Nostalgia seems to be at an all-time high in Hollywood. Or at least there appears to be far less risk taking among production executives, who eagerly look back in time at past franchises with “brand recognition” to perpetuate the mega blockbuster. However, I am one for nostalgia and Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park is one of my favorite films, so if this new Jurassic adventure is the result of the cold ethos of corporatism exploiting said nostalgia, I admit to having taken the bait.
Jurassic World—conceptually—is quite clever. In an era of franchise reboots, it is both a reboot and a sequel. The film follows a fully realized version of John Hammond’s initial dream from the first film: an island theme park with living breathing dinosaur attractions, fully operational, and drawing crowds by the thousands. This new park, Jurassic World, has been up and running for some time and has managed to avoid the disaster that befell Hammond’s trial run of the same concept in the first film.
The park has been so successful at bringing the extinct animals into the lives of modern man that it has actually turned around to hurt them. Their “attractions”—the dinosaurs—are no longer the awe-inspiring creatures they once were. The novelty has waned, profits have dropped, and the park’s CEO and successor to Hammond, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), has turned to Jurassic World’s scientists to find a creative way to please the shareholders. Their solution is to create a brand new dinosaur species, one that never existed in any way shape or form, the first artificial hybrid: it has the size of T-Rex (bigger in fact) and the smarts of a Raptor. “Indominus Rex” is unveiled by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), the Park’s competent and ambitious Operations Manager, to the CEO, much to his initial satisfaction. But there is more to this new creation than they could have ever expected.
When Michael Crichton wrote the novel that provided the basis for the first Jurassic Park film, he set out to tell a parable about the dangers inherent to technological and scientific progress, a progress driven often not by genuine wonder or desire for knowledge, but by profit, and by the whim of amusement-seeking humans. Discovery, as Ian Malcom, Crichton’s spokesman in the story, puts it is the “rape of the natural world.” Jurassic World’s animals, like Jurassic Park’s, are not in fact authentic dinosaurs, but genetic aberrations, facsimiles created by a corporate enterprise for the amusement of thrill-seeking modern consumers. The first film was all about nature’s reclamation of its own, the dinosaurs, from the well-intentioned but ultimately flawed John Hammond and his team of scientists.
Jurassic World’s success comes, once again, from returning to these themes, embodying the consumerist/profit-seeking/nature-manipulating/technocratic essence of Jurassic World in the form of the Indominus Rex, a creature with an existence devoid of pretense, existing solely to be exploited.
Malcom, in the new film, is replaced by Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) as the Greek Chorus. The raptor trainer’s reverence towards the creatures is constantly contrasted with Dearing’s view of the park’s animal life as “assets.” The arc of Alan Grant (Sam Neill’s character in the original film), who, when confronted with the events of Jurassic Park, moves from stern, cold, modern scientist to a warm paternal defender, is similarly reflected in Dearing’s arc in the new film; a professionally successful, childless woman, forced by circumstance to take up a care-taking role for her two nephews visiting the island as the events of the film unfold.
It is quite clear the filmmakers are returning to the roots of the franchise after two rather bland films, The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3. But the latest sequel is not without its own flaws. It is still quite a testament to the seminal achievement in special effects that is the first Jurassic Park film, that the dinosaurs of 1993 still feel more like living, breathing animals than the often sterile and cartoonish creatures of the later films, and Jurassic World has its share of cartoonish moments as well. In addition, some of both Dearing and Grady’s characterizations come across as a bit caricatured—a fact noted by some feminist critics of the film—and the two can’t seem to bring quite the same distinction that Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum brought to their roles.
Ultimately, if the same corporate thinking in the leadership of Jurassic World is at play in the Hollywood producers responsible for resuscitating the franchise, then the latter must be commended for green-lighting such a self-aware, self-critical script. What better metaphor for the artificiality of the Hollywood cash-grabbing reboot could there be than Indominus Rex? While not approaching the greatness of the original film, the latest attraction from the titans of the industry is certainly a worthy recreation.
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