— SPOILER WARNING! —
In October 2015, after mulling over my thoughts on the film for four months, I published a post outlining where I felt the third sequel to Jurassic Park — which had the potential to be the most satisfying follow-up yet — went wrong. The article soon became the most viewed post on my then-site, and while the fact that I had cause to write it at all still depresses me to no end, I can’t pretend I don’t feel some satisfaction about that. I’m proud of that post. It says most of what I set out to say about what I consider to be the shortcomings of Jurassic World.
In the months following its publication, a few people reached out to me to let me know that they agreed with what I wrote. Others disagreed. But despite their differences of opinion, both groups seemed to have one particular thing in common: they thought the post was a review.
That doesn’t sit well with me, because Life Lost Its Way isn’t a review. If it were, it wouldn’t be a very good one. It deals almost exclusively with the faults of the film, skimming over the good to shine — like one of those cheap, horrifically unflattering fluorescent lights — a spotlight on the bad. I didn’t like Jurassic World, that hasn’t changed, but I don’t think it’s entirely without positives — both the film itself, and what it led to. This article is an attempt to explore those positives.
I have to point out, though, that it isn’t going to be all sunshine and rainbows. Negatives will crop up here and there, to frame various positives, and to provide context. The goal here isn’t unanimous praise, but to provide a balance to The Great Jurassic World Disappointment, to try to look on the bright side.
So, to begin at the beginning (and with an example of some of those negatives cropping up to frame a positive): the opening. For me, Jurassic World’s opening is a deeply mixed bag. Seeing the birth of Indominus is cool, but transitioning to the next scene with that ostensibly creepy roar is appallingly cheesy; we’re taken to the island much too quickly, robbing the film of any real build-up of excitement to be heading back to Nublar; arriving, we’re given, when compared to the concepts for the scene, a relatively bland introduction to the park. But here’s the thing: despite all of the above, I genuinely enjoy the opening minutes of Jurassic World.
In fact, it’s not until the scene in which we’re introduced to Owen that the film gradually begins to remind me why I don’t like it. Before, that, it’s largely plain sailing.
The swell of music as Zach and Gray set sail for Nublar makes my heart skip a beat or two; the triumphant statement of John Williams’s original theme as the camera flies out over the lagoon — even if the effect comes from the music, and not the visuals — makes it soar. There’s a lovely sense of forward motion to these scenes and those that follow, as Wu declares that the Indominus is ready, as Claire prevents Lowery from making a mess in the Control Room, and as Mr. Masrani makes his grand entrance.
This brings me nicely to the man who is, in my opinion, the best character Jurassic World brings to the table, the man who attempted to prove that the next time would indeed be flawless. Despite some weak moments, inconsistent characterisation — and the fact that his remark about having fulfilled John Hammond’s dying wish flies completely in the face of Hammond’s development over the course of The Lost World — I’m very fond of Simon Masrani, wonderfully portrayed by Irrfan Khan.
It’s a massive shame that he was killed off so soon. Had he survived, I would’ve been very much looking forward to seeing where he went in future instalments of the series. Occasionally, I’ll amuse myself by imagining various scenarios in which he does somehow return, in which he walks onto the scene at some point during Jurassic World 2 (face covered in soot, that glorious pink shirt having seen better days) looks around at everyone’s stunned faces and says, ‘What? Never heard of a parachute?’ — or simply takes to the screen and announces that, like the novel-version of everyone’s favourite chaotician, he was only slightly dead.
Keeping, for the moment, with the theme of good performances: Nick Robinson’s Zach — when his character wasn’t eyeing up everything with an XX chromosome, that is. Good thing no one told him about all the dinosaurs being female!
Though I’ve made light of it above, I find Zach’s constant staring at every female in his vicinity to be one of the most disappointing things about Jurassic World — not because its unrealistic or because Zach already has a girlfriend, but simply because it’s piss-poor characterisation. When asked about its necessity on Twitter, writer cum director Colin Trevorrow replied with the following:
@yesdance13 Yeah. He was a shallow, cynical hormonal jerk until he was humbled by the majesty of the dinosaurs and his brother needed him.
— Colin Trevorrow (@colintrevorrow) 28 January 2016
Much of my issues with Jurassic World come down to simple creative differences, but this is one instance where I flat-out disagree with Trevorrow’s logic. There are ways to portray a character as a ‘hormonal jerk’ without resorting to the same cringeworthy conceit over and over again. Watching Jurassic World, I don’t see a ‘shallow, cynical, hormonal jerk’ — I see shallow, lazy writing, and don’t find Zach’s eventual change of heart to be anywhere near as profound as that Tweet suggests.
One of my favourite of the character’s moments comes early-on in the film, when Claire wonders how long it’s been since he was, like —
The withering delivery of his response is excellent —
— but the character’s strongest moment by far occurs later, when, en route to the Gyrosphere Valley, Gray breaks the news of their parents’ impending divorce. Zach brushes it off, pretending not to care, but there’s a moment — just as Gray turns to watch the ACU speeding towards their doom — when it’s clear that the news shook him more than he was willing to admit, making for a genuinely great moment amid an otherwise poorly-handled subplot.
