Double Bill: Jurassic Park (1993) & Jurassic World (2015)

How they’re essentially the same film and why that’s the point.

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The title of this post may surprise some amongst you given that the last time I did a joint/comparative review was my Gatsby vs Gatsby post back in 2013, but here I think a double-pronged approach is not only necessary, but important. Here I put in a disclaimer: I never saw Jurassic Park in its time, I think I vaguely saw it once as a kid and caught the opening twenty minutes on TV once but I had absolutely no memory of this film, the plot, the characters, nothing. So I saw Jurassic Park for the first time a week before I saw Jurassic World, both in 2015.

Jurassic Park, it is widely agreed, and I fall into this agreement, is a classic of cinema. It falls into the very particular genre of “summer blockbuster”. Coming from the director that invented the summer blockbuster back in 1975 it’s no surprise that Jurassic Park did well. However that wasn’t its only distinction. Jurassic Park heralded in the new age of CGI cinema, a fact I’m not sure we should be thanking it for. A theory that has been widely bandied about, and that is only gaining more traction, is that the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park are an allegory for the CGI itself. I’ll come back to this later.

For the moment I can do nothing but agree with twenty years of criticism, Jurassic Park is fun, engaging and well written. Jokes and shots from the film have become cultural cornerstones. The suspense is built up from long before one ever sees a dinosaur and when you do they are just as terrifying as you could have imagined through the combined magic of animatronics and CGI. While the end is a little abrupt there’s enough of a heart to the story to still give it that feel-good Spielberg atmosphere even when your heart was racing in fear ten minutes earlier. The film just comes along and in its neat two-hour package and delivers its message – nature will prevail. Be that the natural world over the men meddling with it or the instinct to reproduce even in the most stubborn humans.

At this point I again have to confess – I did not watch the second and third Jurassic Park films, in a very large part because I heard that Jurassic World could easily be considered as somewhere between ‘reboot’ and ‘the only true sequel’ for Jurassic Park. In a way it’s both, but it’s also, perhaps most importantly, a remake of the original. Of course, this has been the main criticism thrown at Jurassic World – plot-wise and theme-wise it’s at best a remix of Jurassic Park. At the end of the day the dinosaurs once again rule the natural land and the humans decide that love and family are important after all. So what has changed in the last twenty years?

Accepting Jurassic Park and Jurassic World as parallel films trying to say very similar things allows us to examine the differences between the two and reflect on what that says about us an audience. Jurassic World wastes no time showing us its intentions. It’s making fun of us. Us as humans and us as viewers. The Jurassic World theme park has been built on the same site as the original, has the same dinosaurs and is still run by humans playing God with nature. Human arrogance and forgetfulness are an inexhaustible spring it seems.

What did the visitors to the park expect? That dinosaurs were suddenly less dangerous and that human technology became entirely infallible in the last twenty years? More to the point what did the viewers expect to happen when they went to a Jurassic Park film? Can you really criticise the fact that the plot arc of “dinosaur park, dinosaurs escape, fear ensues” was used once more – were you expecting to see a film with no dinosaur fights or escaped bloodthirsty animals? Complaining that it’s just another dinosaur movie is exactly what they’re laughing at you for. Just as those kids in the movie are on their smartphones ignoring the great T-Rex who horrified us twenty years ago the viewer is complaining that all we’re seeing is more dinosaurs. Except that in both cases: that is exactly what you’ve paid to go see.

Not even the T-Rex is expecting change - she still likes goats and red flares.

Not even the T-Rex is expecting change – she still likes goats and red flares.

Jurassic World is picking up the threads of that dinosaurs/CGI allegory that spans the film world and our real consumer environment and is laughing in our faces. The immense leaps forward in CGI that were brought to us by films like Jurassic Park, which used it sparingly and mixed with other effects have led here. Audiences consumed more and more of it until it became banal and boring. A CGI dinosaur just isn’t enough anymore and so what do we have to do? Add more CGI dinosaurs, make them bigger and better and scarier, have them ride through a forest with a motorbike. Even those who have hated this film cannot help but admit that the motorbike raptor chase was exhilarating and amazing to watch.

Not liking Jurassic World is like not liking mirrors because they show us aging. Somewhere along the line between 1993 and 2015 editing got snappier, dialogue got sarkier and less heartfelt, onscreen deaths got bloodier and we no longer accept the presence of a plucky teenage girl saving the day, rather allowing the female character to become a stereotype of a businesswoman in heels. Watching Jurassic Park is great but it has aged, the effects don’t wow like they did and everything seems rather quaint compared to Jurassic World. This is shown in great style in Jurassic World when the lost kids stumble across the original park with its clunky technology and old jeeps. The dinosaur bones that stood in the old welcome lobby have been replaced by holograms in the slick and shiny Jurassic World lobby. The original park, like the original film, is too antiquated to sell these days. This starts with the effects and works its way through the characterisation all the way to the dialogue. Mainstream cinema has come to rely on a kind of self-referential sarky one-liner type of dialogue. Just try to find an actual conversation in a Marvel film – you can’t, it doesn’t comply with the new standards of being “quotable” that is needed to get a film round the twittosphere. One particularly interesting change is that the enemy in Jurassic World is no longer simple human greed, but rather the army, like in James Cameron’s Avatar. Seems that in the last twenty years we’ve gone from fearing those who want money to fearing those who want weapons.

Are those good things? No, not necessarily, but they happened and that’s what we have to accept. They’re not necessarily bad things either. Early cinema-goers rejected colour and sound yet the wheel of progress rolls on. We can blame what we like, personally I think it has something to do with the presence of bite-sized video media. With ads getting ever shorter and youtubers and vine artists becoming the lead innovators of videographic language Hollywood was going to have to change to keep up. It’s probably for that reason that Spielberg himself could not have directed this film. Spielberg was making summer blockbusters twenty years ago when long static shots of CGI brontosauri could satisfy and enthral audiences and so here he passed the mantle to a younger director, a generation down to satisfy this generation of movie-goers. Regardless of whether or not you personally think Jurassic World is a great film it has been a great summer blockbuster, bringing the Jurassic Park universe to an audience that, like me, would probably have entirely missed out on it, an audience that will no longer relate to the original. I defy you to not enjoy it when you’re sitting with your popcorn scared out of your seat.

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