The Shadow of Greatness
A word of warning: the following might seem like nothing but an attempt to tear Jurassic World to shreds, but it was never intended as such. It comes from a place of real love for Jurassic. The feelings behind this one run deep.
JUNE 11, 2015
I loved Jurassic World. I adored it. I had the utmost faith that Colin Trevorrow was finally going to deliver the sequel Jurassic Park deserves. The way he talked about the film, the way he spoke with fans, and the ways he responded when premature criticism was thrown his way, gave me real hope, and tremendous amounts of respect for the man. There was no doubt in my mind: Colin Trevorrow was the man for the job.
And then I watched the film.
Walking out of the cinema on June 11, decked out in a Jurassic Park t-shirt and an Ian Malcolm hoodie proclaiming chaos to the world, I didn't know what to feel.
Before I'd gone into the screening, a cinema worker had noticed my clothes and told me how jealous she was — she wouldn't be able to see the film until the weekend. Afterwards, she asked me what I thought, and I had no idea what to say. I winced, shook my hand in front of me.
'It was… okay.'
That alone — the fact that I didn't run out of the cinema telling everyone and anyone I could that it was the best thing I'd ever seen — should have been enough. But I watched the film again, multiple times, before the truth finally hit me — before I admitted it to myself. I suppose I was hoping something would change with each successive viewing, that something would 'click' in my head and I would 'get it.' But it didn't. And, now, I'm left with the cold, hard truth: I didn't like Jurassic World.
In fact, to be honest, I've liked it less as time's gone on.
My heart still skips a beat as the music swells and we set sail for Nublar, soars as Gray throws open those balcony doors and Michael Giacchino's take on John Williams's classic theme blares — but the fact remains: to me, Jurassic World is less than a shadow of what it could have been, what it should have been. And, as time's gone on, I've gotten more and more frustrated by it.
The fourth Jurassic film deserved to be much, much more.
In the days, weeks and months since the eleventh of June, I haven't stopped thinking about Jurassic World. I doubt that's going to change anytime soon. It feels as though my brain might explode with thoughts on the film — and that's why this article exists. It's an attempt to get some of my disappointment out of my system, to — maybe, just maybe — start the process of moving on.*
THE NOSTALGIA FACTOR
My issues with Jurassic World range from simple creative differences to complete and utter disbelief at how some things were handled, but my main, overarching problem with the film is that it was our only chance to return to Isla Nublar for the very first time. Even if, somehow, we end up back there at some point in the future, it will have lost something. Not much, mind you, but something.
I was so desperate to revisit the site of the original park that I went as far as to write the beginning of a story that would take us there when I was nine, and the fact that the return we actually got wasn't anywhere close to what I thought — what I hoped — it could be… honestly, it breaks my heart.
Aside from some quiet, moving use of the original soundtrack, Jurassic World's return to the original park is distinctly underwhelming. There's no substance to it. It feels perfunctory, there because it would have been unforgivable to overlook it.
The landscape around the Visitor Centre is completely wrong — I can deal with the lake being gone, that, at least, is somewhat plausible, but there were a lot of steps leading up to those doors, not the handful shown here — and the interior is overdressed to the point of being unrecognisable.
And then there’s the gate Zach and Gray crash through a little latter on…
As realistic as it is for the structures from the original park to have decayed, I can't help but feel as though more effort could have been put in here; that gate looks as though the crew came across some random rusty fence and threw some Jurassic Park signage on it.
Unfortunately, though, the visuals aren't the only issues with Jurassic World's attempt at nostalgia.
Firstly, the time spent in the original park is little more than blink-and-you'll-miss-it. A lot more could have been done with it. In the early days, one of my biggest hopes was that we would see the original gate again — overgrown, buckled with age. In my imagination, it's a fantastic visual, one I'm still disappointed we didn't get to see, but I am completely fine with the reason Jurassic World provides for its absence. The fact that the wood from that gate was reclaimed, and used in the construction of that of the new park, is poetic. I can accept it.
I can't, however, accept how quickly Jurassic World leaves Jurassic Park behind.
