“I’ll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you’re using here. It didn’t require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn’t earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don’t take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could, and before you even knew what you had, you patented it, and packaged it, and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you’re selling it, you wanna sell it.” – Dr. Ian Malcolm (and a portentous statement about the park that eventually becomes Jurassic World)
One week ago today, Ana and I had the pleasure of live tweeting and re-watching Jurassic Park, as the second movie on our Old School Wednesdays Summer Movie Watchalong. (It was really fun; you can check out the full chat over on our Twitter feed!)
This week, I also decided to bite the bullet and watch Jurassic World – which broke ALL the records in its opening weekend, making it the highest grossing opening weekend of all time.
My experience with the latter is… complicated.
A Bit of Background
Like many movie-goers of my generation, I was an enormous fan of Jurassic Park. The first time I watched the movie in the theater, I was in the fourth grade and I vividly remember every part of the experience. I was living in Jakarta, Indonesia at the time, and after much cajoling, my mother took me to the cinema, to wait in a very, very long line to watch the movie. I remember being wonderstruck and terrified of the dinosaurs; I quaked in fear and glee when the Tyrannosaurus Rex stomped and chomped and roared its way into life. I remember the cold sweaty terror when the Velociraptors were unleashed and learned to open doors. (Fun fact: the first time I watched the movie, there was a brownout at the theater – JUST after the first raptor does that terrifying nostril-breath-squeal outside the kitchen door on the glass. *SHUDDERS*)
Like so many other children who grew up with this movie, I love Jurassic Park. Let me say that once again, with feeling: I love Jurassic Park. It was a formative movie of my youth, and a film I have owned at least four copies of over the years. It is a film that I know by heart, and one that I rewatch frequently (at least a handful of times every year – it is my go-to home sick from work or school staple).
Given all of this background information…well, suffice it to say, I had extremely high expectations for Jurassic World.
However, my expectations and hopes for the film diminished with each new teaser and trailer. Tame velociraptors? Crappy cheesetastic dialogue? Cheapo one-liners at the expense of the film’s sole female character? WHY!?!
To be fair, my expectations were somewhat tempered by the fact that I’ve been burned by JP sequels before. The Lost World – which I read first, then watched – was a fraction of the awesome of Jurassic Park. I actually quite enjoyed JP3, while embracing the fact that it is kind of a B-movie so far as the full franchise goes, but it doesn’t pretend or attempt to be grander than it is. (Plus, Dr. Alan Grant! Ellie Sattler saving the day once again! More raptors! Pterosaurs!)
SO, it was with trepidation that I entered the cinema, dug into some red vines, and nestled in to watch Jurassic World.
Jurassic World: Gut Reactions
My gut reaction in one sentence: “That wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be.” Followed shortly by, “Actually, that was pretty fun.”
Jurassic World opens twenty-two years following the disastrous events of Jurassic Park. Now a fully operational wonder of a theme park, Jurassic World is a state of the art, super souped-up version of
Universal Studios Hammond’s dream of Jurassic Park. But, over its decade of operation and financial success, like any other theme park JW has to figure out how to stay relevant and maintain its position as the premier theme park experience – and don’t ya know it, kids these days yawn when they see a stegosaurus or even a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Jurassic World needs to innovate and provide the most terrifying attraction anyone has ever seen – and in order to do that, an entirely new, genetically engineered dinosaur is cooked up in a laboratory.
Holy Indominus Rex, Batman!
The Indominus Rex is fiercer than a T-Rex, more cunning than a raptor, and about a billion times smarter than your average dinosaur. Concocted by Dr. Henry Wu (remember him?) in JW labs, the Indominus Rex represents a brave new world for genetically engineered theme park monsters (to borrow a phrase from Dr. Grant in JP3). The base genome for the beast is a tyrannosaur, but the rest? Well, that’s classified. (But if you take a few guesses, you’ll figure it out.)
Here’s a little bit where expectation – and shitty movie trailers – diverges somewhat with reality. After watching several trailers, seeing the various merchandise and movie stills for the film, I was eye-rolling hardcore at the need for an Indominus Rex. The T-Rex is PLENTY scary. So are velociraptors! So are any number of actual carnivorous dinosaurs from 65 million years ago! The media line of “well, audiences watch megaton robots beat up other monsters without batting an eye so they had to do something” was incredibly frustrating… so I wasn’t actually excited about this new super-dino.
BUT. Indominus Rex? It’s actually pretty badass. She kills for the hell of it after messing with her victims and concocting a brilliant escape from her holding cell. Granted, she will never be the iconic terror that was the T-Rex tremor impact/roar in the rain hunter – but so far as villains go, Indominus is the cleverest of girls.
