“Jurassic World” boasts the biggest opening weekend of any film in North America, and the highest-grossing opening worldwide. It is the first film to gross $500 million globally in a single weekend and the third highest-grossing film of 2015. Yet, this film-reviewer was hesitant to go see it. So this review comes almost two weeks too late. Better late than never. Anyways, I like to come late to the party and pretend that I’ve been there the whole time.
I hesitated due to fear—and aptly so. “Jurassic Park” is a cultural milestone for a generation of millenials, kids who were born and came of age after the fall of the Soviet Union, children who grew up between Tamagotchi and Chiapets. I could not bear to see this film sullied by the same Hollywood reboot scheme that created Jaden Smith’s “The Karate Kid.”
I was wrong to hesitate. “Jurassic World,” if anything, is homage to the story of our time. It is a movie about a hybrid super-predator, that pays tribute simultaneously to Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” and more derivative Monster vs Monster [“Megashark vs Crocosaurus”/“King Kong vs Godzilla”/ “Godzilla vs Megalodon”] films. There are even moments where Spielberg’s not-so-invisible hand manifests itself as the film pays tribute to the previous trilogy and even more obscure productions like “The Land Before Time.”
Director, Colin Trevorrow is acutely aware of “Jurassic World’s” role as a nostalgia film. The movie is self-consciously and self-reflectively a Hollywood Blockbuster. This is perhaps what makes the film bearable.
The events of “Jurassic World” take place twenty years after the previous trilogy. The new park—built off the relics of the old park— has been in successful operation for the entirety of this duration, continuously producing “bigger, scarier, cooler” dinosaurs.
Yet, the previous films still linger; Lowery Cruthers (Jake Johnson), the park’s tech-savvy operator, wears an old Jurassic Park T-Shirt— a decision the female lead, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), a senior executive at Jurassic World, finds offensive due to the events of the previous movies. “That old park was marvellous,” laments Lowery.
The scene is comic relief, but reinforces the film’s desire not to outdo the original—the younger Trevorrow looks to Spielberg with doting eyes.
The children protagonists, Zack and Gray (Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins), in almost “Secret Garden” like fashion, stumble upon a doorway that leads them to the ruins of the old park. The camera pans the iconic 1992 jeep wrangler that outran T-Rex in the first film. We are watching the moss-covered relics of our childhood memories. But then Nick Robinson’s character lights aflame the banner of the original park, and you realize there is a whole generation watching this anew. A reminder that these stories were never ours to keep. What is “Jurassic World” if not another Modern Prometheus?
The animals are out of their cage.
But this is a film reflective of its generation—it is reflective of our anxieties and aspirations. Our generation, like countless others before, have been raised on the anxieties of ‘the great fear’. The towers collapsed and heralded in a new generation of fear. The war was no longer fascist. The war was no longer red. The war was on terror itself. Looking forward, even this needs redefining.
This is the marked difference between “Jurassic Park” and “Jurassic World.” The former film came at a time when the great fear had finally been defeated; the USSR was no longer the threat it once had been. In 1993 the United States stood at a pivotal cusp. The End of History had been declared. America’s new enemy was yet to be defined. And so the villain was Wayne Knight’s Dennis Nedry, a middleclass computer geek—under-paid and over-fed, wholly incompetent and prone to bribery.
Today the United States stands at a different cusp. The tide of the post-9/11 terror has ebbed and receded. Americans lament pre-emptively at the decline of their empire and the rise of a new superpower—and with it—the rise of Hollywood’s newest enemy: China. Dr. Henry Wu (B.D Wong), the park’s chief genetic engineer, is no longer a minor character as in the first film, but rather a principle antagonist—him and his creation, Indominus Rex.
Wong’s new Henry Wu is no longer the traditional white-coated boyish scientist. Instead he is dressed in blacks and greys, alternating between serious stares and sinister laughs. He speaks in parables as Jurassic World’s Indian billionaire owner, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), derides him for creating a monster—“to a canary, a cat is a monster,” he says. “We’re just use to being the cat.” Wong’s role is the same as Knight’s was in the 90’s: to steal the dinosaurs and prepare for a sequel.
