Film — 24 June 2015

by
Rick Segreda

 

Twenty-two years after the release of the dinosaur epic, “Jurassic Park,” its third sequel has arrived with its full quota of manufactured excitement. However, for this critic, the suspense had nothing to do with the question of whether certain humans would survive this latest attack by regenerated dinosaurs. Rather, it was all about how the studio and the filmmakers would resolve the problem of how to put across the same basic story, now in its third telling, and keep it interesting.

This is the challenge of all sequels in cinema, and it is rare that a film succeeds, or better yet, is superior to the original. Unfortunately, “Jurassic World” neither transcends nor is even equal to “Jurassic Park.”

Of course, “Jurassic Park,” while extremely popular and profitable, could hardly be described as a classic. Its value as art was non-existent, and the interest it generated with the public could be described as a combination of the fantastic – an imagined phenomenon of regenerated dinosaurs, and the pornographic – the spectacle of humans being eaten by giant prehistoric beasts.

With such a squalid formula for entertainment, it would require nothing less than creative genius to come up with a story that would transcend the concept. Not that this matters much with regards to the public, which continues to patronize the series to the tune of billions of dollars.

Still, this critic had some hope, if only because the studio enlisted the literary services of Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver, who wrote the excellent screenplays for the revived “Planet of the Apes” franchise. Maybe, I thought, there was a glimmer of possibility that they could redeem even this silly genre.

Alas, that is not the case here. For one thing, there is the credibility issue. For example, the island that served as home to all the dinosaurs in the first film is now a theme park entitled “Jurassic World,” and marketed towards the family audience. Yet considering how much death and damage left behind the first three times around, one wonders how, legally, this could be allowed? And who would insure such a venture?

Of course, this is all incidental when a movie audience is eager for its modern version of a Roman circus, with dinosaurs instead of lions. Thus, Jaffa and Silver proceed onto their story, which in effect, is yet another retelling of the 1993 opus; there is an ambitious administrator, there is an unscrupulous opportunist, there are escaped dinosaurs, there is a courageous sharpshooter, there are a pair of children in danger, et al, et cetera.

However, a secondary, if unintentional theme emerges that is much more interesting than all the inane intrigues with digital dinosaurs. There are two principle villains in the film, one of whom is Jurassic World’s operations manager, Claire Dearing. Sharply dressed and confidently poised, the filmmakers make it very clear that Claire’s is more oriented to money than morality. Thus, she allows the creation of a super-dinosaur for the sake of attracting more visitors to the theme park, but as can be expected, it escapes and causes havoc.

It takes Chris Pratt’s manly animal caretaker, Owen Grady, who quite literally is regarded as an alpha male by a small herd of velociraptors, to cut her down to size, to make her feel remorse, to “humanize” her.

In short, Claire and Owen perpetuate a dubious tradition in Hollywood film and American culture that extends as far back as 1942’s “Woman of the Year” with Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy and continuing across the decades in critical and commercial hits such as 1976’s “Network,” with Faye Dunaway and William Holden.

As with the two previous films, in “Jurassic World,” the point put across to the public is that if a woman presumes to perform in a “man’s” profession, she risks the loss of her femininity and humanity — and needs a “real” man to redeem her. Thus, in “Woman of the Year,” Katharine Hepburn’s globe-trotting journalist is upbraided by none other than a Greek war orphan for her lack of maternal instinct, while in “Network,” Faye Dunaway’s  director of programming is denounced by William Holden for her ambition and lack of compassion.

Like Hepburn, Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire is also taken to task for not being more mothering, in this case, towards her two nephews visiting the island. However, in one particularly egregious reactionary moment, she is even admonished for not being an actual mother! As if that were somehow her obligation? Meanwhile, Owen Grady does not receive a corollary guilt trip for not being a father.

Of course, that might be because is already portrayed as a “caring” parent towards the dinosaurs in his care. Thus, in a ridiculous stacking of a deck, Owen gets to embody the best qualities of an archetypal father (bravery, skill, strength) and mother (warmth, compassion), while Claire is portrayed in a manner worthy of a Fox News story on Hillary Clinton with all the sympathy of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

An observer more immune to a movie’s manipulative tendencies might note that the aforementioned paranoia generated by a woman taking on a man’s profession might have less to do with the risk to her humanity than with the threat posed to a man’s ego and identity. On a final note, director Colin Trevorrow demonstrates he knows how to plagiarize, in that the most effectively kinetic moments in “Jurassic World” are copied directly from Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds.”

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