Does ‘Jurassic World’ Make You Feel Like a Dinosaur? Don’t Worry, You’re Not Alone

Why 'Jurassic World' Is Unimpressive

REARVIEW: Now that you've seen 'Jurassic World,' Variety critic Peter Debruge circles back to examine why this is the movie contemporary audiences deserve — for better or worse.

Hard to believe it’s been 22 years since “Jurassic Park.” If that fact alone doesn’t make you feel old, now there’s “Jurassic World” to make those of us ancient enough to remember — and admire — the original feel like dinosaurs.

In theory, the movie is a sequel, but let’s admit it: “Jurassic World” is really a remake — a remake engineered the way Steven Spielberg probably figures he’d have to treat “Jurassic Park” if he were making it for the first time today, at a time when half that film’s problems could be solved by a little invention called the cell phone. (As for Spielberg’s “Jaws”? Fuggedaboudit. We’re living in the age of “Sharknado.” No one’s impressed by a shark anymore.)

For the sake of this column, I’m going to assume you’ve seen “Jurassic World.” Ten days in theaters, and the movie has already grossed nearly $1 billion. Odds are you went at least once. I was there for the first midnight show in Paris, at the Rex theater (appropriately enough), ready to discover what more could be done with the park.

In the movie, Bryce Dallas Howard plays Hubris in High Heels, a tightly-wound corporate type who lets audience whims dictate the park’s gene-splicing agenda. “Consumers want them bigger, louder. More teeth,” she says. That might be true of Disneyland’s “It’s a Small World” ride, but I doubt consumers have tired so easily of dinosaurs, even after witnessing the Dinobot mayhem of last summer’s “Transformers 4.”

Then again, in 1993, movies used to inspire theme-park attractions (as “Jurassic Park” did at Universal Studios). Now it’s the other way around. And besides, Michael Crichton was already thinking like Howard when he wrote the “Jurassic Park” book, which was essentially a toothier version of “Westworld,” the theme-park-goes-berserk thriller he’d directed way back in 1973. (Don’t know “Westworld”? It’s dated, but worth a look.)

As Jeff Goldblum says in “Park,” apropos of Richard Attenborough’s Disneyland comparison, “If ‘The Pirates of the Caribbean’ breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” And now, after all these years, audiences can finally see dinosaurs eat the tourists. Fine, I get it: Carnage sells. Two thousand years after the Roman arena shows, we’re still throwing slaves to the lions, only now the slaves are feckless consumers, and the lions are bigger, louder, with way more teeth.

Maybe Michael Bay is rubbing off on Spielberg, making him cynical. It was reportedly Spielberg’s idea to hire Bay to make those infernal “Transformers” movies, which have all but bludgeoned the fun out of summer popcorn season, turning it into an arms race to deliver the most “impressive” movie possible.

Don’t like the way blockbuster entertainment is going? Well, neither does the movie itself. But this is the “Jurassic” experience contemporary audiences deserve — at least, that’s the hypocritically self-critical message director Colin Trevorrow is sending with what, I can’t help being impressed to admit, is only his second feature at the helm, after the delightfully character-driven indie “Safety Not Guaranteed.” In his earlier debut, Trevorrow demonstrated a certain Spielbergian ingenuity: Shark doesn’t work? Hide the shark, sell the suspense. (Also, slather it in John Williams music, which “World” does to excess.)

In other words, embrace your limitations. “Safety Not Guaranteed” did exactly that. With two matchbooks and a popsicle stick, Trevorrow and screenwriter Derek Connolly constructed a damn fine time-travel movie, MacGyver-style, embracing their shoestring predicament and relying on imagination — our imagination. There’s one big visual effect at the end, which is fine. The movie needed it; things can’t take place entirely in our heads.

But what do you do when there are no limitations? In “Jurassic Park,” Attenborough keeps nattering on about how he “spared no expense.” That was his character’s fatal flaw, apart from playing God (no small offense): The old guy truly believed that pouring enough money into his creation made it right. Sound familiar? “Jurassic Park” cost a whopping $63 million in 1993. Universal claims “Jurassic World” set them back about $150 million, though reports reach as high as $190 million, and I wouldn’t be surprised it the truth were higher. They spared no expense, pouring most of that into visual effects.

This is where I start to feel old. Last week, on a panel at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival, Chris Meledandri (the Universal-affiliated exec behind the “Minions” phenomenon) attributed his company’s success in part to “the first generation raised primarily on digital imagery becoming adults.” Twenty-two years ago, “Jurassic Park” was on the bleeding edge of the CG revolution, though it still relied heavily on Stan Winston Studio-designed practical effects. It used the CG sparingly, but with “impressive” results, emphasizing the element of suspense. And imagination.