Underlying the film’s tension is the Military Industrial Complex. The dinosaurs serve the dual-purpose of being trained as military assets. The menacing raptors of the first film are now taught to track and hunt the Indominus—bearing a closer resemblance to domesticated attack dogs than foreboding monsters. “Imagine if we’d had these puppies in Tora Bora,” says Hoskins, a military contractor with aims of using the park as a field test for his new living weapon.
The Indominus itself is a piece of military technology gone awry, a hybrid dinosaur whose genetic makeup is unknown—a true Frankenstein’s monster. The camera pans a field of slain apatosauruses, as Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) notes, the Indominus is the only other animal (aside from humans) that kills for the sake of sport. The Indominus—like all great fears—is wholly other, but still eerily similar to the men that created it.
“War is human nature,” says Hoskins. “It’s mother nature’s way of establishing the pecking order.” If this is the case, the Indominus is symbolic for the fear of a change in this status quo. While justifying the use of indiscriminate drone-strikes, a Texan friend once summarized the same thing: “humanity is at war and we need the big guns,” he said in his Texan drawl. The Indominus—like the military weapons of today—is bigger, better, faster, and stronger.
The upward spiral of military progress is met with the fear of a post-apocalyptic crisis where, “all that tech is gonna go dark,” and predator drones will need to be replaced by predatory raptors. The film veers towards a political statement, but turns sharply away before saying anything succinct. Yet, the damage is done. It has illustrated the wholly real mindset of a subset of American society today.
However, the most perfect encapsulation of the spirit of our time comes in a statement made by Claire Dearing to her younger nephews: “He’s scared; it’s okay to lie when people are scared.” This is the defining statement of our generation. The principle that turned 9/11 into the War in Iraq. We are a generation raised on lies and fear. A generation that has accepted it as okay. A movie about dinosaurs has captured our post-9/11 zeitgeist.
“Jurassic Park” was never known for the depth of its characters and “Jurassic World” is no different. Simon Masrani is no exception. Irrfan Khan plays a wise Indian businessman with a penchant for philosophical musings: “Jurassic World exists to remind us of how small we really are,” says Masrani as he attempts to fly his helicopter over the park. Masrani is a bad pilot and his ineptitude makes for a cheap laugh. Yet, like Ricky-ticky-tabby he is loyal to the end. Flying his helicopter into a pterodactyl dome in an attempt to save the park from Indominus Rex.
Yet like Wu, the introduction of Simon Masrani is indicative of shifts in our socio-political climate. In the post-Soviet world, India is cozying up with the United States enough to play incompetent billionaire businessmen in Hollywood films. The film falls prey to Hollywood tropes—the black guy dies first, the English woman is no longer the enemy but is still detestable, etc.
Chris Pratt’s protagonist, Owen Grady, is a half-baked American cowboy reminiscent of a simpler time of westerns and old-fashioned American values. Bryce Dallas Howard’s, Claire Dearing, is an ice-queen businesswoman whom Hollywood has failed for her progressiveness. She is made to seem cold because she chose the path of a career woman. For the entirety of the movie she is made to prance around in high-heels looking to be saved by a big-hunking man. Her character turns the clock on feminism a good fifty years, but much has already been said about this. In general, the characters are developed enough to drive the plot, but vague enough to appeal to all members of the countless focus groups undoubtedly consulted in the making of this film.
For a Hollywood blockbuster “Jurassic World” gives you what you want—nothing more. This is a film for the millennial: a generation of scared and jaded consumers, for whom the thirst for novelty is a never-ending chase for bigger, scarier, and cooler. But if there is one thing we can take from this movie; the film, like the great fear it captures, is interminable. There will always be a sequel.
Final Review: Five/Five “A brilliant film. A story for our time.”
Review by Tekendra Parmar