Jurassic World

(Note: I wrote this some time ago, close to the film’s release and since then the worst aspect of this film, product placement, has been written about in great length and depth. You won’t struggle to find articles exploring the topic if you search for them.)

Jurassic World is an atrocious film. Qualified defences which rely on ignoring the ‘Jurassic’ title are insufficient for a movie as willfully loathsome as this, where almost every line in almost every scene is an agony to sit through. The film contrasts its thoughtless dialogue, plot, characters and even structure with shrewd, cynical calculation about what will sell toys and a level of product placement which will hopefully live in infamy. The only mild relief is the abysmal attention paid to the film itself at least undercuts it as a vehicle to sell things to its audience. In one early scene which cuts between a central character Claire holding a Starbucks coffee cup and an assistant drinking Coca-Cola, the assistant remarks that dinosaurs should not have corporate sponsors since it undermines their educational and entertainment value. The utter lack of self-awareness elsewhere in the film and the continued, awful product placement thereafter confirms this as a happy accident of bad film making (or rather bad marketing) rather than a subversion on the film’s part.

When the younger of Jurassic World’s two leads enters his hotel the music swells and he admires a display above him. It would be a serviceable shot, if half the frame wasn’t taken up with a ‘Hilton Hotels’ mat in the background. The character’s older brother – incidentally played by Nick Robinson, the worst performer is a movie of terrible performances – constantly clings to his ‘Beats’ headphones and the film wants you to be sure of the brand as it frequently frames shots to display the ‘B’ as prominently as possible. Later, Jimmy Fallon (host of the Tonight Show) appears as himself in a brief sketch which is utterly out of place in the film except, hopefully, as ‘product’ placement for an individual who is valuable to his network. I say hopefully in this case because while the scene is still reprehensible it would only be harder to stomach should it come to light Fallon was paid money to perform it. The overload of product placement is the best evidence of Jurassic World’s contempt for its audience, for whom it acts less as a film and more as a door-to-door salesperson frantically pointing out articles in its catalogue when we have already paid the admission cost. Worse still is the realisation that this marketing extravaganza is aimed primarily at children under ten.

Indeed, the films dialogue lays bare its disrespect for the audience as it vomits out explanations of plot points we’ve just seen with such frequency even most children would be annoyed, if only for the delay in the action. Any time a dinosaur breaks free or a complication occurs in the plot there will certainly be a character on hand to state, as plainly as possible, the very thing we’ve just been watching. The aforementioned assistant seems almost designed for the purpose, with an overview of the park and a direct line to Claire so he can say, for instance, the pterodactyls have broken free after we have watched the pterodactyls break free. As well as being unnecessary even for most children, the lines break any sense of tension by cutting away from the action to some otherwise unconnected character.  The horrendous writing extends to the film’s ‘message’ which so far as it can be discerned through the distorting haze of sections composed to sell products and sections composed to sell toys is that ‘family is important.’ Claire, aunt to the two boys at the centre of the film, stands accused of neglecting them in favour of work life. This would be a harmless, if rote message for a Hollywood movie, except that it also takes aim at anything which it deems abnormal.  Talking to her sister over the phone, Claire says that she will have to adjust her life if she wants kids, which her sister quickly corrects to ‘when.’ Claire doesn’t challenge this line at all despite the fact that it would seem out of place in the most conservative romantic comedies – she has just been instructed, after all, that she will want children. In the end, the film implies the boys’ parents, who were on track to divorce during the film are happily reunited by their concern for the boys. Even The Parent Trap handles this with ten times the sophistication.

The film’s relation to Jurassic Park is strange and predictably shoddy. On the one hand it opens with a character asserting that ‘regular’ dinosaurs are not cool anymore and that audiences won’t come to see them, so they need to knock it up a notch. Of course, the film then proceeds to ‘knock it up a notch’ by having a ridiculous looking super-dinosaur with stupid abilities which merely appear as the film requires it. Surrounded by raptors, the super-dinosaur has a conversation with them in some kind of raptor language (I wish I was joking) and commands them to attack the humans. He is, we are told afterwards, part raptor. In another scene he is invisible and kills a squad of the park’s security. He is, we are told afterwards, part cuttlefish. The film misunderstands what was good about Jurassic Park and assumes that by enhancing the lethality of its creatures it enhances the film. As a child watching Jurassic Park (and as an adult), the cool thing for me is still watching the dinosaurs interact in an ecosystem where there is no obviously ‘evil’ creatures: the raptors and tyrannosaurus merely fight because they are natural enemies. This film almost completely reverses that dynamic with a climax which sees the ‘natural’ tyrannosaurus and raptors unite to fight the super-dinosaur and even this ends with a stupendously moronic nod between the raptor and tyrannosaurus as though it is a ‘job well done.’

Further, the iconic shot from the first film of the tyrannosaurus roaring as the banner falls down from the park’s visitors centre is recreated at least twice with disastrous results. Much as a few critics have taken it upon themselves to defend this film by arguing it should ‘stand alone,’ Jurassic World itself regularly reminds us of better films. The first time this is done it is in the same location as in the first film (by then overgrown), substituting the tyrannosaurus for the new dinosaur. It is a fumbled attempt to assert Jurassic World as a sequel on its own terms. When the same shot is used again as the tyrannosaurus emerges it cannot help but feel creatively bankrupt. Not just because this is the third time we have seen this same shot across two films – itself a bad sign – but because it is the film’s admission that ultimately the original film still reigns supreme and Jurassic World is after all inferior and derivative.  Indeed, Jurassic World gleefully abuses the excellent soundtrack of its predecessor and particularly its theme music: it is crammed into every conceivable scene without the cinematic talent behind it to make anything feel sweeping or ‘epic’ as in the first film. In Jurassic Park, an excellent film sets itself in a park where everything is slightly awry, where seatbelts don’t work and technical glitches abound. In Jurassic World, a poor film sets itself in a cynical produced facsimile of the original park but this time the glitches and the sense that something could go wrong at any moment is the doing of the film rather than its park.