It’s almost moot to write a review of Jurassic World. I went to see it, chances are you went to see it, everyone went to see it and in the movie business that’s all that counts. There’s going to be a sequel. So what’s the point of palaeontologists and scientists taking to their blogs and Twitter accounts? Universal Studios and producers can’t hear us moaning about feathers on account of all the noise the cash is making as it is poured into a Scrooge McDuck style vault. But here it is anyway. Be warned, SPOILERS ahoy and I’ve recreated some scenes here in LEGO to illustrate my thoughts*.
Now for the Science Part
Despite being a box office sensation, Jurassic World differs from the original Jurassic Park and those sequels in that it’s a much sillier movie. It’s firmly a monster movie and waaay more fiction than it is science. Of course, JP was always beyond the realms of possibility but it seems the film makers have thrown away any pretence of being accurate or based in reality. Palaeo friends and colleagues have been blogging and tweeting the errors since the trailer so I won’t go too much into it, suffice to say that there are scenes that will make your eyes roll if you care about this kind of thing. One specific example I’ll mention is a rather hand-wavey explanation for how the genetically created Indominus rex (I feel dirty italicising that), possesses a surprising array of adaptations. If the frog DNA explanation in the first movie got your goat, give up the entire herd as chief Ingen geneticist Dr Wu casually suggests that the possession of invisibility to thermal cameras, colour changing camouflage and ability to speak Velociraptorese is a side effect for bits of genes used to create the beast. This is really the tip of the iceberg. Set your expectations to Interstellar levels if you’re a science fan.
But it’s not as if the film makers aren’t aware this film will get the backs up of dinosaur geeks the world over. There are a number of not-so-subtle nods to previous complaints in particular a scene where the park manager explains to corporate sponsors that visitors (or indeed movie goers) want bigger, better, scarier. In another scene Dr Wu has a line about how many of the dinosaurs in the park probably don’t look like the dinosaurs they’re based on due to all the genetic tampering required to create living dinosaurs.
As I said above Jurassic World is very much a monster movie. The series always has been that way inclined but here there’s a lot more time given to running away from snapping jaws than there is character development, plot or any sense of a deeper point. The cast of dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures is fairly boring here: very much falling into the trope of a cast of little ones, flying ones, big ones, a bigger one and a really big one. A trope, now seen across all media, a trope that started with Jurassic Park. Ornithiscian dinosaurs and sauropods are barely more than set dressing. Aside from blink-and-you’ll-miss-’em Dimorphodon and a one trick mosasaur (who performs the same trick no less than three times) it’s the cast of a thousand video games, Velociraptor, Pteranodon, Tyrannosaurus with newcomer cuttlefish/frog/velociraptor genetic monster Indominus rex. Previous chompy cast members Spinosaurus, Dilophosaurus and Compsognathus don’t get a look in either. Given the hundreds of dinosaur and extinct reptile species to draw on for inspiration it’s a bit sad to see so few in the film. Though of course, you can buy all manner of not-appearing-in-this-film merchandise, I’ve not looked too hard but I’ve seen Baryonyx, Suchomimus, Microceratus and Metriacanthosaurus promotional art and toys, sad that they couldn’t make it onto the screen.
Is it all that bad? It’s an enjoyable action-packed film with barely a dull moment (although there’s a bit of plot about weaponising Velociraptor which drags a bit) and despite the dull colours, lack of feathers and typical cast it’ll no doubt inspire another generation of palaeontologists because we definitely don’t have too many of them already. Much like Jurassic Park, the surrounding dinomania will be good PR for palaeontology and it seems a shame to waste the opportunity on whinging rather than turn it to the advantage of palaeontological science particularly at a time when a focus on high impact research is seeing many palaeo museums and University departments worry about securing funding without shoe-horning tenuous human health or conservation real world impact somehow.
* Scenes from a preview screening I saw so they may have been cut from the final edit.