Jurassic World is a truly horrible film. Not simply because it’s badly written, drearily directed, and horribly acted, although it is all those things. But because it’s a joyless void.
Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is a splendidly fun movie, for all manner of reasons, but key is that it understands one huge thing: dinosaurs are amazing. Jurassic World begins with the premise that no they’re not, that they’re boring, and that we’re all over them. And sinks deeper into its awe-free mire from there.
The park is open, successful, and packed with tens of thousands of visitors. But, we’re told in the opening breath of the movie, people are over dinosaurs now. They’ve seen them, they’re used to them, they need to create something bigger, scarier, more powerful. In some ways it’s a defiant opening statement for the film to make: we’re going to be so much more than that 22 year old movie (no, it’s really 22 years). It’s a statement that its audience is au fait with dinosaur movies, even bored of them. So you just wait folks, we’ll make something even better.
But huh? When did we stop loving dinosaurs? When did we get cynical about seeing them at the movies? That’s not something anyone’s ever expressed. In fact, the reason people were delighted to hear the franchise was back is because it’s been so long since a film revelled in their majesty. Fourteen years since the entirely forgettable Jurassic Park III came out. Eighteen since Spielberg was at the helm. Sure, we see dragons and magical monsters in every other film, but that extraordinary, breath-taking wonder that was felt the first time you saw the family at the foot of a brontosaurus? The rush of watching the gallimimuses “flocking this way”? The utter terror of the velociraptors in the kitchens? Imagine that, but with 2015′s technology! Imagine the wonder!
Jurassic World is a film with the wonder surgically removed. Every character but for the generic impish child is utterly uninterested. It shows little children bored as they ride around on baby triceratops in petting zoos, parents staring into the middle distance. It’s probably a statement about how we’re all staring at our phones as the world goes by around us, or something. But in a film so empty-headed and blunderingly constructed, such social commentary is wholly out of place. This is a film with open contempt for its audience, snootily condescending of the imagined demand for bigger, scarier dinosaurs. And then is about a bigger, scarier dinosaur, that has apparently had its DNA spliced with nearly every other species of animal on the planet.
The plot is so dumb it feels like lying when trying to explain it. They’ve made this super-dinosaur, bred it to be larger, scarier, more exciting than a T-rex for the jaded fools it imagines are watching, and then almost instantly releases it into the island. But there’s also these velociraptors that Chris Pratt has sort of tamed a bit, and there’s this baddie man who wants to use trained velociraptors in the army… oh God, seriously, this is the story. Meanwhile, two children are posted to the island by their mom, Judy Greer, to spend time with her sister, Aunt Bryce Dallas Howard. Aunt Bryce is IN CHARGE OF RUNNING THE PARK, but Mommy Greer is utterly bemused that she’s not able to drop everything and entertain her children for her for a couple of days. How dare she?! But then wouldn’t you know it, just as things start to go wrong, it’s those two boys alone who are inexplicably in immediate danger. It then slides downhill until the finale that defies all credibility.
What unfurls is drowsily stupid. At no point does anyone make a decision that makes any sense. “Keep everyone trapped on the island with the killer dinosaur, because if we send them home we’ll be closed down!” That’s literally the argument made by one character. And every single moment of peril is caused by people being too hideously brainless to ever just go indoors. No dialogue is worthwhile – there’s not a single line in the entire film that works properly. Jokes repeatedly and awkwardly fall hideously flat, met with complete silence in a packed cinema. Even a conversation between two dinosaurs – no, I wish I were kidding – is over-long and boring.
However, the cynical nastiness of the film is a lot more deeply rooted than just in its sneering plot. It also seems to believe that it needs to be incessantly gruesome to keep us thrilled. Except, it goes so far that any 12 year old watching would experience a few sudden moments of really unpleasant trauma, between extended periods of yawning and asking if it’s over yet. Spielberg expressed dismay at how kids had been upset by a couple of moments in the original Jurassic Park. Jurassic World seems desperate to ensure everyone feels uncomfortable. Spielberg had Martin Ferrero get eaten on the toilet, and Wayne Knight scoffed in a car. Jurassic World slaughters in dozens, with scenes where the dinosaurs extensively torture established, benign characters, before tearing them into pieces. It kills and kills and kills, blood splattering, everyone dying with anguished screams in complete terror. It’s miserable.
When the film ended, I felt a moment of genuine surprise when the director’s name came up. I thought, “Why would you deliberately own up to that?” It’s a film that seemed to hate its own existence, and its audience for wanting to see it. And despite the frenzy of deaths, the ever-so-slightly bigger than a T-rex baddysaurus, and the far greater technical capability, it feels a far smaller film than Spielberg’s original. There’s no sense of scale, no presence, no excitement.
At one point, early on, there’s a moment of wit. In an arena designed to look like the whale show at an aquarium, a monstrous aquatic dinosaur is shown off, leaping out of the water to catch its food, then splashing down and soaking the audience. The food being dangled is a great white shark. It feels like a statement, a bold claim that this will be a disaster film that nonchalantly eats Jaws for breakfast. It proves to be a pivotal moment of arrogance from which it can never recover. (And not least because the clunking rigid rubber head of a dying brontosaurus is less convincing than that ’70s robo-shark.)
Oh, there’s so much more to rant about, so many more abandoned sub-plots, utterly irrelevant characters given extraordinary amounts of screen time… but none of it needs saying after the most key problem: it’s a film that’s bored of dinosaurs. Who the hell is bored of dinosaurs?