Visually, the other dinosaurs are fantastic as well – from the Mosasaurus, to the Ankylosaurs (my personal favorites), to the Pterosaurs, to the old standbys and stars from the first film. (Including an awesome cameo from Dilophosaurus-as-hologram, playing a vital role in the movie’s final showdown.) Which brings me to the biggest expectation-problem, and the most surprising moment of JW…
You’re My Girl, Blue!
While I’ve always maintained that the T-Rex is the scariest animal in Jurassic Park, and that first scene in the automated vehicles outside her paddock is the most terrifying – and awe-inspiring – part of the film, anything to do with Velociraptors is a very close second. (Arguably, Raptors are the much cooler and infinitely more afeared predators in the JP universe.) Imagine my shock/horror/disgust, then, when the trailers, posters, and every indicator seemed to imply that Chris Pratt was a Raptor Whisperer who frequently takes his girls out on moonlit jaunts in the rainforest while he accompanies them on his motorcycle. Dialogue like “See it’s all about control with you. I don’t control the raptors, it’s a relationship. It’s based on mutual respect.” doesn’t help.
BUT, once again, I was thrilled to be wrong about the raptors in the film. The marketing effort to make raptors look domesticated was largely just bad marketing – the relationship between handler and predator is much more intricate than the trailers make it out to be, and I appreciate the tension between Pratt’s Owen and his raptor pack very, very much. The worst part is, the film actually builds up to the badass hunt scene with the raptors running out in the wild for the first time accompanied by their “alpha” and it actually is dramatic and badass – not the cheesefest I was expecting.
Also: BLUE! You’re the best raptor. And you remind me a little of my cat. I digress.
Jurassic World: The Theme Park of My Dreams
Another thing that Jurassic World has going for it is the utter awesomeness of this theme park. At first glance, it clearly replicates Universal Studios (but with infinitely cooler attractions). The setup of the park, the walkways into the park, the Samsung and Verizon sponsored exhibit halls, even the escalator looking thing that takes visitors up from the dock onto the trams screams Universal Hollywood.
And even though experience has taught us time and time again that you can’t have dangerous predatory dinosaurs in a theme park because life will always find a goddamn way, I still desperately wish that Jurassic World was a real place. I want to ride the gentle giants in the petting zoo! I want to sit in wonder as the huge mosasaurus eats a great white shark and splashes the audience and then the seats recline into the holding tank! I want to drive a gyroscope in the plains amongst brachiasaurs and galamimuses, I long to kayak on the rivers while stegasaurs graze and roam. Are you freaking kidding me?! This is like, the coolest theme park in the universe. As the younger brother runs around spouting dinosaur factoids, with his enthusiasm and emotions bubbling to the surface, I, too, got caught up in the wonder of this place (to quote Ellie Sattler).
I would pay so much money to visit Isla Nublar; I would gladly wait in lines for hours in order to enjoy the wonder of these dinosaurs. In other words: on the theme park front, Jurassic World comes the closest to the awe and spectacle of Jurassic Park.
But Then… the Not-So-Great Stuff
Of course, there are many, many problems with Jurassic World, as well. There’s the problem that the plot is actually, utterly ridiculous – would any really, really want to breed raptors as ultimate killing weapons? C’mon, Vince D’onofrio, you know better than that. The painfully stereotypical villainy of InGen, of Dr. Henry Wu (!), of Hoskins (HE DOESN’T EVEN HAVE A FIRST NAME) comprise probably the most simplistic, irrational, and ridiculous antagonists I’ve seen in any film in a very long time.
There’s the aforementioned cheesetastic dialogue – including pseudo-Spielbergian heart-to-heart scenes between two brothers talking about being brothers, especially pained because of their parents’ divorce, and so on.
Perhaps the most infuriating thing about Jurassic World – related to my next and last point, the glaring asshatery of the treatment of female characters – is the fact that the movie has moments of pure brilliance, followed closely by moments of incredible facepalming badness. I believe the word is “overkill.” JW does a lot of that.
On Claire, Audience Expectation, and Treatment of Female Characters
One of the things I loved the most about Jurassic Park, watching it for the first time as a nine-year-old girl in the theater with my mother, is the fact that the movie is largely action-based and gender neutral. When certain characters make assumptions about Dr. Ellie Sattler, like Hammond telling her he’s a man so he should be going to reboot the system instead of Ellie since she’s a woman, she rolls her eyes and tells him that they will discuss sexism in survival scenarios when she gets back. Ellie is a respected scientist and an expert in her field – she’s also athletic and fearless and is respected by the other adults in the same situation.
