review: Jurassic World

Jurassic World

I saw Jurassic World a couple of days ago. It wasn’t The Lost World, but it wasn’t Jurassic Park, either.

Ultimately, it didn’t work for me, but it’s taken me a couple of days to figure out why. I saw flaws in it immediately–some of them are pretty damn hard to miss–but couldn’t put my finger on any one thing. Like rancid candy, it was sweet enough while being consumed to be more or less pleasant, but digestion has been a sour experience.

And then it hit me. The fictional theme park depicted in the movie is a perfect metaphor for the film, itself. They both failed for the same three reasons.

WARNING: There be spoilers ahead.

1. Bryce Dallas Howard’s shoes.
And here’s your first big spoiler. The movie is about dinosaurs running amok through a heavily populated (we’re told 20K people) theme park making snack packs of the guests. A lot of people die, though that’s hardly the focal point as the audience is strongly encouraged to care only about the principle cast. No one we have a true connection with bites it, with the possible exception of the park’s primary funder, Simon Masrani, but he’s a rich, arrogant asshole, so who really cares, right?

So how do the dinosaurs get out? A whole bunch of little mistakes.

The mad scientists baking up extinct creatures in the Jurassic labs have developed a new genetically engineered dinosaur, Indominus Rex. She’s as big and bad as her name is ridiculous. Also, her enclosure is monitored almost exclusively by thermal cameras, even though her genetic makeup allows for her to alter her body heat. Oh, and there’s no alarm built into the system. When the thermal cams stop ‘seeing’ the massive killing machine, shouldn’t someone’s computer at least go ‘beep’?

Granted, many viewers won’t catch that, but the lack of an alarm is frankly implausible. To make matters worse, it wouldn’t have messed with the script one bit to add it. In fact, it could’ve made for one helluva dramatic moment.

But there’s more. The rides are apparently manned by single attendants, making crowd control nearly impossible. There’s no noticeable security presence at the park aside from the emergency dinosaur wrangling team. Employees rely on radios and cell phones for communication, but more than once key characters find themselves in dead pockets where their cell phones don’t have a signal. Oops.

It goes on and on. Any real life theme park with as many little glitches wouldn’t make it past opening weekend. But it fits because the film has the same kind of flaws. There are little elements of bad story telling all over the place. Like the fact that Indominus Rex allegedly has a keen sense of smell, so much so that Chris Pratt’s character douses himself in gasoline at one point to avoid detection. But that detail is only relevant and important in that one scene. The same dinosaur is mere inches from Pratt and Howard later in the film but doesn’t seem to pick up their scent.

Jurassic HeelsAnd then there’s Howard’s shoes.

I didn’t realize it when I saw the film, but there’s already been a reasonably big fuss about Howard’s heels. However, the criticism centers around the perception that there’s a sexist message in her footwear of choice, which, by the way, she clings to even when sprinting for her life from ginormous hungry lizards. Without taking either side in that debate, I have a much simpler reason for hating those heels.

They’re stupid.

No woman on the planet would fail to slip those bad boys off if prepping to play rabbit for a T-Rex, but Howard’s character, Claire, won’t be parted from her pumps. It’s wildly unbelievable and breaks my suspension of disbelief six ways to Sunday, especially given that director Brad Peyton chose to include full body shoots of Claire on the run. Remember that Easy Spirit commercial with women playing basketball in heels? Yeah, it looks that dumb.

Ultimately, it’s a little detail, but the film is full of little details that are so unrealistic that it’s hard to play along. Fiction depends on creating and supporting suspension of disbelief. The Jurassic World crew simply fails to uphold their end of the deal. And if you think I’m nitpicking, watch the movie again and try to not notice how absurd Howard looks sprinting from a T-Rex in stilettos.

2. Gimme shelter.
But that’s the little stuff. Small potatoes. There are bigger issues in Jurassic World, the park. Here are the biggest two.

When Indominus Rex gets loose, we’re told she’s a mere four miles from thrill seeking guests. We already know, by the way, that Raptors can run 40-50 miles per hour. I-Rex is bigger and presumably faster. Those guests have, at most, 5-10 minutes before a feeding frenzy ensues, particularly given her hound-like qualities. Four miles hardly seems like enough space.

Regardless, the staff start making announcements, closing all attractions and telling guests to seek shelter.

Huge issue number one. Two of the main characters, Zach and Gray, are out in the park in a Gyrosphere–what amounts to a big, motorized hamster ball for humans. They’re told, via the announcements, to head back, but they don’t. In fact, they end up taking the Gyrosphere out of its designated area when they find a hole in the fence.

