Somewhat surprisingly, we only got around to watching Jurassic World last night.
I say somewhat surprisingly because Jurassic Park is the film that made me realise I want to go to film school. Also I read the book dozens of times (note to self: do a Michael Crichton post), stood in line for the hardcover release of The Lost World, still listen to the original soundtrack on road trips or when I need to go to sleep, wrote a 44 page sequel to the book in my last year of primary school and won the annual creative writing award for my efforts, was inspired to spend my weekends as a twelve year old digging for fossils (among the scorpions and deadly spiders) at the nearby oval, still drink my coffee out of a Jurassic Park mug I bought when the movie was out (the black one Samuel Jackson drinks out of)… holy shit I am seriously messed up, aren’t I?
And, you know… If it had only contained a twenty minute Chris Pratt shower scene, Jurassic World is the exact film this nerd right here would have made. Exact. I really wasn’t expecting that. I just wanted to sit around and watch some dinosaurs on a quiet Saturday in. I wanted it to be better than The Lost World, but had no expectations beyond that.
There are spoilers ahead, obviously. Like, I am going to spoil the whole thing. But honestly, you can’t really spoil a film like this: The dinosaurs get loose and start attacking people. The end. What did you think was going to happen?
First, however, we need to talk about Jurassic Park.
The novel is the sort of well-researched airport fiction that Crichton was so good at. Few of the characters are particularly sympathetic and the whole thing really is more of a thought experiment -a scenario plan, almost- of what would happen if we genetically engineered dinosaurs. The script that Spielberg brought to the screen is very different. It is basically his love letter to Hollywood itself. Hammond, the park’s creator, is a benign PT Barnum obsessed with the oddly humble idea of putting on a really good show. Over lunch, he goes out of his way to tell his own lawyer that he doesn’t want the park to be just for the super rich. (They’re eating Chilean sea bass, which is referenced as ‘famous’ over the loudspeakers in the new park.)
Hammond has made “living biological attractions so astounding that they will capture the imagination of the entire planet” and that’s what he wants to do. Capture imagination. That Hollywood showmanship is what Spielberg’s film is about, particularly as it is manifested in the ‘promise’ of Disneyland… a place Hammond specifically references. It celebrates the joy of putting on a good show.
Spielberg’s theme is awkwardly shoehorned back into the original story’s very Mary Shelley-esque warning that humanity can’t ever really control nature in the ice cream scene towards the end of the film. Ellie tells Hammond his control has always been an illusion. We’ll return to that.
And so, for a film student, Jurassic Park is really quite meta. It’s an excellent film by an excellent film director about the excellence of making a good film (complete with animatronics on all levels). It is the story of what can go wrong and what can go right in storytelling itself.
Jurassic World, then.
I appreciate there are very few people out there who have watched the original film as many times as I have, but surely at least someone else has noticed that Jurassic World is, for all intents and purposes, a shot-for-shot remake of Jurassic Park, with the sequence mashed up slightly like dinosaur DNA. I found one article that described the 9 ‘Easter egg’ references to the original film. There are not nine. There are hundreds. There are probably more JP references than there aren’t. It honestly approaches Kubrickian levels of visual referencing and I do not use that word lightly.
Here are some to start:
Creatively, what are you trying to achieve when you essentially produce a shot-by-shot remake of a film about filmmaking? You are inviting a comparison. Hollywood then and Hollywood now. You are also exploring the macro theme in a highly ritualised sense. I’m reminded of Battlestar Galactica: All of this has happened before and will happen again. If you put certain symbols, signs and syncs together, you will trigger the same outcome. Jurassic World is a psychic echo of Jurassic Park.
Except it isn’t. It is now a world. The echo is global. What happens there is happening on a planetary basis.
Let’s explore the Disney proxy in our World Without Sin a bit further.
Compare that to Hammond’s humble little Visitor Centre. (In Jurassic World, it is the Samsung Experience Center.)
The original Visitor Centre -ie ‘pure’ Hollywood dream- makes an appearance in World. It has literally seen better days.
Note how he’s affectionately touching the mural, a ‘real’ thing. Below is actually the kids’ first dinosaur experience. It’s an actual hologram.
The Brachiosaur was the first dinosaur Alan and Ellie encountered when they visited Jurassic Park. Except that was real.
They then look out across the happy dinosaurs in wonder.
So in World, the first dinosaur is ‘fake’, a comment in and of itself. But the exact same brachiosaur encounter scene also plays out twenty years later. It goes a little differently.
In the original, Ellie does that ‘open mouth’ thing out of wonder, not horror. And in case you’re wondering whether that ‘really’ is Ellie, they go to pains -and jokes- to ensure you get it by making subtle wardrobe digs at 90s fashion.
‘Reality’ and ‘artifice’ are specifically called out in reference to the original park. The psychic reboot of Nedry (note the glasses and soda) -now a good guy- is seen through his choice of T-shirt which Claire/new-Ellie mentions is in ‘poor taste’.
Here’s a guy with ‘real’ things -physical dinosaurs- on his workstation. He says “That first park was legit” and decries the corporate sponsorship of new dinosaurs; “Pepsisaurus, Tostitodon,” Etc.
