Like millions of other people this past weekend, the Mysterious Mr. C, my best guy friend S, and I headed to our local theater to watch Jurassic World. The fourth film in the popular Jurassic Park franchise, Jurassic World is pretty much what you would expect it to be: Some characters don’t appreciate the intelligence of the formerly extinct/genetically modified creatures they are dealing with; the dinosaurs get loose, run amok, and kill scores of innocent park-goers; and the day is ultimately saved by our no-nonsense hero (and a few Velociraptors). But while it may have been predictable return to the park, Jurassic World was a really fun ride and though you knew what was coming, the thrills were still there.
I don’t want to say too much more than that though, and just about everyone has done a plot synopsis of the new box office juggernaut, so instead of a traditional review post, I thought I would highlight the three things that I took away from the movie.
1. Chris Pratt is a good dramatic actor!
Since I haven’t watched Moneyball or Zero Dark Thirty, this was the first time I’ve seen actor Chris Pratt in a dramatic/serious role. Though I had no doubt that he would be able to carry a film like Jurassic World, it was really nice to see more of his range. Oh sure, there’s one scene in which he makes a sexually-tinged joke – reminiscent of his Peter Quill from Guardians of the Galaxy – but for the most part, he has the bearing that his U.S. Navy veteran persona demands.
He also provides much of the film’s heart, as he seems to be one of the few people in the movie who actually sees the dinosaurs as living creatures that should be both respected and feared. In a way, he reminds me of Jeff Goldblum’s character, Ian Malcolm, from the original Jurassic Park: a bit of a playboy, but ultimately someone who wonders why the science has to be pushed so far. As Pratt’s Owen Grady notes, “They’re dinosaurs, ‘wow’ enough.”
Yet as good as Pratt is, I wish the writers had taken a little more care with Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire Dearing, the park’s operations manager. While I have no quibbles about Howard’s acting, Claire just seemed to be a bit flat as the corporate ice queen. While she did soften as the movie went on and more people and dinosaurs were in danger (and she had a few bad-ass moments too!), I felt like she was mainly there to be the romantic foil for Owen. Also, how did she not break a single heel in all of that running around the park? Through mud and a jungle, and away from carnivorous dinosaurs?! I mean really, that was just absurd. (Update: Shortly after I scheduled this post to go up, I found this story by Slate‘s Gabrielle Moss, in which she says Claire’s shoes are the best, and perhaps most progressive, part of the movie. It’s a convincing argument, so I wanted to share!)
2. Product placement in movies is getting ridiculous.
With the increased cost of actually making a movie, it is no surprise that filmmakers are turning to corporate sponsors to help defray some of the expenses and product placements have been turning up in films for years. However, in Jurassic World, the nods are extremely obvious, a bit excessive, and even laughable. Over the course of the movie’s two-hour running time, we see advertisements for Coca Cola, Hilton Hotels, Pandora Jewelry, Samsung, and Starbucks, just to name a few. There are also all of the vehicles that are featured, including the Mercedes G63 6X6 and Triumph Scrambler. Even Jimmy Fallon – who I enjoy – makes an appearance as a bumbling scientist in a video for one of the rides. Oh, and of course there’s Verizon Wireless, which proudly sponsors the Indominus Rex, a completely manufactured dinosaur that is (at least) part Tyrannosaurus Rex, Velociraptor, Cuttlefish, and Tree Frog.
Though it was nearly impossible to miss all of the ads in the movie, S said afterwards that this was the first time it had really bothered him. When I asked him if he thought it was worse because they were on an island instead of say a city block where you would expect to see at least one Starbucks, he responded that he didn’t think that would matter because “the obviousness was still there. I mean, they tried to make it obvious with the sponsor-dinosaur names… but were guilty of doing just that much advertising within the movie itself. Either it was self-aware (and just giving a nod to the cost of doing business) or hypocritical.” Based on what I’ve read, it seems like it was the former, with director Colin Trevorrow saying that the whole film is a metaphor for modern movie franchises and our desire to always want more.
3. For being a dinosaur action/adventure flick, Jurassic World really made me think.
As C and I walked back to the car after the movie, I told him that Jurassic World had made me think of all the recent news stories about people being attacked at safaris or the shock of lions opening car doors with their teeth, and how we seem to forget that these animals are also intelligent, even if they don’t have opposable thumbs.
It also made me think about zoos and whether or not they are good things. Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing exotic animals at the zoo and zoos are certainly more humane now than they were originally, but I felt for the baby Brontosaurus getting squeezed by some kid in the petting zoo, and the Triceratops that were saddled and walking around in a circle for kids to ride. In fact, I spent most of the movie agreeing with Owen that these were animals that should be treated like more than a commodity, and if that’s the way I/we would see dinosaurs, isn’t that how we should treat real animals too?
As the Washington Post’s Emily Yahr points out, “There are other moral lessons within Jurassic World…about consumer corporate culture; the rapid expansion of technology; and the pressure to make everything bigger and more exciting at any cost. Plus, there are some thoughts about the military,” but animal rights makes up the main theme for the latest Jurassic installment.