Then consider the children pair in the film – the marketable audience for merchandise like toys and tie-in games – which comprise a brother AND a sister. Older sister Lex might not be into dinosaurs and she might make a few terrible decisions (WHY would you turn a flashlight on when a T-Rex is free and looking at you for dinner?!), she also saves the day by booting up the door locks in the Visitor Center with her UNIX knowhow.
Now, compare that to Jurassic World – a film where the child pair is now two boys, one of whom has a “hahaha OMG stupid crazy obsessed teenage girl!” girlfriend who is exploited for cheap laughs, meanwhile her boyfriend is off literally drooling over every teenage girl he sees. Teenage girlfriend thing aside, what’s so frustrating about making the children both boys is that it sends a subtle gendered statement about the movie and its perceived marketable audience – little boys are the target here, and forget about the girls. (This is to say nothing of the fact that one of the previews before JW started was for “Chomping Jaws and Raptor Claws” – note the all-dude tv spot.)
And then there is Claire Dearing. Claire Dearing is fucking awesome. She is a layered, developed character who is infinitely deeper than any other character in the film. But the way she is treated by her coworkers, her family, and the story narrative? Well that’s where the WHAT THE FUCKS start coming in.
A lot have people have written about this far more eloquently and thoroughly than I, so I recommend that you check them out. But, in a nutshell, my problems with the treatment of female characters – particularly Claire – are thus:
Claire is really goddamn good at her job, and she’s shamed for that in several different ways by several different people. The first instance is when she’s working on securing a really big fucking sponsor for the park’s newest attraction – and she’s late to pick up her nephews, so sends her assistant instead. She gets chewed out by her sister for not being a good aunt and for working too much, and one day when she has a child of her own she’ll understand. It gives Claire’s boss, CEO Masrani (reprising his role as Pi Patel, apparently), a chance to tell Claire that she needs to loosen up and he doesn’t want to hear about those boring ol’ numbers he wants to know about connecting with the animals’ souls and seeing the happiness in their eyes. It also gives macho brawny Owen Grady, raptor trainer and force of nature she went on one date with, the opportunity to tell her that she’s all about control and too organized and uptight. Because bossy executive lady with her white skirt suit, three inch heels, and crisis-time competence is just a frigid ice queen that needs to knock back some tequila and muss up that perfectly angled bob to live a little.
Claire actually saves Owen from death-by-pterosaur, and then what? One of my favorite moments of the movie is when Claire saves Owen from being munched on by a pissed off pterosaur by smacking it off his back and then shooting it a few times. Of course, in the next few minutes, Claire, Owen and her two nephews are in a car escaping the mob, and the nephews cry “we want to stay with you!” And when Claire tells them she will never leave them again, the boys scream “WE MEANT HIM!” Cue audience laughter, thank you very much. I mean, the boys know that Owen can drive backwards – never mind the fact that they just saw their aunt save his life.
The Fucking High Heels. Much has been said about Claire and her wardrobe – and how she full-on sprints through the rainforest, on concrete, all over the place without once taking off those heels! Owen tells her they are ridiculous and does that thing that guys do when they look at your choice of footwear. He also does it to her white skirt and suit, but you know what? FUCK OFF, OWEN. Claire is the kind of woman who likes wearing heels, who looks good in them, and clearly can run in them. I am also a woman who likes wearing heels and skirts, and even though I probably would have taken off the goddamn heels when running from dinosaurs and picked out any other pair of footwear, I’m kind of happy that she wears the shoes the entire time – it’s like a subtle fuck-you to a lot of the sexism and shittiness towards women in this movie.
And you know what? At the end of the goddamn day, Claire is the one with the brilliant ideas. She plans and doesn’t just react chaotically to the situation. Her organization and preparedness and need for control are actually assets in Jurassic World – and she marches right up to that T-Rex paddock, lights a fucking flare, and runs out to even the odds against Indominus Rex.
YOU FUCKING GO, CLAIRE.
Ultimately? Despite the fact that this is a very flawed movie, despite the fact that it is largely sexist and frustrating and nonsensical on many levels… I still very, very much enjoyed Jurassic World. I might not have the burning fervor that nine-year-old Thea had (you can ask my mom and dad; I begged to go back to the theater and rewatched my VHS of the film HUNDREDS of times)… but I would gladly go back and watch the film again in the theater.
And I recommend you do the same. And then come back here, so we can talk about it.