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?
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:
- What does the the breakdown of Jurassic World (the titular amusement park) say about our modern culture?
- 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).
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.
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