Switching from characters back to scenes, and picking up pretty much where I left off: Masrani’s introduction to the Indominus rex. Quiet, tense, beautifully shot, and featuring some of the best use of the film’s soundtrack, it’s one of the foremost examples of how great Jurassic World could have been if it had just paused to take a breath every now and then.
The Indominus’s eventual escape, too, is a stellar example of this — and also of how effective precise attention to detail can be. The scrape of the animal’s claw across the gravel as it stalks its unfortunate prey never fails to satisfy, and the CGI as it tries to sniff the petrol-soaked Owen out from beneath the second truck is, quite simply, phenomenal. If the rest of the film’s visual effects had been of equal quality, then I truly believe that most of the complaints about Jurassic World’s relative lack of animatronics would have been rendered moot.
Animatronics bring a nice physicality to scenes in which they appear, and their massive contribution to the Jurassic series is undeniable, but there’s simply no getting around the fact that they tend to look somewhat stiff. There’s no denying that Jurassic World’s dying Apatosaurus is incredibly impressive piece of technology, but there’s also no denying that it looks out of sync with the rest of the film. Hell, it looks out of sync with the rest of its own scene.
Beyond the Indominus’s escape, Jurassic World has, for me, a few more good scenes — ‘Evacuate the island.’; Owen’s infamous ride with the Raptors; the Raptors’ defection and the resulting chaos — but just one great scene.
I consider the confrontation between Masrani and Wu to be the best scene in the film — it’s genuinely, objectively excellent. Wu’s comments on innovation make for a deeper look into the character’s motivations, too, providing a subtext for his actions and (apparent) allegiances, and the scene’s closing line — ‘To a canary, a cat is a monster. We’re just used to being the cat.’ — sets a fantastically ominous tone not just for the rest of Jurassic World, but for the remainder of the trilogy itself.
One of the really great things about that scene is that part of Wu’s dialogue comes almost word-for-word from Crichton’s Jurassic Park.
“Scientists are actually preoccupied with accomplishment. So they are focused on whether they can do something. They never stop to ask if they should do something. They conveniently define such considerations as pointless. If they don’t do it, someone else will. Discovery, they believe, is inevitable. So they just try to do it first. That’s the game in science. Even pure scientific discovery is an aggressive, penetrative act. It takes big equipment, and it literally changes the world afterward. Particle accelerators scar the land, and leave radioactive byproducts. Astronauts leave trash on the moon. There is always some proof that scientists were there, making their discoveries. Discovery is always a rape of the natural world. Always.” — Ian Malcolm.
One paragraph. Two characters. Two films. It might not cast Jurassic World’s original moments in a particularly great light, but it certainly is interesting to note that the film’s best scene comes straight from the original novel.
Whilst that does it for scenes I can genuinely say I consider to be great, the rest of Jurassic World is smattered with moments that I can, at least, appreciate. The thing, though, is that they all have drawbacks to them, negatives casting shadows over their positives. A prime example of this — the prime example — is the return to Jurassic Park. I’m definitely glad it’s there rather than not, and I love hearing the original theme reprised in such beautiful fashion, but the thing is entirely too brief; it lacks substance, feels phoned-in, myriad details are incorrect, and the Visitor Centre is overdressed to the point of being unrecognisable.
The list of scenes with this positive/negative dichotomy goes on and on. The shot in which Hoskins takes to the helipad and looks out over Main Street as it’s terrorised by the pterosaurs is incredible, but the effect is immediately shattered by the shot of his cartoon-villain grin. The pterosaur attack sequence itself is great, but is then completely undercut by that goddamn kiss. The Raptors chasing the Mobile Veterinary Unity is among the film’s most exhilarating scenes, but is hamstrung by the terrible, ‘I can’t wait to tell Mom!’, and Zach and Gray’s woefully over-the-top — not to mention, in Zach’s case, out of character — reactions to Owen’s arrival. The standoff between Owen and Blue hints at how effective the Raptor/trainer relationship could have been if it wasn’t handled so questionably — but then we’re subjected to a horrific sequel to Jurassic Park III’s infamous, ‘Alan!’.
And then, of course, there’s the coup de grâce: the ending.
The concept of Jurassic World’s finale is truly awesome, and though the execution is serviceable enough, I can’t help but lament the wasted potential. Though the closing shot of the Rex roaring over the park is great, the fade from Nublar’s coast that takes us to the helipad is bland, and the motion of the camera as it passes behind the Rex forced awkward-looking.
Once upon a time, I was working on a start-to-finish rewrite of Jurassic World, telling the same story, but with significant changes to how it’s told. One of my primary goals with said rewrite was to tweak the ending to be something closer to what I expected when I first sat down to watch the film — something with a little more impact, that tugged at the heartstrings of those of us saddened to once again see John Hammond’s dream in ruins.
