That is a line uttered by Mayor Vaughn of Amity in Steven Spielberg’s iconic monster action-adventure movie, Jaws (1975). And it expresses the problem that starts all the trouble in that film. The same kind of problem ignites the troublesome events in Jurassic World, the new, fourth instalment in the dinosaur-disaster franchise. You can replace the name of the animals in that line, and it will still apply: “You yell Tyrannosaurus Rex, everybody says, ‘Huh? What?’ You yell Indominus Rex, we’ve got a panic on our hands in our theme park.”
Jurassic World is a movie about itself, a movie about making a sequel to an already successful franchise. How do you top what has gone before? Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire, the park’s operations manager, early in the film, notes that to make the park even more popular, there needs to be bigger attractions. In fact, she says they need to be “bigger,” “louder” and “with more teeth.” And that is exactly what Jurassic World does to further the franchise.
In the movie, the scientists have genetically engineered their own special dinosaur, a mash-up of all the baddest dino genes there are (and then some), a giant creature they call Indominus Rex. But before they can get it ready for show, the big guy breaks out of his paddock and treks four miles across the Isla Nublar landscape towards the park, where you know, there will be a lot of running and screaming. But Claire and the top folks in the park do not want to kill the creature, because, well, it’s an expensive “asset.” They’d rather try to subdue it while keeping everything at the park going normally as if nothing has happened. So, the Mayor Vaughn Dilemma all over again.
Beneath the surface, Jurassic World has interesting potential going for it. It could be an effective allegory about blockbuster franchise filmmaking going out of control and killing its audience. (Clearly the Indominus Rex is the pure representation of The Bigger and Louder Sequel running amok.) And here and there we get humorous jabs at merchandising (one of the staff bought an old Jurassic Park t-shirt off eBay), woefully obvious product placement, and other aspects of crass commercialism. Then there’s the danger of big corporate enterprise commodifying everything (the dinosaurs are all referred to as “assets”), mirroring the idea that entertainment can get so big, we lose sight of the soul of the product.
One can only imagine what a smart director such as, say Joe Dante, who has made a satirical werewolf movie (The Howling) and a satirical war movie (Small Soldiers), could have done with the material and its potential for an enlightened self-parody. For if a franchise lives on for too long, it only lives to parody itself.
But Colin Trevorrow, the director tasked with reviving the world of John Hammond’s monsters, seems only interested in trying to be Spielberg, and brings almost nothing of his own to the sequel. As a result, Jurassic World is a movie so devoid of ideas, it borrows indiscriminately from not just Spielberg’s first Jurassic Park and Jaws, but also from films like Aliens.
Here, it’s not “I feel like I’ve seen this before”, but it’s literally “I’ve seen this before!”. It’s more of the same – two children in a vehicle being terrorised by a Rex; a well-intentioned but ambitious owner/entrepreneur; a huge dinosaur eyeing potential victims at close range; raptors coming to the rescue; a herd of dinosaurs running across an open field; and many more. Other elements and characters feel not just familiar but old and well-worn, such as the military-minded guy who wants to weaponise the trained raptors for war.
In a movie that’s so unoriginal, predictability is a given. I was one of the people who, 22 years ago, queued around a whole block to get tickets for Jurassic Park on opening day, and was awed by the then-state-of-the-art CGI and the sounds of the T-Rex and velociraptors. Even so, Jurassic World provided me with no powerful nostalgia. Unless you have never seen Jurassic Park or aren’t even aware of its existence, don’t count on any real entertainment value here.
Bigger, louder and more teeth doesn’t always mean better. And ironically, the movie is exactly about that. By the time the big ending arrives – and you just know there has got to be one – the big, vicious resolution seems to signify that this sequel has given up on itself, and that there is no way to top the original Jurassic Park. See the final shot and you’ll get what I mean.
Note: At the time of writing, Jurassic World had already become the movie with the biggest opening weekend in history. So what do I know, right?