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Jurassic World is a terrible film because we are terrible people

If deep down this is what we wanted, why do we feel so unsatisfied? 

The only interesting thing about Jurassic World is its relationship to its audience - interesting and damning, for the film and the audience. The film is so self-conscious and at the same time so happy to admit its cynicism. But it makes sure it does so in a way that tries to implicate you. Yeah OK, I am a dumb kid, but then who raised me?

The difference between efficient and lazy storytelling is small. Most films, arguably the better ones, have plot holes dispensed from full logical coherency, as a sort of example of, or testament to, how stories are unreal by definition. 

This can give us a tricky but positive feedback loop. Broad strokes, short-cuts and leaps of logic ideally result in a story whose emotional impact retroactively justifies them. Wait, how did she get up there? Was it possible to do that? The story works well enough that these questions no longer matter. Or even better, that we don’t even notice. 

Your sensitivity to a story’s logic might be less a sign that you’re smarter than the film, and more proof of a kind of deficiency. Even to suspend disbelief still takes a bit of strength. And to be able to do it is not to be credulous, but to know how to read a story (in the strong sense of ‘read’).

But the evil twin to this method of storytelling is when a story rushes you between loosely knitted together set-pieces. 

The usual action sequences, which are so isolated, episodic and populated with crash-test dummies that they show up all the short-cuts, end up being a kind of contemptuous, cynical laziness. 

For example, Jurassic World’s telecoms work when they’re meant to and don’t when they’re not, with no more reason or explanation. It’s the kind of thing that usually gets called an insult to our intelligence. 

But the insults don’t stop there, as this key cliché demonstrates.You see In-Gen have already sunk large costs into researching the military application of dinosaurs. At this point, it’d be good to cut in supporting shots of weaponised lions and cobras set on enemy forces only to yawn and dawdle off into the underbrush.

To make sure the audience don’t suspect the film of anti-militarism, its hero is also ex-military.

The Good Soldier Pratt

Introducing the Good Soldier Pratt with his original glass bottle of Coke, vintage motorbike and dude expressions running the whole gamut from smirk to frown. All that this focus-group feedback form in an oily shirt manages to achieve with his fighting and flirting is highlighting the insults of his female co-lead, Claire Dearing. A character treated with such contempt that we may as well call her Not-Jessica-Chastain.

Claire also has two nephews. Not her own kids. This is crucial. One is a sort of Not-Joseph-Gordon-Levitt, his main character trait a kind of dead-eyed horniness, always giving girls the scan, presumably to connect with the important demographic of busy-handed teens. 

The other brother by clever contrast, is a nerdy moppet or maybe a child prodigy. Who by the way, also believes in ghosts.Babysat by their aunt’s reluctant PA, the boys sneak off on a gyroscope ride, which the older one takes off-road through a torn paddock fence, the plausibility equivalent to jumping into a tiger cage, i.e. for drunks or religious people trying to test God's patience.

We’ve come a long way when even a David Koepp script seems like a Shangri La. It takes all of four screenwriters to make sure we reach the end of the film with brothers learning to be brothers, their aunt getting her groove back, and Chris Pratt nodding bye to his raptor-bro on the misty tarmac, presumably in lieu of a jaw-chook and "we’ll always have Isla Nublar". 

Marvel revisited

Jurassic World reminds you, as we’ve learnt from a decade of boring-ass Marvel films, that the modern blockbuster has realised it needs only two modes of dialogue. First, the expository, where characters just come out and say their motivations and goals, or describe scenes we’ve watched or are watching, like close captions for the seeing blind, to the point that you want to cry up at the screen, “what are you, the narrator?”

Second is the wisecrack. The first rule of wisecrack is that no characterful non-wisecrack dialogue can exist. Any non-wise-crack dialogue could come from the mouth of any character. The only exception to these is the odd bit of dramatic portentous, the sort of lines that get immortalised as mottos under messageboard avatars. (Chris Pratt warning a newbie he just saved from being eaten to ‘never turn your back on the cage’, then immediately walks off with his back to the cage. With a dry cool wit like that, he could be an action hero.)

In fact I was so reminded of Marvel films I even hung around the cinema in the hope of one of those cutesy post-credits scenes; at last they reveal who’s the new Spiderman: a dilophosaurus! (Goo-spitting, web-flinging, same difference). 

Why the dialogue is boiled down to these modes is unsurprising. The film is tour-guide to itself, pointing out everything you need to notice while lightening up the dry stuff with zingy asides; mascots faux-bicker as they pass each other to make the parents laugh and tip.

