This weekend was a hectic one, of sorts.
Meaning there was plenty of napping, retro-editing posts, introspection, watching the NBA Finals via Twitter, and helping the team here at REELYDOPE (ReelyDope, reelydope, etc. we accept all currencies here at Sal’s Pizza Place) stay awesome.
All that out of the way, I wasn’t in the mood to go any damn where. Or do any damn thing that didn’t involve my couch.
However, after realizing my fresh oxygen supply was running out, I texted a friend and moseyed into Grand Lake Theater to catch Jurassic World. In order to understand this film, I think we need to set a few markers/bring up several important notes:
- Jurassic Park came out in 1993. 1993. Gotdammit, I might be getting old.
- We’re not really here for character development, we’re here for dinos. Big dinos. Little dinos. Dinos with hats. Dinos with cats. Dinos in socks. Dinos in a box.
- All the dinos.
Okay, remember these things. Because they’re important.
Anyway, the plot, for those of you who haven’t seen the trailers: Brothers Gray (why this boy named “Gray”? Why lord?) and Zach are shipped off to Jurassic World to hang with their Aunt Claire, while their parents do divorce proceedings. On Christmas.
Claire is your average serving of Cold Woman™, too focused on her job to worry about petty human things like romance or her nephew’s names. Things however take a turn for the worst when Claire’s newest project, Monsanto Indominos Rex, outsmarts the system and gets loose, Baja Men style. Lovable Manly-Man and Raptor Trainer (I so wanna put this on my resume) Owen is called in to help settle things. Dinofuckery ensues. (Not that kind. Get your mind out of the 50 cent section of Amazon Books.)
So here’s the thing. This film feels like…a shadow of the JP franchise’s former self. The classic setup is there. The archetypes are there. The dinosaurs are there. But something about these parts, together, makes for a sum that feels…hollow. It wants to revitalize the franchise and inspire terror and awe. But I found myself checking my watch more and more as the film passed through the halfway mark. This grasping for the legacy of JP, the spectacle and magic of that seminal film, gets ever more desperate as the film progresses.
Now, before you say “dap, stop being a crickety old git. you saw the film, and cared enough to write about it. give it a break,” let me be clear: I’m writing this because I do care. But also because you should know why this film made ungodly amounts of money (so far) and is still subpar, in relation to the rest of the franchise.
Looking critically, the JP series is essentially King Kong if they never brought the King of Apes back stateside. The unique pull of JP and its siblings was that it was a Contained Disaster Film; the dinosaurs were the threat, and the terror came from limited resources and remote locations. It’s a great idea….the first two times around. Jurassic World is the 4th installment in this series. It’s equivalent to your boy trying to set you up for a DEEZ NUTS! joke, four times in a row.
Despite this, the film is making a killing because it’s targeting a captive and persuasive market: kids and nostalgic adults (there is little difference. I can attest to this). For children born well after 1993, JW is their JP. There hasn’t been a dinosaur film of JP’s ilk since….JP 3. Thus, they’re caught up in the hype the same way we were when we saw it back in the day.
Which, brings us to the second part of that market: me and you, your mama and ya cousin too. JW had just enough in the trailers to reel us back in. From the promise of a SHINY NEW DINOSAUR to Chris Pratt essentially auditioning for every adventure film ever. The film itself plays on the idea of nostalgia at multiple points, teasing us, letting us know “Hey it’s not JP, cuz it’s 2015. But remember the good ‘ole days when all you needed was an animatronic T-Rex, some great soundtracks, and Jeff Goldblum?”
Thus, we all got okie-doked.
Now, going back to this idea of Contained Disaster Films. The problem with JW is that we’ve seen this story three times over already. There’s only so many times you can say “we’re going back to the island!” before the audience questions the intelligence of the narrative world. JW does it’s best to explain this away, citing millionaires and something about greed, and genetic research, and military applications? But it all gets very hokey and feels like filler for the next time you see Indominus Rex, the first dino in the franchise’s history to actually just be a sociopath.
There’s something…unsettling about that concept; of dino as murderer, and not dino as uncontrollable force of nature. While yes, it posits questions about the motives of research (which, spoiler: never trust the scientists, or the paramilitary), it also ventures into a new narrative world that I don’t think the film built out well enough.
In the franchise so far, the dinos were like lions in the zoo. They were pretty, majestic, lethal, but always a force of nature. Despite their unnatural birthing, they always ended up reverting to some natural way of being, however obtuse. The killings then, were always a situation of peril and not of morality. We wanted to see characters escape or kill the dinos for survival. Yes, there’s banter about the implications of how and why these animals came to be. But it was always in tandem with the peril, or an ominous setup for said action.
With the introduction of Indominus Rex however, there is this adversarial tension built where the big-bad dino is treated as a murderer, a killer with no conscience. This distinction re-shapes the moments of peril on a moralistic axis; every attack is a possible horrific murder. Not just a killing. JW then becomes a sad play at a ecological-horror film than a spectacular adventure with ecological subtext, a la JP and The Lost World (they’re the two I remember the most. I don’t think I ever saw JP3 in its entirety.)
This is even more true when you take the misshapen tone of the film. JW tries to be endearing, but falls flat because it often fails to either:
- Establish enough pathos that we actually care about what happens to Zach and Gray, et al.
- Situate emotive, romantic, or effective comedic pauses that sync well with or play off of the perils presented.
In fact, concerning that latter point, the majority of good comedic moments are actually in the control room with Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkis. Kudos to them because they often hit the comedic tones that Goldblum endeared us with, back when dial-up was a thing.
Inversely, the romantic “subplot” between Manly-Man and Cold Woman is so forced that it’s damn near laughable. It’s so telegraphed and so unbelievable, past a certain point. (Listen, shorty was not running around in the jungle with 4-inch pumps and surviving. I’m calling bullshit.)
Instead of exhausting my character limits here, I’ll just throw in some final thoughts:
- Claire scores about a 10 on the “Chauvinist’s Bad Woman” Richter Scale. And the film doesn’t let you forget it.
- Take all the fun out of Guardians of the Galaxy’s Star Lord, add smoldering looks, dirty clothes, and a rugged mustache, and you have Owen. Bet we’ll see him again in an Indiana Jones reboot.
- Fuck Zach and Gray’s parents for sending them to a an island deathtrap for a week with an aunt who barely knows them, while they get divorced. On Christmas.
- I loved Irrfan Khan in Life of Pi. But for the life of me, I couldn’t understand half the shit he was saying when he was in the helicopter. Maybe my ears are going bad.
- -15 points for “Menacing Asian Scientist with Badly Specified Evil Science Goals.”
- I’m not taking credit for this; a good friend said: “Dino Ex Machina.”
The film reminds me of The Prestige. Jurassic World is Hugh Jackman, scrounging, killing, and cutting corners to find the secrets of Jurassic Park’s Christian Bale. Ultimately, JW has all the moves down, all the special effects. But it misses the magic in the simplicity of wonder, adventure, and craftmanship of Jurassic Park that made us suspend belief.
So unless you have kids, or just can’t not see this film, save your money and re-watch Jurassic Park and The Lost World.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. @dapisdope