Jurassic World review: Do not look at the dinosaur park

Update: There is a review of the second movie in the series here.

Jurassic World is a strange movie. It claims to be a dinosaur movie, and yet throughout it is repeated over and over by the actors that dinosaurs are the most boring part of the movie. Do not look at the dinosaurs. No-one wants to look at the dinosaurs.

It is possible you will see dinosaurs in the dinosaur park. Do not approach them. Do not approach the dinosaur park. The fence is electrified and highly dangerous. Try not to look at the dinosaur park, and especially do not look for any period of time at the dinosaurs. The dinosaur park will not harm you.

There will be spoilers in this review, but for now let’s start at the beginning. You have the two child protagonists, the younger brother Gray and the elder teenager Zach. Gray is the only character in the movie to actually be excited about dinosaurs, and his gaze is constantly fixed upon them. He pushes his way to the front of the train just to catch a glimpse of the pearly gates of the park, and spends most of his time clicking away happily with a disposable camera and begging his brother to look at the sights.

Zach however is too busy to look at dinosaurs. He is often just staring blankly at a smartphone (does he have no respect for the jaw-dropping special effects?) But when he is not doing that he is staring enthusiastically at women. All of the women. He is stunned that their child-minder Zara is hot. ‘Is… that aunt Clare?’ he says later, hushed by her beauty. While Gray is runs towards the front of the train to see the park better, or takes a myriad of photos, his brother is staring in a hopeful smoulder at the teenage girl in the seat behind him.

This actually becomes a contentious point for the viewer. This lack of interest affects us directly, when the boys go to see the T-rex feed on a goat, Gray surges forward to the front of the crowd enthusiastically but the camera is left stuck on Zach who is more interested in his phone and so the viewer cannot see the action. Matt Zoller Seitz points out that the feeding scene is meant to evoke the same spot where the T-rex attacked the cars in the first film: “Apparently the elapsed time has turned a moment of life-changing terror for Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern, Sam Neill and company into just another theme for an exhibit.” Later, when they see the Mosasaur feed, the camera is again stuck on Zach texting. Only at the last minute when his brother finally manages to grab his attention is the camera, and the audience, allowed to see the action.

There is a touching moment later in the film when the young Gray finds the night vision goggles that belonged to Tim (the boy for the original movie). Like Gray, Tim was also fascinated by dinosaurs and could not take his eyes off them, much to the disinterest of his older sibling. But rather than share a moment through time and space here, the goggles surprise him when he turns them on, and he puts them down in disgust. Over 20 years later, the way his original predecessor looked at dinosaurs is no longer acceptable. In fact, it has gotten worse. Gray only has a small disposable camera with no zoom or other features, just point and click. Tim had night vision and zoom, technology that only appears in Jurassic World in the hands of the InGen corporation. Unlike the usual child protagonists of the series, these two are only allowed to find an old Jeep and take it immediately to safety. This is a far cry from Jurassic Park 3’s Eric Kirby who survives for months on a dinosaur-inhabited island with amazing ingenuity, such as collecting dinosaur piss to scare away predators and raiding abandoned buildings for food, all while living in an abandoned truck turned into a survivalist adventure den. That’s what Jurassic Park children need to be doing, collecting dinosaur piss and eating jello while living like Robinson Crusoe. Not the health and safety nightmare which is Jurassic World. The only time that they break the rules is when the ride they are on is so boring (because remember, dinosaurs are meh) they decide to go off the beaten track. The gyrosphere that they are riding in does not even care about the dinosaurs, it only constantly loops a safety video (as seen when its wreckage is discovered, it is still playing the same safety video hours later) which talks about how safe it is to be in the gyrosphere, how unlikely it is that anything actually bad will happen to you. It is the ultimate safety bubble, and once forced out of it into actual freedom all they want to do is get back somewhere safe where no action can touch them. This is like some Žižekian consumerist nightmare, where you can enjoy something freely only so much as it is over-regulated. The visitors of the island are naturally horrified to see the dinosaurs uncaged and loose upon the main plaza. The boys hide from the real dinosaurs inside a merchandise shack, more comfortable amongst the stuffed toys and T-shirts they could consume safely than they are with the reality they represent.