When Laura Dern and Sam Neill first drove up to the Brachiosaurus habitat in “Jurassic Park,” Spielberg spent no fewer than 33 seconds establishing their reactions to the as-yet-unseen spectacle before cutting to the dinosaurs themselves. It’s an almost comically drawn-out build-up — the apotheosis of a Spielberg signature — but it worked.

Serving as a relatively hands-on executive producer, Spielberg gave both instructions and feedback to Trevorrow on “Jurassic World,” but also let the director go his own way. And Trevorrow, who has nowhere near the experience under his belt that Spielberg did in 1993, follows the trend. Though the movie superficially lifts DNA from adventure serials, screwball comedies, classic “King Kong” and even “The Wizard of Oz,” the operating formula here is strictly the spectacle-driven, “show everything” variety, while the script is pure Roger Corman nonsense.

As B-movie king Corman has countless times observed, “the special effects have become the stars.” Thoughtful adult dramas (the sort that originated as novels, plays or real-life situations) have been driven off megaplex screens, left to low-budget indie directors to make. The B movies have become the A movies, and vice versa.

By that model, “Jurassic World” is 5% classic-Hollywood nostalgia, 25% recombined elements from the original (kids in peril, monster-movie thrills, control-room power plays, park employees with secret agendas) and 70% schlock. “Park” was sold on its concept and logo alone. “World” gives us a poster-boy in the dorkily hunky Chris Pratt, hardly a character at all, but handsome enough that we’re not supposed to notice.

In what amounts to an almost beat-for-beat rehash of the original, with exposition compressed and payoffs amplified by the advances in CG technology, “World” jumps “Jaws’” shark early and often, practically admitting as much when the gargantuan Mososaurus leaps from its aquatic enclosure to devour one outright (just an appetizer for the downright silly courses to follow).

Here, in plot points that would be right at home in Corman’s B-niverse, Pratt’s dino whisperer has learned to tame the Raptors, the military wants to use them as super-soldiers and someone has engineered a new dinosaur, Indominus rex™, from unknown sources. “Jurassic World” has essentially become one giant cartoon, and though it clearly has a sense of humor (as the nanny-Pteranodon-Mososaurus “Turducken” moment pretty much proves), what’s missing is the suspense.

We’re so busy being impressed, we don’t care about the characters. They never seem to be in any real peril. Some are obviously marked for death, expiring predictably on-cue (like the fatso who opens the Indominus rex enclosure), while the others improbably survive to maintain the virtual Spielberg family that’s been awkwardly grafted onto the film. The film is baldly disinterested with them. Everything has been engineered to get us to the spectacular high-concept climax: an “Aliens vs. Predator”-esque death match between Indominus and Tyrannosaurus rex.

As far as I can tell, “Jurassic World” has no ambitions of winning Oscars for its screenplay. Or its acting. Or any other classic filmmaking discipline, for that matter. But all involved have their eyes on the visual effects prize. How else to explain the choice to stage the big rex-vs.-rex battles in long, unbroken takes? It ain’t out of respect for classic, pre-Michael Bay-style storytelling, that’s for sure. Rather, it’s a chance to show off the fact that they can. Trevorrow isn’t hiding the dinosaurs this time, but he’s lost the characters along the way. And if you want them back, in this or any other blockbuster, you have to expect — no, demand — more from the movies. I, for one, am not impressed.

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  1. Nobody says:

    Jurassic World is just a remake, really. Technically it’s a sequel, but it has all of the same plot elements that the first movie has. Compare them side by side and you’ll notice that they follow the same formula. Something goes wrong, big dinosaur gets loose, people get separated, there are kids lost in the park, there’s a scene at the end where the raptors fight the t-rex, etc etc, blah blah blah. It’s the same movie with a new coat of paint, and THAT is why it just doesn’t work for people who are already initiated. We saw this story 20 years ago!

  2. Russ says:

    This movie was crap. Lots of emphasis on what some people consider to be cool, trendy, popular. – everything from the clothes, hairstyles, and speech. What’s probably most upsetting is the fact that the writers/producers think that these characters are a typical representation of the average adolescent/person. Inferring what… that most adolescents are pretentious, tech hungry (newer, faster, bigger, better), valueless a-holes. I think not. Sure, some are. But not all. And, I certainly wouldn’t want to encourage my children to idolize people like this. Where are our Coraline Jones’, and Samwise Gamgees? Different and independent, and strong, kind, and brave.
    Also, I agree – very little in the way of character development.
    …. yeah.
    Also, the original Jurassic Park’s characters had depth and admirable traits/qualities (aside from the storyline).

  3. Paul says:

    Author is correct. No character development and about the worst acting I have ever seen. Way too many jokes. Your getting chased by dinosaurs and you have time for jokes and wise-cracks. Poor movie but good special effects.

  4. This review is garbage anyways.

  5. Poep says:

    Shut up. Like, actually just shut up. But whatever. It’s probably click-bait anyway.

