Crichton's World: From Spielberg to Trevorrow

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Michael Crichton's novel Jurassic Park, a book that would spawn one major blockbuster knockout film, two not-so-great sequels, and piles of merchandise to rival George Lucas's cash-cow Star Wars. Fittingly, 2015 also marks the return of the franchise to the big screen with Jurassic World, which shows us a fully-functioning dinosaur park that exceeds even the imagination of John Hammond.

Early images and trailers (featuring a slowed-down, excitement-building solo piano rendition of John Williams' original theme) indicate World is a back-to-basics kind of film, one that doesn't erase the sequels per se, but certainly sets out to undo their damage to the series. Perhaps this reset of sorts is best represented by this new film's setting: while The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III took place on Isla Sorna (Site B, a breeding and testing island for the animals), Jurassic World returns to the original Isla Nubar. 

Moreover, we have Steven Spielberg once again executive producing the picture, just as he did with JPIII, but this time speaking far more enthusiastically about this new film in interviews. According to a piece from April in ScreenRant, Spielberg even states that Jurassic World "goes down an original road that none of the other movies dared to travel." That's a bold statement, considering the man directed the first two installments himself.

But is this actually true, or just pre-release hype? We must consider that there is only so much filmmakers can do with a concept like this. Crichton's original novel and Spielberg's subsequent film (which I feel tops its source material) delivered what is perhaps the penultimate message a narrative like Jurassic Park can offer, summed up in dialogue from Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum):

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. Well...your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn't stop to think if they should.

The original narrative also touches upon the idea that humans inherently cannot control animals we know virtually nothing about, other than what we've speculated based on studying their bones and equally skeletal habitats.

And yet, with Jurassic World, humans have conquered the dinosaur and put it on display for a full decade. Of course, science once again runs amok in this film, but in a way slightly different from JW's cinematic predecessors. The ultimate question is: what does this particular scientific oversight say about our present-day culture that wasn't already covered by the original film (which is, of course, a timeless picture, infinitely watchable by modern audiences). Secondly, with the novel's author no longer with us, and thus unable to offer any suggestions for this new outing, just how much of Crichton's presence is actually felt in Jurassic World?

The Film

SPOILERS AHEAD

Volumes could be written about everything that is wrong with Jurassic World. That isn't hyperbole: when you really dig deep into the movie, you'll find the filmmakers are not at all interested in making a film just as good as Jurassic Park, but are rather hellbent on undoing literally everything that makes Steven Spielberg's first movie so wonderful and timeless. It is hands down one of the most complicated, confusing films I've ever seen. But dissecting the film itself—removed from any considerations toward the novel/film that started it all—isn't our intent here. However, I would be remiss not to point out that Jurassic World lacks heart. It is pure, mindless spectacle from beginning to end, and it isn't even good mindless spectacle, featuring overly violent, stylized dinosaur battles that would feel more at home in a kaiju movie. There are gaping plot holes in the script, the editing was sloppy in places, and the CGI mostly looked like garbage. Last but not least, there's a smack of racism concerning the only character from the series to return, Dr. Henry Wu (B.D. Wong), and the film mind-bogglingly punishes women who are career-minded (in one case, brutally so), but lionizes those who want to have kids and raise a family, a message equally terrible for the boys in the audience (toward whom it is clear the filmmakers and studio have geared this film) and to the girls (whom the filmmakers ignore completely). It's pretty sad when Jurassic Park, a twenty-two year-old film, is more progressive than a movie released this year.

To sum up my thoughts on Jurassic World, let me once again turn to the always astute Dr. Malcolm:

But I digress. We have two questions to answer here:

  1. What does the the breakdown of Jurassic World (the titular amusement park) say about our modern culture?
  2. What influences from Michael Crichton appear in this film?

These questions are in fact easy to address, because in a way they share the same answer. See, this new film isn't concerned about whether we should or shouldn't bring dinosaurs back from extinction. There's (sadly) no Ian Malcolm here admonishing scientists for breaking a genetic barrier simply because they could. Remember, the park in this new film has been operating without incident for ten years, and the moral implications of raising and confining animals in captivity is a briefly acknowledged then quickly forgotten consideration. Ultimately, as an audience we're shown that it's totally okay to breed these animals in a lab and put them on display (and by the way, the issue of the dinosaurs breeding in the wild isn't addressed at all; apparently, nature can't find a way in Jurassic World).

For all their supposedly noble intentions, their desire to entertain, they end up unleashing something dreadful on unsuspecting audiences.

No, the issue here is when corporations go too far in order to boost sales. Greed is definitely on the slab here—we're told by Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard's gallingly sexist character) that ticket sales have dropped because people are bored by dinosaurs, and yet the park is PACKED throughout the film, suggesting that the money flow is probably just fine. Still, the Hammond substitute in Jurassic World, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) orders a bigger, scarier, more aggressive new hybrid dinosaur to pull in larger crowds. The scientists, lead by Wu, create the Indominus Rex, a blend of T-Rex, Raptor, frog and Cuttlefish. Because of this weird mash-up, the Indominus gains some unsuspected abilities, hybrid-dino escapes its paddock and begins a reign of terror, spectacle ensues.

