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Almost Review: Jurassic World

I guess I’m one of the target audiences for Jurassic World. I was 13 when Jurassic Park came out, I watched it in the cinema with my family, and it fed into my childhood love of dinosaurs. I grew up with the movie and later the sub-par sequels, and as with many my age, have a fond and protective nostalgia. The other target audience is children, and over all the aim is for a family friendly action adventure, which is essentially what we have here.

This is another of my Almost Reviews – a review based on my impressions and opinions of a movie that I didn’t bother to take notes during, so it’s pretty much just the stuff that stood out to me during and after viewing. I hadn’t been sure I was going to review this as I feel too close to it – Jurassic Park was one of my favourite childhood movies, it affirmed my love of dinosaurs and prehistory that led me to eventually study archaeology, and it introduced me to Michael Crichton, who became (and still is) my favourite author. I tend to take movies on their own merits and not get too precious over delayed sequels/prequels or remakes, but I wasn’t sure I could be as objective with this movie. Turns out I could be, and so here’s my review.

SPOILERS AHEAD FOR JURASSIC WORLD, JURASSIC PARK (MOVIES AND NOVELS)

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The plot is simple and familiar – twenty-two years have passed since the events of Jurassic Park and now Isla Nublar is, as Hammond had always wanted, an up and running dinosaur theme park. It’s not certain from the movie how long the park has been open, but from the discussions regarding keeping the visitors interested, in would seem to be around a decade. In that decade progresses have been made in working with dinosaurs – in both their genetics and behaviour. The corporate folk have decided that things need to be bigger and scarier to further attract a public no longer wowed by dinosaurs alone, meanwhile teams study the science of the animal’s behaviour. Of course, they didn’t learn from the first time around and new bigger, scarier attraction is on course to repeat the ill-fated events of twenty-two years ago, but this time with a park full of visitors. Of course, this disaster, as is the way of such movies, has to happen the weekend that the nephews of the park’s Operations Manager and uptight corporate stiff are visiting.

Whatever happened to Henry Wu?

Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park novel is quite different from the movie (and Jurassic Park 2 which also borrowed from it as well as Crichton’s The Lost World). It is a darker story with quite a pessimistic ending, a much more real world setting. Steven Spielberg of course translated this in his fairy tale mind to a family friendly action adventure and immediate classic, as only Spielberg can do – and who am I to criticise him for that!

On re-watching Jurassic Park when it came out on video, and having read the novel in the interim, there were some changes to the characters I had liked, and some I disliked. What had been weird for me after reading the novel, was the massively reduced role of Henry Wu in the film when he is pretty much a main character in the novel. He came across in the movie as a throwaway background character compared to his important role in the novel as the man who invented dinosaur cloning and who’s drive is towards further genetically modifying the animals given that they never really know if they have them right anyway. In the novel he (like many, many others!) is killed, but in the movie (played by BD Wong) his fate is never learned, until now. We have to guess that he made it off the island with other staff on one of the boats when the storm was coming in, because we now find Dr Wu again in Jurassic World. His role is, sadly, not much bigger, though it is much more important. Much truer to his character in the novel, he is most definitely the man behind the monsters and modifications, and clearly has his own agenda.

Wu's back and badder than ever!

Wu’s back and badder than ever!

I really liked that they pulled him back to this version, though it may have been slightly jarring for audience members who haven’t read the book and remember him only as the nice scientist guy who introduced us to baby velociraptors.

Wu’s role allowed for two things – continuity with a time-frame, and a move into a new and intriguing direction for the movie – the potential modification of the dinosaurs which is a plot that dominates Jurassic World. This leads us into the tantalising idea of training raptors (something I wasn’t initially too keen on and is unimaginable in Jurassic Park but perhaps relate-able to the raptors of Jurassic Park 3), and of the military applications of dinosaurs. Somewhere along the road InGen has morphed into Weyland-Yutani which is arguably closer to Crichton’s original idea.

