Disclaimer: I have not seen Jurassic Parks 2 and 3. But by the looks of it, neither did the people in Jurassic World. Boom! Also,
If you haven't seen the movie, turn back now. This is your first and final warning, I'm serious you guys. The T-Rex and one of the Velociraptors team up to kill the Indominous Rex. They win, and the T-Rex decides to roar over the park, calling in the inevitable sequel; roll credits. See? I told you there would be spoilers and look what happened. Anyway, moving on.
Jurassic World came out last week, and I finally got around to seeing it. Overall, it was a pretty damn good movie. However, I couldn't help but notice its hamhanded metanarrative on movie making and how that's progressed in the past two years. In case you were too busy trying to count how many people died in that movie, or were overwhelmed with Chris Pratt's (or Bryce Dallas Howard's) overwhelming attractiveness in the face of almost dying, here's the rundown of what Jurassic World was trying to say.
1993 Was Awesome
But only because that's when the world got Aqil! The world also got Jurassic Park that year, and this movie will not shut up about it. The movie starts off with whiney kid looking at dinosaurs through a View-Master, because I guess Google doesn't exist (which it does, because they name-drop it later).
I don't know why I posted a picture. You all know what these things are anyway.
I actually thought that the movie started with a flashback to Chris Pratt's childhood, like Guardians of the Galaxy, until whiney kid's older brother, mopey teen, walks in with his Beats by Dré headphones (more on that later).
Afterwards, in the park, everyone is constantly talking about what happened at the park "20 years ago". Dr. Wu even reprises his role as the person that actually made the dinosaurs, except he's the bad guy this time (see? More spoilers!).
As if to drive the point strait into your head Jake M. Johnson (of New Girl fame) walks into the control room with a god-damned Jurassic Park t-shirt on. And it's not like he's just wearing it in the background, no. He wears it, then they talk about it, and then he sits at his desk which is cluttered with dinosaur toys. And throughout the movie, we constantly cut back to him and Lauren Lapkus (who, side note, does amazing impressions) where his t-shirt is in full view of the camera in every shot.
Finally, the four main characters make their way into the visitor centre from the first movie. It's in ruins and they find the banner that fell over the T-Rex in that iconic scene, and proceed to light it on fire.
Guess which one of these becomes fuel!
But what does it all mean?
Look at the kinds of movies that are being made nowadays: Jurassic Park, Mad Max, TMNT, Transformers, Ghostbusters, and a bunch of other stuff that came out 20-30 years ago. Are you seeing a pattern? Because I just pointed out the pattern. The coolest thing the movie industry can do right now is dig up (pun intended) the stuff that was cool back in the day and re-doing it. And Jurassic World makes it so obvious. It's not some gritty reboot, like Nolan's Batmen, this movie knows exactly what it is, and it makes sure you know it too, even if that means driving a "1992 Jeep Whatever" from Jurassic Park right up to the gates of Jurassic World. But, it's not enough just to take the stuff that's been done before. And you can tell that they're trying to breathe new life into older franchises because...
There are CGI Dinosaurs in Jurassic World
Yes, I know. It's a movie there were CGI dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, too. But there weren't a lot of them, as opposed to Jurassic World, where there's all of the dino-- they're all CGI; all of 'em. In fact, the only dinosaur in Jurassic World that didn't look CGI (although it probably was, and I'm usually good at telling the difference); the most puppet-y looking dinosaur in the whole movie was a dying brachiosaurus. Which is ironic because it was the first CGI dinosaur you see in the original Jurassic Park.
[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PJlmYh27MHg]Bask in that for a moment...
The brachiosaurus is also the one that New Girl guy decided to take home at the end of the movie after meticulously setting up his dino-toys around his computer multiple times in a state of emergency.
Not only are there CGI dinosaurs in the Jurassic World movie, there's also CGI dinosaurs in the Jurassic World world. Yup. In the theme park, where there are real dinosaurs, there are also fake dinosaurs there to entertain the children.
Pictured: Fake-ass dinosaur
But what does it all mean?
Practical effects are out the door. The whole reason Jurassic World's plot happens is because people are bored of dinosaurs. I know it sounds stupid, and Chris Pratt even scoffs at it in the movie. I don't know how people get bored of dinosaurs, but it happens, I guess. So, Jurassic World used virtual technology where actual attractions fell short. The actual, natural dinosaurs are underwhelming just like the actual, latex dinosaurs in Jurassic Park seem to be. And Jurassic Park isn't the only franchise to sacrifice realism for cheap digital effects.