It’s unsurprising then to see Marvel suck up to its new rival.

A poster tweeted by Marvel Studios president Kevin Feige

Halfway through the film’s ninth threat-less action sequence, my eyes drifted towards to the background and the self-referential product placement. One tourist running from pteranodons is still clutching his cocktails.

I began imagining how being caught up in the chaos, then stuck looking after the young brothers, would influence an increasingly exasperated David Foster Wallace, having been sent on his latest gruelling trip by Harpers Magazine to bring back another 20,000-worder.

Because there is mileage in a story about megabuck entertainment and luxury, where the peppy surface masks a huge network of production and consumption, corporate PR and corporate malfeasance. Watch the brutal Westworld for where this all began.


Under the weak gloss of Jurassic World, you catch hints of another type of film. Moments where the self-consciousness eases up a bit, into self-awareness.

It’s playful! Fun! Like when the villain’s monologue about the natural order is interrupted by a dino-attack, or when the control-room Beta Male leans in to a colleague for his hero kiss only to get “I have a boyfriend”. 

There are moments of tension too, between wonder and its commodification. Bored workers of a park of actual living dinosaurs drone, “enjoy your ride”. (The weary teen drone is its own "would you like fries with that?" cliché, i.e. cynicism at its most palatable.) This is the full tally of the movie’s charm.

It would take a filmmaker like Paul Verhoeven to bring out these tensions and satirise our theme park culture. (In the Jurassic World he imagines, corporate bigwigs combine Coupon Day with controlled accidents involving the poor, thus creating a surge in VIP visits; and loud ads interrupt the film with an OTT family, screaming down log-flumes, leaping back in glee from shock-proof cages. All the while the stupid ugly downtrodden animals look on psychotically). 

Instead, the film Jurassic World most reminds me of is Super 8. It’s dumb and shallow in the way of the Abrams’ film, with the same constant Spielberg referencing, sometimes in the form of a cute homage, which turns into a revealing nervous tic. 

Jurassic World is full of those surface similarities - an Indy-roll, an attacked woman thrashing in and out of water, a truck chase with wing-mirrors, gas canisters thrown at the jaws of predators, even an Empire of the Sun hangar reunion. But then here’s me jabbing my hand up to prove how I’ve spotted all the references. De te fabula narratur! Because if the film knows one thing, and it’s probably only one, it’s the audience.

What makes all these things lazy is what they’re in service to. It’s not even good entertainment, but a mixture of pandering and tutting. If style in art is a way of looking at the world, then a film’s aesthetic choices are part of its moral outlook. Just have a look at what the film does with its women.

It isn’t enough to talk about the treatment of the female lead as typically disgraceful, as expected Hollywood sexism. Yes she is a character whose Hero Moment is to run in high heels. Yes her arc is from pitifully childless career-woman to protective lioness. But focusing on these distracts from the deeper problem. 

In the original’s Dr Grant story, dinosaurs had to eat a bunch of people for him to realise that starting a family with his partner might not be so bad. This wasn’t particularly subversive or a challenge to gender, but the new film takes a step backwards from that. Instead of a man being invited into a matriarchal order (“Women inherit the Earth”), now a woman is taken from a bigshot career, which made her heartless and thoughtless, to real womanhood: i.e. motherhood. As her sister warns her, “You won’t understand till you have kids.”

But more importantly, and in a telling post-modern twist, she also thereby earns the right to confer manhood on others: when realising how to save her nephews, she calls out via CCTV (i.e. through a screen) at the Beta Male audience stand-in character (sat spectacled in his computer control-room), with that spanking cry of the age, “man up!”. 

(It’s like men want women to ‘be women’ so that they can then be told how to be men, all the while disavowing that this is what they’re up to, disavowing what this outsourcing actually proves. Then comes the shame and the rage. Depressing isn’t it!)

Claire Dearing

Somehow, the character of Zara is even worse. She’s the English PA, who’s killed off for not letting her fiancé have a bachelor party. In doing so she’s not only fulfilling the standard sacrificial role of the Too Pretty. She dies to appease the misogyny otherwise directed at the female lead. They are both uptight career-women, share a taste in stylish corporate jackets, don’t pay attention to kids and have similar angular cheeks holding up their continually-used phones. 

Zara is her boss’s stand-in, her Whipping Girl. She’s only really in the film so that her boss can die; gruesomely and in spirit, without having to die for real in a way that would risk the audience admitting to the impulse that is being roused in them.

Of course, tutting is itself a kind of pandering to the sort of impulses and stereotypes behind them. (At one point, Not-Jessica-Chastain says, “It’s OK to lie if people are scared!” - summing up the M.O. of our pop culture right there.)  

