Borassic World

If you liked Jurassic World, feel free to stop reading right now. Films are a very subjective experience and everyone is entitled to their own opinion. But from here on out, I’m going to present an almost entirely negative review of what I found to be a non-terrific and terribly boring movie. If reading something like this will diminish your enjoyment of the film, you have been warned.

Also, many spoilers ahead.

The only real problem I have with Jurassic World is that I did not enjoy it. I thought it was boring. And I don’t mean that in a purely logical or analytical way. I mean that I was literally taken out of the experience and unable to get lost in the magic of the story because so many dumb things kept happening. I could not suspend my disbelief for longer than a few minutes at a time because of the lazy cliched storytelling happening in front of my eyes.

Now to give you some background, yes I love original Jurassic Park. I also love The Lost World. I even enjoy approximately half of the third one. I’m not a Jurassic Park purist by any means who believes that Jurassic World must be as good as the original to have any merit. I absolutely love big dumb blockbusters like Pacific Rim and one or two of the Transformers movies. I love audience-starved Tom Cruise vehicles like Jack Reacher, Oblivion, and Edge of Tomorrow. I like every superhero movie ever made. If there’s anyone who should like a Jurassic Park sequel, it is me. I’m standing right here.

While everyone has been hyped for Age of Ultron and The Force Awakens, I have been patiently sitting here waiting for Jurassic World and hoping that it can bring even a tiny fraction of the wonder, thrills, and ingenuity that made Jurassic Park so beloved. Unfortunately Jurassic World fails on every front. I wouldn’t normally call out a movie like this except for the fact that people seem to have eaten it up in droves and decided it is a good movie. It isn’t.

There is nothing wrong with enjoying it, but the movie was consistently and unforgivably stupid when it really didn’t have to be. The first Jurassic Park was good, enjoyable, and scary without being stupid. There is absolutely no reason that Jurassic World should have to be dumb to be good. Why is that even acceptable? I’ve read many of the so-called fresh reviews on Rotten Tomatoes who point out its dumbness and still give it a passing grade and the fact that we can collectively give this movie a pass despite some pretty awful storytelling, horribly cliched characters, and a pervasive sense of mediocrity should be more concerning to anyone who cares about cinema.

Is this what we want in our movies? When we could be asking for more thoughtful engaging blockbusters like Mad Max: Fury Road and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, why would want to settle for the big dumb dino movie?

So let me set the record straight. I don’t like this movie but I have reasons. I’m not trying to simply give a knee-jerk reaction but I really do think we deserve better. I love plenty of movies with questionable merits but there are certain aspects of Jurassic World that are just not good. And by not good I mean they were so awful that they took me out of the movie watching experience.

Think for a second at the driving force behind the whole plot. The creation and subsequent escape of Indominus Rex. How does she get out? They literally leave the door open. That’s it.

She leaves some scratch marks on a supposedly unclimbable wall and hides her thermal signature and everyone assumes she is out. Do they check her tracking monitor? Nope. Do they spend more time peering into the cage? Nope. Do they send a cheaply available drone or even a remote control car with a camera duct-taped to its back to poke around? No, they leave the doors wide open and go into look for her.

If there is any chance at all that she is still in there, shouldn’t they close the doors? If there is no chance she is in there, why bother going in there at all? Either way, that door should never be left open ever ever ever. There is never any reason for that door to be open.

What is that mantra NASA has about how they keep people alive in space? Backup systems. Your engine fails, use the backup one. Your oxygen filter fails, guess what we brought a spare.

Jurassic World creates a super killer dinosaur and has ONE safety door. No electrified fence. No outer wall. Even the most basic of prisons have multiple locked doors to keep inmates in. But not in Jurassic World.

I don’t mean to beat this point to death, but the larger issue is a storytelling one. In Jurassic Park the inciting incident is an issue of greed and callousness combined with hubris. Hammond doesn’t respect the power of the creatures he brought to life and Dennis Nedry cripples the park’s security features to cover his escape with the embryos. Nedry sabotages the park on purpose causing all the subsequence dinosaur attacks.

In Jurassic World no one sabotages the park. The dinosaur just outwits some fairly stupid people. Yes they did make it more dangerous and more powerful on purpose, but it actually makes an animal look smarter than humans. And since even smart animals are still pretty dumb, that makes the humans in this movie look quite stupid.

If Jurassic Park relies on hubris and greed to get the dinos out, Jurassic World relies on a comedy of errors like leaving the fence open, sensors that don’t work, and an overconfident billionaire helicopter pilot who is as charming as he is reckless. 

The even larger point is that Jurassic World is not really concerned with ideas in the way that the original was. It takes a few underdeveloped ideas, like corporate greed, consumer apathy, animal rights, and aggressive militarization and mashes them all together with scenes we’ve already scene before in other better movies like Aliens, Godzilla, and Indiana Jones.

