Even by today’s big, dumb summer movie standards, Jurassic World is probably one of the stupidest movies you’ll ever see. The third sequel to Steven Spielberg’s dino spectacular is so braindead that I’d call it an exercise in blockbuster self-parody if I thought for one moment the movie was self-aware enough to go there. It’s not. Jurassic World is just dumb.
The movie isn’t offensively dumb like a Michael Bay flick or simple-mindedly dumb like a Roland Emmerich feature. At least those guys, somewhere deep down inside, care about making movies. Jurassic World may be the worst kind of dumb—it’s lazy, trust-fund kid dumb. You know, the kind of dumb where no matter what happens, they’re going to be fine, so even though everything is laid out in front of them, and if they just put in an incy bit of extra effort something great could happen, they don’t bother. That kind of dumb is really hard to thoughtfully criticize.
Not much concern went into Jurassic World beyond don’t tarnish the family name, so not much good can come from addressing the film’s obvious, inarguable flaws. In the end, a T-Rex and a bunch of Raptors fight an even meaner laboratory-manufactured dino, while some of the stupidest characters ever put to film just hid and watched.
When a Movie’s Not a Movie
Even I clapped at the finale’s spectacle because, well, fightin’ dinos. I understand the irresistible nature of the sequence. But I also know better than to call Jurassic World a good movie. Spectacle and cinema are not the same thing. If that were the case, projecting the Super Bowl half-time show in a theater would make film art of sorts. We all know it’s not.
Most disheartening is that the one man who knows that more than anyone didn’t seem to care. Steven Spielberg, the man who is largely credited with creating the blockbuster as we know it, hand picked director Colin Trevorrow, a man who made a watchable but otherwise inconsequential indie sci-fi pic, to helm the film. Trevorrow is no Spielberg, but that’s not surprising. What’s really shocking is far from the basic tenets of cinematic storytelling Trevorrow gets in making this movie under Spielberg’s watchful eye. As a friend of mine said, it’s like Trevorrow has never watched a movie in his life. That the characters are ignored to the extent that they are certainly makes it seem that way.
All the elements to tell a story of Spielbergian levels are there: a (presumably) autistic child off with an older brother who’s burdened/embarrassed by the kid and a career-driven aunt who could care less about family while a mother helplessly watches from thousands of miles away. There’s certainly a character-focused, if not driven, story there. And if there were too many elements, cut the family angle all together and focus on the romantic farce between Chris Pratt’s character and Bryce Dallas Howard’s. It’s not even hard to imagine a great film either way.
The Critics Have Stopped Doing Their Jobs
There’s no point wishing Jurassic World was something better than it turned out because after yelling about how bad blockbusters have become, many cinephiles have stopped fighting. Jurassic World isn’t just “critic proof.” It had critical stalwarts (Dana Stevens, David Edlestein, Mick LaSalle and Stephanie Zacharek, to name a few) singing its praises.
Take Mick LaSalle’s reaction: “Jurassic World matches the wit and pace of a 1990s monster movie with the attitudes and anxieties of 2015, and the result is a film that’s as smart as it is exciting.”
Aside from him being just plain incorrect with that assessment (did he even watch the movie?), LaSalle is a guy who gave a scathing review to Avengers: Age of Ultron, a film just as stupid but that at least tried to make a rather messy narrative work, saying “Meanwhile, every so often, between bombardments, there’s a gesture in the direction of explaining things — a few glibly spoken lines in scientific jargon. But it’s a safe bet that no one watching really knows what’s going on.”
So a generally sophisticated critic can’t defend a movie like Age of Ultron but can defend Jurassic World. That’s baffling. It’s certainly not criticism. Instead, he’s choosing a personal preference for dinos over superheroes with as little thought as someone can give these movies today.
But It’s Just Business, Right?
Pauline Kael once said, “In the arts, the critic is the only independent source of information. The rest is advertising.” Sure, the movies are a business. It’s been that way since the inception of the medium, really. But the balance has shifted so heavily to business that there’s little room for art anymore.
Through nothing but dumb luck, I once sat across from Sherry Lansing at a lunch. She was the first female mogul and President of Paramount Pictures from 1992 to 2004. William Friedkin, Lansing’s husband, was there telling stories about making movie in the during the New Hollywood era, but Lansing, well, she had another perspective: The head-on collision of art and business.
Lansing told a story about managing two controversial creatives (who I won’t mention here because I don’t know if I should even tell this story). These guys would show her something that they thought would shock or offend her. She’d say something like “That’s cute, boys.” The line in itself is funny, but there’s something brilliant in that response, too. I’m sure those guys would walk off in a huff and come up with ways to really challenge the top brass. In the end, the movies they made were probably better for it.
Today, the folks in charge are calling the creative shots, finding competent but rather unimaginative white guys with slim resumes to make their blockbusters, getting a product that checks the boxes and then moving on to the next picture in the series. WB chairman Kevin Tsujihara appears to be micro-managing the DC superhero pictures. Star Wars is Kathleen Kennedy’s, not J.J. Abrams’s, universe to control. And most readers are likely familiar with the power of Feige at Marvel. These people aren’t even producers anymore. They’re brand managers.
Still, if I’ve learned anything in all my years obsessing over movies, it’s that no era in cinema is as perfect as we perceive it (not the New Hollywood, not the Blockbuster Era, not the Indie era)… and more importantly nothing last forever. Even today, when the duds are the films making history, we can rest assured that time is on our side. So I won’t care that Jurassic World is dumber than even I could have anticipated. Because the franchise era will be over before we know it and hopefully we’ll get back to real cinema.