforting a dying Apatosaurus that is filmed with an animatronic figure. And I did like the product placement at the park. I talked about Margaritaville showing up – and it’s played as a deliberate joke that reflects the overpriced themed restaurants at any number of amusement parks. I also liked the Sea World – esque sequence in which a shark is fed to a giant aquatic dinosaur. But these sequences were too small and don’t compare to, say, the T Rex attack or the first scene where we see an apatosaurus in the original film.
It really looks as though the artistic success of the first Jurassic Park will never be replicated. It is a much better film than Jurassic Park III, but that’s not saying much. World feels like a missed opportunity. It is a sequel content to hit the same notes as the original film and didn’t seem to care about its characters. The film could have been worse, but I wanted more. I know many are probably excited to watch it, but if you want me advice, just rewatch Park and know that filmmakers still don’t understand what makes that one good.