Review: Jurassic World

I must start this review by saying that I did not expect to love this movie. It’s the fourth JP movie, and the second and third gave me no reason to suppose that a fourth one would be anything but a further slide down from the original. So I didn’t expect to love this movie…but I do, and actually just as much as I love the first Jurassic Park movie.

Let me be clear: Jurassic World is not a good dinosaur movie, in the sense of providing any kind of accurate depiction of dinosaurs as we currently understand them. But it is a fantastic Jurassic Park movie, and for that reason it will always be one of my favorites. (Spoilers below.)

I’ll start with some of the reasons that Jurassic World is NOT a good dinosaur movie, because this is important to me. One of the things that made the original Jurassic Park movie as good as it was came from the fact that they deliberately sought out up-to-date paleontological knowledge of the time, and paid a fair amount of attention to that when creating the dinosaurs. It is definitely a shame that Jurassic World did not do the same.

This actually gets addressed in the movie, when Dr. Wu points out to Mr. Masrani that the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park/World have always been made through combined genetics with other creatures, and that they would “probably look quite different” if they were not. This is, of course, something of an understatement. We know for a fact now that all of the dromaeosaurs (Velociraptor, Deinonychus and kin), would have been covered with feathers. It is possible that some of the tyrannosaur family may have had feathers or fuzz as well (though this is less certain). Feathers aside, it is only with the raptors in Jurassic World that we really get much in terms of speculation about color, while most of the dinosaurs depicted in the movie remain in fairly dull shades of browns and greys; it seems unlikely that all dinosaurs were so drably colored in real life – just look at the profusion of bright colors in the animal world today to see why. The behavior of the pterosaurs in the scene where they escape the aviary and then attack the park guests is probably the most ridiculous scene in the whole movie (and yes, I am including the end battle in that); I can think of NO reason why real animals would behave in that fashion, and that’s not even getting to the fact that (for most, if not all, of the pterosaurs depicted) adult humans would be too large to be considered prey. The one that snaps at Owen Grady’s face is, based on its teeth, a fish-eater by nature, and would have zero interest in attacking a large human for food. There are many other issues, of course (the mosasaur is too big based on current fossil evidence available to us, the raptors’ hands are positioned incorrectly, etc.), but those are probably some of the main things. To sum up: we get Hollywood-monster-style dinosaurs, instead of vaguely-scientifically-accurate dinosaurs.

(I’m honestly not even going to talk about the Indominus Rex in this review, because to me it was the least interesting part of the movie. My main reaction was “…really?”)

Ok. So. It’s not a good dinosaur movie. The plot is (let’s be honest) still a rehash of the first three: something goes wrong, a large predator gets loose and a lot of people get eaten. And yet, I love it anyway. Why?

First: THE PARK IS OPEN.

I’m not sure I quite have the words to articulate what this means to me.

I have loved dinosaurs ever since I was little. My first grade teacher had trouble spelling “paleontologist” when it was my turn to talk about what I wanted to be when I grew up. Dinosaurs were the main thing I wanted to see at any museum, I had dinosaur sheets for my bed, dinosaur posters on my bedroom walls, and plastic dinosaurs that got played with a lot. I read many books and watched weird ‘80s documentaries about dinosaurs, and I loved every minute of it.

All of this has not actually changed very much since I became an adult. I have not pursued paleontology as a career, but I read blogs and listen to podcasts about dinosaurs, I take Coursera courses about paleontology, and I still watch every dinosaur documentary I can get my hands on. One of my all-time favorite fiction books is Raptor Red by Dr. Robert Bakker.

And then there was Jurassic Park…which dangled out there this tantalizing idea of non-avian dinosaurs not only brought back to life, but made accessible to ordinary people like me. It teased at a place where you could see and hear and smell and maybe even touch real, live dinosaurs.

Jurassic World (in spite of the issues I discussed above) brings that hint into full-blown, amazing, wonderful life. It shows little kids riding baby triceratops, and feeding baby sauropods. It shows crowds watching the visceral feedings of tyrannosaurs rex and getting soaked by the gigantic splashes of a mosasaur. It shows people on rides and trails out amongst the herds of herbivores, watching them go about their daily business. It shows all of this and more and it is everything that I ever wanted.

For this, and this alone, I am always going to love watching this movie.

Second: Throwbacks to the original JP

While Jurassic World (fortunately) did not waste any time rehashing what happened in the original Jurassic Park film, it nevertheless managed to throw in a lot of nods to JP that are really fun and nostalgic for those of us who have seen the first film and loved it for years.

There were little things, like Control Room operator Lowry’s “original” Jurassic Park t-shirt, and Mr. Masrani’s reminder to Claire of Hammond’s favorite “spare no expense” line. I actually really liked that they brought Dr. Wu’s character back, older and arrogant in his position as head scientist for a successful Jurassic World. The front gates as the tram comes into the park. The music.