Even if the Visitor Centre was all we were ever going to see, there was much more to that building than the rotunda. Zach and Gray could've done a bit of exploring before happening upon the garage. We could have revisited the café, the kitchen, they could've stumbled upon the old control room. Necessitate some changes to the remainder of the film though it would, I would've had them spend a whole night in the place.
There's an argument to be made that this would've felt like pure fan service, like checking things off a list, but, in my opinion, Jurassic World needed a good bit more fan service. It's the film that bridges the old and the new. By all accounts, the sequels will move on from what came before. If you ask me, it deserved a better send-off.
Secondly to the above firstly — nobody says anything about it!
Zach and Gray come across the ruins of Jurassic Park, and not once does either of them comment on it. Instead, Gray provides some deus ex matches so that Zach can set fire to part of the WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH banner to use as a torch. I'm pretty sure everyone else in the cinema heard me grinding my teeth at that point. Given that Zach later left his hoodie lying on the floor of the garage, he could just as easily have burned that instead.
If you listen carefully, you can probably still hear me grinding my teeth…
Locations aside, Jurassic World is full of fun little winks and nods to its predecessors. Malcolm's book, Hammond's statue, the Velociraptor in the wing-mirror… the list goes on and on. Perhaps the biggest throwback to the original film, however, is that Jurassic World's Tyrannosaurus is the same one from Jurassic Park.
I was almost incontinent with excitement when jurassicworld.com went live and the fans started to figure that out. The Queen of Nublar was coming back. Unfortunately, however, Jurassic World badly mishandles her return.
It is, quite literally, never mentioned that we're dealing with the original Rex. Not once. It's a fact lost on everyone but fans of the series — and if said fans hadn't figured it out beforehand, it probably would've been lost on them, too, because the Rex doesn't look much like her old self. Of course the animal would have aged in the twenty-two years since she first took Isla Nublar by storm, but there's barely any familiarity in her appearance. She looks like a stranger, not an old friend. And when, at the film's close, she looks down upon her domain reclaimed, even her most iconic roar is absent.
Lack of familiarity, however, is just one issue with the Rex's return. For me, its biggest problem by far is that its treated as a stereotypical hero moment.** Whilst it's plausible that a territorial animal would take on the competition if you led it straight to it, the whole business with her busting through the spinosaur skeleton is cheesy, and the shot that follows it awkward and unnatural-looking.
The soundtrack doesn't help here, either. It's too on-the-nose, too heroic.
An interesting note about that particular piece of soundtrack: originally, Giacchino had used a piece from the Jurassic Park score to herald the arrival of the Rex. When Trevorrow saw this, though, he vetoed it, encouraging Giacchino to use his own music.
While this was a great gesture on Trevorrow's part, and a fantastic show of faith in his composer, I can't help but feel that it was the wrong decision. As much as I think the scene could, and should, have been handled differently, a triumphant statement of the original score might have made it a little more palatable. It would have worked well with one of the themes of that battle, too: the old taking on the new.
Lastly, I have a bit of a problem with the fact that the Rex didn't get the kill. Yes, it drives the Indominus to the edge of the lagoon, but something about the woefully oversized Mosasaurus finishing the Indominus feels flat to me. 'Oh…' rather than, 'Oh, my God!'
I will say, though, that I don't think the Mosasaurus should have been entirely absent from the final showdown. The Rex could have taken down the Indominus by the edge of the lagoon, delivering the killing blow while the beast lay in the ruins of the lagoon's fence, and then — after the required victory roar — walked off down Main Street as the mosasaur showed up for a midnight snack… camera out over the lagoon, water-level, facing down Main Street as the Rex walks away in the background, the Indominus's corpse in the foreground — until, that is, the mosasaur shows up and drags it beneath the surface.
Alas, in my imagination is the only place that shot's ever going to exist. So, moving on…
This one is connected to the above, but shouldn't take anywhere near as long to get through.