The movie unconvincingly criticizes corporate greed all while offering product placement from Starbucks to Brookstone and racking up profits for a studio awash in profits from 2015 smashes like Furious 7, 50 Shades of Grey, Pitch Perfect 3, and now the film that just broke domestic and worldwide opening weekend records and topped both Avengers movies.

Yet I could forgive all that if the movie was enjoyable or at least competent in its own right. But it’s not.

Let’s take a simple question like who is the main character of the film. Easy right? Well according to the director Colin Trevorrow that would be Bryce Dallas Howard. However if I had never seen the movie and only seen trailers or read headlines, by gosh I could have sworn that it was Chris Pratt. 

Pop quiz! Without cheating what is the name of the Bryce Dallas Howard’s character?

What? You don’t know! This is a movie about dinosaurs so who cares, right? We’ll save all the good human characters for other movies.

Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire Dearing, a character begins the movie as a thoroughly unlikeable workaholic park manager. She is dedicated to extracting more profits out of the park’s assets by boosting attendance. She has none of the wonder or appreciation (read: humanity) that have defined other characters in this series. She neglects her nephews, doesn’t want to have kids, and doesn’t even want to evacuate the park because she cares only about her job even to the point of people dying violent dinosaur deaths. Last I checked that will get you life without parole.

Now there’s nothing wrong with a flawed protagonist but there is something wrong with an unrelatable unlikeable one. Her flaws are so great  that the movie trailers decides to introduce is Chris Pratt because he is so much cooler. Audiences have seemed to agreed, praising Pratt’s performance and largely ignoring Howard’s more central role.

When the filmmaker thinks Claire is the protagonist but the audience think Chris Pratt is, you have a problem. Why does the director Colin Trevorrow think Claire is the protagonist? Well Chris Pratt has no character arc and he’s not even around at the beginning of the film. That would be Claire. She’s the one we are supposed to relate to, she is the one who changes over the course of the story, and she is the one who gets a big heroic moment at the end. She is also the one that connects all the other characters together like the two kids lost in the park, the owner of the park, that poor devoured assistant, and those woefully undeveloped characters in the control room. 

Part of the problem is Bryce Dallas Howard. She envisioned this character as something different than what Trevorrow did. Everyone complained about Claire running around in heels but Trevorrow actually asked Howard to take them off and she refused. Why? She thought they represented her character’s femininity and that giving them up would take away part of who her character was. I admire the sensibility but there is no subtlety in Howard’s performance. She overplayed this and not just with the heels but by creating a character that has no charm or basic appeal. The fact that Chris Pratt is funny and winsome should not mean that Bryce Dallas Howard is stuffy and repressed. I will say that Claire is much more likeable by the end of the film but the fact that Trevorrow and Howard choose to start her off as such a Kate Capshaw caricature is really silly. Claire is the main character, but we can’t wait for her to get out of the way because she is so poorly written and directed.

If Trevorrow thought Claire’s heels should come off but instead gave in to Howard, what does that show us about the direction of Claire’s character? Dare I mention that Trevorrow is a newbie director and Howard’s dad is the acclaimed director Ron Howard? I’ve always liked Howard but as an actress she seems very limited by the somewhat girly roles she has been given. All of the movies she is known for have pretty much been creative disasters. Perhaps she deserved to play a better, more nuanced Claire than the one she was handed. It’s not about heels or no heels. It’s about writers and directors putting as much time and thought into their female characters as they do their male characters. Even Jake Johnson’s super minor character with his vintage t-shirt and messy desk was twice as relatable as Claire the theoretical main character.

I wish I was done but there’s more unfortunately.

With the exception of Indominus Rex herself, I thought that the CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic World looked pretty terrible. They were slightly better than a Syfy original movie, and certainly didn’t come off as realistic. I don’t actually believe that the animators got lazy, but I think that the movie overrelied on CGI and that by trying to put it in every shot, it meant that the shots we did get were not up to the standard they could have been.

I went home on Saturday night after watching Jurassic World and rewatched the original from 1993. The CGI looked better in that film than this one. The reason? There are very few CGI shots in that film and so they sincerely tried their hardest to make them look believable. You would need tens of millions more just to make the effects look good (which they might actually do in the sequel).

Another problem was the set pieces. There were also no good action set pieces in this movies. To me this is the absolute worst crime a summer blockbuster can commit. Even the Hobbit movies have a few redeeming action bits or creature moments in each of them enough to justify their existence to their critics.

This movie barely had any dinosaurs! I-Rex doesn’t count.