But my favorite part of this was definitely when Zach and Gray accidentally stumbled across the old visitor center. All overgrown and with the remnants of that final battle still strewn across the lobby (“When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth”), and Gray taking a quiet moment to look at the raptor painting on the wall…the very same one that a real raptor appeared behind to terrify Lex and Tim twenty years earlier. The night vision goggles, and the jeeps. Just…all of it.

For me, there was already a lot of (really good) “oh god, my childhood” sort of feeling from Jurassic World, and all these nods to JP just made it that much better.

Third: The dinosaurs.

I know I spent the earlier part of this review going on about how we only get Hollywood-monster-dinosaurs…and we do. But it is a Jurassic Park movie, and even if they could have been cooler, the dinosaurs are still really amazing. (I may have a bit of “any dinosaurs are better than NO dinosaurs” syndrome, too.)

I mean, they have an effing MOSASAUR. Come on.

The T-rex, for anyone who didn’t know, is the same one we meet in the first movie, a bit older and more battle-scarred, but still going strong. Fans have taken to referring to her as The Queen, which seems quite appropriate as far as I’m concerned.

And last (but most certainly not least), I must talk about the Raptor Squad.

The way the raptors were dealt with in Jurassic World was a long time coming, with setup from all three previous Jurassic Park films (even though 2 & 3 are not explicitly referenced in JW at all). In JP3, particularly, we see more of the raptors left to fend for themselves, with full packs raising young, communicating with each other, and with some color variations starting to develop (at least in the males we are shown in that movie). They have always been antagonists to the human characters, though there is a moment at the end of JP3 which hints at the possibility of some degree of human-raptor communication.

Jurassic World takes that and runs with it through Owen Grady and his (largely successful) attempts to train Blue, Charlie, Delta and Echo to obey commands from him. I think that this was handled very well; early trailers made it seem as though Owen had a lot of control over the raptors, but then the movie didn’t turn out to be that at all. When Gray asks Owen, “Are they safe?”, he rightly answers, “No, they’re not safe.” The raptors are still dangerous wild animals…but they are portrayed (as they always have been in JP) as smart wild animals, which leaves open a legitimate possibility for training and for specific individual humans to have somewhat safer interactions with them (people do legitimately train and work closely with dangerous wild animals such as big cats, sea lions, etc.) They are even dangerous to Owen himself, as shown in the early scene where he rescues the new worker from their enclosure – they were seconds away from attacking him, although his long-standing connection with them probably holds them back longer than they would have bothered with anyone else. Similarly later, out in the woods after the raptors have “switched sides,” there is the interesting scene where Blue is attacking Owen’s colleague Barry, who has hidden inside a log. Blue is slashing at the log and quite determined to get to the human inside it…right up until Barry calls her name. Then, on hearing her name from a familiar voice, she actually pauses her attack and turns to look down into the log. It’s difficult to say what would have happened after that if Owen hadn’t distracted her into chasing him on his bike…but the fact that she pauses at all on hearing Barry’s voice struck me as interesting – he, like Owen, is a familiar and possibly respected face. A couple of the pack try to attack Claire and the boys in the truck as they are driving away, and obviously none of the InGen mercenaries are safe once the raptors are no longer listening to Owen’s commands.

(As an aside, I do think that the JP movies show the raptors as being a little bit too smart for how real raptors probably were back in the Mesozoic Era, but within the context of a JP movie I’m okay with that; it is true that (given their brain-to-body-size ratio) the dromaesaurs were probably among the smartest dinosaurs.)

And then some of the raptor scenes are just fun. Despite Owen’s fears about letting the raptors loose to hunt the Indominus, once he’s out in the woods with them, with the pack all around him, helping him track down their target, you can just see the “All right, this is pretty kickass” thought pass through his mind. The end is also fun (if ridiculous), with Blue making the final decision that Owen is enough a part of her pack that she and her sisters will defend him against the Indominus after all, and then of course helping Her Majesty towards the end of the final battle.

Needless to say, Blue being the only raptor to survive the movie makes me quite sad, especially as she runs off calling for her sisters who aren’t going to answer anymore.

Ultimately, I think that Jurassic World managed to pull off the “everything we ever wanted from the raptors” scenario – they are still smart and dangerous and deadly…but also capable of developing a closer connection with individual humans that work with them and treat them with the care and respect that is necessary in dealing with any dangerous wild animal.

I think that mostly wraps up my thoughts about the movie. Definitely recommended for general dinosaur fans, in spite of the issues, simply for the “What if we could really touch a dinosaur??” aspect. Absolutely recommended for original Jurassic Park fans, even if you didn’t care for the second and third movies. I could probably ramble on about it more, to be honest, but this review has gotten quite long enough, so I’ll end it here.

~Ethelinda

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