Jurassic Park 3 was the first film I ever walked out on. Just got up and left right in the middle. It was July 2001 and I loved exactly three things: dinosaurs, going to the cinema, and not wasting what little money I earned.
Yet, I still couldn’t get to the end of that movie. I shuffled through the sticky-floored foyer of Loughborough’s Curzon Cinema, past the film’s silver and red promotional cardboard cutout of a non-distinct pterosaur, and got on with my summer holiday.
Back home, I still had the dinosaur magazines I’d collected as a child, and the balsa wood model triceratops skeleton which came, a bone at a time, with the week’s edition at the local shop.
As I said, I loved dinosaurs. But I no longer loved dinosaur films. If Jurassic Park 3 was the death throe of a franchise that started off jaundiced and sustained itself simply by placing T-Rexes in ever-increasingly incongruous situations, then I was fine with that .
When they announced that they were making Jurassic World, without Spielberg , without Jeff Goldblum, without Sam Neill, I suppose many people were upset. Nostalgia is a corrupting emotion.
There were JP fans who didn’t want Jurassic World made because it couldn’t possibly be any better than the original films. There were JP fans who didn’t want Jurassic World made because it was painfully obvious its ancestors had run out of ideas around 1.3 films into a three-film package (I count myself among these fans).
Then there were the people who didn’t really know whether or not they were JP fans, who vaguely remembered seeing The Lost World, in SD, on a rainy bank holiday at their grandparents’. Young people, basically.
So how do you successfully revive a Hollywood trilogy in a way that attracts fans who view the originals as sacrosanct, those who view them with mildly-derisive fondness, and those who just need a two-hour break from Snapchat?
You give them everything.
Jurassic World is neither a franchise reboot, nor a remake of any single film. It has its own plot (granted, not too dissimilar to the first movie), different characters played by different actors (a blessing and a curse), and contains several references to the original films, both through knowing nods and winks and overt recognition that before Jurassic World, we had Jurassic Park .
It’s not analogous to, say, Alien Resurrection, which was the direct continuation of a narrative in an already complete (and brilliant) science fiction trilogy . Nor is it a Gus Van Sant shot-for-shot remake of the original. It’s sort of like a very well-evolved Jurassic Park, a familiar story whose telling has improved with age and technology.
In spite of its fanciful science, Jurassic World obeys the physics of its genre. For example, the Murphy’s Law of dinosaur films is not that a dinosaur will escape, but that the films’ lead protagonists shall end up pursued in a narrow or maze-like space by a pack of Velociraptors. Jurassic World obliges.
The chase scenes in Jurassic Park and Jurassic World are…similar. The two-siblings-carelessly-misplaced-on-an-island-full-of-10-ton-killing-machines trope is a constant. There’s always some evil contractor who doesn’t think much of paleontology.
The makers of Jurassic World (an entirely different team to the first three films) either tried and failed to come up with radically altered plot devices, or concluded that the tenets of dinosaur movies are – like splicing T-Rex and Velociraptor genes with tree frog and cuttlefish DNA – things best left alone.
Then again, there are enough differences – let’s call them “upgrades” – to allow Jurassic World to be a success on its own terms.
The graphics and scale of the production are simply awesome. It pains me to look back at 1993’s Jurassic Park and analyze its special effects. First time around, it was without doubt the most terrifying – most realistically terrifying – spectacle I had seen in my life. Now it looks like it was shot on Vine.
The CGI in Jurassic World is jaw-dropping, and they even manage to make animatronics look plausible. I would go watch the film even if you aren’t bothered about dinosaurs, simply to see the apogee of what computers can do to post-production in 2015.
The acting is better. (I know, I know, there’s no Richard Attenborough wandering around like a colonial bounty hunter who’s just mislaid his blunderbuss). I love Lauren Lapkus, of Orange is the New Black fame. Ditto Judy Greer. Chris Pratt is fine if you like that sort of thing.
There are some humorous moments, and some philosophical ones.
Jurassic World for example answers that timeless otium/negotium conundrum: If you ever find yourself watching a T-Rex fight a T-Rex/Velociraptor hybrid, do you run for your life or stay in imminent danger of death and watch the fight?
Of course, you watch the fight.
Much has been made of how Jurassic World lacks realism. Velociraptors, we are told, should have feathers. They were probably no larger than a deerhound, not 7ft tall as in the movie. They have never been domesticated (though neither had pigs, dogs, cats and sheep, right up until they were domesticated).
Mosasaurs weren’t the size of a non-G20 country’s nuclear submarine. No pterosaur, not even Quetzalcoatl, could lift a fully-grown human, let alone a partly-grown Triceratops. There’s no evidence Pachycephalosaurs actually butted heads.
People who make these observations are: a) entirely correct; and b) not welcome in my house.
Jurassic World is a science fiction movie.
The film has two simple premises:
Someone has found a way to reverse-engineer  dinosaur DNA from the blood found in amber-petrified mosquitoes and someone stupider and richer than that person thought putting tens of thousands of paying customers on the same island as these reverse-engineered dinosaurs was a viable business model.
