When the lights in the theater dimmed, I whispered a quiet prayer to the movie gods: “Make me feel like I’m 10 years old again.” When the credits rolled and the lights came up, I thought something else: “That’s all 10 year-old me ever wanted.”

We used to sit at lunch tables and argue about what a sequel should look like. We shouted to each other across the street on walks home from school about what characters and dinosaurs should come back. We obsessed – not just me, not just a few kids, but an entire school, an entire generation – obsessed over how Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park could become even better in a sequel.

Those before us had Star Wars. Those after us had Lord of the Rings. We had Jurassic Park, but it never got better like those other franchises. Author Michael Crichton tried, writing an incredible action movie of a book that would take Spielberg’s considerable filmmaking skills to their limits. Instead, we got The Lost World: Jurassic Park, a sequel that had little bearing on what made the books or the first movie special. Jurassic Park 3 arrived years later and we celebrated, even if we knew it was bad. At least it had some passable action scenes. That was in 2001.

The void since has been filled with SyFy Saturday night TV movies: Raptor Island, Raptor Ranch, Planet Raptor. Are you noticing a trend? Despite audiences willing to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars, no studio wanted to take a chance on another dinosaur film. It was as if most were intimidated, or didn’t know how to pull it off. The genre remained strangely silent.

Finally, we have Jurassic World, and like I said: it’s all 10 year-old me ever wanted. The park that broke down in the first film is now fully operational, handling tens of thousands of visitors a day. Of course, making a movie about it means everything’s about to break down again. Running the park is Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), a no-nonsense executive whose newest attraction is a dinosaur invented from scratch – a genetic mix of other dinosaurs and modern animals.

If you’ve ever seen a monster movie before, you know this doesn’t bode well, and it isn’t long before her visiting nephews and ex-Navy man, Owen (Chris Pratt), are running from a variety of beasts loosed from their pens by the lab-crafted Indominus Rex.

Jurassic Park didn’t treat its dinosaurs as action set pieces, it treated them with reverence and wonder. Jurassic World remembers to do the same. It even has characters fight over that loss of respect and it manages to restore the feelings of awe that made the first film so special.

Jurassic World also remembers what many viewers forget – the first film was a horror movie before anything else. Jurassic World doesn’t function like a horror movie in the way Jurassic Park does, but it has a few suspenseful moments and slasher style inserts, courtesy of the Indominus Rex and the Velociraptors.

Chris Pratt is Chris Pratt, which is to say he’s not too different from his Guardians of the Galaxy character. He’s charming yet empathetic, brawny yet goofy. He’s a self-deprecating lead in a self-deprecating film. He’s not good or bad, he’s just perfectly suited for this movie. Previews hide the fact that Bryce Dallas Howard is the film’s co-lead, and she’s exceptionally good. I’m not a big fan of the role they put her in: a woman whose efficacy in business means she can’t handle human emotions properly. It’s trite, but Howard handles it deftly and gets more than a few action moments of her own.

The true stars of the film are Charlie, Echo, Delta, and Blue…the Velociraptors. They’ll make you smile, cheer, gasp, and maybe even shed a tear. With 22 years of built up fandom, Velociraptors are too dynamic to just be the bad guys. Every iconic villain gets her chance to become a good guy, and the raptors are no different. It’s almost unthinkable that a movie could make the allegiances of a pack of Velociraptors the emotional hinge that brings an audience to the edge of their seats, but…somehow, some way, director Colin Trevorrow absolutely, unequivocally nails it.

Is Jurassic World a great film? To me, yes, but I’m too attached. I saw Jurassic Park in theaters seven times and I’ve watched it now more than 100 times. I am emotionally compromised. Jurassic World is an ambitiously clever film. It’s funny and surprisingly satirical. It’s even emotional here and there. To paraphrase a friend after the film, self-deprecation and satire keep Jurassic World from being great, but they also make it as good as it can possibly be. I think that’s the best way to put it: tremendously good, but limited in a way that keeps it from being great. That’s a lot better than most of us thought it could be.

Most importantly, it’s fulfilling, especially to the 10 year old me who waited 22 years to see a worthy sequel to Jurassic Park. That part of me felt awe again in a way a kid obsessed with dinosaurs doesn’t get at the theater very often. That part of me was moved, and can only think of one word to describe how I felt walking out: ecstatic.

