Colin Trevorrow's epic Jurassic World pits corporate interests against genetically modified killosaurs
Unfortunately for Jurassic World, scepticism is a necessary part of its viewing. Mostly, this trepidation isn’t Jurassic World’s fault, as it takes its place at the end of a long line of reptilian missteps since Steven Spielberg first amped up his patented brand of wonder and awe with 1993’s Jurassic Park. While Spielberg and Michael Crichton’s vision of high spectacle science fiction was an immense accomplishment, its two sequel successors are widely considered to have slipped in the gene pool, and failed to re-capture (or expand upon) the myth laid down in the original blueprint.
This considered, Jurassic World had quite the footprints to fill, and while initial news about the film seemed to point in a positive direction – indie sci-fi director Colin Trevorrow taking the helm, hilarious flavour of the month Chris Pratt in the lead – the actual act of watching Jurassic World turns out to be one of the more distressing of 2015.
Jurassic World isn’t distressing because of its visual effects, thrilling action or altruistic drama (or, rather, lack thereof); it’s mostly astonishing because of what it says about our culture, our collective expectations and desires. Jurassic World is like a mirror held up in front of us that shows no reflection.
Taking place 22 years after the incident depicted in the original Jurassic Park, Jurassic World takes the fossils of that original park and updates it for the 21st century. A contemporary theme park based around gyroscope tours, educational holographs and intense corporate tie-ins, Jurassic World is a modernised version of Dr. Hammond’s original vision sculpted in the corporate image of its new CEO Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) and coordinated by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard). Their dynamic echoes the relationship of John Hammond and Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park, with Dearing maintaining a managerial role of control and authority that has trouble moulding with Masrani’s devil-may-care glee and spontaneity. It’s just one of the loose threads that ties together Jurassic World’s slippery worldview.
Another thread revolves around Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), a trainer on the island whose specialty is velociraptors, having trained them to respond to his commands. His relationship with Dearing is based on a conflict between his respect for the animalistic and unpredictable nature of these creatures and her penchant for viewing them purely as dollar drivers. Which is why Dearing (in conjunction with Masrani) has developed a new attraction for the park: a genetically altered hybrid dinosaur called the Indominus Rex that will hopefully increase the volume of visitors to Jurassic World. Tangled up in this moral mess are Dearing’s young nephews, Zach and Gray Mitchell (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), who have visited the park for the weekend and been handed over to Dearing’s assistant for the duration of their stay while she attends to work responsibilities.
Oh, and how could I forget Vincent D’Onofrio’s Vic Hoskins, Jurassic World’s head of security and generic “military-industrial complex man”, who seeks to use to raptors for military purposes and gain. A good actor here exploited as a plot device is one of Jurassic World’s minor crimes, but one worth mentioning nonetheless. His is a villain as thin as paper, a broad slate that the film can cast its tired and unconvincing ethics upon. No matter how much Chris Pratt scowls at Hoskins’ brutish militaristic demands, Jurassic World never convinces us that it truly disagrees with such a practice, nor does it convince us that it actually respects the natural order for which Owen Grady so nobly fights.
For one, Jurassic World never excuses itself from applying a militaristic visual style for emotional effect; particularly during the penultimate raptor sequence that feels more like Zero Dark Thirty than it does Jurassic Park. Contemporary military photography is ingrained deep in our collective psyche and to use it for such frivolous means always feels exploitative, and this is no exception. However, where the film mostly fails to uphold its apparent respect for all creatures is in its final sequence where Indominus Rex is defeated by a handful of the park’s other biological attractions.
What results is nothing more than a cock fight, a display of dinosaur violence that plays out for pleasure and is actually fairly sickening to watch, even if they are only ones and zeros. It’s very far removed from the original Jurassic Park in this regard. At least Spielberg seemed to actually care for the dinosaurs, with his dino-battles playing out as a lamentable but necessary by-product of the natural order, not just toys that we can gleefully bash against one another.
This sequence also highlights Jurassic World’s single major crime, and that is its insistence on revisiting the original Jurassic Park, its constant need to take audiences back to that moment in order to spatially suspend them and also guarantee their approval. Not only is the story structure, characters, park and situations similar, but at one point the characters literally visit the old Jurassic Park building, as Treverrow’s camera, the performances and the music all wistfully suspend the audience in a wave of nostalgia that is far from subtle. It’s an old trick that Hollywood has been playing for years now, but in Jurassic World the tactics are so painfully upfront that the end result is nauseating.
Some have suggested that Jurassic World and its makers are aware of this phenomenon, and that there is a level of subversion going on beneath the glow of 1993 vintage nostalgia. The fact that the characters acknowledge the effects of corporatism and commercialism in the film’s first few sequences, and the very existence and need for of Indominus Rex as a “bigger, more scarier” attraction (as compared to, say, a Tyrannosaurus Rex) is apparently enough to suggest that Jurassic World knows that it inevitably strives for the same success and thus excuses it from adhering to the very principles it “condemns”. As Dearing emerges from her Mercedes Benz with a Starbucks coffee in hand, her discussion of the requirement of needing “something to reinvigorate the public’s interest” is barely humorous and reeks of desperation rather than pointed social commentary.
Jurassic World’s attempts to lambast the culture of Hollywood filmmaking and its adherence to marketing, audience satisfaction and nostalgia fracking are indicative of the substitution of actual social and psychological investigation for eye-rolling and nose-tapping that has become deeply embedded in contemporary culture. There is no subversion without a payoff. To simply mention the hypocrisies of the system is not enough, especially when the majority of Jurassic World sits firmly in the wheelhouse of lazy, exploitative Hollywood practices.
Jurassic World might ironically mention these things about corporatism, commercialism, audience satisfaction and desire, but it drops these notions in the blink of an Indominus Rex’s eye. These sentiments are a distraction, an attempt to get you on board with the immense amount of nostalgia pandering, corporate tie-ins and clichés that inevitably follow. Jurassic World, like its parent company NBCUniversal and its parent company Comcast Corporation, is, quite obviously, all about the bottom line.