I count maybe one good set piece in the entire movie. The Hamster ball sequence. It was pretty good. It was the only slightly scary (read: not scary at all) moment in the whole movie. The boys are trapped in a glass dome and right behind them is Indominus Rex.

This is already problematic however for one big glaring reason, why are the kids here in the first place? They have wandered off the path. Why have they wandered? Because in Jurassic World you are allowed to roam around freely bumping into living dinosaurs and circumvent evacuation protocols all because you watched a 20 second clip of Jimmy Fallon goofing off like he always does.

How could anyone in any theme park allow this sort of thing even without dinosaurs? Free roaming hamster balls with no safety restrictions and completely independent rider controls? There is no ride like that anywhere because of the insane amount of lawsuits it would incur.

But wait a second, hold the phone. I’ve seen this scary hamster ball scene already. This is an exact ripoff of the T-Rex scene in Jurassic Park except this time there is no long tense build up, no rippling water glass, no protracted survival sequence with misplaced flares, no drowning in mud, no cars falling out of trees, and not even a bloodsucking lawyer on a toilet. It is literally a pinball machine with ankylosaurs and Indominus Rex running away or losing interest or something.

When your best action scene is copied from another movie and is only a fraction the scariness, that’s just weak sauce.

What other cool action set pieces do we get? 

There is the I-Rex escape which as we have already mentioned is tainted in stupidity. They show off the big bad of the movie way too early. It’s worse than the trailers actually which pretty much only saved the final battle.

There is the battle in the forest between the park’s paramilitary-style security and I-Rex which is again a ripoff of more superior films that show people dying through flatlining heart monitors. I-Rex does give us a very cool camouflage reveal which is used exactly one time in the movie and never referred to or used again. Cuttlefish can only do it once per lifetime I suppose.

One of the big money shots from the trailers is the helicopter crash through the aviary. That leads eventually to a big swarm of pteranodons(?) who all head directly to the where the evacuated crowds are gathered. They fly straight there as if guided by an unseen hand (read: Colin Trevorrow ). That sequence plays more like a generic monster movie than a Jurassic Park film but as long as there’s more product placement in there I’m sure the audience will be thinking more about their next vanilla latte than how utterly unscary and uninteresting this attack is. How sad is it that the pterodactyl sequence in Jurassic Park III was 10 times better and more exciting than this one.

Only two candidates left for awesome set pieces but neither of them deliver.

The first is the raptor hunt where Owen (Chris Pratt) leads his raptor team to hunt down I-Rex. In one of the only cool decisions in movie, the raptors switch sides when they find out I-Rex is part raptor. For a few moments the movie is a little bit awesome as the raptors turn against the humans. This is short-lived however because it soon turns into a boring truck chase where raptors can do impossible things like break glass windows with the side of their heads at 60 mph. This scene ends up with the raptors giving up because the movie has just given up at this point and needs to get to their finale so that they can clear out the theater for the next showing.

The big bad climax of the film is two parts! Why have one battle when you can have two? Owen convinces the raptors (all of which are perfectly fine from their last gunfight except for one blown up by an RPG) to change sides yet again and commit suicide by I-Rex.

Here’s the thing. Raptors are smart. They are not dumb. They don’t commit suicide by trying to kill something 20 times their size. All pack predators know this. If your prey gives you too much trouble, you cut your losses and run away and live to fight another day. All the raptors except Blue are mercilessly killed. They are all completely CGI and look less believable than any of the cool puppet raptors in any of the other movies so we don’t mourn their deaths or even care because this is exactly the pointless dino carnage we all clamored for.

Then Claire gets out her flares (callback to the good T-Rex scene in the original!) and a very unrecognizable CGI T-Rex lumbers out and immediately has a fake-looking but entirely predictable wrestling match with I-Rex which ends with a mosasaur meal that yet again highlights the insanely inadequate security measures that do not exist in this fake park.

I forgot to mention there is a villain. He wants to use the raptors as weapons and then later one of them eats his hand. He is played by the guy who played Wilson Fisk in Daredevil and wow is it hard to watch him go from one of the best textured and sympathetic villains of all time to the most cardboard stock character in recent memory.

We feel more sad for the puppet sauropod and his CGI brothers murdered by the I-Rex than any of the human characters who lived through or died in this tragedy.

The sad thing is that Colin Trevorrow really tried. He devoted years of his life to this project. His sweat and blood are up there on the screen. He gave it his best and it’s far better than what you or I could come up with. He tried but now he is being handed out accolades and a feeling of accomplishment he doesn’t deserve. That’s not his fault. That is the studio’s. They set him up to fail. They picked an inexperienced director with no chips on the table and assigned him a reboot to a beloved franchise that even my mom wanted to see.

And he made a movie just good enough to satisfy everyone and their mom but his next movie is going suck. He will be ripped apart and humiliated because this time he got a free pass just for making a movie that was better than Jurassic Park III.