Why doesn’t this electronic vehicle have some kind of override, forcing it to return to the ride’s starting area? Why isn’t it tethered to a specific range so guests can’t take off across the island in one should they find an open gate or a hole in the fence? Because, apparently even after the slaughter in Jurassic Park, no member of the crackerjack security team for Jurassic World has considered the possibility that in the event of an emergency they might need to wrangle the guests.

And big issue number two. When those announcements kick in and we’re ‘treated’ to chaos shots of the masses, sweaty and irritable as they cluster in the main mall area, I kept expecting someone to point them toward bunkers. Safe rooms. Fallout shelters designed to protect against everything from dinosaurs, to bombs, to hurricanes. Oh, but guess what the engineers and architects of Jurassic World didn’t think to include? That’s right–any kind of secure shelter. As in, none.

Kids, hide under the umbrella of that kiosk. The Raptors won’t see you there.

Smack DownOnce again, the plot includes similar holes. In the climax of the film, I-Rex throws down against a T-Rex and a lone Raptor who have apparently decided to join forces, forming the weirdest odd-couple-style team ever. (I smell a sitcom!) It’s not the least bit believable, but whatever. Game on as three killing machines duke it out.

And our heroes? This is their chance to escape! They can get away, regardless of who wins, because the beasts are going after each other!

So they high-tail it outta there, right? Wrong. They hide behind a kiosk (how I wish I was making that up) and watch. Even my wife, who is not one to analyze films, said afterward that she found the climax to be kind of stupid.

The characters stick around because it gives the director a reason to film the entire dino smack down, because (in theory) it keeps the tension high, and ultimately because the writers were lazy. Even if Howard’s heels (and a couple dozen other details) hadn’t already messed with my suspension of disbelief, this one would have shattered it into a million pieces.

It’s a big deal. These people have been running for their lives for the better part of the day. Given the chance to slip away undetected, there is no good reason for them to huddle up and watch, just to see what happens. It compromises all four main characters on an epic scale.

3. More Teeth.
More TeethThe moral of the film falls (kind of) in line with the original. Irrfan Khan’s character, the mega-rich mastermind behind the park’s success, wants bigger, badder attractions. Or, as he puts it when talking to Claire, “more teeth”. This is why his scientists are baking up new breeds. It’s all about marketing. “Corporate felt genetic modification would up the ‘wow’ factor.”

Like the original film, the venture doesn’t work because “uh, uh, uh, life, uh, finds a way.”

I-Rex doesn’t want to be caged, and the very notion of ‘inventing’ new lifeforms, new breeds, is wildly dangerous, particularly given that we’re talking about animals the size of small warehouses. It’s one thing to cross a mouse with a gerbil. It’s something else to start splicing dino DNA. No one knows what I-Rex is really capable of, or if there’s even a way to make her a ‘safe’ attraction, but like John Hammond in JP1, no one is all that invested in taking the time to ask deeper philosophical questions about the nature of the things they’re doing.

Bigger. Scarier. More teeth. More money. Go.

And really, isn’t that what the film is doing, too? I mean, to quote Chris Pratt’s character, “They’re dinosaurs. ‘Wow’ enough.” Does the story really warrant genetic modification? Or the introduction of Mosasaurus, complete with one of the lamest nods to Jaws ever filmed? No. No it does not. But the writers of Jurassic World gleefully commit the same sin their script preaches against, and they do so with what appears to be zero self awareness.

The greatest failing of the film and the park is that both give in to the temptation to show us ‘more teeth’, to be more spectacular, to up the wow factor, without understanding the raw power of what they’re handling. The original film included ground-breaking CGI, but it was the story that made it a classic. The story was good. The Jurassic World crew seems to think that if they give us bigger, more epic dino duals we’ll just keep coming back for more. Never mind that if the original film had been so shallow, it would be as forgettable as Cloverfield or The Day After Tomorrow.

Effects don’t make good movies. Story does. Sure, effects can help. They can facilitate story and draw us further in, but substituting ‘more teeth’ for a reasonably plausible story that doesn’t constantly break suspension of disbelief will always matter more. That’s the foundation.

Like the money-hungry fictional heads of the Jurassic World theme park, the film’s writers have lost touch with what truly wowed us to begin with. And that, my friends, is why Jurassic World will not be a classic. At best, it’s a summer action romp that we’ll hardly remember it in a couple of years. By contract, we’ll be talking about Jurassic Park for decades to come.

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About Ash Martin
Ash Martin writes dark fantasy and horror, has a thing for classic monster legends, Nordic mythology, coffee, and sarcasm, and is currently working on multiple books.

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