  6. Tim says:

    Did it make me feel old? No. It did make me feel bored (like this excessively long article I just gave up reading half way through), and sorry for wasting the time and money. I knew better going in but, alas, the girlfriend wanted to see it.

  7. Seth says:

    I personally loved this movie. This movie knew what it was and fashioned itself to those expectations. Everything there was to say about dinoaaurs being brought back had already been said. After a 14 year drought, we all wanted to see people be eaten by dinosaurs and watch dinosaurs fight. Humans are not one dimensional. Sometimes we like to watch an entertaining apectacle that doesn’t focus on political/social dilemmas or artist’s favorite, DEATH (I like how so many movies try to pretend that they’re deep because they noticed that eventually we all die. What a revelation! ) Jurassic World brought tears to my eyes because I loved it so much. Go see it, it will be worth your time.

  8. Helen says:

    Ridiculously over-hyped movie. Can’t believe people are saying this crap is as good as the original.

  9. Dalia says:

    You lost me at ““World” gives us a poster-boy in the dorkily hunky Chris Pratt, hardly a character at all, but handsome enough that we’re not supposed to notice”

  10. Gregg says:

    Can Variety please hire somebody who actually knows how to have fun at the movies?

    Unlike those vapid Transformers movies that just think we want to see robots kick the crap out of each other for 3 hours, Jurassic World moved quickly, gave us just enough at the beginning of the movie (really, we don’t see a dino for probably the first 20 minutes or so, just like the original) and had enough breaks in between to let us catch our breaths.

    What it also delivered was LOTS of nostalgia and just enough final action to leave us wanting more, not having us looking at our watches the way the last Transformers did.

  11. Mary says:

    I’m not entirely sorry to say that i disagree with this article and some opinions. Jurassic Park holds a special place in my heart. Jurassic World gave a feel of what Jurassic Park intended to show if it had never occured. A functional park and its consequences when people feel the need to go from the norm. This movie is fun and brought the kid in me to the surface. I find most explanations as to why this movie “failed” to be from those who went just to criticize this movie.

  12. Marie says:

    The movie delivered on what intended to do: show a fun summer movie.

    • Tim says:

      I was bored thoughout. I felt no tension, no suspense, no sense of wonder or fun. I felt that the dating angle and divorce angle were completely unnecessary and wasted subplots that really brought nothing to the story whatsoever. I felt sorry for the dinosaurs more than I cared for the human characters.

      I didn’t go to criticize. I knew going in I wouldn’t like this film. I had a girlfriend to please… And SHE left feeling much as I do about it.

    • Peter Debruge says:

      Yes, but don’t they all? I just wish the bar were higher — or set to different standards.

  13. James says:

    What a long, boring, drawn out article just for us to realise that this is an opinion of one douchebag supported by nothing other than a personal vendetta of sorts! Lame!

  14. M J Sitz says:

    Do you really get paid to write tripe like this? Can I have back the time I lost reading most of it? Are you one of those whose bitterness from missing your life’s calling making films has made you cynical? Freedom of the Depressed, you go for it. But it neither influences or enriches my life. We are working people who got 2 hours of “no need for worry” entertainment that took our thoughts off our mortgage and the IRS stealing our money for Obama Care. It’s just that simple.

  15. Bill B. says:

    It’s a shame that the Spielberg Face video doesn’t include Poltergeist which is packed with these facial expressions. I know Spielberg was only the producer, but very clearly Tobe Hooper was given explicit instructions on how Spielberg wanted this to be filmed. It is the epitome, along with Close Encounters, of these Spielberg shots and Hooper never did a thing in his career that looked anything like the way this film does.

  16. john says:

    I agree with the author. I’m tired of paying for rehashed plot lines. I rate Chappie higher than this for originality and character depth and that’s saying alot. 15 mins. into the movie I knew exactly who was dino bait and who was going to be there for the credits rolling. I started to wonder who wrote this movie as it was obviously written for 12 yr olds.

  17. interitus says:

    This was painful to read. You seem to have no idea what’s going on in half the movie. And you rant about things, but there are some points in a Spielberg movie which will always be true. It’s like you lack the ability to enjoy a movie for being a movie. And if you honestly thought this was out to win an oscar, outside of the technical awards, you really are way over your head. Why don’t you go review newscasts.

  18. Nelson says:

    You really need to stop taking movies so seriously dude! It’s a dinosaur flick, buy your soda, your popcorn, your gummy bears, and enjoy!

    • Bryan says:

      I’m so glad they didn’t have this idiotic thinking when they made the original Jurassic Park, and instead went ahead and made a good movie with a good story.

    • Raines says:

      I agree. Its not meant to win any awards. Its just great fun watching how they can bring dinosaurs back to life on the silver screen. I thought the movie was awesome, especially at the end when Bryce Dallas Howards was standing in front of the paddock with a flare and then…….I won’t ruin it for those that haven’t seen it.

