This post contains minor spoilers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is “one big pile of shit,” to channel the immortal words of Ian Malcolm, the chaos theorist played by Jeff Goldblum.
The sequel takes place three years after the events of Jurassic World (2015), which ended with a mass evacuation of tourists from the titular theme park on Isla Nublar, to escape the liberated dinosaurs. As it turns out, the whole island was about to blow up in an enormous volcanic eruption anyway, raising the question of why such an expensive project was ever built there in the first place.
Oh well, that’s just one of many plot holes that Fallen Kingdom trips over as Owen Grady (played by Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) return to the island to save the dinosaurs from imminent incineration. The team discovers that they are not the only people looking to transport dinosaurs to the mainland, and that some of these rescuers have less than savory intentions. It is an almost impressively stinky turd from start to finish, filled with corn kernels of clichés, and infused with the aromatic stench of $170 million (the film’s budget) going up in flames.
How the hell did Jurassic Park, a smart and gripping biotech thriller, devolve into this heap of steaming dino-dung?
To answer that, recall what makes the original 1993 such a timeless classic. Sure, it’s partly the unforgettable T-rex attack, complete with car-smashing and lawyer-eating, or the hair-raising kitchen scene featuring two raptors lazily toying with kid-sized meals they expect to devour. But equally important to the film’s success is a table scene in which the main characters flesh out the core question of Jurassic Park: Should scientific curiosity always be indulged?
It’s a simple but profound problem that is fundamental to countless sci-fi narratives, from the Greek myth of Icarus to Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. In Jurassic Park, the question is raised when scientists funded by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) successfully clone dinosaurs using DNA extracted from a Mesozoic mosquito trapped in amber. The film openly asks whether a discovery for this magnitude must be actualized in order to advance science, even if it might have unforeseen consequences.
Hammond represents a commerce viewpoint and answers “yes” to the question, because there is money to be made and because entrepreneurs often romanticize their ventures, failing to see potential shortcomings.
On the other end of the spectrum, Malcolm’s answer is an emphatic “no,” because he approaches the question from a mathematical-theory perspective. He doesn’t need physical evidence to understand that the park is a probabilistic disaster waiting to happen, and reframes the question by asking, “What’s so great about discovery?”
Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) are empiricists, and reserve judgement until they can examine the data for themselves. It is only after careful consideration of the evidence—which includes wild dinosaur eggs and a near-death by raptors—that Grant decides not to endorse Hammond’s park.
It is this focus on character consistency and topical scientific themes that has distinguished Jurassic Park from all of its sequels. But now that the franchise has gone off the rails, only Hammond’s commercial perspective—the most predictable and boring of them all—has been inherited by the latest installment. The scientific themes have been virtually extinguished.
Take the scene in Fallen Kingdom in which dinosaurs are auctioned off to a bunch of cartoonish rich people, because they apparently think these animals would be useful weapons for 21st-century warfare. Amazingly, the dinosaurs sell for a paltry $8-30 million apiece. Considering that dinosaur fossils net upwards of $8 million, it’s ludicrous to imagine that living dinosaurs wouldn’t attract higher sums.
It hit me during this scene: These new movies literally cheapen dinosaurs. Watching the animals get auctioned off by characters who have no concept of their monetary value was like staring through the screen and seeing the people in charge of this franchise, who have no concept of the narrative or symbolic value of dinosaurs.
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Jurassic Park illustrated that while dinosaurs make for memorable visual effects, they are also a resonant vector for subtler themes. As real Earthlings that deeply shaped the modern planet, dinosaurs are better ambassadors for scientific quagmires than purely fictional movie monsters. They can amplify necessary conversations about mass extinction, invasive species, biotech ethics, and the human place in space and time.
Maybe the third Jurassic World film, due out in 2021, will finally make an effort to emulate the sagacity of Jurassic Park. Otherwise, as Owen suggests in Fallen Kingdom, “I say we shut this whole thing down.”
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