But then there's a twist! Turns out the military has secretly been working with Dr. Wu to manufacture dinosaurs as weapons (See what they did there, shoe-horning the "sneaky Asian guy" stereotype onto an already shoe-horned character? Good job, 21st century movie). This is why the Indominus is damn near impossible to kill. So, long story short, the primary message in Jurassic World is: greedy corporations and the military industrial complex are bad, m'kay (neither of the representative corporate or military characters are punished as harshly as the career-minded women in the film, by the way). 

This basic message relates to Crichton at least partially, in that his version of John Hammond serves to remind us that corporations are greedy and evil, m'kay. This character isn't the kindly grandpa from Spielberg's Jurassic Park, who just wants to dazzle and entertain with a truly unique attraction. Crichton's Hammond is a ruthless businessman and general son-of-a-bitch who witnesses utter horror when his park breaks down, but who is wholly unaffected by all the death, carnage, and nearly losing his grandchildren to the jaws of innumerable beasts. By the novel's conclusion, he's bound and determined to start over on another island, but he is thwarted and subsequently eaten by a herd of his own creations.

Thematic similarities aside, the biggest thread connecting Jurassic World to Crichton is the delivery of their respective messages. Both go with the hammer-you-over-the-head method, rather than seamlessly blend the message into the narrative like Spielberg and company did back in 1993. No subtlety for Crichton and Trevorrow; they prefer a firm and heavy hand. But while I do feel Jurassic Park: The Movie offers audiences a much better narrative experience than Crichton's novel, I do have to give credit where credit is due. Jurassic Park is by no means a bad book. It's still entertaining, there's a level of care and concern for the characters, and there's at least one female character who is independently bad-ass. And while Jurassic World overall borrows some thematic elements and storytelling methods from the series' progenitor, the film is ultimately so joyless, nihilistic, unscientific and all-around bad, Michael Crichton would no doubt be appalled at what has become of his material.

Which really is a shame, because there are many aspects of Jurassic World that, had they been handled better, could have made for a great movie, perhaps one just as great as Jurassic Park. But that's what happens when studios manufacture a film purely as a cash grab. For all their supposedly noble intentions, their desire to entertain, they end up unleashing something dreadful on unsuspecting audiences.

I'd like to hope this irony isn't lost on the producers of Jurassic World, but I won't hold my breath.


What did you think of Jurassic World? Was it a huge disappointment and in no way deserving of its lineage, or did you like it? Tell us what you think in the comments section below.

Image of Jurassic Park: A Novel
Manufacturer: Ballantine Books
Part Number:
Price:
Image of Jurassic Park [Blu-ray]
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck
Rating: PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned)
Christopher Shultz

Column by Christopher Shultz

Christopher Shultz writes weird, dark fiction. His stories have appeared both online and in print, including most recently in Apex Magazinefreeze frame flash fiction and Grievous Angel. In addition to LitReactor, he has also written for Ranker.comCultured Vultures and Tor.com. At times, he dabbles in digital art and photography. Christopher lives in Oklahoma City with his fiancée Lauren and their two mostly well-behaved cats. More info at christophershultz.com.

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Comments

LG Thomson's picture
LG Thomson from Scotland is reading A Good Man Is Hard To Find, Flannery O'Connor June 20, 2015 - 10:11am

Wholeheartedly agree with your article, Christopher.  Jurassic World was a load of sexist crap. There was none of the charm, wit, or excitement of the original film.  I can't remember any of the characters' names - they were all so utterly two dimensional. 

Running around in high heels... really? I mean, REALLY?  Back in '93 we had Laura Dern in a pair of hefty boots, and managing to be smart and witty while she was at it.  Lex and Tim, the brother/sister combo, helped each other out.  In THAT film, the female characters would have driven the motorbike themselves, not waited to be rescued by a man.

 

Waldemar Gresik's picture
Waldemar Gresik June 20, 2015 - 10:13am

Dr. Ian Malcolm "one big pile of shit" message covers it perfectly, but it's not the movie it fits on, it's your critique. I have never read such a bullshit. It's completely ridiculous.

Red Beacon's picture
Red Beacon June 21, 2015 - 6:51am

Great counterargument, Waldemar. That's one butthurt reader.

I find myself in unwilling violent agreement. When I walked out after the movie, pretty much everything you covered in your post ran through my head, so I'm glad to see those thoughts validated by someone else.

