Halfway through JW, I switched over to JP, just to see if I was being unfair.
There has to be 10 times more charm and excitement in the first 40 minutes of Jurassic Park (1993) than the whole of Jurassic World (2015) – and the really thrilling action doesn’t even begin for another 20 minutes. Yet by an hour into JW, we’ve seen dinosaurs attack and kill, and yet the most exciting part is when two kids jump off a waterfall. Hell, there’s more excitement in the shots lacking dinos in JP: as the automated car tour passing no-show dinosaurs, thoughtful camera work, intercom narration and a lack of score build anticipation way more than JW‘s humourless characters trading “barbs” (or whatever) about the seriousness of it all. Rewatching JP, I’m surprised by how much of the action doesn’t involve dinosaurs – eg the thrilling car-in-tree sequence (which even includes a little character development to boot). In JP, director Steven Spielberg builds a whole vernacular of symbols to modulate tension: the “10,000 Volts” signs, the power cables and, most memorably, the tremor ripples.
Director Colin Trevorrow and JW have the harder job: by this 4th movie, the dinos are well out of the bag, so not only can the film not delay their reveal, but they have to be bigger and more exciting. While JW does move forward from JP in terms of scope, stakes and dino-on-dino action, it takes many steps backwards into cartoonish (and, within this context, entirely redundant) notions of “good” and “evil”: the evil corporate-military complex, solely responsible for the evil dinosaur, as opposed to the “good” dinosaurs, which messily attempts to inject some kind of morality tale into JW. It ultimately makes the film seems smaller, more petty, and more childish.
What could have been this franchise’s Aliens, is instead it’s Avatar.
Contrast this with the smaller scale, but larger implications, of the mess (and those responsible for it) in JP. Amidst the action and terror befalling the kids, we’re returned regularly to Richard Attenborough‘s grandfather. The park is his brainchild, and we’re reminded that his motivations aren’t “evil”; his commercial vision isn’t driven by financial interest, but by his own childlike sense of wonder – he simply has the resources to realise it. In JP, the more obvious, simplistic ideas of “bad” are presented as caricatures, and accordingly dispatched early on: the “bloodsucking lawyer” is the first to die; the nasty Newman meets his karmic end 2/3rds of the way through the film; the “villain” we’re left with is a charming old man who, even as his dream is disintegrating before his eyes, still isn’t learning the folly of his ways, isn’t seeing that his “force of will” in creation is what poses the threat to, as Laura Dern tells him, “the people we love”.
Thirty years later, the generically cold, soulless enterprise in JW is either the product of our times, or simply hollow echoes of the cinematic storytelling tropes that in the decades since JP have become clichéd (and, at least as far as the film makers are concerned, expected). Where JW‘s corporate villains simply value money over people, JP‘s is more thoughtful, thought-provoking, and much more sinister in his recurring mantra: “We spared no expense”. If JW‘s message is more timely (the capitalist-military-industrial complex will devour us all, in this case literally), JP‘s is more timeless: if man’s intentions are good, surely he has a rightful claim to the centre of his universe?
JW was never going to match JP, because JP was unexpected. However: what was unexpected wasn’t merely the visualisation of dinosaurs, it was the kind of story they were a part of. JW‘s story is an also-ran: this could have been this franchise’s Aliens, but instead it’s Avatar. Hell, why didn’t they just get James Cameron to make JW and be done with it? (And that’s not a jab – just check his track record with sequels).