“Jurassic World” is CGI-licious but is the message lost amidst the chaos?
Mary Shelley created a monster with her novel “Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus.” This is the second time I’ve referenced her gothic novel just this year, as the tale of man creating the instrument of his downfall is a story cycle told over and over again across genres, to the point of weariness.
Shelley was not the first to examine these themes, but her novel has inspired countless recreations and reinterpretations. Michael Crichton’s “Jurassic Park” is a recent example (at least, it’s recent to me, as it doesn’t seem like 25 years ago when my 8-year-old self devoured the book). Crichton took the new technology of genetic engineering and showed us wonder and fear, renewing interest in one of the most fascinating scientific fields there is. It was a watershed moment for science fiction and modern literature.
But it was the film that was the real turning point. Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” recreated Hollywood. Practical filmmakers, makeup artists, puppeteers, and stop-motion animators held their breath as they seemed to become as outdated as Alan Grant, the paleontologist in the original film.
Over the next two decades, filmmaking became more and more reliant on CGI, actors were forced to interact with tennis balls, and green screens replaced real sets. Much like Shelley, Spielberg created his own monster, changing the industry so profoundly that any reliance on real-world filmmaking techniques is looked at as an anomaly—see the reaction to the practical effects of “Mad Max: Fury Road” to understand how far we’ve come.
This year celebrates the advent of CGI usage on a massive scale with “Jurassic World,” an acceptable entry into the “Jurassic Park” canon following two lackluster sequels. It is not, by any means, on par with the legendary original film. However, it is stupidly thrilling and fun and what we’ve come to expect from a June blockbuster.
“Jurassic World” refers to the dinosaur theme park that is now situated on top of the failed attraction from the first film. Dino-tourism, it seems, has become a success. So much so that dinosaurs have lost their luster. The park is Disney-fied and safe, staffed by overweight security guards and bored teenagers. The company has created a beautiful, expensive tourist destination where no one gets eaten and the animals are contained. Even the deadly velociraptors are now trained, taking orders for frozen mice, tamed like the dolphins at Sea World.
As a result of sanitizing the menace, profits are down. The danger of dinosaurs has always been a driving factor behind ticket sales. The park is now owned by a billionaire not connected to John Hammond, the late creator of the park, and to increase sales the company has begun to create new hybrid dinosaurs, upping the wow factor with more teeth and louder roars. Of course, with this being a “Jurassic Park” movie, the general safety of the crowds is predicated on the illusory control maintained by administrative buffoons who value profit over good sense. When the animals are disrespected, their control breaks down and chaos reigns.
In other words, this is exactly the “Jurassic Park” sequel most fans wanted—the audience gets to laugh as unnamed tourists are ripped apart by various dinosaurs with names they can’t pronounce. There is no character development to speak of. The audience is never invested in the heroes or the villains. The people are just talking snacks for the real stars of the film.
Gone is any sense of philosophical musing; we don’t get explanations of chaos theory from a character like Ian Malcolm, or ethical debates about Chilean sea bass around a table of professionals. Instead, there are ridiculous subplots involving military interest in using raptors as weapons so the filmmakers can justify a scene with Chris Pratt riding a motorcycle alongside dinosaurs in the jungle. So long as you don’t think about what’s happening on screen, the film is a perfectly fine sequel.
More interesting to me are the parallels between what is happening on screen and the advent of this kind of filmmaking. Audiences have demanded more and more CGI, looking for louder explosions, more destruction, amplified action. The film is making the case that we will eventually reap what we sow. When we want more teeth, we can’t complain that those teeth eventually eat away at everything we hold dear. We have sacrificed nuance for excess—and “Jurassic World” is just simply the culmination of our collective need for more.