$208.8 million dollars.
Let’s just let that number sit there for a minute.
While it was no surprise that it took top spot at the box office, the fact that Jurassic World has literally shattered every box office record in its opening weekend is nothing short of staggering. While there was high anticipation for the first Jurassic Park sequel in fourteen years (and, arguably, the first good one since the original), no one expected the response that this film has received.
But does popularity also necessarily mean that the film has anything to say?
In this case, maybe.
Directed by Colin Trevorrow (Safety Not Guaranteed), Jurassic World returns us to Isla Nublar, the site of the original Jurassic Park. Now a fully operational theme park with over 20 000 visitors a day, Jurassic World has become an incredible success. Although, due to the fact that it has become so accessible to the public, the dinosaurs have become commonplace as attractions. As a result, the park’s operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) ambitiously seeks to create excitement by developing the Indomitus Rex, a new hybrid dinosaur, to terrify and delight new visitors. However, when the Indomitus eventually escapes from its pen—an ‘inevitability’ claims the park’s CEO, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan)—Claire must enlist the help of rugged raptor trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) to prevent the rampaging beast from killing innocent park patrons.
While far from a perfect film, World finally delivers the sequel that the franchise has needed, offering the right balance of new direction and nostalgia that has been lacking from previous entries. At long last, the raptors are both dangerous and have a purpose in the story. Once again, the narrative seems to have something to say about our current culture. Even the decision to return to Isla Nublar deliberately signaled a desire to return to the magic of the original film. (What’s more, if Guardians of the Galaxy wasn’t enough proof, Jurassic World fully establishes Chris Pratt as this generation’s lovable action hero. And yes, if the rumors are true, I am fully onboard with him taking on the whip and fedora in the inevitable Indiana Jones reboot.)
Produced by Spielberg through his Amblin label, Jurassic World very mucy feels like a throwback to the adventure films of the 80s and 90s, a fact which both plays out as a strength and a weakness. As a strength, it reveals a sense of light-heartedness and pure adventure that is often missing from today’s darker, more brooding tones. However, as a weakness, it has been argued that the character development plays out in a sexist manner; a charge that I feel isn’t fully accurate. While it is true that Owen’s character plays hero to Claire most of the film, the power dynamics have balanced out by the end. (Even if Claire’s character may not have the fearlessness of someone like Furiosa in Mad Mad: Fury Road, she’s also far from ‘weak’.)
Thematically, a lot has changed in the past twenty-two years as well. Whereas Jurassic Park stemmed from a culture just breaking the science of DNA, Jurassic World is born out of an era where people have grown accustomed to these sorts of technological advancements. Gone is the overall sense of wonder in the first film, replaced with a feeling of general malaise. Though, this is where the film dips its toe into theological territory. While Park asks whether or not man should attempt to play God, World begs the question of what happens when man gets bored of doing so? In other words, in a culture where human scientific achievement has become an everyday occurrence, Jurassic World reminds us that there is something wondrous about the very nature of life itself. In this film, the moral dilemma of the science isn’t the core problem.
The real issue is that they are no longer impressed by it.
By arguing that their ‘triceratops is seen the same [by kids] as an elephant’, Claire constantly pushes her team to invent something new. However, in the process, she also loses sight of the astonishing nature of what they’ve accomplished, a theme that echoes our own culture of self-satisfaction and entertainment. Frequently losing sight of the miraculous and emptying our world of a spiritual connection to God’s creation, too often we break down the nature of life into one giant scientific equation. As a result, by subtracting the Divine aspect to science, we are left with little view of anything larger than ourselves. (Incidentally, Jurassic World counters this error in self-absorption through the character of Owen who recognizes that these dinosaurs ‘don’t know [they were created in a lab]’ and acknowledges that they fact that they are alive makes them more than mere experiments.)
In the end, Jurassic World delivers what it promises – a fun ride with a nostalgic feel. Most surprisingly though is the fact that it also has something new to say in a franchise that had seemed to run its course over a decade ago.
Despite the fact that we may not have learned from our mistakes, it really is a whole new World.