Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World is closing in on $1 billion at the worldwide box office and it’s fairly easy to see why: people like dinosaurs, adults like their childhoods more, and kids, who like dinosaurs even more than everyone else, need an adult (in other words an extra ticket-purchaser) to get into the theatre thanks to that restrictive-but-not-really PG-13 rating. Add all that up, and you have a recipe for a movie that might as well act as a generator to conjure money out of thin air. Of course, with any widely-reached audience comes a healthy share of derision, and among more film-oriented corners of the internet (read: Twitter), World has become somewhat of a whipping boy. Even though it currently sits at a healthy 71% “fresh” rating on the Tomatometer, the film has been lambasted for being cynically-packaged, wildly stupid, unoriginal, and oddly mean-spirited. The out-of-control product placement and rampant nostalgia-bait being some key symptoms of this apparent disease. And while all that may be true on paper, what if it’s some of those very things that add up to make it so interesting? Is it possible that, in their perpetual search for a bigger and better cash cow, our corporate overlords have unwittingly created an anomaly?
It is, and they have. Indeed, I would personally go as far as to say Jurassic World joins the ranks of Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns and Ang Lee’s Hulk (sit back down!) as one of the most fascinating specimens in the blockbuster arena this century. Not because it shares those films’ defiant stances of auteurship against a homogenizing studio system, but because of what shape the iron fists of those forces have pounded it into. It’s entirely possible to enjoy (though a more accurate phrase would be “observe”) the movie as a grotesque yet spectacular oddity of brand-emblazoned market research, as some defenders of last year’s Transformers: Age of Extinction did with that, yet the corporate decision-making also acts as a strange mutation in the film’s very genes. You may have read Scott Tobias’ piece over at The Dissolve asserting that World is a “genetically-modified blockbuster;” a hybrid similar to its own Indominus Rex that mixes and matches different genres and archetypes like Legos to achieve the most crowd-pleasing outcome. This is certainly accurate to a point, as evidenced by Chris Pratt’s anachronistic lion-tamer/action figure hero, but I’d posit that it’s also something similar, yet weirder: a shapeshifter.
Jurassic World is a film that seamlessly, breathlessly, shifts in and out of new forms of genre picture as it goes along, with the fluidity and absurdity of a stream of consciousness. The temptation arises to call the film derivative since it is in the most technical sense of the word, and since pastiche is the logical conclusion to formula. However, Jurassic World is more noteworthy because of the structure it takes on due to these touches rather than their mere clown-car-stuffed inclusion. One moment it’s an old-fashioned creature feature with a rampaging bogey, the next it metamorphoses into Piranha and Predator riffs. And so on all the way down to its kaiju fight finale that doubles as both the climax and its final, most vicious form.
You could argue this strange hodgepodge was sutured together from drawing on an entire half-century of popular culture to lazily build a semi-functional whole out of used parts, and you’d very likely be correct. All the way down to the final roar, the places where Universal’s suits stepped in are plain to see. A little Spielberg lip service here to satiate those looking to relive their youth, some Dino Murder Porn there for those who crave blockbuster mayhem, and a subplot about the military because the screenwriter’s handbook dictates there be at least one divergent narrative thread. Contemptuous from an artistic standpoint? Perhaps, but this Frankenstein Monster’s rampage proves a sight to behold when the diversity of its disparate components coalesce to share the mutual goal of escalating the spectacle it knows its paying audience came for. While Jurassic World does have a traditional three act arc, the jumbled mixtape of tropes and scenarios it employs within it all drive a relentless forward momentum despite operating on different schematic levels. The stretches that exemplify this come around the second hour ,when the Indominus’ rampage reaches its peak. Fresh out of the suspense thriller cocoon it’s been sitting in for the initial set-up, the film bursts forth in a cavalcade of pay-offs that run the full gamut of Hollywood’s favorite types of set pieces, damn the possible consequences to coherence.
There’s a helicopter crash that unleashes a swarm of pterodactyls on the park for some “Birds”-like pandemonium. There’s a hunt for the creature in the woods that soon backfires (in a way so jaw-droppingly ludicrous I dare not spoil it), recalling the similar parts of the Alien and Predator franchises, which in turn leads into a chase that seems to be out of one of Spielberg’s Jurassic films. All leading up to the final CGI-soaked monster showdown. Managing so many big events can prove unwieldy, but if there’s one commendable aspect of Jurassic World that can be entirely attributed to its director, it’s the handling of the action. Your overall mileage may vary on it depending on your tolerance for copious amounts of CGI, but each piece elevates the stakes and segues into the next with an almost Cameron-like flow, informing one another, but functioning as their own distinct entity.
Eventually, the studio-mandated mash-up, coupled with its non-stop upping of the ante gives way to a movie that is somewhat of a paradox: a work that is pure formula but still ends up feeling positively anarchic, and a film designed expressly for profit that retains a playful childlike spirit through the sheer “say yes to anything” willingness to get something out the door. In other words, Jurassic World may be one of the most idiosyncratic accidents that vigorous appeal to the four quadrants ever produced. That isn’t to say there won’t be more movies like it. Hell, if its numbers are anything to go by, we’ll be seeing memory-milking re-packagings of proven franchises for almost as long as we’ll be seeing Marvel movies, but it’s doubtful we’ll get many more that result in such an unwittingly madcap finished product. Good job, corporate overlords. Ya did (sort of) good for once.