Owen is Alpha in this pack of raptors

Owen is Alpha in this pack of raptors

Family

Family has been a running theme through the Jurassic Park movies – in the first we see Dr Grant learning to like kids (a fluffy Spielberg touch that wasn’t in the novel), in the second we see Dr Ian Malcolm bonding with his daughter, and in the third Grant helps a family reunite with their son. So it is no surprise that family is at the fore of this movie. In fact the plot closely resembles the novel, in which originally the kids were sent to the island to be with their grandfather whilst the parents sorted their divorce. Here that situation is played out with the kids taking a once in a lifetime trip to visit their aunt Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) who is Operations Manager for the Park.

Of course, Claire’s nephews end up in a precarious position that means they need rescuing by her and ex-Navy raptor handler Owen Grady (Chris Pratt). It did make me wonder throughout the movie whether anyone would go to so much trouble if they were some other random kids lost in the park, or maybe loads of other kids were left in the park and no one went to their aid. Of course, this time in the wilderness trying to survive and not get eaten gives the kids time to bond and to work through some of their emotions over their parent’s divorce. Obvious and formulaic, but expected and not too trite.

Heels, Emasculation and Motherhood

With the focus of these movies on family, comes a focus on love. All the Jurassic Park movies have shown love in many forms – strengthening the bonds of friends and family and even the rekindling of feelings. But none – despite Dr Grant and Dr Sattler being a couple in the movie where they weren’t in the novel – have had a strong romantic element. Until now.

It didn’t sit right with me throughout – from Claire and Owen’s background (they once went on a date – guess she was looking for a bit of rough that weekend?!), and their first interaction where Owen comes across as misogynistic pig (and seriously who talks to their boss like that?!) to her simpering behaviour towards him and the situation that in some scenes (and especially the ending) completely guts her character. In fact, although on the surface Chris Pratt seemed like a good casting choice, I actually found his character to be pretty unlikable. But their romance isn’t the only thing that let this movie down for me – as much as I hate to see romance in action adventures – you know women can kick ass without thinking about finding “the one” right?, right?! *cough*Ripley*cough*SarahConnor*cough*Furiosa*cough*

She should've fired your ass!

She should’ve fired your ass!

I know there have been discussions online about Claire wearing heels throughout, and the director has said this was the actress’s decision. It’s argued to be impractical and that the sensible thing would have been for her to change into more appropriate shoes or boots. I totally appreciate this, and on a practical level have to ask how those heels didn’t snap at some point (adamantium?), but I can see the other side of it too. Heels suit the character (such as she is) and so instead when I saw her committing an act of bravery towards the end of the movie and running hell for leather in those heels, I thought “yeah girl, you can get shit done even in those ridiculous shoes!”.

Claire's moment as the hero, heels and all!

Claire’s moment as the hero, heels and all!

So I maybe ok with the heels, but what I wasn’t ok with was the misogyny, OR the emasculating! Because yes, it swings both ways and I found it jarring when Claire tells a male character (who actually has been nothing but insightful and has stayed to help, but she has a personal dislike for), to “be a man”. This shit irks me. It’s as not ok as misogyny. I totally hated everything about Claire in that moment – or rather the way she had been written to be some kind of stereotype of a corporate bitch. It sucks to see that in 2015.

What makes all of this so much worse is that the final minutes of this movie clarify that what we’ve been watching is one woman’s journey to her realising she shouldn’t be a corporate bitch but a mother. What the actual fuck? Pretty much all interaction between Claire and her sister Karen (the kid’s mother) are about how Claire should one day just settle down and be a mum, as an inevitability for all women which is a stark contrast to the women in most of the other Jurassic Park movies (The Mary Sue look into this in more depth). As Jurassic Park was about Dr Grant learning kids were ok, this movie is about Claire learning that she should farm her uterus out to Owen if she ever hopes to achieve happiness. It became increasingly clear throughout, despite a couple of acts that showed true agency, that the writers had created a character that was essential a shell – one to be filled with future babies. So the lesson here ladies, is that you can go and have your career and be a bitch if you like, but remember only a penis can make you happy.

To quote Lesley Coffin’s post over on The Mary Sue:

I suppose an entire paper could be written about how Jurassic Park deals with women and motherhood, considering all the dinosaurs are female, but only a man who can “tame” and control them – or that when left to her own devices, without family or man to “imprint on,” they become monsters. But this movie isn’t subtle enough warrant that much analysis.

