Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Jurassic World

3.5 Stars

Steven Spielberg invented the modern blockbuster in 1975 with the film Jaws. He may have invented the post-modern blockbuster in 1993 with Jurassic Park.

There is a scene in Jurassic Park where the camera lingers over merchandise ostensibly from the gift shop of the theme park that gives the movie its name.  Of course, the merchandise on the screen was the very same merchandise available for purchase in the store next to the theater. The line between film and merchandise was blurred. Jurassic World, the third and best sequel to Jurassic Park, seems inspired by this scene more than any other in Jurassic Park.

The plot centers on a new park, Jurassic World, now open and serving twenty thousand visitors a day on the same island where the ill-fated Jurassic Park has been reclaimed by the jungle. Faced with flagging attendance, the InGen scientists concoct a new – never before seen dinosaur. It will be larger, scarier, and it will have more teeth. It will be called the Indominus Rex, and surely, no one will be bored.

The dialogue surrounding this creature seems like it came from a Hollywood production meeting. "Make the dinosaur bigger and scarier." "It should have more teeth." "We need a name that is easier to say." "Nobody cares about authenticity except hipsters." Honestly, I think the script of Jurassic World is just verbatim notes the writer/director got after the pitch meeting (no wonder Hollywood producers gave it the green light, huh?).  And there is something truly fascinating about watching a big budget action picture show you how the sausage is made, but in doing so, the movie commits an error that prevents it from being the sterling picture that the original Jurassic Park was. It forgets that dinosaurs are awesome. All the other Jurassic Park films feature characters truly awed by dinosaurs. Jurassic World features characters referring to them as "assets", or inserting themselves as the alpha in the social order of the raptors. They’ve lost the since of wonder and majesty that made the original film what it was. That doesn’t make Jurassic World bad, but it doesn’t play the same notes as its predecessor. The film even features a character who makes this very point.

The performances are good, but they are unlike the performances in the original Jurassic Park. Where Richard Attenborough, Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, and even Wayne Knight disappeared into their roles, one never quite loses the movie star luster that has attached itself to their modern counterparts, Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and even Judy Greer in a small roll.
I can recommend the film by saying this: Jurassic World is a pretty good film, but it doesn’t provide the experience of Jurassic Park.

I am tempted to end my review of Jurassic World there, except that I feel the need to defend it against the feminist backlash that the movie has received. Most of this backlash has been centered on the fact that Judy Greer’s and Chris Pratt’s characters criticize Bryce Dallas Howard’s character for not wanting to have children. This is actually not an accurate statement. Judy Greer’s character does criticize Bryce Dallas Howard’s character for not wanting children (at least implicitly). Chris Pratt’s character criticizes Ms. Howard’s character for showing no interest in the family she does have until they are nearly eaten by dinosaurs. That criticism is a very good and worthy critique of Ms. Howard’s character. One of the lessons that Ms. Howard’s character learns as the film progresses is the importance of family. In this way, she is like a certain male paleontologist from the original Jurassic Park. Dr. Grant didn’t like children, and his love interest forced him to interact with two children during a visit to a dinosaur park. As the adventure progressed, it awakened surprisingly paternal instincts in Dr. Grant. Ms. Howard’s character has a similar (if less well developed) arc. If feminism is about the equal treatment of women and men, then this is a feminist movie. Jurassic World puts Bryce Dallas Howard in Sam Niell’s shoes. Well, not precisely. She wears high heels for the entire movie, meaning that she does everything Sam Niell did backwards and in heels.

What Jurassic Park had in the feminism column that Jurassic World lacks is girl power dialogue. There are two examples in Jurassic Park that spring immediately to mind. The first occurs when Ellie interrupts Malcom’s ruminations on the consequences of bringing dinosaurs back from extinction. Ellie chimes in, “Woman inherits the Earth” because all the dinosaurs are female. This line prompts uncomfortable looks from Drs. Grant and Malcolm. Then later in the film when Hammond points out that he should go turn on the power instead of Ellie, Ellie retorts that they “can discuss sexism in survival situations when she gets back.” Basically, Jurassic Park wore its “feminism” like a chip on its shoulder. Jurassic World is much more comfortable with its female hero. When the dinosaurs attack Chris Pratt, she bats the dinosaur away with a gun, turns the gun around and fires two shots into the dino’s face. Christ Pratt gets up and kisses her in a reversal of the classic damsel in distress story beat. Jurassic World doesn’t need to have Bryce Dallas Howard tell us to hear her roar. It trusts us to hear it for ourselves. I guess those criticizing the Jurassic World's gender politics heard something different than I did.

Luckily, they can address this controversy through veiled dialogue in Jurassic Solar System in 2018. I've got it. They could name the next dinosaur they cook up in the lab Feminist Rex.

From Out in the Void,


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