Simply put: to me, Jurassic World — the park itself — doesn't feel special. With the exception of that great T. rex exhibit, it's as aesthetically bland as it is inconsistent. Inconsistent because it never really feels as though the various locations visited throughout the film are part of the same place, and bland because — well, it's a pretty standard high-end resort.
When Gray throws open those balcony doors, and we're treated to our first real view of the new park, it's gorgeous, yes, but… it's just a park. There isn't a single dinosaur on-screen. Like the Mosasaurus finishing the Indominus, it's, 'Oh…' rather than, 'Oh, my God!'
I say this because there exists come art from the time of the original film that showcases what a finished park might have looked like —
— and it really trumps what was shown in Jurassic World, some of which, like the rusted gates I mentioned earlier, looks as though it just had a few Jurassic logos thrown on it before the cameras started to roll.
This became all the more heartbreaking when an artist who had done some work for the film released a ton of storyboard material that showed a much, much more complete version of the park, not to mention more interesting-looking versions of some of the scenes that made it into the film.
Additionally, I think there's something to be said for the fact that Jurassic Park works, as a setting, because it feels real. For all its wonders, it was grounded, too. Jeeps. Fences. It wasn't far removed from a zoo. Jurassic World, however, feels out of reach, with its Gyrospheres, invisible fences and holograms.
Jurassic Park feels like somewhere you could actually go — Jurassic World feels like a fantasy. Not once during the film's two-hour, five-minute runtime did I feel like I was back on Isla Nublar.
While a more well-realised park might have earned the film a few more points from me, however, it wouldn't have saved it. Because Jurassic World has fundamental problems elsewhere, too. A lot of them.
STORY, SCRIPT & CHARACTERS
From a basic story perspective, Jurassic World is fundamentally sound. It's the execution that's the problem. You can tell, as you watch it, that there's a great film there. Somewhere.
Already hinted at by the characters' silence during the scenes set in the original Visitor Centre, perhaps the biggest issue with Jurassic World, as a whole, is its script. At best, that script scrapes by as decent — the scene in which Masrani confronts Wu is excellent — but at worst, it's atrocious.
'How big is the island?'
'But how many pounds?'
Important plot points are underdeveloped, some of the characters are inconsistent to the point of seeming like different people depending on what scene you're watching, and the tone of the thing is all over the place.
Viewed through a critical lens, there are very little redeeming qualities to Jurassic World's script. And the worst thing about it, for me? Some of my biggest problems with it were 100% intentional.
Trevorrow has stated that he feels Owen and Claire behave as kids would imagine adults to, so their immature, petty remarks — 'He only thinks he's smarter…', 'You should hear you try to say it…' — were absolutely intended to come across that way. I realise this is simply one of those creative differences I mentioned earlier, but I hate this infantilisation of the characters. I can't tell you how much it frustrates me — but, again, there is a reason for it.
Like its main antagonist, Jurassic World itself is a hybrid. Not only of the various versions of the story that existed over the years, but — as Trevorrow says — of all the Amblin movies. Like his decision to have the Jurassic World theme play over the Rex's grand entrance, I can respect this, but I think it was the wrong decision, and is one of the reasons why the film can feel so very inconsistent.
Jurassic World didn't need to embody all of the Amblin films — just one.
Another factor behind this feeling of inconsistency is, I feel, the desire to abandon a few big set piece moments every now and then in favour of a lot of smaller moments taking place virtually one after the other. In my opinion, this really doesn't work. It hurts the film. True, it gives the thing a break-neck pace, but it also robs it of any real breathing space.
This sense of not being able to process anything before it's been swiftly moved on from runs throughout the entire film. It's why — to me — the thing feels so flat, why the big moments get an, 'Oh…', and why I couldn't help but think, 'Is that it?' when the Rex took to the helipad and roared her triumph at the close of the film.
As a result of this dodgy pacing, none of the characters get the time needed to make us care about — or, indeed, hate — them, and plot points that should have been front and centre are relegated to the background.