Rather than the camera flying across the ocean before titling up to reveal Nublar, my ending would have had it flying along the monorail track before tilting up to reveal Jurassic World’s gate, passing through the gap between the gates themselves and the logo, to show us the park, abandoned, before continuing across the lagoon — perhaps darkened by the shadow of the mosasaur — along a still-smouldering, debris-ridden Main Street, and finally to the helipad, and the Rex, roaring over her domain reclaimed.
Despite its issues, however, Jurassic World’s finale does pack one resounding positive: its soundtrack.
Though it is very slightly marred by some superhero-sounding embellishments heard often in Giacchino’s finales, Jurassic World‘s final pre-credits track — Nine to Survival Job — is fantastic, a powerful, triumphant statement of Giacchino’s wonderful main theme. If it had closed-out a better version of the film, I have no doubt it would’ve brought me to my feet to give a standing ovation — if, of course, I could rouse myself from the sobbing mess I’d likely be as the credits rolled on a perfect sequel to Jurassic Park.
THE FILM: PRESENTATION
Like some of the aforementioned scenes, Jurassic World’s presentation has its issues. The camerawork isn’t particularly inspired, the colour grading renders the whole thing overly teal, and — for me — there are some weird problems with scale, often making it hard to appreciate just how big some of the animals really are.
This, though, is another example of my using some negative points to lay the foundation for some good, because when you set those issues aside, Jurassic World is a gorgeous film. With each of the three showings I attended at various cinemas never quite in perfect focus, I wasn’t able to appreciate this when I first watched it — but revisiting the film on Blu-ray is an incredibly satisfying experience. Despite that teal grading, colours pop beneath the pleasing layer of grain, and despite that not-particularly-inspired camera work, there are some fantastic shots.
Needless to say, I can’t wait to see what J.A. Bayona will bring to the screen with Jurassic World 2.
THE FILM: STORY
This post began as an attempt to explore the positives of Jurassic World, but I think it’s clear from all of the above just how conflicted I am about it. That conflict, however, comes purely from how the film was executed — not from the story it told. While I find various details of that story to be less than stellar, I’m absolutely fine with what, in its broad strokes, it brings to the Jurassic canon, and can’t — as I’m sure you can guess — wait to see what happens next.
THE PARK IS CLOSED: FROM JURASSIC PARK TO JURASSIC WORLD
From here on out, this post will finally be what its title suggests — positive. With the film out of the way, I can move on to discussing various things that happened around it, and, for those things, I have nothing but praise.
I remember the day the switch from Park to World was announced as though it were yesterday. It was the day I finally got Internet access installed at home. Before going to get it sorted, I was sitting in a library, browsing the Web, and happened upon the story.
Initially, like the change from red to blue, it threw me a little. Well, a lot. I didn’t know what to think. These days, though, I’ve come to like it. In a way, the title had to change. Jurassic Park worked for the first film because it was, quite literally, about the park. Its reuse as The Lost World’s subtitle was fine, because that film was really the story of InGen’s disastrous attempt to resurrect the park on the mainland. Appearing again as the title of Jurassic Park III, however, it began to strain credulity.
Jurassic World fixes this. Not only does it make sense as the name of the new park, but it has bigger implications for the future of the series. Of course, that’s the logical reason why I like it — my personal reason, however, is that it allows for a clear line of distinction between the first trilogy and the second. If things end up going further downhill, it allows me to identify as a fan of Jurassic Park, but not of Jurassic World. This may seem like a negative point, but it’s not, and I think anyone who feels the same way will understand.
Trevorrow. You might be wondering what he’s doing on a list of positives given my feelings about the film he delivered, but despite those feelings, I’m a huge fan of Colin’s. His passion for the Jurassic series is obvious, and listening to him talk about it is always a pleasure. From the earliest of days, it was clear that Trevorrow was the director the fans needed.
— Colin Trevorrow (@colintrevorrow) 2 May 2013
Responsive, generous with his time, funny in the face of premature criticism and willing to listen to differing opinions, Colin more than knocked the lead-up to Jurassic World out of the park. Whatever reservations I have, I’m glad Spielberg chose to pass the torch to someone who obviously cares about what came before, and what’s yet to come.
DISCOVERING THE JURASSIC WORLD
Above, I mentioned that I didn’t have stable access to the Internet at home until the day Jurassic Park became Jurassic World. Consequently, I had no idea just how extensive the Jurassic community — the custodians of the franchise, keeping it alive while the people in charge let it rot — was. For me, discovering that community was the single best thing Jurassic World led to.
The amazing atmosphere of hope and excitement amongst the fans in the time leading up to its release is what keeps me coming back to Jurassic World, the chance of recapturing what that felt like what drives me to take the Blu-ray off the shelf every few months, even though doing so invariably leads to disappointment.
As we head into 2017, and the inevitable storm of news about J.A. Bayona’s sequel approaches, I couldn’t be more excited to share it with that community — and as for the sequel itself, things are, for now, looking good.
With an excellent new director attached, and some promising reassurances from the old, the stage is set for life to find a way.