You can’t experience first love twice. That was my problem walking into Jurassic World. I wanted so badly to fall in love again just as I had 22 years ago when I sat in a movie theater watching Stephen Spielberg’s Jurassic Park. My ten-year-old self sat wide-eyed, with my feet pulled up onto my seat so I could wrap my arms around my knees and hold myself tight as I watched the exhilarating terror taking place on the big screen.
Jurassic Park seamlessly blends horror, adventure, humor, philosophy, and suspense into a plot about how developments in genetics and bioengineering have made it possible to create a Dinosaur Disneyland. But it’s not just a film about amazing dinosaur attractions; it’s a film that asks its audience to experience, evaluate, and care about what we are seeing alongside the characters we are rooting for. Without a strong cast of multi–dimensional characters with whom we share an emotional connection, none of the wide-eyed thrills would feel as compelling. It’s the strength of the characters that drives the storytelling. There is so much at stake for them. No one is safe. Every single character is in constant danger of being eaten, crushed, or electrocuted.
Every scene in Jurassic Park is brimming with emotional and visual wow, but perhaps what I value the most is how the film doesn’t patronize its audience. It doesn’t take the path most traveled by big budget blockbusters and ONLY give us stylish spectacle without any substance. Rather, it challenges us to think about the ethical controversy generated by developments in genetics and bioengineering. It brings up the issue of human weakness and fallibility in the context of man vs nature, while also asking, “Does man have the right to play God?”
Jurassic World does the opposite. It’s an aggressive spectacle with very little substance. Set 22 years after the events in Jurassic Park, Isla Nublar (the Central American dinosaur island from Jurassic Park) has been open just long enough for park ticket sales and visitor satisfaction to decline. Apparently, over time, park visitors became increasingly bored by the commonplace dinosaur attractions and want “bigger, louder” dinosaurs with “more teeth” to wow them. The film assumes that same desire from its own audience. It creates a bigger, louder, and more violent film without any of the thoughtfulness, character development, and emotional wow of its predecessor.
The result is a hollow dinosaur movie that is too big, too fast, and keeps tripping over itself trying to be clever. It bombards us with CGI spectacle after CGI spectacle with a profound bitterness that implies a kind of disgust for its audience. It is almost as if the movie is yelling, “isn’t this what you wanted?” at us throughout its entire runtime.
Sure, the bigger, louder effects are…big and loud, but there is no sense of gravity, wonderment, wit, or suspense. We get too much of everything too fast. We see a bunch of CGI bodies getting eaten by CGI dinosaurs, but none of that seems to matter because the film never slows down to enough for any of those moments to register. There is never any real sense of danger or suspense because the film spends too much time hitting its marks and pandering to the lowest of audience expectations. Instead of compelling, character-driven storytelling, Jurassic World offers us lazy and predictable storytelling, campy acting, cheesy dialogue, one-dimensional characters, and a CGI-heavy production that would make for a better video game than a movie.
If we look at Jurassic World as a metaphor for the modern summer blockbuster culture of “bigger and badder” reboots, of cashing in on an audience’s collective nostalgia, then the hollowness of the film makes sense. It’s a tall order to try to manufacture nostalgia and pass it off as something that is innovative instead of a sub-standard replica, but it can be done. Mad Max: Fury Road is a testament to how inventive a summer blockbuster reboot can be.
I’m sure many people will forgive the hollowness of Jurassic World and enjoy it for the sheer spectacle it is. A part of me wishes I could have lowered my expectations and overlooked the irritating aspects that littered the film, but I just couldn’t. As I said before, you can’t experience first love twice and watching Jurassic World felt like a terrible first date with a guy who couldn’t stop looking at his reflection in the window behind me as he went on and on about how much money he makes. I’d rather just stay home with my dog and watch Jurassic Park.