The reality is that Trevorrow is a rookie director. He doesn’t have the same command of filmmaking and storytelling that his more experienced and more tested peers have developed. He made an indie film and now struck gold with great reviews, great word-of-mouth, and history-breaking box office receipts.

But a single okay indie film and one middling but nostalgia-heavy blockbuster does not a promising director make. From the interviews I’ve read and listened to, it truly does sound like Trevorrow completely poured himself into this project and tried to make it the best that it could be. But it doesn’t change any of my above points. This movie is bad. No matter how many people like it or overlook its flaws, this is still not the type of movie we want to see Hollywood make. By liking this movie we are telling them that we want more crappy sequels, more stupid dino battles, more flat annoying characters, more gaping plot holes, bigger louder prettier things crashing into other things.

We wanted to see dinosaurs so badly that we set up Trevorrow for failure and ruin by commending his dumb movie instead of treating it with measured criticism and review. Trevorrow seems like a really smart guy who put his hand to the plow and came up with the best possible movie he could. He said he wanted to make a “kick ass movie” but we never asked for anything more and that is what we got and that is what we will keep getting.

People seem to admit this movie was dumb (but still GOOD amirite??) but at this point I think maybe the movie is smarter than we are.

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8 thoughts on “Borassic World

  1. I don’t know why but I get a thrill out of reading negative reviews about movies I love.
    Are your points correct? Yes. As ever, you word your arguments perfectly and about 70% of them I am struggling to find a decent comeback to.
    Will I still love this film? Yes. I found it stupid, but I… and yes, you bring this up too… am prepared to forgive it, because I have had so much fun watching it. I have felt this way about other blockbusters people have raved about, but sometimes one just doesn’t connect the way we want it to.

    • I really wanted your experience so I guess I just had to vent. It’s funny because I’ve read lots of negative reviews for movies I enjoyed and couldn’t understand how they had such a harsh reaction to it.

  2. WOW. Marc, this was excellent. And I’m laughing as I read Luke’s comment above because that was EXACTLY my reaction. As I read your post I kept thinking, “So then why did I like it so much? And why do I still like it so much?!” But I did, and I do. And I love it for exactly for the reasons you described above. You’re absolutely right in your closing; it’s a smart movie. Smart enough to pass an incredibly poor story with the biggest opening weekend in history.

    Also, as a side note, I really appreciated your point about whatsherface’s heels. (And your point about her character and her name were spot on.) As you may have noticed in my (slightly more glowing) blog post on this subject, that particularly bothered me about this movie. It both helps to understand she was asked to remove them….and also drives me more crazy that she was still wearing them anyway when the film was released.

  3. To start – I loved this movie. Your review though is the reason I love movies generally. Everything you say has merit (although I don’t agree with it all) and it’s reviews like yours that allow me to hate on films like Raging Bull and 2001 because as long as you present coherent, well written criticism, your opinion is perfectly valid.

    Great review.

    • Glad you were able to enjoy this movie. I hope that in subsequent viewings I can learn to appreciate more of what the director was trying to do.

  4. You’re thinking it all wrong. Jurassic World was never meant to be a proper movie. It is pure, blatant, ridiculous satire.
    The whole issue of sexist portrayals of Claire? A satire of the underlying sexism in Hollywood movies. The Indominus Rex being a super-mutant with unrealistic powers? A satire of ‘serial escalation’ in movies that promptly take a turn for the worse. The annoying levels of product placement in the movie? A satire on rampant consumerism in pop culture. Really, it’s not seeking to continue the Jurassic Park franchise, rather, it intends to satirically parody a whole bunch of things, from overused CGI in movies, to SeaWorld and its exploitation of marine mammals, to the scientific discovery that Velociraptors had feathers (and intentionally depicting the outdated scaly version). It’s sort of like Starship Troopers, which exaggerately glorifies war and violence but really condemns it with a mocking, tongue-in-cheek presentation. It is not a bad movie…rather it is a deliberate mockery of a Hollywood blockbuster that takes great care to show everything wrong with action movies these days. Annoyingly dumb characters? Incredibly contrived plot twists? CGI mashed into audiences’ faces? Scientifically inaccurate dinosaurs? An over-the-top finale with gratituous explosions that ends with a non-sequitur deus ex machina? Jurassic World has that all gift-wrapped for its viewers.

    • Thanks for the comment! It’s true that there are some heavily satirical elements in it. After watching the film a few more times, I still don’t think their critique of those things ultimately fit inside a big serious action movie. Still, I’m glad the film worked for a lot of people. I hope its success paves the way to a great sequel.

  5. Pingback: Jurassic World | He Said, She Said Movie Posters

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