Do you remember how much work went into pre-production on the Lord of the Rings series? Just as an example, Christopher Smith and his team spent almost a year hand-making chainmail that extras would wear in a dark, rainy scene in Helm's Deep. Also, that chainmail was worn under the orc's armour. That's right, they spent a year making costumes that you don't even see. That's the sort of attention to detail that movies have had. Compare that to The Hobbit Trilogy that was so CGI that it caused Ian McKellen to fall into such an existential crisis that only literally becoming Sherlock Holmes could fix it.
Why even bother, at this point?
And that's the trend with all movies nowadays. Okay, not all movies, but the fantastical ones that truly transport you into a world wholly other than your own (which is what movies are supposed to do, anyway). And no matter how good CGI gets, it will never beat the real deal. You can see that in any franchise that's spread over decades. I showed the Lord of the Rings above. You can see it in the Star Wars "Remastered" versions. And you presumably just saw it with Jurassic World (otherwise you really shouldn't be reading this).
This trend toward fully digital "live action" movies is harmful, and Jurassic World ironically addresses that. Instead of advancing technology into their holograms or IMAX theatre (that they also had in the park for some reason), they're using their technology to create something new, unique, and real. Could this be an analogue for a resurgence of practical effects? I don't know for sure because the new thing the created ends up killing a bunch of people, and they ended up using the old stuff (fan favourites, by the way) to just murder it to death. Maybe that's an extended metaphor that you can be as innovative as you want when trying to revive the excitement we had 20 years ago, but it'll just blow up in your face and nostalgia will win over.
But, I guess in this case, nostalgia doesn't win over because at the end of the day...
It's all about the money
On my way to the IMAX theatre today, I walked by a Starbucks Coffee, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, and at least one Mercedes. During the movie, I saw another cup of Starbucks coffee, another Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville, another IMAX theatre, and a shit-load of Mercedeses. There were also Jamba Juices everywhere, a pair of Beats by Dre on a main character, two Jeep jeeps that still ran after twenty years of overgrowth, a Samsung sponsored visitor centre, a Verizon sponsored dinosaur, and probably a lot of other branded stuff that I just don't remember because I'm tired (I think the raptors were wearing Oakley brand headsets).
John Hammond, of Jurassic Park fame, emphasized that he spared no expense when building Jurassic Park (except when it came to employee background checks, I guess) and that's a sentiment that's shared with Jurassic World's patron Irrfan Khan, of Slumdog Spider-Man of Pi fame. Irrfan throws a lot of his own money into the park, and yet it still has sponsors. In addition, the park is making 2.something% profit from this year (before Indominous Rekt everything). But when he doesn't talk about the finances outright. Irrfan asks how the guests and animals are feeling, he wants the newest attraction in R&D to be "cool" but still fit within the "morals of the park" but you can kind of tell that his motives are more financial than he lets on. He wears a fancy suit and flies a helicopter, typical rich people shit. And he goes ahead with the Indominous Rex plan without really thinking through the consequences outside of making more money for the park (Dr. Wu on the other hand, did think of the consequences; he just didn't give a shit because he's the Newman in this movie).
But what does it all mean?
In the movies, just like in Jurassic World, money is the bottom line. You can make up all the excuses you want, but at the end of the day, money is what you're trying to make. And you can do that by revamping tried and true franchises. You can cut costs by using CGI instead of people in dinosaur-shaped suits. But at the end of the day, the only reason to try something new is to make money out of it.
If anything, Jurassic World is a cautionary tale. If you take a big risk with something untested (even if it's made up of parts you know work, like T-Rex, raptors, tropical frogs, and eye of newt) it's gonna talk all the pterosaurs into swarming every day park-goers in what is the most terrifying scene I've witnessed in a movie (worse than Hitchcock's Birds). But, hey I guess that's what the audience was looking forward to because...
People want what they already have
When people got bored of dinosaur's (somefuckinghow), what was Jurassic World's solution? When Spider-Man 3 sucked major ass, what was Sony's Solution? When Harrison Ford got too old to by Indiana Jones or Han Solo anymore, what was Lucasfilm's solution? That's right: throw more of whatever it was back at the people. And we'll eat it right up, I guarantee you.
The world out there is scary, and as much as we want to experience new things, there's nothing quite like the comfort of nostalgia. So, may as well get the best of both worlds and just make new nostalgia, right? That is exactly what the movie studios are doing because we want them to. If we didn't satiate our craving for twenty year old movies by throwing money at movie studios, then they wouldn't be polishing up the same stuff we already have and handing it back to us. But what if we, as a society, choose to move on? I'd love to see what kind of movies will break the box office once we're sick of sequels and prequels and threequels and reboots and remakes. But first, Disney needs to remake Aladdin. I'm waiting...