When we argued over lunch tables, shouted across the street at each other, or described fan fiction during recess before we even knew what that was, it was because we wanted to see something with the same magic as Jurassic Park. Jurassic World isn’t perfect, but it captures much of the movie magic that fans have been seeking for 22 years.

This is the first sequel that feels like it’s earned the franchise’s name. It’s all 10 year old me ever wanted: a worthy successor to Jurassic Park.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go double-feature this with Mad Max: Fury Road for what might be the most fun day of my moviegoing life.

Does it Pass the Bechdel Test?

This section helps us discuss one aspect of movies that we’d like to see improved – the representation of women. Read why we’re including this section here.

1. Does Jurassic World have more than one woman in it?

Yes. Bryce Dallas Howard plays Claire, Judy Greer plays Karen, Lauren Lapkus plays Vivian, and Katie McGrath plays Zara.

2. Do they talk to each other?

Yes.

3. About something other than a man?

Yes. Claire is essentially the CEO of the theme park. Some conversations revolve around the park and the dinosaurs, but many revolve around a pair of missing boys.

It’s a Jurassic Park movie. There are always going to be missing kids, but I have some difficulty with the role Claire plays. Mind you, she holds her own against Velociraptors and Tyrannosaurs just fine. The problem lies in how being an effective businesswoman directly sabotages her ability to be a good aunt to those two missing kids. Her role in the movie is essentially to learn the value of family and how being career-oriented has kept her from appreciating the potentials of motherhood.

In one way, writer-director Colin Trevorrow is playing with a classic Steven Spielberg trope: the detached father. Nearly all of Spielberg’s films involve a disconnect between children and their father figures – it’s an incredibly personal element that shapes his narratives and gives us windows into characters’ private lives. Jurassic Park taught paleontologist Alan Grant to appreciate the idea of children in a way he doesn’t at the beginning of the film. He learns protecting and caring for them can be rewarding in a way he hadn’t imagined before.

The difference is men aren’t often told to sacrifice their careers in order to stay at home and be good fathers. The social context is different when a woman is being told this because we’ve told women this for thousands of years. Hell, we pay women three-quarters of what men make because we don’t think they have the same value in the workplace.

It’s wonderful to be introduced to Claire as a woman who can handle visiting CEOs, theme park operations, and genetic research & development all in the space of a morning. It’s annoying to then see her realize the magic of family, love, and children in a way that diminishes the value of her career. Nowhere in the film is it said she can’t be both a businesswoman and a mother, but the narrative does act as if the two are emotionally mutually exclusive. Because of her role in a business she operates, she’s treated as emotionally unavailable and Jurassic World is more critical than complimentary about that.

Now, Claire gets to shoot Dimorphodons, she saves Chris Pratt’s Owen more than he saves her, and she’s generally pretty bad-ass. There are inversions of classical romantic roles that play with the notions of femininity and masculinity. It also helps that Bryce Dallas Howard herself has a way of communicating strength and resolve not all actors possess.

Because so much else in the movie cleverly riffs off of Jurassic Park, it’s hard to tell how much Claire’s narrative is a play on Spielberg tropes and Alan Grant’s original character arc. If it’s not, then the motive is repeating tired clichés about women in the business world and the fulfillment of being a mother.

There’s one image that exemplifies the difficulty of knowing how the filmmakers are using this. There are many points where Claire runs from ferocious predators in high heels. Near the end, we even get a close-up of the heels as she’s running. Is this an instance of female empowerment iconography, or is it an example of male fantasy iconography? The character plays very effectively inside both tropes. I’m torn as to what the answer is.

Jurassic World is nothing if not self-aware, and I think the filmmakers enjoyed having Claire exist in both modes. I suspect Claire will communicate very differently as a character to different viewers. For me, it’s an odd moment of liking Bryce Dallas Howard’s portrayal, while disliking her character arc. For all the other ways in which Jurassic World toys with the franchise’s core themes, this is the one theme that should have been left behind.

I still love this movie for everything else it does, but it could have done much better in this regard.

 


If you saw the movie what did you think of the female roles? What is your favorite memory about the original Jurassic Park?


Additional Image: MovieWeb

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Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel Valdez
Gabriel is a movie critic who's been a campaign manager in Oregon, an investigative reporter in Texas, and a film producer in Massachusetts. His writing was named best North American criticism of 2014 by the Local Media Association. He's assembled a band of writers who focus on social issues in film. They have a home base.