Last night I saw the new Jurassic World, a movie whose very name implies its essence; it’s like Jurassic Park, but twenty years newer and predicated on the idea that the massacre at the original theme park—The Jurassicre, if you will—called for a name change out of respect for the dead.
The producers and voracious audiences seem to have decidedly less respect for the dead than the Park—er, World—management, with an uncanny penchant for creative demises and bursts of hilarity as they occur. A ditzy British nanny is tossed from flying raptor to flying raptor as she writhes and fights for her life. A gigantic water beast that feeds on great white sharks the way sharks feed on herring then leaps out of the water and enjoys the airborne beast and the squirming woman in the pencil skirt. A quivering blue collar maintenance worker hides from a genetically modified Tyrannosaurus rex behind a pickup truck only to realize that the beast has dragged his hiding place away from him and subsequently picks him up in its toothy maw. The crowd goes wild.
As is the case with most box office hits and number one singles, I find myself at a loss. At least with songs, there’s a certain benign catchiness that I can use to explain their popularity in spite of their banality. No such luck with movies that break box office records and the spines of most of their stars. The escapism theory is as close as I can get to understanding the minds and appetites of the masses and their taste for the macabre. Whatever depression I feel at the on-screen deaths of likeable characters is intensified tenfold by the elation that all of my theatremates feel as they watch the blood splatter and the flames grow higher.
What about the way we live calls for such mindless self indulgence? Is gratuitous violence even indulgent?
There’s a sobering reality at play in the box office numbers here, a commentary on entertainment and those who want to be entertained. Every time the next installment in an endless superhero series is released, it ups the ante on its antecedent. In that way, Jurassic World is almost a meta-commentary on humanity and its insatiable thirst for bigger, better, bloodier.
The premise of the movie is that the park has been revived but that our fellow humans have tired of seeing normal dinosaurs. T. rex feedings and Stegosaurus petting zoos are only entertaining for so long. What’s a revenue-driven, mundane-dinosaur-laden theme park to do? Create a genetic mish-mash T. rex x velociraptor x cuttlefish x tree frog hybrid that dwarves all other dinos, of course!
Inevitably, that hybrid monster goes wild and sends Jurassic World spiraling into chaos. The supersaur then forces its creators to contemplate the consequences of humanity’s inevitable sense of blasé as it chews them up one by one. That poesy seems to be lost on most of the audience, though, as we find ourselves with a strong case of CGI fatigue by the movie’s end. What was a believable suspension of disbelief is cracked in the final minutes when dinosaurs talk to each other and decide to spare our four (human) protagonists in spite of their insatiable reptilian bloodlust.
The movie’s real star, though, is the aforementioned Indominous rex, created in a lab for entertainment’s sake, eerily similar to the movie in which it stars. It eats its way to the end, feasting on so much human and dinosaur flesh that it’s a wonder it doesn’t explode like so many gorging Vikings before it. Of course, even though it kills its creators, it ends up killed at the hands of its non-GMO dinosaur peers (the same ones who ultimately spare Chris Pratt, et al). Will it be so with the beasts we create to entertain ourselves, or is it really all just harmless fun?