One of the most effective devices available to any screenwriter lies in the portrayal of children. Specifically children who have been separated from the herd – who find themselves isolated and parent-less before the presence of some encroaching danger. Nothing is better guaranteed to tug at the heart-strings, to make the hairs on the back of your neck prickle – than a depiction of children in peril.
All of which makes Jurassic World unique. Because in this film, within the space of about thirty minutes, you find yourself fervently hoping that the child characters in question – the teenage Zach and his younger brother Gray – will be violently torn to shreds by some frothing-at-the-mouth Tyrannosaur. Perhaps this is because their characters are so poorly portrayed. Zach is ‘an adolescent’ – which, for the writers, clearly means he is capable only of scowling moodily into the middle distance, or suddenly snapping at his younger brother, or sinking into an unblinking, slack jawed reverie for no apparent reason.
Younger brother Gray, however, is more ‘vulnerable’ and the director is able to convey this by having him sob at intermittent points while hugging himself and rocking back and forward, before an expression of existential angst fissures across his face and he slips into an almost catatonic state. All of which would be fine and to be expected in the course of a sci-fi-cum-horror film – only the miserable little killjoy is like this before the dinosaurs have arrived to menace him.
The director wants it to be clear that the relationship of the two boys is ‘troubled’. Early on in the film, when the dinosaur rebellion is just getting going, the boys find themselves scooting across a field in a giant mechanical football – one of many modes of tourist transportation in the high tech Jurassic World theme park. Moody adolescent Zach is scowling moodily. Killjoy Gray is hugging himself in the manner of a killjoy. Zach spies a great mouth-shaped gash in a metallic fence – Gray whimpers all the more. Zach directs the vehicle through it and to the dark forest beyond, overriding his brother’s objections, hissing in a maniacal whisper, promising the smaller boy a ‘real’ tour of the park.
All at once the film threatens to be interesting; you can’t help but wonder if the older brother – in a moment of Freudian filial angst – isn’t about to feed his annoying sibling to the prehistoric besties, but no, they both survive in order to engage in a teary, huggy reconciliation. Out of the blue Zach suddenly starts to channel his ‘inner older bro’ – unleashing a full on emotional tirade in a scene which reeks like a huge pile of dinosaur ordure.
But if the interactions between the two brothers are empty and clichéd, then the romantic dynamic between their would-be-protectors – park manager Claire Dearing and heroic marine/game keeper Owen Grady – is absolutely soulless. Literally. I am adamant that neither of these human beings has a soul. Claire also happens to be the aunt of the crown princes Moody and Killjoy – only when Killjoy dashes up to her at the start of the film, she hesitates, before returning his embrace tentatively. Everybody knows that the Creator endows all real women with an overflow of maternal tenderness – so her hesitation obviously marks Claire out as some kind of grotesque aberration; this is made all the more apparent by the fact that she is so cold and hard as to aspire to some kind of career – rather than spending every other moment relishing and cooing over Moody and Killjoy.
Luckily rugged, lantern-jawed marine/game keeper Owen realises straight away just what a crap archetype of femininity Claire has turned out to be. So he sets out to repeatedly humiliate and berate her for being such a frigid, career driven witch, and this, alongside several displays of rugged, lantern-jawed masculinity – manages to melt her back into a soft, gooey mush of womanhood, allowing her to finally appreciate the beauty and wonder of the creatures rugged, lantern-jawed Owen is enthusiastically slaughtering with his high powered machine gun – not to mention the joys and delights of miniature Messrs Moody and Killjoy.
There is, however, one terrifying scene where Claire comes close to asserting some level of individual autonomy once again – she shoots a bird lizard which is engaged in a ferocious peck-off with the rugged, lantern-jawed marine/game keeper – but as soon as he grasps the horror of what has just happened, he charges Claire and begins to lip suck her so furiously that the possibility of any such future displays of self-determination is lost in the sound of her moist, moony sighs.
All of this though could still be redeemed by the presence of the dinosaurs. The effects are in fact pretty slick, and the one scene where the dark silhouette of the T-rex begins to take shape from within the trees, illuminated by the sinister red of the creature’s glowing eyes – definitely generates a shudder. But the main monster antagonist – a genetically-modified dinosaur called Indominus rex is just plain stupid. The original Jurassic Park film was able to effectively play with the idea of the raptors developing a certain instinctive intelligence so that they could communicate in order to corral and trap prey. Here Jurassic World desperately overplays its hand. The Indominus rex is now so savvy that it is actually able to perform surgical procedures on itself, locating and removing a tracking device which has been grafted into its body by a team of top geneticists. What once was sinister is very quickly morphed into the absurd.
But even that wouldn’t be so bad. The gloriously awful B-movies of yesteryear were still entertaining in their way, because they understood that even if you have a bonkers plot, and even if you are working with a set of stereotypical cardboard characters that beggar belief, the entertainment value comes from not taking them too seriously, from having them cheerfully slaughtered in a variety of colourful and imaginative ways. It is a fine tradition which, unfortunately, the makers of Jurassic World have refused to honour.
Tony McKenna can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.