And also, can we discuss “nanny”/Personal Assistant, Zara? 

There are some bits in this movie bordering on too gorey for a 12a certificate, mostly several deaths. However, one stands out – the prolonged and graphic death of Zara, which Den of Geek calls “a macabre joke and a chilling piece of horror”. No other character killed, not even the main baddy – whose death appears off-screen – is subject to this treatment. She is first fought over by flying dinos, then dunked and almost drowned in the pool to finally be eaten by the terrifying Mosasaurus. This sequence lasts minutes as we watch this woman brutally, and horrifically killed. But it’s ok, because she was a nasty shrew. Yes, leading up to her death all we know of Zara is that she irresponsibly lost the kids (they ran away) and that she was a bitch on the phone about her fiance having a stag do. Maybe it wasn’t the intent of the movie makers, but it sure came across to me that we shouldn’t be too cut up about her death because she was a bitch.

Death by Mosasaurus

Death by Mosasaurus

Race and Gender

Other than Henry Wu the Jurassic Park novel had no real discernible non-white characters in my recollection (other than many South American characters not included in the film). So it was a good move to give the role of John Arnold (Ray Arnold in the movie) to Samuel L. Jackson – who I think we can agree was well cast!

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In Jurassic World we have Wu back, as noted, in an important but just as small role as before. In the main supporting cast we also have raptor handler Barry (Omar Sy) delightfully swearing in French and the fab Irrfan Khan as Simon Masrani, CEO of the Masrani Corporation and the owner of Jurassic World. Both these characters actually come off nicer and more interesting than some of the main cast, so it’s shame that we don’t see more of them and that Masrani appears to die, albeit in a brave and selfless way that for me made him one of the stand out characters of the movie.

Person of interest

Person of interest

On the side of gender diversity, we have the already discussed Claire, sister Karen and ill-fated Zara, as well as control room worker Vivian – who enjoys probably the most female relate-able moment in the movie, where she turns down her colleagues advances. I couldn’t help thinking throughout that one of the children should be female. As someone to whom Lex was a role model in the 90s, it was a shame to see the focus of this story was on two boys – either of whom could have easily been reworked as a female character with very little change to their personalities or script. Instead it gave the overall feel that this is intended as a “boys” movie for the children target audience, which felt like a missed opportunity.

Child protagonists Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins)

Child protagonists Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins)

With both race and gender diversity in this movie it feels like it isn’t really good enough. I know I come back to this a lot – the fact that some progress still isn’t enough for 2015. Is this racial diversity enough considering other recent action/adventure films have done this better – such as the Fast & Furious franchise and notably Captain America: Winter Soldier? Is the gender diversity and the roles those women are given enough when we’ve just seen in Mad Max: Fury Road how women in action/adventure can be played as equals to men? The answer is no, and we need to do better! Good examples of diversity shouldn’t be the minority.

But is it any good?

In truth, despite a few jarring moments mentioned above, I enjoyed the movie. But much like my review of last year’s Robocop – you’ll have a better time if you leave your brain at the door and just treat it as a popcorn movie. That said, it is arguably closer to the dark version that we see in Crichton’s novel as opposed to Spielberg’s family fun.

There are some nice touches. As mentioned I enjoyed the Masrani character and would like to have known more about how he came to be Hammond’s successor. The lack of feathers on the dinosaurs is explained in a throwaway line from Wu about creating them to look as they wanted them to rather than as they really might. Overall, the film is pretty sympathetic to Jurassic Park and there is a lovely moment where the kids discover the old visitor centre and of course we are to believe that the T-rex is from the original park. Obviously, the score was great and incorporated the well loved music of the original.

Still our favourite girl!

Still our favourite girl!

The Epic dinosaur fight at the end of the movie is pretty awesome, and made me warm to the idea of Owen as alpha of the raptors. Though it demonstrates that the movie does owe a little to more recent monster movies as much as it does to the original Jurassic Park.

So as much fun and action there is here, over all, it made me just want to go back and watch Jurassic Park as a palate cleanser, and enjoy watching Ellie and Lex be great role models for female viewers.

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