Film Review: Jurassic World is All Bite, Without a Tooth in Sight

jworld-banner-44 By Michael Spawn

SPOILER ALERT ALERT: There is no need to begin this film review with a warning about potential spoilers. Spoiler alerts exist to protect the curious reader against unsolicited advanced knowledge of plot twists, game-changing character development, surprise cameos, or an ending that jolts the nervous system of any moviegoer who thought he knew what he was getting himself into. None of these exist in Jurassic World, so settle down.

(Okay, here’s just one. Jeff Goldblum is not in this movie. The heart breaks.)

In the two weeks that have come and gone since Jurassic World was released in North America, much has been made of the movie’s misogyny, hokey-pokey dialogue, and inattention to scientific detail. All of these criticisms are legitimate to varying degrees (especially the dialogue thing. Holy lord. You know you’re in trouble when the CGI dinosaurs are more convincing communicators than the actors that actually received a paycheck), but to use these complaints as evidence that Jurassic World isn’t a great movie is to miss the point. It isn’t a great movie, but not because the velociraptors lacked feathers or because Bryce Dallas Howard faced near-constant ridicule from male and female characters alike for prioritizing her career over motherhood and romance. As many critics have pointed out, the movie has the high-minded/misguided gall to be “about itself” in the form of Indominus Rex, a brand-new species of dinosaur created solely because parkgoers (moviegoers?) have become so jaded that the present-day existence of animals who died 65 million years ago elicits little more than a passing interest. It says a lot when the characters constantly check their phones in presence of mankind’s mastery over the laws of natural selection. “Our focus groups want more teeth,” a park investor complains near the movie’s beginning. Well, we are the focus group and the moneymen gave us the teeth we’ve allegedly been clamoring for.

No serious person would actually use a term like "postmodern" to describe a two-hour, thirteen-buck orgy of chase scenes and Chris Pratt’s alpha male posturing, but Jurassic World really is, to a small degree, a movie about the public’s relationship to the franchise. And that’s fine. It doesn’t come across nearly as clever as the screenwriters probably hoped, but the effort is admirable. Still, despite any feelings you may have about such an endeavor, successful or not, the mere attempt is a minor problem that’s inextricably tied to Jurassic World’s true albatross: The mighty Jurassic Park.

It won’t do a bit of good for me to heave a self-righteous sigh, turn my thoughts to yesteryear, and wax nostalgic about how groundbreaking and exciting and utterly badass the original film was and continues to be. For people of a certain age, this requires no explanation. It’s a generational touchstone—our Star Wars. We came as close to real dinosaurs as we ever will, and we did it together. A direct comparison of Park and World would be fruitless, but the latter movie never lets you forget where it came from. This is good, in theory. We, as Audience, can’t help but hear Dr. Ian Malcolm’s creepy-but-cool snicker every time one of Jurassic World’s human placeholders says something so patently ridiculous you wonder what strain of medicinal grass was floating around the writers’ room, so it’s reassuring in a way that the movie doesn’t prop itself up as an independent entity with no connection to its Spielbergian origins. But this is the movie’s biggest problem; it wants it both ways. Given the ham-fisted, almost shot-for-shot recreations of some of Park’s most memorable scenes and the fact that characters continually reference the “old park,” (old movie?) coupled with its desperate need to remind Audience that it’s ‘smarter’ than its predecessor—even if its characters aren’t, by light years—Jurassic World commits the deadly sin of unfounded pride. And worse, it invites us to ride along, spellbound, like a pack of raptors charging alongside a motorcycle just because our trainer told us to. And we will, because it’s fun. Toothless, but fun.