The driving plot behind the movie is the creation of the Indominus rex. The owner of Jurassic World, businessman and CEO Simon Masrani, has ordered his geneticists to experiment with creating ‘new’ dinosaurs. The public’s interest in real dinosaurs is waning. The average response to a dinosaur now is ‘meh’. Profits are falling. Profits! It’s the end of the world as rich billionaires who own entire islands know it. So they created a better dinosaur. Smarter. The most amazing dinosaur yet. The biggest thing to happen to dinosaurs since dinosaurs. Progress is a beautiful thing. Its Latin name is shortened to I-rex, but for all the slogans used in the movie to describe it you might as well call it the iRex.

To stop the iRex Chris Pratt, playing himself, leads a motorcycle gang of female Velociraptors. His pack is actually being trained to be used as a military weapon, as people are so bored with dinosaurs now there aren’t enough profits to be made gawking at them, so they are going to sell them to war-torn countries instead. This part of the capitalist profiteering in the movie is actually recognised as being wrong, and the audience is encouraged to hate this side of InGen while still rooting for the adventure park side of the corporation.

All of the dinosaurs on the island are female. And in fact, all of the female characters in the movie are both empowered and disempowered simultaneously. Pratt’s Velociraptor pack are all female, and yet in official merchandise are gender-swapped, presumably because only boys play with dinosaurs and boys don’t play with female action figures.

You have Claire, the park’s operations manager and effectively the one in charge of the place. She is the aunt of the two boys and when they go missing she tags along with Pratt to find them in the jungle in her high heels and business outfit. Despite being the head honcho, she is completely useless and is often told to shush or do whatever she’s told. First Pratt affirms that in the jungle, he is king, so she must follow his every command. Then, she is stripped of her power (‘This is above your pay scale, darling’) near the finale by InGen security. The only useful thing she does is drive a van, which was particularly out of place seeing as all the other vans were driven by army grunts. She releases the T-rex and lures it to the iRex only after her journey of self-discovery and on the advice (or more like, the scared mumblings) of a ten year old boy. When hiding from the iRex Pratt holds his finger to his mouth and stares at her while she fights to keep her sobs under control, afterwards giving her a ‘good girl’ moment, as though to say; what a good job you did keeping your mouth shut. You couldn’t have done it without my stern and persistent guidance. This, to the woman who is usually calm, collected and in control. She breaks all character just to fill a Hollywood need to have power dynamics.

Her sister, the mother of the two boys, also suffers from a similar condition. After learning that her sister was at work and so had left her children with her assistant, she (an upper-middle class businesswoman it seems) interrupts a very important looking board meeting to tearfully ring her sister to proclaim weepily that ‘this was meant to be a family vacation’. Yes, one high-ranking businesswoman rings another at her workplace to ask her why she has gone to work instead of looking after the kids. Her sobbing is interrupted by the mostly-or-all (I can’t remember) male board members sending someone to knock on the glass. Their only (or one of the few) women they have to work with is having a public emotional moment in full view. Only later is it mentioned in passing that their parents may be having a divorce, and then this plot arch is never mentioned again. Their babysitter, Zara, is another woman cutting a strong image in formal business attire and the air of a high-ranking personal assistant (which she is). It is a pity then that her only roles are to babysit the boys, become a panicked mess when the boys disappear, and to become a panicked mess when the Pterosaurs attack. Zach had already tried his smoulder on her before, but now he really cannot stop staring at her as she is torn to shreds and eventually swallowed alive in the franchise’s first ever female death scene, and one of the movie’s longest and most gruesome.

The final woman in the movie is Vivan the radio control assistant. Her role is to tearfully announce the park closure and evacuation. When she leaves, her co-worker inappropriately moves to be intimate with her, only stopping when she invokes the power of another man; ‘I’m sorry, I have a boyfriend’. The viewer is encouraged to be sympathetic to the sexist myth of the friendzone, even when he keeps pushing.
‘Really? You never mentioned him.’
‘Of course I didn’t, I’m at work.’

The movie ends with the downfall of the iRex and the release of several dinosaurs onto the island. One of these is the T-rex, who finishes the movie with a roar over stunning scenery and destruction. She is the same T-rex from the first movie, with the scars to prove it. If the iRex is the smartphone for a new generation, she is the Nokia 3310 and the spirit of our fascination with dinosaurs; indestructible.

In conclusion, this is a brilliant film and you should definitely pirate it.

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