Tony Fyler talks Parklife.
For a movie about theme parks and gene-splicing, the balance in Jurassic World is really the crucial issue – the DNA of Jurassic Park certainly runs in thick twirling strands through the fabric of this movie, to the extent that in some places, and even some scenes, you might possibly forget which movie you’re watching. But which wins out: the genius storytelling of scientific and corporate hubris, or the popcorn of the theme-park disaster movie and the screen full of incredible, CGI wonders? Where’s the soul of Jurassic World pitched?
We all know the basic premise – dino theme park, safe as safe as can be…till it isn’t, and the dinos break free and start eating the visitors, with a side order of nefarious trading as a sub-plot.
As far as that goes, little has changed in 22 years – it’s all present and if not exactly correct, then good solid popcorn-fodder. The dinosaurs are ridiculously believable – in fact in several cases, the dinosaurs are more believable than the humans, acting them off the screen. That should probably be a clue as to the movie’s strengths – and its weaknesses.
As well as being great popcorn-fodder, the Jurassic Park movies were always a lesson in scientific hubris and morality – man, acting in the role of the god he creates for himself, creating nature without understanding it. That gets a 21st century twist in Jurassic World, with a realistic shot of corporate douchebaggery and military-industrial complex evilness running through its post-Iraq, post-Afghanistan veins. The hero here, played with hard-pecced, pointy-nippled Hot-Guys R Us machismo by Chris Pratt takes the concerns of two of the original Jurassic team – Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm and Sam Neil’s Alan Grant, and blends them with some conventionally hot-guy Navy goodness, acting as the budget-store voice of ‘Seriously, you did what-now? Cos that’s an insane thing to do, now we’re all gonna die.’ Plus, he can kind of communicate with raptors, which is a happy skillset to have on the day the dinos go kickass.
In the original movie of course, there was a degree of empathy for the dinosaurs – created to be sterile and drug-dependent, robbed of their capacity to mate by their creators, and kept as zoo animals. Here, the empathy is muted slightly by the nature of the Big Bad, but still, there’s a touch of Frankenstein’s Dinosaur about the central predicament – the Indomitus Rex has been custom-built to be bigger than the T-Rex, with more teeth, enhanced ferocity, and even greater ‘cruelty’. Built from a genetic multipack, simply to provide a bigger, scarier thrill and therefore a bigger return on investment for the corporate investors. It’s a point cogently made by the movie’s token grumpy slob, when he says ‘Why not just name them the Pepsiplodocus and the Samsungosaurus?’ – if the original movie was about the hubris of thinking you can scientifically create life without understanding how an entire ecosystem behaves and what your place in it will be, the new version is about the fact that if you let corporate douchebags control your destiny, they will create something that’ll come and kill you. It’s a more complex lesson, and it might sink deeper into the minds of audiences in a world where corporations are granted the rights of human beings, but where they also get to decide who goes to war with whom, who gets elected, what children are taught in classrooms, and what they’re fed as a ‘nutritious lunch’ in schools. Although, given that it’s an anti-corporate message delivered in a Hollywood movie, probably through the screens at a chain multiplex where you can upgrade your soft drink so it comes in a special Jurassic World cup for just an extra couple of clams, maybe the lesson is already lost by the time it reaches you.
The obligatory kids who are particularly imperiled in this movie are a pair of brothers whose parents are probably divorcing, and there’s less in the way of genuine likeability to them than there was in the original film’s duo, but rather more in the way of forced schmaltzy emotion. ‘We’re brothers. We’ll always come back together, no matter what.’ Barf. Also, Claire, the movie’s hot-shot park-runner, is their emotionally controlled aunt, and the adult theme of the movie really does appear to be ‘take the stick out of your butt, lady, and get yourself some hot sweaty Navy guy action, go off and make babies, that’ll straighten your priorities right out,’ which is a pretty disheartening message to send to female viewers this far into the 21st century.
Really though, and in a crucial point of difference with the original movie, Jurassic World is all about the dinosaurs. And there are plenty of dinosaurs, software and rendering costs having presumably come down a lot in the time between the two movies. There are some solid dino set pieces, including a pterodactyl scene that will make you re-evaluate what has always been a minor player in the dinosaur hierarchy. Think Jurassic Hitchcock and you’re pretty much there. There’s plenty of raptor action too, and for all the Indomitus is the new monster on the block, those snarling, seemingly considering, ‘I’m so gonna bite your face off in a minute’ creatures are still the nightmare-makers you remember. We also hear from the T-Rex, and in a somewhat forced conclusion, there’s a suggestion of a battle between a dinosaur created to be as close to nature as possible, and a dinosaur created to be as far from nature as possible. As a morality tale, that’s more than a little muddy, and the way it’s resolved is messy and rather self-defeating, but still – it wouldn’t be a proper Jurassic Park movie without an ass-kicking T-Rex, now would it?
All of which is fine and great, but what’s ultimately missing from this movie is genius. The original Jurassic Park was written by Michael Crichton, a writer who, however nerdy and intense his prose, had one of the key fictional ideas of his age – if Frankenstein was the new Prometheus legend of the 19th century, what would be the same legend in the late 20th century? The story of human brilliance and its downfall found a natural expression through the idea of genetic engineering and cloning. What’s more, the original was directed by Steven Spielberg, himself no slouch in the storytelling genius stakes. It was crammed with A-list talent too – Richard Attenborough as the avuncular Frankenstein in a dinosaur world, Sam Neil as the scientist torn between incredulity at what’s been done and wonder that he gets to see it, and Jeff Goldblum as the manic street preacher of chaos theory, calmly announcing that they’re all going to die. Jurassic World is very short on genius, but long on sickly, slickly rendered dinosaurs. Its message to women and girls is dubious in the extreme, its kids provide less of a reason to care if they get chomped by a dinosaur, its multi-millionaire owner is comparatively forgettable, and its corporate takeover schtick is entirely predictable. So really the only way in which 22 years has improved on the original Jurassic Park is in the dinosaurs. Watch it for them and you might feel you’ve got your moneysworth. Otherwise, you’re probably as well advised to get the original, genius-packed Jurassic Park on blu-ray – if you’re looking for a story and characters alongside your CGI dino-fun, you’ll have a better time.
Tony Fyler lives in a cave of wall-to-wall DVDs and Blu-Rays somewhere fairly
nondescript in Wales, and never goes out to meet the "Real People". Who,
Torchwood, Sherlock, Blake, Treks, Star Wars, obscure stuff from the
70s and 80s and comedy from the dawn of time mean he never has to. By
runs an editing house, largely as an
excuse not to have to work for a living. He's currently writing a Book.
With Pages and everything. Follow his progress at FylerWrites.co.uk