  19. jhxkcd says:

    I think the big challenge in today’s industry isn’t so much struggling to write or make a good movie, I have to think a significant part of the hurdle is challenging the assumption this column was based upon. That is: we, as an audience, want/deserve this kind of heartless spectacle.

    I have a hard time believing that Trevorrow believes this movie is on par with the character development and pacing/story structure of the original. In fact I’m sure he doesn’t. I believe it’s more likely that many higher ups in the film industry believe that we want this kind of poor writing, etc. And after the box office performance it’s easy to understand why they AND you, and many others would believe that.

    More likely that the movie would have blown box office doors wide open almost regardless. It’s a beloved franchise and the VFX in the ads were enough to bring people in in droves. In that sense, some points are correct. VFX are huge stars these days, and have potential to draw people in.

    That said, if the movie were rewritten with more character and depth, we would be left with a more satisfying experience WITH beautiful VFX. And I am certain that box office records would still be broken. The only difference would be widespread critical acclaim, something that is almost always beneficial.

    Good writing and spectacle are obviously not mutually exclusive, and good writing never hampers box office performance. That’s not what brings most people in, its the VFX and good marketing, and in this case a strong legacy.

    I know it maybe easy to demonize Trevorrow as the one who let this script happen, but I don’t think it was all him. He has to be a discerning viewer of film and any discerning viewer of film can’t help but notice the story differences between Park and World. It’s just blatant. I mean the first act was just so strange. He had to have known that. But as a rookie director, with not nearly as much experience as Spielberg, he isn’t yet trusted with the project reins…. Or he’s a bad writer and somehow no one really cared about structure, characterization, or depth. Who knows.

    I could have written a better script though, I’ll tell you that. Good lord what a terrible villain. Dinosaur soldiers? More efficient than a drone strike? Seriously? It’s just a strange concept and he was so dead bent on it. now the sequel will be in Iraq or something and we’ll all have to sit through that. At least Nedry was believable.

    • Dalia says:

      If I wanted character development, character depth, etc I would watch a tv show, this is a 2 hour movie and honestly I just want to sit in the theater eating my weight in junk food and not worry about the character’s problems and complexes.

  20. Jacques Strappe says:

    I gigantic ball of dino dung is what Jurassic World is. An entire new generation is sampling it in Transformers mode and thinking it is T-rex-ariffic. Whatever.

  21. Vivian Pantz says:

    I remember in 1993 how critics were complaining that “Jurassic Park” didn’t measure up to “Jaws” “Close Encounters” and “ET”… boy is hindsight 50/50 now!

  22. Robert says:

    If this makes you feel old, then by all means don’t watch the new version of Peabody & Sherman.

  23. Bill Lundy says:

    Thank you, Mr. DeBruge, for this article! Like you I’m a huge fan of the original “Jurassic Park,” and even the first sequel, “The Lost World.” Although I enjoyed “Jurassic World” to some extent, the total lack of character development really left me cold. It reminded me of how many critics back in 1993 castigated the original for its own thin characters (who were actually much more fleshed-out than in the original novel – kudos to David Koepp and Mr. Spielberg for that). Compared to “Jurassic World,” Alan Grant, Ellie, Hammond and Ian are virtually Shakespearean in their complexity. It’s sad that things have devolved so.

  24. Skeeter says:

    most of the movies that win oscars, especially for best picture, are boring as hell.
    Jurassic World is fun. A great sequel to the classic Jurassic Park. Made me feel like a kid again. This is the movie you want to see in the theater.

    • Bill B. says:

      Most, though not all, of the Oscar winning best pictures are intelligent & well made. There is a place for fun stupid stuff like this, but the mention of awards should not be part of the topic.

    • Mr Furious says:

      It’s not a movie I want to see in a theater or ever.

  25. Jim G says:

    Totally agree. It’s fine as mindless Summer blockbuster fluff but it was a mediocre movie. I enjoyed it but I wouldn’t pay to see it again and won’t have much interest in a sequel. A lot of people were curious to see what they could do with today’s special effects and what the fully functioning park with people gone wrong concept would look like. There’s not much room to go anywhere with a sequel, other than just re-hashing the same stuff again.

  26. Geoff Jones says:

    I saw JAWS on Sunday with a full crowd and it still works. It’s showing again on Wednesday. Go see it!

  27. DanJack says:

    You’re too cynical. The movie was great.

  28. LOL says:

    Give this man the Pulitzer! Agree with every word of this post.

    Jurassic Park was an exercise in Hitchcockian restraint compared to this movie. We’re hooked on American mass-produced crap.

  29. The drawn out reaction shot you refer to from the original has Brachiosaurus. His forelegs were taller than his rear ones, the opposite of Brontosaurus.

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