Where conflict is absent, so too, usually, is story. As a commonly recognized, believable source of conflict, stupidity can be a very useful storytelling device. We could go so far as to say that screenwriting is a form of stupidity management, approached via questions like, “How will my characters behave stupidly, and when, and to what effect?”
Jurassic World seems to embrace this approach. It gleefully depicts a stupidity-rich environment peopled with stupid characters who sometimes stupidly happen into exciting, dinosaur-infused action sequences or fall prey, stupidly, to satisfying dinosaur predation.
That’s a whole lot of stupid. Sadly, that stupidity isn’t managed very well. It spills out all over the film and seeps into far too many scenes. Neither is it of a particularly enjoyable variety, generally lacking in richness, import, or comedic value. Not all stupidities are created equal.
While we may be titillated by the film’s admittedly fun, sensational, cartoonish action, we are given cause to feel little else except perhaps a gnawing desire to see every stupid character made extinct by a raptor maw. A total, full-stomached victory for the dinosaurs might have redeemed this film. Sadly, we are disallowed that satisfaction.
A part of the problem is that Jurassic World suffers from a split, contradictory identity as both a kid movie and a horror film. That’s a tough combo to pull off well, as previous Jurassic films have demonstrated. While both genres make good use of stupid characters, which may partially explain Jurassic World’s hearty supply, the two capitalize on stupidity in very different ways. Horror films feed idiots to agents of Fate, Justice, or Nature. Kid movies use idiots to amuse, moralize, or instruct. Jurassic World is thick with idiots, but its kid-friendly design denies us too often the payoff of their horror-appropriate destruction; and its horror underpinnings prevent its idiots from fully serving their kid-friendly roles. A core flaw of the film is that it fails to reconcile its internal genre contradictions.
In horror films, a body count’s size and quality matter, and both are off the mark in Jurassic World. Simply put, not enough of the right people are eaten. To illustrate this point, let’s look at the edibility rating of a few characters and their fates. WARNING: Spoilers abound.
Claire, the main female protagonist played by Bryce Dallas Howard, is arguably the film’s most idiotic, and therefore edible, character. Her only redeeming quality is her ability to survive carnivorous dinosaur onslaughts, and long treks through rough terrain, while wearing high-heels. I pitied her ankles and lower back throughout. Aside from that, there is reason given only to hope for her creatively-executed demise, which fails to occur. Instead she is rewarded for her undiluted idiocy with a rejuvenated romance, and the promise of passing her DNA down to future children, an eventuality more harmful to the human species than any genetically-modified dinosaur could ever be. Edibility: High. Fate: Survives. Outcome: Unacceptable.
Every Jurassic film is polluted with precocious children. This installment’s inductees to the Jurassic Kids Club are both preeminently edible. One has a photographic memory and the other has a fine eye for detail (if only where tits and ass are concerned). Beyond that, they act mostly as a vehicle for big trouble or small laughs. Like other Jurassic Kids before them, they frustratingly avoid extinction. Edibility: High. Fate: Both Survive. Outcome: Unacceptable.
Almost all of the other characters are edible, as qualified by their stupidity. A pair of control-room twits survive. A dimwit assistant falls into a pen with live velociraptors but survives. A dopey ticket-taker’s ineffectiveness with crowd control likely results in the creation of more than a few human snacks for pterodactyls. He gets extra credit for that, but nevertheless enjoys an undeserved survival. The geneticist designer of J-World’s shake ‘n bake colony of GMOs is an ethics-free fool. He survives. In all these cases – Edibility: High. Fate: All survive. Outcome: Unacceptable.
Vincent D’Onofrio’s military zealot is a capably-performed, weapons-grade ass constantly spouting stupid, pro-war poo. He lends the raptors a hand and they gladly take it. He is such an obvious snack from frame one of his first appearance that his consumption is unsatisfying. Edibility: High. Fate: Disarmed / Bled Out. Outcome: Mildly Acceptable.
The owner of the theme park is stupid as only a chief executive can be, and he’s a bad helicopter pilot besides. Ultimate responsibility for all of the stupidity in J-World is his, and he goes down in flames. Other characters weep, but you will not. Edibility: High. Fate: “Burninated,” as Trogdor might put it. Outcome: Acceptable.