Zach and Gray's parents' divorce — the reason the kids are on the island in the first place — is horrifically mishandled. Zach himself spends the majority of his screen time eyeing-up almost every female he comes into contact with. Masrani — the best character in the film — gets next to no screen time and a perfunctory death. The film's antagonist, Hoskins, is little more than a cartoon caricature whose eventual demise is wholly unsatisfying. The Velociraptors we're supposed to get to know become dispensable, and Owen and Claire's relationship is, frankly, an embarrassment to storytelling.
I will never understand the logic behind having those two pause to have a kiss during one of the most intense scenes in the film (not when some very valid scenes were removed because they apparently didn't fit with the tone of what was going on) and literally seconds after one of the characters has died horrifically — which, again, no one ever mentions.
But, then, this isn't the only thoroughly out-of-place scene in the film.
'I can't wait to tell Mom!', 'Hold hands.', 'We don't need anyone else…', 'Did your General ever fly into battle with you?', the fact that it's inexplicably Christmas at the beginning of the story, the gate to the Restricted Area just happening to be open with no scene setting it up, this:
And don't get me started about Blue 'talking' to Owen at the end… at least Jurassic Park III's infamous, 'Alan!' was a dream…
It really is tremendously disappointing that Jurassic World had such a fantastic cast attached to it, and yet gave them such lacklustre material to work with that they, at times, came across as amateurs. Disappointing, and, honestly, a little baffling.
Baffling because every time I hear Colin Trevorrow speak about Jurassic World, he says all the right things. He speaks with such reverence and passion for the project — and it just doesn't sync with the film that made it to the screen. I think Trevorrow had a fantastic vision of Jurassic World in his head. I genuinely do — you only have to watch a single interview with the man to see it. Unfortunately, thanks to a poorly-realised script and some profoundly strange creative decisions, I don't think that version came to life.
THE MILITARY STUFF
Technically, this should be part of the previous section, but I feel it deserves one of its own.
For long-time fans of the series, the 'military stuff' is probably the most controversial aspect of Jurassic World. Personally, I had, and have, no problem with the concept of dinosaurs working with humans — as long as it's kept within reason.
I sincerely hope the drug lord-hunting Velociraptors of the infamous John Sayles script never see the light of day — in a Jurassic film, at least — but I have no problem at all with exploring a lion/lion tamer-esque relationship with the animals. Aside from the fact that I feel the Velociraptors don't come across as particularly vicious, or, indeed, scary in Jurassic World, the dinosaurs aren't the problem with the film's military elements.
The people are.
Though he does have one or two strong scenes, Hoskins, as mentioned above, is little more than a cartoon caricature — and the same can be said of his cohorts. They are, all of them, stereotypical military men, and are exploited as such. I can't tell you how much the scene in which the Dimorphodon is shot down over the sea bugs me; the bearded gunman is the embodiment of stereotypical, and the cheesy soundtrack doesn't help matters, either. Which brings us nicely to…
My excitement for Jurassic World's soundtrack was right up there was that of the film itself. While I was initially disappointed when it was revealed that John Williams wouldn’t be coming back, I was convinced that Giacchino would be a worthy successor. I loved his music for Super 8, his Star Trek soundtracks are great, and the score he provided for The Lost World: Jurassic Park's video game counterpart is very, very promising.
So, at the stroke of midnight on June 9, I had my earphones in and the volume turned up… and, like the film, it was just okay.
The new, overarching theme Giacchino wrote for Jurassic World is fantastic. It really is. But, unfortunately, there are so much embellishments placed on top of it that, most of the time, it's lost beneath them. The trumpeting notes that come into play during As the Jurassic World Turns, and the similar notes heard towards the end of Nine to Survival Job are prime examples of this. If you listen to what's going on beneath them, they're revealed to be completely unnecessary.
Seventy-five percent of the score — the Indominus's creepy theme, Owen driving alongside the Raptors, the Raptors giving chase to Claire and the kids — is great, too, but the rest of it isn't particularly noteworthy.
