The Sad, Self-Referential Irony of "Jurassic World"

It was the perfect storm. An 11-year-old boy. An unparalleled love for dinosaurs. Summertime. All of the pieces fell into place to create the absolutely ideal viewer for Steven Spielberg’s mind-blowing "Jurassic Park." 

I convinced my parents to take me and several friends to a showing of the much-hyped film, to be followed by a sleepover at my house. Even now, some 22 years later, when I imagine the iconic scenes - the ominous ripples in the glass of water; the quickly un-dilating pupil of the T-Rex when met by the beam of a flashlight; Newman from "Seinfeld" getting justly mauled for his indiscretions; the Raptors working in terrible, beautiful unison - I see them through a child’s eyes in a crowded theatre in June of 1993. My friends and I stayed up all night rehashing our favorite moments. My only disappointment from the film was that the greatest all time dino - the Stegosaurus - earned so little screen time (hopefully someone was fired for this folly). 

As the years ticked off the calendar, my love for the franchise did not wain as much as one would expect. After seeing the film, I committed to reading the Michael Crichton novel on which it was based - and subsequently read all other available Crichton novels, including "The Lost World" Even though the cinematic sequels, "The Lost World" and "Jurassic Park 3", were somewhat disappointing, my love for the franchise was unshaken. 

I saw myself as a young Ian Malcolm. I, too, became wary of unchecked science. I, too, knew in my heart of hearts that “life will not be contained” and that “life…uh…finds a way”. And that’s what these books and films were really about. They were a warning against our boyish desires to make every dream come true. They were a reminder of the fact that our ambition and ingenuity can become, at times, more dangerous than helpful. Whereas the "Jurassic Park" franchise initially appealed to my childhood awe of the gigantic extinct reptiles, it was my cynicism that kept me connected to it years later. So, with this in mind, I eagerly watched trailers and kept abreast of news when it was announced that "Jurassic World" was in the works. But here’s the problem with "Jurassic World": its commentary, its warning is a cautionary tale against itself.

Now, before I go off the rails, let me say that "Jurassic World" is a highly entertaining filmgoing experience. As has always been the case with the ‘JP’ movies, the special effects are seamless and impressive. Chris Pratt plays the lead and is as likable as ever. Some of the action sequences are utterly enthralling. Honestly, a surface viewing of Colin Trevorrow’s movie will mostly yield happy audiences. When I left the theatre, at my wife’s questioning, I, myself, said it was “Pretty good.” But the more I thought about, the more I knew something was amiss. You see, the problem with "Jurassic World" is that at the core it is Ouroboros - the snake who is perpetually eating its own tail.

The main plot line of the film is that the amusement park’s scientists, in all of their shortsighted wisdom, decide to completely invent a new breed of dinosaur. They have been compelled by plateauing profits to produce a bigger, more terrifying predator - because apparently the T-Rex doesn’t bring in the crowds like it used to. So the newly engineered Indominus Rex is an untested commodity. As the film progresses, we learn that the scientists have basically taken all of the most dangerous features from the carnivorous dinosaurs (the size of the T-Rex minus the comically short arms, the communication and problem-solving skills of the Raptors) and mixed them with other enduring reptilian features (like the chameleon’s ability to change color). What could possibly go wrong? This is an especially obvious question given the fact that the team of geneticists is led by the same genius who gave the original Jurassic Park dinosaurs the ability to switch genders and reproduce unchecked. Apparently the billion dollar-a-year park lacks a quality Human Resources department.    

Once mayhem ensues, which takes a jarringly short amount of time, much of the “I told you so” dialogue comes from Pratt’s character, Owen Grady, who is clearly the only one on the island who has any respect for the deadly animals. In the first two film installments it was Jeff Goldblum’s Malcolm who let the viewer in on the dire prophecies about man’s naivety in trying to control nature. Or about the classic dilemma that arises from scientific progress: the “could we” versus “should we”. These messages, as with any strong Science Fiction piece, could be applied to all facets of society. Pratt’s Grady, however, critiques the need for bigger, flashier attractions. He laments that simple, actually-occurring-in-nature-at-one-point dinosaurs aren’t enough for audiences anymore. He angrily scolds the powers that be for thinking that size and spectacle outweighs authenticity and depth.

More Stegosaurus, please!

More Stegosaurus, please!

And there’s the rub: "Jurassic World" is criticizing itself. "Jurassic World" is clearly the Indominus Rex of the film series. It is bigger. It is flashier. It has more death, more action. It is an amalgamation of the previous films. It has the insightful philosophical character. It has the children fighting to stay alive amid the chaos. It has the greedy corporation and seemingly braindead scientists. Those pieces from the previous films were selected and carefully melded into this new, by all accounts Indominus Rex-ier, movie. Yet, as I was watching it, I was being told of the idiocy of such an endeavor. No, check that, I was essentially being chastised for falling into the same trap as the future dinosaur food/patrons of this park. I was duped by the hype the same way that the random, nameless casualties of humanity’s greed were. I had become what Ian Malcolm, and my 11 year-old self, would detest.

Now, all of this could be wholeheartedly forgiven if Mr. Trevorrow intentionally crafted his film with this in mind. If so, "Jurassic World" is actually a somewhat scathing examination of modern Hollywood. A calling-out of the need for more explosions and bloodshed, bigger budgets, the never-ending barrage of superhero flicks. Unfortunately, though, ‘Jurassic World’ is itself one of these sad, shallow films it seems to condemn. And in this, it is an utter disappointment. 

Plus, there was a serious, unforgivable lack of Stegosaurus screen time.

Cole Gelrod is an educator and writer. He lives in Denver with his wife, Joni, and daughter, Juniper.