Chris Pratt plays Owen, perhaps the least stupid lead character. While he is wise enough to recognize and criticize the folly of others, he was at some point stupid enough to take a job anywhere with “Jurassic” in the name. He was also stupid enough to date Claire. Those stupidities are invisibly ensconced off-screen in his backstory, mostly, so it is unlikely that you will pine for his transformation into dino-kibble. Whatever goodwill you feel toward him will likely come from Pratt the actor, not Owen the character. Edibility: Low. Fate: Survives. Outcome: Acceptable.
Owens’ raptor-trainer assistant Barry isn’t given enough screen time to find ways to annoy us. He is largely extraneous, or would be if he were in the film more. Edibility: Low. Fate: Survives. Outcome: Who Cares.
Claire’s assistant Zara is owner of the film’s only sad story. Stupidly assigned by Claire to babysit the newest members of the Jurassic Kids Club, her fate is already worse than death. Fortunately for her, the kids ditch her in short order, and she largely disappears from the movie. Stupidly, she tells no one that she lost the kids, but I forgave her that. I’m sure she had other more pleasant things to do. I felt no desire to see her become food for wyrms but, strangely, the film luxuriates in her comically extended, brutal, multi-tiered death sequence, giving it more screen time than all of her other appearances combined, and raising the question: Why is it that one of the least idiotic characters is so thoroughly destroyed by the filmmakers? It is almost as if the film punishes her for being benign. Meanwhile, total imbeciles like Claire are allowed to live long and prosper in hot reproductive coitus with Owen the Raptor Whisperer. Life can be so cruel. Edibility: Low. Fate: Beaten, Nibbled, Stomped, Bitten, Drowned, Bitten and Beaten Some More, then Eaten. Outcome: Inexplicably Gonzo.
The Security Soldiers and Corporate Mercs are ineffective cannon-fodder, but they are not generally shown to be idiotic. Their quick, wholesale deaths seem appropriate to the story, if a little easy breezy. Edibility: Low. Fate: Eaten / Killed. Outcome: Utilitarian.
Every tourist, all the many thousands of them, are indisputably stupid for choosing to visit the most death-rich theme park enterprise in history, with each site boasting a perfect and fatal fail record. The only evacuation these baby-triceratops-riding tourists deserve is via a dinosaur’s bowels, but only a few pay that appropriate price of admission. Edibility: High. Fate: Mixed. Outcome: Mostly Unacceptable.
I could go on. The overall tally is clearly skewed too far in support of Team Idiocy, and it doesn’t improve. The message sent to our nation’s youth: Stupidity endures. Stupidity survives. Stupidity wins.
A core theme of the Jurassic films is that “life always finds a way.” Jurassic World works hard to highlight the series’ lesser-known motif that “stupidity always finds a way.” Indeed each of the four films seems a depiction of an eternal struggle between human stupidity and dinosaur instinct. By the end of each film, raw, dino instinct seems to win while a few humans, each suffering from a unique blend of idiocy, manage to escape. We humans invariably return in the next installment, our stupidity refreshed and primed for another head-on collision with nature’s instinctual killing machines. What did Obama say about repeatedly using the same methods but expecting different results?
Perhaps a future dominated by Jurassic instinct is preferable in the world these films portray. At least the dinosaurs cooperate to defeat the bullies that plague them. We humans, by contrast, seem only to use others as tools to feed our hunger for sensationalism, violence, and wealth. Our colonialism knows no bounds as we invade the innermost territories of being to commoditize and transform, to our benefit, the very DNA by which life itself is shaped. As in Jurassic films past, a colonial, exploitative human force succumbs to the claws, fangs and will of an oppressed but defiant population. I’m no genius, but even I can see that in this latest installment, the colonials who survive are mostly stupid, and that is distinctly unrewarding. Why can’t Executive Producer Spielberg just let the dinos reconquer the Earth? Let them win. Over in another, older series, simians have accomplished exactly that. Audiences can handle it.
In a nutshell, if you decide to visit Jurassic World, enjoy the dinosaurs but don’t expect much from the people who work there.