The themes for Zach and Gray, whilst fine in some scenes, are cloying in others (the Petting Zoo scene and what follows, and the Gryosphere stampede in particular). A complete lack of thematic continuity robs the climactic battle of any musical depth. The music that plays during the meeting outside Owen's cabin sounds completely out-of-place, and the military music… the military music is the real offender. It's way too on the nose, too stereotypical — and serves only to heighten the sense of cheesiness that already permeates the scenes it accompanies.
And then, of course, there's the use of John Williams's original themes. It's the nostalgia speaking, yes, but I can't help but wish they'd been used — or even alluded to — a little more, can't help but wish they'd been used to underscore the 'majesty of the dinosaurs,' not a collection of buildings making up Main Street. It might have helped Jurassic World feel like a Jurassic film, because, as it is, it doesn't.
It really doesn't.
It must be pointed out, though, that this is all my opinion, and I'm in no way saying it should be yours. These are the thoughts of a die-hard Jurassic fan underwhelmed by a film he'd hoped would be everything he thought it could. If you loved Jurassic World, I'm happy for you. You have no idea how much I wish I did, too.
So… uh… there it is.
Despite all of the above, I want to love Jurassic World. I genuinely do. I'm thrilled that a Jurassic film performed as well as it did, but I can't pretend that I'm not more than a little puzzled by its runaway success. I often find myself wondering if I actually watched the same film as everyone else.
The only thing I can put it down to — other than the 100% valid possibility that other people might simply have liked the film — is novelty, the fact that there hadn't been a Jurassic film for fourteen years.
I've said it a few times when talking to people about Jurassic World, but I'd like to put it out there — for the record, if you will: I don't think Jurassic World is going to hold up. Give it a few months, maybe even a few years, but somewhere down the line, I think this film's reputation is going to turn sour. With it available for home-viewing, removed from the considerable hype surrounding its release, I think people will start to see its flaws, to question things they previously overlooked. Being the obsessive I am, I always have an ear to the ground of the Jurassic fandom, and know that, already, the 'buts' are starting to creep in.
'Well, that bit was good — BUT…'
While I'm in no position to speak for anyone else, I think those 'buts' are going to keep coming.
I wouldn't be surprised if, by the time its sequel rolls around, Jurassic World is hovering around the same spot as Jurassic Park III in terms of reputation. Fans will be expecting better. And not only do they deserve it, this franchise deserves it, too.
The shadow of greatness looms over Jurassic World, but that's all it ever is: a shadow. A spectre. One that never quite takes form.
When, shortly before release, the track The Park Is Closed was released on SoundCloud, I took it as validation of having had such high hopes for the film. Finally, the long wait was coming to a close — something so beautiful couldn't belong to anything less than a great film. Now, though, it's a eulogy for everything Jurassic World could have been.
I can't help but be excited for 2018, but I can't deny that — with Trevorrow and Connolly writing once again — I'm more than a little nervous. The thing about Jurassic World, though, is that there were boundaries with that story, things Trevorrow and Connolly had to incorporate as they wrote their take on it. I hold on to the hope that, given free rein, they'll deliver a stronger script, and, in turn, a better film. It's clear that Trevorrow has the necessary passion for the franchise.
Whatever the case, though — whether I like what the future holds or not — I suppose there's some solace in the fact that it can't change the past.
I can always go back to Jurassic Park.
* Who am I kidding?
** The same can, of course, be said of the Rex's sudden appearance at the end of Jurassic Park. The truth, though? I expected more of Jurassic World.
2011. Yes, you read that right: 2011. That's the last time there was a Jurassic game of any real significance. Whilst an enjoyable treat, LEGO Jurassic World wasn't at all what the majority of fans have been waiting for, and with the commercial success of Jurassic World, it should have been but an appetiser for bigger, better things to come. Well… fire the waiter, and send some raptors into the kitchen to see what's up, because we're still waiting for the main course.
Jurassic is a franchise that lends itself to any number of genres, and there's certainly no shortage of ideas for possible games. It really is about time one came along. Yes, there are rights involved, deals to be made and permissions to be gotten, but, let's be honest: it's going to happen.
Life will find a way, and someone will make one. Why not you?