What is real, what is fake, what is authentic.. that’s what World explores. Claire even says at one point “no one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore”.
What about the ‘science’? Glad you asked. Here’s the friendly introduction to genetic engineering from twenty years ago. This is what you might call ‘shooting handheld on 16 mil’.
Here’s Mr DNA’s appearance in World.
Reality and who is mediating it, replicating/creating it, is what Jurassic World explores. When Hammond gives his DNA presentation, he is physically present in the little moving theatre and tells the audience there are ‘no animatronics here’. In World, we see the kids mediated through a screen that blends them, dinosaurs and DNA manipulation into the one image.
You also get this exact replication of one of the first shots in Jurassic Park, except that was out at a dig in Montana. Here it is children playing at archaeology inside the Samsung Experience Center. Note the very Disney Parks wearable.
Claire, who runs Jurassic World, isn’t particularly interested in the real… in fact it makes her anxious. In one of the many helicopter syncs, immediately after the ‘new’ Hammond/park owner brings up the original theme of ‘control’ by saying “the key to a happy life is to accept you are never actually in control“, she shrieks “bird”! and points out of the helicopter.
The helicopter avoids the birds. Here is the original ‘seeing birds out of a helicopter’ scene:
An affirmation of authenticity and ‘realness’ continuing. (Ie dinosaurs are still around, they’re just birds.) They’re not done with the helicopter reference, either. Not only does the bouncy landing get repeated, but another ‘bird’ -an actual dinosaur- is seen out another helicopter window. It is shot.
Shot by whom? Good question. Here is the crucial difference between the Hollywood/dinosaur theme park of twenty years ago and the Hollywood/dinosaur theme park of today. Back then, it was a rich eccentric storyteller trying to delight the families of the world.
Today it has an enormous back-end interface with a semi-private military industrial complex.
In-Gen and the US Navy are using the park infrastructure and laboratories to hybridise and weaponise dinosaurs. When Claire says ‘no one is interested in dinosaurs anymore’, she means they come to see the mutants. Today’s entertainment is a dangerous mutant built by the military for non-transparent reasons. That is what the parents are bringing their children along to see.
Indeed, the dinosaurs aren’t even the villains in this film. The tremendous (Verizon-sponsored) Indominus Rex -a Frankenstein monster, effectively- is the true villain. And it its its presence in the park that not only indiscriminately kills humans, but the dinosaurs itself. Its presence destroys ‘authentic’ entertainment.
Tellingly, the only person who is in both films/both parks is the original geneticist, Henry Wu. In this scene, he is drinking tea that is identical in colour to the chunks of insect-containing amber on his desk. He is the ‘origin point’ of the dinosaurs, and the one managing the military/In-Gen arrangement. Behind his hatcheries is his mutant hybrid centre. The ‘science behind’ is the only continuity between the storytelling of twenty years ago and the storytelling of today… except today it is far more advanced, far more dangerous.
Wu says that “nothing in Jurassic World is natural”. Is he talking about the film or the park?
In the ‘Control’ Room, Claire yells at Owen/Chris Pratt the exact words “you’re not in control here“. Here we have a return to the ice cream conversation from the original film, but in an updated context. ‘Control’ isn’t an ‘illusion’, someone has it… just not you. (Which makes “the key to a happy life is to accept you are never actually in control“ particularly Orwellian. Accept it, citizen.)
Because Jurassic World is a full-blown psychic replay of Jurassic Park, it has to end in the same classically Gothic way: with the organic, the authentic, the Natural, achieving victory over hubristic man’s vain attempt at dominion.
The velociraptors and the T-Rex -which, thinking about it, is probably the same animal from the original park- are pitted against the Verizon-sponsored Indominus Rex in a battle that precisely matches the climax from the original film (but is not in the book), almost on a shot-by-shot basis.
As for the military involvement theme, when it comes to Hollywood, that has been a matter of historical record for decades. I nevertheless find it interesting that Jurassic World explicitly calls out its improved efficacy and how what now entertains us is an even more dangerous, ‘new’ mutant, and that it is the real villain. Nobody is whistleblowing or whatever, here. It is just calling out a reality we are all aware of, and doing it in a much more intelligent way than anyone expected from a family friendly-ish action film.
You might think you are watching science fiction here because it is a story about genetically engineered dinosaurs but I’m not sure that’s the case. I think you are watching science fiction because it is a story about the inevitability of sync. It many ways it reminds me of my experience of the board game and the flooded opera in Lucca. What happens when certain words and certain symbols are combined (in a dinosaur theme park)? The same fate plays out again because synchronicity is a planet-sized cigarette lighter. And that ‘psychic echo’ theme is expressed both on screen and in the filmmaking. If that were simply down to unoriginal writing (the writing’s fine for what it is) or unoriginal directing, then it would have pastiched from all the terrible intervening films but it doesn’t. In fact, it does what all right-thinking people should do and never mentions them again.
I honestly don’t think I’ve seen anything quite like it before.
Except for Jurassic Park. Which is identical.