This week at Loser City we’re going to be discussing some meta mercenary works, commercial projects that tried to thwart their for-hire origins with some self-commentary, for better or for worse. Up first is a piece by Mark O. Stack on this year’s biggest blockbuster, Jurassic World, a film that attempted to give audiences exactly what they wanted– bigger, badder dinosaurs munching on dumber humans– while also lecturing them on their desires. Caution: spoilers and bad manners follow.
There’s no preamble here. Jurassic World is a terrible movie that communicates a clear, open contempt for the material and the audience from the writer/director. Much has been said about the film’s regressive attitudes towards gender in the workplace but arguably the most offensive aspect of the film is that the writer/director clearly felt that it was impossible to make a good movie with the task that he had been handed and so proceeded not to try while inserting apologies and pot-shots aimed at his movie’s audience into the material. Jurassic World is ostensibly about a dinosaur-based theme park that undergoes a disaster but what it’s really about is how the modern blockbuster is ruining film.
There are other credited writers on Jurassic World’s screenplay but seeing as how the director Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed) retooled the story and got in the last draft on the script, I’m laying the blame on him. Maybe everything that I’m about to detail was present in a previous draft of the script but he chose to keep it in and portray it so prominently. Last one is always gonna be the first one out.
Nearly every prominent character in Jurassic World represents a role in filmmaking. I picked up on it near the start of the film and was shocked at how prominent it was on the surface level. As the film developed, my theorizing was only confirmed.
The protagonist Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is in charge of running Jurassic World and represents the director. Claire is given the task of taking something from twenty years ago and making it successful in a modern landscape. If it ever feels like she’s in control, that doesn’t last long as things quickly begin to spiral out of her control. She is tasked with the job of operating the park by Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan), the owner of the park and a studio head stand-in who just wants Claire to help him honor John Hammond’s (*cough*StevenSpielberg!*cough*) original creation while pushing towards new heights. He’s clueless of the immense pressure that he’s put on Claire and meets his demise as a result of pushing this project so boldly which may very well be the fate of someone at a studio that pushes an expensive property that bombs.
To help Jurassic World succeed in winning over an increasingly jaded audience (a very clear reference to audiences expecting more from modern blockbusters than they did when Jurassic Park was released), Claire commissions the creation of a new dinosaur with “more teeth.” What she and the guys in the lab make is the Indominus Rex, a genetic mash-up of other dinosaurs that gives it an edge over the traditional ones. The Indominus Rex can be seen as Jurassic World the film specifically and/or the modern blockbuster in general. All it does is kill and destroy everything in its path. There’s a scene of Claire and Grady holding a dinosaur as it dies from the Indominus Rex’s attack that, no shit, may very well represent the death of modern cinema. The sorrow on Claire’s face as she holds this creature and realizes her complicity in its death is actually sort of touching.
Macho man and raptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) fills the role of a screenwriter. His positive relationship with the raptors shows his respect for the material he’s handling while his bewilderment at the creation of the Indominus Rex shows his artistic credibility rubbing up against the greed-driven hybrid. He makes it very clear that he thinks that genetically-modified dinosaur is a bad idea and yet he stays on the project in the hope that he can lead it in the right direction. That element of him trying to steer a bad idea into a positive direction comes up again when military contractor Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) suggests using the raptors as weapons to kill the Indominus Rex. Hoskins is a clueless producer looking to take Jurassic World (both the park and the movie) in the direction of military blockbusters in the style of Michael Bay or Peter Berg. Grady hates the idea but goes along with it as best he can because he doesn’t trust anyone else to make it work.
Claire’s nephews don’t really call for much consideration. They certainly represent a section of the audience as they are clear audience stand-ins just as Tim and Lex were in Jurassic Park. The older kid displays a general disinterest in things that is only moved aside by big spectacle while his little brother is gawking over everything. They’re just there to have a good time. And do I even need to comment on the companies coming in to fund new dinosaur exhibits, placing their product’s name on it? That’s a clear shout-out to the symbiotic relationship these blockbusters have with the product placement that interferes with their artistic integrity but gives them the capital to make their theme park/movie. It’s a way for the writer/director to apologize and justify all the product placement that you’re about to see in the next two hours.
In the park’s control room, we have a relatively minor character that doesn’t serve a function outside of making jokes based on referential humor and pushing a button in one scene. He’s Lowery Cruthers (Jake Johnson) and he is a huge fan of the original park, going so far as to wear a vintage t-shirt, carry a book by Ian Malcolm, and assert that the original park had real credibility that the new one, though he backtracks a little, does not. He’s not as clean of a parallel. With the way he monitors the parks he could be an assistant director, an editor, or an effects guy. He’s definitely not a screenwriter as he never asserts the creative control that Grady attempts to.
In the end, with the Indominus Rex proving unstoppable, Claire lets loose the T-Rex from the original film, complete with scars from its fight with the raptors in that film’s climax, in order to make it fight her creation to the death. The T-Rex is the original film, duh, and by teaming up with the one remaining raptor from Grady’s pack, another callback to an element of the original film, to kill the Indominus Rex, it proves the superiority of the original film over the reboot/sequel. The movie seriously ends by saying that all of this was a bad idea and there’s no way to top the original because the blockbuster has been so malformed by time and audience demands. It’d almost be charming if it wasn’t such a cynical waste of time and money.
What’s interesting is that all of these characters seem to have an idea of what the park (and, yes, the movie) should be except for Claire. She never declares any desire beyond keeping it running and bringing in more people. I think that reflects a lack of ambition in the writer/director as he clearly gave up on the idea of making a movie he thought was good and only became concerned about making it profitable. Say what you will about Hoskin’s dumb idea for military raptors but at least he had a vision.
The writer/director substitutes self-referential commentary and open contempt for his audience for a vision. I’m constantly reminded of the gratuitous death scene of a relatively minor character in the movie in which she is carried away by pterosaurs, drowned in a tank, and then eaten by a mosasaurus. That all occurs in very intimate detail and stands out as the most shockingly violent and cruel moment in a relatively sanitized film. Why does this happen? I think it comes back to the writer/director’s contempt for the audience. He thinks audiences want to see people eaten by dinosaurs so he gives it to them in the most upsetting way possible as a way to incriminate them and ask, “Is this what you came here to see?”
I’ve heard people defend this movie by saying you have to “turn off your brain” or calling it “dumb fun.” Jurassic World is neither dumb nor fun. It is the work of a very smart filmmaker that is so conflicted over the film he’s been given that he gave up and proceeded to trash the nature of the modern blockbuster. It’s not fun because you’re watching a filmmaker grapple with what he sees as his inability to make a good film with what he’s been given only to give up at the end and give the audience what he thinks they want (which is for a raptor to perform a video game combo move by running up the back of a T-Rex and slashing at the Michael Myers of dinosaurs). I’d hold less contempt for this movie if it were just a bad cash-grab but the fact that it is so self-hating and yet has made more than a billion fucking dollars is liable to drive me insane.
You have a film where the writer/director is just screaming that it’s bad and you should feel bad for liking it and somehow there are people that are seeing it TWICE?! We deserve better. We deserve movies that at least want to be good.
At 20 years old, Mark Stack knows that he loves comics more than anything. Heck, all of his English teachers have known it too whether it was from him writing an analysis of dystopian themes in media using V for Vendetta or drawing a comparison in class from the serialized works of Charles Dickens to the comic book. Mark, taking a cue from one of his idols, is currently studying Journalism at San Diego State University while working part-time in a comic shop and moonlighting as a writer online. You can read his work at Comics Bulletin, Eat.Geek.Play and more. He’s on Twitter at @MarkOStack