The unfortunately-abbreviated pachycephalosaurus  

Jurassic World, with its eye on a global audience, seems to be all multicultural. But, with an eye on its base, is thoroughly racialised.

The unfortunately-abbreviated pachycephalosaurus  might only raise eyebrows in British cinemas, but the rest of the film isn’t as lucky.

There’s the Vedic preaching of humility before nature, the black guy assistant who mediates between his white bosses and the park’s animals and that’s not even mentioning the crafty Chinese.

“It’s even worse than that.” While trying to cheer up the brothers after a jungle-chase, Wallace asks the nerdy Moppet, whom he hopes he has a precocious-kid affinity with, about those weird details in the film that he’s sure wasn’t just him. The helicopter crew that served in Afghanistan; the Villain thinking out loud about what the US Army could’ve done with dinosaurs in Tora Bora; the central set-piece of tensed Americans watching on night-vision-green screens as a crack squad hunt down a monster of their own creation. The Moppet just looks at him confused even embarrassed - he’s probably too young to remember. 

(It hadn’t helped either, the way Wallace kept insisting on saying "OBL", to the point that it started to sound to the kid like a Biblical exhortation.)

It’s not good enough to say blockbusters are stupid. They don’t have to be, and often they’re very smart. Hence the reason behind the stupidity of Jurassic World. It’s stupid enough times that it begins feels like a feature. When we say that a film “insulted our intelligence”, we also have to ask why it would do such a thing. Jurassic World’s engineers combined the DNA of the world’s most evil animals to create the most evil creature of them all. It turns out it's man.

The audience’s guilt is emphasised by the audience-stand-in character not being the Action Hero but the Beta Male, with his original Jurassic Park t-shirt and his waxing nostalgic about better times when the dino-entertainment didn’t feel so cynical. (The man nevertheless still works there…) 

This isn’t just the film’s sly attempt at co-opting, acknowledging and neutralising its own criticism. It also puts the man-child in the picture. The audience projects their discomfort on to this man, whose nostalgia is given permission, and is indulged to the point of exploited.

At one point, and for some reason, Not-JGL and the Moppet stumble across the ruins of the original park visitor centre, in an absurd Childhood’s Attic sort of sequence. The teens light a torch with some convenient matches from the younger boy (why did he keep any on him, the budding little firestarter?) and then they stalk the set and stroke the props like they’re looking at cave paintings. So, this is what the 90s looked like! But also, and crucially, this audience stand-in is the comic relief. He is mocked, in a light way, thus gently reaffirming the status of the man-child in the food-chain. This was made just for you! Lol you dork.

This kind of dual meta-commentary runs throughout the film, apologising for and revelling in its trashing of the original. A model of a mosquito fossilised in amber is smashed to pieces; the hill where the Park’s first visitors gawped at a brachiosaurus in that famous first reveal, now the bloody resting place of a whole herd sport-killed by the I-Rex.

(More interesting than the usual smug comparison of traditional animatronics against modern CGI is that this particular animatronic shot is the most hilarious. As we close-up on Chris Pratt stroking the rubbery brow of a murdered brachisaurus, I half-expected it to whisper, in Falcor-like baritone, ‘Avenge me. AVENGE ME.’). This massacre of a movie is what you wanted.

However, there is a flaw in the meta-commentary. Does the audience really want more teeth? If so, why isn’t the film more in the tradition of accusatory films like Running Man, Funny Games, or even Scream 2? We might just want better films. The accusation starts to become incoherent. It’s as if McDonalds was arguing that they had no part in training us to respond to high-salt and sugar diets. Blockbusters in the Jurassic World-mould are too big to fail, they must make good on their money, thus the main heft of the spending is ensuring a kind of mercantilist market saturation that, regardless of the quality, or demand for, the product still leads to obedient queues (this reviewer included).

The film is too slapdash to make a point about consumerism, sequels, its audience or anything else for that matter. It’s not despite of but because of its cheap moves, story cliches, character ciphers, grubby ideology, careless conman’s shrug, and all the alternately shameless and ashamed nostalgia, that the film has been such a roaring success.

If this success isn’t proof that Jurassic World was only giving us what we wanted, then what does it show? That the film gave us what we deep down already knew. It gave us what we had been taught to want, despite our claims to want better, and still there we were.



Mazin Saleem is a writer based in London. He has had fiction published in Litro Magazine, The Literateur, Open Pen Magazine, The Mays, and non-fiction published at Big Other. His work can be found at

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