I’ll get this part out of the way: I, with crossed-arm, reluctant concession, actually enjoyed Jurassic World. But that’s not what this is about.
For my generation, very few movies—outside of maybe a string of Disney’s animated classics—were as impactful as Jurassic Park. Picture it: America, 1993. I was nine years old, in the front row of a packed-to-capacity theater with my dad; my big brother had to find a lone open seat down the row. The collective anticipation was telepathically felt throughout the room. There were no words for it in the moment, the excitement, the looks on all the faces… We were going to experience this together. This event. As the lights faded down, the silence that befell the room marked a shared prescience that we would be forever changed in the next two hours.
Because now I’m 30 years old, beer-bellied, tired, stubbornly and persistently reminiscent of the good ol’ days. See, Jurassic World is fun and all, but it ain’t no Jurassic Park. It couldn’t be. But the filmmakers can’t and shouldn’t necessarily be faulted for their movie’s…well, faults. Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, in all its glory as a gift of pure artistry, gave us something we had never experienced before. By way of unfamiliar but plausible science, a group of humans—who we have grown to care about—are forced to bear the horrors of surviving (or not) among the uncaged monsters of our planet’s past. It was terrifying and amazing, and brilliantly executed. And so it became the film against which no other “like it” could measure up.
It gave our eyes a taste for blood. This would turn the franchise effectively into a circus, callously shepherding death and destruction into the ring, for only our momentary gratification. It’s our “more more more”, Veruca Salt-y attitudes that ruined the series. It wasn’t enough to see a T-Rex anymore, we had to see her rampage through Californian suburbia (The Lost World). But then she was old news, we wanted the bigger, badder Spinosaurus (JP3). We wanted our characters to be nameless nobodies so we could have more deaths, more screams, more blood. The series came to rely on spectacle to satisfy our voraciousness.
We got shit because we were asking for shit. So I was not at all excited for this new entry. For “more teeth.”
But all its issues aside, Jurassic World slaps us in the face with and for our insatiability. Our jadedness to dinosaurs is mocked by onscreen hero Owen (Chris Pratt, thankfully not Chris Pratt-ing up the role). Owen, via deep Crocodile Dundee staring and respectfully open hand, is a velociraptor trainer, by definition making him as brave as a post-op transgender’s doing a bikini contest to Diana Ross’ “I’m Coming Out.” But slow your roll, America, Owen is a former Navyman, so we can allow such bravery. He shames park-runner Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard with a hair-do indicative of the stick up her character’s ass) for allowing the lab-creation of what becomes the film’s loosed monster, Indominus Rex. It’s no dinosaur, but an amalgam of dino- and mystery-DNA, the mysteries being explained later in some of the movie’s more excuse-feeling writing. Indominus Rex was made because the park (read: the movie franchise) needs a newer, bigger, more spectacular attraction to draw more now-unimpressed-by-dinosaurs crowds (read: us, the audience). Even more, in usual Hollywood mentally-lethargic fashion, there’s some military talk of the literal weaponization of cloned, carnivorous dinosaurs, giving us some dislikables that we want to see eaten.
It’s the movie’s self-awareness, self-referential mirrors, and societal commentary that let me enjoy the very aspects I had dreaded since first seeing the trailer. In the theater, behind my IMAX 3D shades, I thought, Ohhh, they actually GET it. The filmmakers were fighting fire with fire. It was the moviegoing equivalent of a lesson-teaching parent forcing a smoking teen to smoke the whole pack.
It isn’t without its questionable points, of course. I wanted an explanation for feeding endangered sharks to a tylosaurus several times a day. I wanted some expressed understanding that “herbivore” and “friend” are not synonymous; just because a stegosaur doesn’t eat meat doesn’t mean it would be safe to be kayaking two feet away from one. A gyrosphere might be made of fortified material, but a theme park probably shouldn’t let a teenager freely drive one through a field of brontosaurs. And I don’t care if you restored your grandpa’s Malibu one summer, you are not driving out of an abandoned building in a gas-powered Jeep that has sat in the overgrowth for 20 years. There are a couple “c’mon gimme a break”-inducing instances involving pteranodons. And then there is the one character death that has left me with an almost agonizing uneasiness, not because she was a main character but because she wasn’t. Her death, much talked-about now on the internet, is a moment of such indignity it is just really, really sad.
And yes, Claire flees a Tyrannosaurus Rex in high heels. Her, not the dinosaur. This isn’t a misstep or an oversight, since it’s a slo-mo moment accompanied by the echoes of her heels clocking down on the pavement. Many people have scoffed at the preposterousness, but, the sequence where this happens is my second favorite part of the entire film, because it is when “more teeth” changes, from the motto of greedy practice that has ruined the park and the movie franchise, into its own saving grace and its biggest homage to the original Jurassic Park.
My #1 favorite part? The guy who grabs two margaritas to run for cover from dive-bombing pteranodons. It wasn’t until later that I discovered it’s actually Jimmy Buffett.