Like Malcolm said -  they were so preoccupied with whether or not they could make Jurassic World that they forgot to think if they should. And why? Because it didn't require any discipline to attain it - they didn't earn the knowledge for themselves. They stood on the shoulders of geniuses, and before they even knew what they had, they packaged it, slapped it on a plastic lunchbox and they're selling it, they're selling it.

I want films that make you think. What if viewers had more than just "roars" as motivation to watch a film? JP made me think and still does, both book and film and I rewatch it several times a year. JW watches like a film written by someone who isn't even really fascinated about dinosaurs on another level than 'big monsters chewing things'. It was written as a popcorn flick.

But to be fair, it's a third JP sequel, so what did we expect? A better film than the original? (Well, I hoped) Cast and crew did a great job on the film, but it's a bit like when you grow up, unwrap your presents and it's all kid's toys. Sucks how technology catches up to propagate the idea that masses 'don't care'. They had that running theme in JW but it wasn't quite posterized into clarity. Of course masses don't care - they don't care until you give them something to care about, as was the case with JP. There wasn't much at stake for anyone. Claire's nephews were realistic for today's kids though. The early 90's ability to cope with stressful situations was dissipated through mountains of cellphones. I just wish there were more conservationist themes. Has anyone heard of suspension of disbelief? I dare you to suspend disbelief with "SAMSUNG INNOVATION CENTER" written above the main JW Lobby. To be honest, the starbucks and ben&jerry's didn't bother me because those were a dash of realism.

Ughhhh I could go on for hours about this.

Ambrose Cook-Saloway's picture
Ambrose Cook-Saloway June 21, 2015 - 1:28pm

Your Grasping at straws here.  No woman was criticized for being career orientated.  Claire was taught that family also matters, which is a good skill to have, she wasn't told to give up on here career, just told to also care about family.  If your refering to her assistant being brutalized for being career orientated, your wrong again, she was brutalized for not taking her job or the care of children seriously, I was happy when she got tourtured, and I would have been happy if it was a male with the same attitude.  As far as the Racist Asain Stereotype goes, my only reply can be, what only white males should be Villians?  He literally works with a bunch of bad guys and nothing racist was even implied by the movie.  

Most of your other complaints can be met with, Yeah they didn't do what you wanted them to do because it was already done in Jurassic Park. "There's (sadly) no Ian Malcolm here admonishing scientists for breaking a genetic barrier simply because they could,"  They actually do touch on the fact that the scientist messed up, why bring Ian back just to do what he's already done?  

"Ultimately, as an audience we're shown that it's totally okay to breed these animals in a lab and put them on display (and by the way, the issue of the dinosaurs breeding in the wild isn't addressed at all; apparently, nature can't find a way in Jurassic World)." Actually they do talk about how the Dinosaurs don't know they we're bred in a tube, and in fact the way they Isolate the T-Rex is what causes it to go so bonkers. Owen addresses this alot actually.  As far as life finding away and dinosaurs breeding goes, that has already been done also.

"Bryce Dallas Howard's gallingly sexist character" What makes her sexist? That she wore High Heels? Fucking let women wear high heels if they want, I know some women that can run and rock high heels in any situation.

"neither of the representative corporate or military characters are punished as harshly as the career-minded women in the film" Yeah cause crashing in a helicopter and gettin eaten alive by Raptors is less of a punishment than saving your nephews, and if your bringing up that godawful assitant again, I refer you to the scene where she wasn't doing her job of watching the kids(hint:the scene and ones before it show she doesn't take her job seriously and isn't career orientated.)

I could get more into how the corporations sponsor ship metion and advertising, we're actually poking fun at such things, but You already missed the point.  Overal, you are a bad Critique and most likely a failed movie producer, or a would be failed one if you tried, as you don't understand how to take things and twist them into something new, you'd rather just have a carbon copy of things already done.

 

nickforty6and2's picture
nickforty6and2 June 21, 2015 - 9:28pm

This is literally the most pretentious, off-base, pseudo-intellectual, DOUCHEY review I've ever read (and that's saying a lot because I've read a ton of reviews hahaha). This over-analytical nonsense is almost offensive. Trying to claim racism because one of the characters happened to be "sneaky" AND "Asian"!? Give me a friggin' break; such overly PC rubbish.  A) I've never even heard of that ridiculous stereotype, I've seen hundreds upon hundreds (maybe even thousands) of movies, and there are sneaky characters of ALL races in sooooo many movies and B) there was clearly no agenda of hatred or prejudice (of ANY kind) in this movie. It's just a fun (albeit a tad dumb) summer blockbuster. Not meant to be over-analyzed. The CGI was actually quite well done, IMHO, and the tension was deftly handled by Trevorrow. The dialogue wasn't the sharpest but again, it's a movie about DINOSAURS being genetically brought back to life in modern times, you can't go into it expecting something overly serious and artsy. And truly, if you were confused by this simple plot maybe you should find a new profession/hobby... Just sayin.