I cried, my geek peeps. I cried at the opening of Jurassic World. Not at the bit where a baby dino cracks itself out of an egg, though that is awesome and in the world of this movie you know that someone has created @EmergencyCuteDinoBabies on Twitter and it is Everything.
No, I cried at the helicopter shot swooping in over Jurassic World — the park is open! — because I want this to be real. Why isn’t it real? Why haven’t we scienced into existence dinosaurs right outta the past? I know the whole point of this franchise is to highlight how probably incredibly stupid this would be but I wanna see a brontosaurus, dammit. I had a recurring nightmare as a kid about dinosaurs — including superscary T. rex — walking around the streets of the town where I lived, like right near the mall and everything, and even though they were frightening I loved those dreams. I walked down the streets of New York in the early 90s reading Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park in an already dogearred paperback — this is the only book I can say this about — because I could not put it down even during the process of getting myself from one place to another.
The first Jurassic Park film was one of the movies I thought about when I first started writing film criticism, as I pondered whether I would be able to find things to say about movies for more than a few months. I even really like the second and third films, which I know a lot of people, even major dorks like me, have problems with.
Basically, I am the prime demographic for Jurassic World.
And I found it only sort of inoffensively blah.
You cannot imagine how disappointed my geeky self is at this. MOAR DINOSAURS, I screamed. And I was mostly thwarted.
Here’s the thing: Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy, The Lego Movie). He’s no Jeff Goldblum. He’s no Sam Neill. He’s not even Bob Peck aka Robert Muldoon the raptor keeper or Pete Postlethwaite the big-game hunter from The Lost World, who are closest to what his raptor wrangler Owen Grady is supposed to be. I don’t blame Pratt per se, even though I really don’t see why he is considered a movie star, he’s just not that interesting though I’m sure he’s a very nice guy don’t troll-bomb me bro. I blame the script, which lacks almost all the humor of the original series. (Product placement is not a decent replacement, but dear god, this movie seems to think chain-corporate logos are sneakily funny.)
But damn if the ghost of Ian Malcolm doesn’t hang over this movie, saying things like “That’s how it starts, first comes the ooing and the ahhing, later comes the yawning and the snoozing” and “They were so preoccupied with whether they could make a sequel to Jurassic Park that they didn’t stop to think if they should” and “That is one big pile of shit.”
No, that last is not fair. Jurassic World is not that bad. But it ain’t very good, either. It’s the people who are a problem. The dinosaurs are still realistic (which is cool). But the people border on the animatronic. The characters here are not vivid like those of the original trilogy are. I kind of don’t care if they get eaten by dinosaurs.
I can’t even with Bryce Dallas Howard’s (50/50, The Help) Jurassic World administrator Claire Dearing, whose job is sort of vague but seems to consist of her being an ice queen who is a Bad Aunt to her nephews (Ty Simpkins [Insidious: Chapter 2, Iron Man 3] and Nick Robinson [The Kings of Summer]) who are visiting the park. We don’t get a good sense of what her actual job is, beyond how it brings her into contention with Grady, Raptor Whisperer, who is all These Animals Have Rights! while she is all Corporate Profits! Then she slowly starts to remove her clothing while they run around getting chased by dinosaurs, and she smiles when someone refers to Owen as her boyfriend even though he isn’t. Cuz that’s what ladeez do! Owen also gets to sexually harass her for laughs, haha. If only the movie were making a point about how men can sometimes be the real prehistoric monsters. But it isn’t. The movie thinks he’s cute.
And it’s not like the dinosaurs are really all that amazing, either. This is one of those movies that, I suspect, thinks it has built-in responses to potential criticisms… like how the dinosaurs are sort of more-of-the-samey as what we’ve seen before. See, Jurassic World the theme park exists in a world in which genetic engineering has been bringing dinosaurs back to life for the past twenty-something years, so an entire generation of kids has grown up with the idea that dinos are living creatures, boring zoo animals like elephants or something, not amazing creatures out of the history books and legend. Which means that everyone is really blasé about, like, baby stegosaurus petting zoos (OMG). Which is why Ingen mad scientists (like returning B.D. Wong, now in full-on villain mode) have cooked up Indominus rex, a combination of T. rex and if you cannot guess which other dino species you have not been paying attention.
But in the big climactic dino-battle finale between T. rex and I. rex, it’s really difficult to tell the difference between the two of them. And even worse, it’s kinda hard to tell whom the movie thinks we should be rooting for. I think it ends up reversing Bob Muldoon’s clever-girl respect for smart lady dinosaurs, but even now, I’m not sure.
I don’t think Ian Malcolm would approve.