If you were expecting realism from these twin plot devices then perhaps we were never going to have much to talk about anyway. I do not watch dinosaur-themed movies for their verisimilitude, and neither should you.
As a society we’re in full-on Huxley mode, gazing into the black maw of white noise, selfies, and ever-decreasing attention spans. There’s a constant need in popular criticism to find meaning from artifice (though I guess this has always been the case), to hit a level of comprehension above the plane of moving pictures, or text, or whatever. The great science fiction films of recent years have tried hard to imbue meaning on this plane, and advertised explicitly when they were doing so.
Inception is a great film, but, boy, does it think a lot of itself. “Look, we’re doing something clever here. It’s so clever, in fact, that we couldn’t risk you missing it. So here it is in icon form.”
Likewise Interstellar. It’s a movie about time-travel, only that would be too simplistic. We feel we need the quantum-level profundity that the film so deliberately evokes, perhaps to make us less guilty about spending three hours of our lives watching Matthew McConaughey in a water tank .
Jurassic Park could hardly be criticized for posturing layers of meaning, and neither can Jurassic World. I suppose aside from being a film about dinosaurs, it is also a film about humanity’s over-reaching desire to play God, and the awful risks carried with the unselfconscious pursuit of scientific advancement.
But it’s still a film about dinosaurs.
Two further points about “realism” in the Jurassic Park franchise (I mean in terms of how close the science fiction coasts to science fact, not as a diegetic filming style).
The fiction part is fun. Think back to the most memorable parts of Jurassic Park. All fiction. The Brachiosaurus, when it first appears to Sam Neill and Laura Dern, has its nostrils on top of its head. This is probably incorrect. Also remember when Wayne Knight meets the Dilophosaurus? And it shows its neck fan, then sprays acid in poor Wayne’s eyes? Never happened . Point is, dinosaurs are cool, and dinosaurs with added superpowers – such as Indominus Rex – are cooler.
Jurassic Park actually is factual. Scientifically visionary, even. In Jurassic Park, all the dinosaurs are female, for obvious reasons. Yet, they become pregnant. Well, just this month Andrew T. Fields, Kevin A. Feldheim, Gregg R. Poulakis, and Damien D. Chapman published a paper in the journal Current Biology outlining their discovery that female sawfish had began “virgin” birthing. The phenomenon whereby females of a given species reproduce without the presence of males, known as parthenogenesis, is real and it was outlined in Jurassic Park more than 20 years ago. “Life finds a way,” says Geoff Goldblum, somewhere.
When Principal Skinner is fired from Springfield Elementary after a greased-up Groundskeeper Willie falls into the lap of Superintendent Chalmers, he starts to work on the great American novel.
As you can see, Apu doesn’t think much of Skinner’s plan to “think of an idea that has already been done and give it a title that no one could possibly like”.
I have to disagree with Apu. Jurassic World is basically Billy and the Cloneasaurus. It is an idea that has already been done, and it does have a terrible name (the makers must have spent all of two seconds coming up with an amalgamation of the franchise’s first two film titles).
Yet it works.
I rarely go to the cinema anymore. It was more fun being the annoying teenager throwing popcorn and shouting throughout a film than it is being the adult complaining about it. But I went for Jurassic World. There were many, many teenagers, young children with parents, grown up children who had become parents. All were silent throughout. This, and its box-office-smashing opening weekend, augurs well, I feel.
At the cinema I also saw a trailer for the new Fantastic 4 movie. At a time when Hollywood franchises are rebooting faster than ever, I take comfort in Jurassic World’s attempt to at least advance Jurassic Park’s original premise to its logical conclusion . It is a new film, it just asks old questions.
And I like the ending. Dinosaurs roamed this earth for 140 million years. When, at the end of the film, the camera tracks out to reveal a roaring T-Rex surveying a landscape inhabited only by the terrible lizards, it reminds us of a basic truth: This is the dinosaurs’ world. We’re just living in it.
1. “Jurassic Park 4: T-Rex in the Bronx” – Synopsis: A wholesome, classically trained pianist T-Rex from rural Montana has his world turned upside down when he is transferred to an inner city high school, where music class consists more of T-Pac than Tchaikovsky. Tagline: “When you need to go Old School, it helps to be 65 million years old.”
2. Steven Spielberg is described as Jurassic World’s “executive producer”, which means he handed the producers his contacts book and left them to get on with it.
3. This includes an abandoned warehouse in the middle of the island that contains old original Jurassic Park memorabilia, including helmets, baseball caps, night-vision goggles and vehicles to create a mise-en-scene in my mind eerily reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s basement.
4. The film also turned the Alien Trilogy into the Alien Saga, which made it sound much more like the kind of movie where some aristocrat gets murdered when the lights go out.
5. Bryce Dallas Howard in the move insists on calling this “de-extinction”.
6. Compare the wave of criticism of Jurassic World’s lack of realism with the relative lack of such criticism after Interstellar. Perhaps there are less amateur astrophysicists out there than amateur paleontologists.
7. See artefact
8. This year alone there will be new versions of the Fantastic 4, James Bond, The Hunger Games, The Avengers, Star Wars, Terminator, Fast & Furious, and Mission: Impossible.