In Defence of Jurassic World

13

Released this month was the much anticipated Jurassic World, the fourth instalment in the Jurassic Park series. Taking place 22 years after the events of the third film, it has been received mostly positively, with its nostalgic throwbacks and awing special effects being highlights of the film’s release.

A family-friendly film that comes with some bite (quite literally), the premise follows the opening of the Jurassic World theme park on Isla Nublar – fully functioning and with dinosaurs, attractions and innovative technology as far as the eye can see. Our protagonist, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), is on a mission to improve park attendance – as strangely enough, resurrected creatures from 65 million years ago just aren’t cutting it any more. Cue the introduction of the Indominus Rex – bigger, badder, more brutal than any dinosaur currently at the park, and the result of a top secret genetic engineering experiment. Things inevitably go wrong when the highly intelligent and highly dangerous dinosaur manages to break free and wreak havoc on the island – endangering Claire’s estranged visiting nephews Gray and Zach (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), and requiring the involvement of the raptor keeper Owen (Chris Pratt) to help reign the destruction in to a manageable level.

As with any blockbuster film released, especially one with such build up and hype, audiences will be scrutinizing the representation of characters in the real world and how the plot develops with relationship to this. As expected, Jurassic World has been criticised for a few of its filmic choices – though this can be argued as not always being fair.

It has garnered criticism most significantly for its representation of the protagonists, as well as the scientific accuracy of the park itself. For the latter, this is simply a case of recognising that the film is based on building dinosaurs out of fragmented DNA to be utilised as public entertainment outlets, based in a world where a giant island full of 65 million year old dead creatures can survive our environment and be economically kept and fed. The filmmakers even give us the fact that the dinosaurs aren’t exact copies, but in fact the product of a whole host of mismatched genes to create the best, most entertaining animals possible – give the guys a break for not being exact with their feathers.

The former point however does provide some room for exploration; the cold, brutal and ‘unmaternal’ Claire is a stereotype of working women, in a pretty negative way. Her role in the film is a developmental one, which many argue is detrimental to women as it shows that the positive counterpart to her original being is the soft, feminine lover. To do away with these accusations – she firstly completes the whole film in six inch heels. Respect where respect is due, people.

To seriously address the films pitfalls in this area, it can be read in a multitude of ways – there’s a strong businesswoman at the top of her field, utilising the knowledge she has garnered in this position to try and do everything to control the outbreak. Undoubtedly, as she isn’t a physical worker on the island or with the dinosaurs, she’s going to need an expert in that area to help capture a freed genetic nightmare – hence, Owen’s arrival. They work together to try and quell the disastrous consequences in the Indominus Rex‘s wake, with her stepping up when needs be, worrying for the children that she has been tasked with looking after (more likely as they are her family, as opposed to a maternal instinct kicking in). Pratt is the motorcycling badass with a fun sense of humour, trying his luck with a woman that is above him in his work and in her mental attitude – very much bringing about an Indiana Jones-style adventure. The sexism is not as rife or as damaging as the film may have been accused of, though there’s always room for improvement.

A scene that has drawn much attention is Claire taking off her (poignantly) white shirt and tying it around her waist in a declaration of being ‘ready for the task’; something that on the surface could appear to be a little dig at the sex-sells nature of film, and that showing a bit of skin is presumed necessary for an attractive leading lady. This is, however, highly misinformed. Discarding her belt and retaining a perfectly ‘unprovacative’ outfit whilst altering it in a humorous way is simply that – humorous. A symbol that Claire has no idea what she is yet to face; yet she is willing to do it anyway as she knows the task needs to be done. The use of white isn’t new or clever, but poignant in the fact that it shows, as the film progesses, she is growing, getting involved and losing her uppity nature and naivety and it is tarnished by the environment around her. Her torn clothes aren’t an indicator of her sexiness or appeal to Owen, simply a factor of the world she is running, climbing and reacting in. This scene is a turning point for her being physically as well as mentally involved in saving the park, and she steps up to the task in the best way possible at almost every opportunity – the film’s finale being a credit to her ingenuity and strength.

Whilst the heavily relatable dinosaur personalities are definitely a winner for feminist variety, it is the other human characters that can be proven to be problematic. Whilst the criticism mentioned so far has felt weak and as if it’s grabbing at straws, Zara (Katie McGrath) and Karen (Judy Greer) do potentially provide a platform for a lack of real representation. Zara is an easily distracted, phone obsessed personal assistant – vain and the typical stereotype of a teenage girl, adding little to the film other than a fantastic death scene. Karen is the emotional, overbearing mother that does nothing other than cry and pander to her children’s needs; we have no connection to her character or concerns and she could be cut from the film without anyone knowing any different. These sort of two dimensional characters leave a hole in the film that dissuades audiences from connecting with the characters on screen, turning it into spectacle rather than anything more profound. But again, to counter this argument, most of the characters – bar the two protagonists and the non-human entities of the film – are victims of this severe lack of character building. Everyone has their own trope that they don’t really move much away from, aside Claire and Owen; though an interesting addition to this idea is the control room comedian Lowery (Jake Johnson) and his colleague Vivienne (Lauren Lapkus) who stand for the idea that romance and a relationship isn’t a defining part of a character. Two sides of the story for those who argue that Claire becomes this at the end of the film.

Overall, Jurassic World is designed to be entertaining and doesn’t contain enough damaging stereotypes or problematic gender issues to challenge its credibility in this field. The film is a great, fun – and most importantly – fictional representation of what it would be like if DNA could be pillaged for monetary gain, and the problems that come from this. Exploring capitalism and how humanity copes when all we have left to rely upon is each other – there are many important points and messages to be drawn from the fourth Jurassic Park instalment.

And what will be seen by the younger, more impressionable audience? A strong, independent woman stepping up to the plate and doing a great job of it when needed; alongside a strong, independent man that happily works with her and is challenged by her – two excellent role models in the making.

Share.

About Author

avatar

Deputy Editor of the Edge and FilmSoc President 2016-17. BA Film and English graduate, but not ready to accept it yet. Has an affinity for spooky stories, cats, and anything deep fried.

13 Comments

  1. avatar
    George Seabrook on

    Sexism is not Jurassic World’s only problem (and it is far from overt) but this is not the gender role trumping film we should want. We got that with Mad Max Fury Road. It has very weird gender politics AT BEST.
    What concerned me about as much is the fundamentally wrong and cruel death of Zara. That was the sort of death that D’Onofrio should have had, but it went to a character who is neither good nor bad, yet we travelled with her experiencing her fear all the way. Jesus it’s rough, and it’s also hilariously over-the-top.

  2. avatar
    Ashleigh Millman on

    Yeah, Mad Max was the summer hit for feminism and doing good for action genres in a new way I definitely agree! Jurassic World in comparison can’t hold up to it, this article was just me finding a few of the less sexist points that I felt needed touching up on.
    Haha I loved Zara’s death! Definitely unnessecary and unpleasant for her role in the film though, I suppose they wanted to use someone that wasn’t a typical extra role for impact but didn’t want it to be a point that would change the plot that much – and Zara was never portrayed as likable. The writing was a lazy but predictable from the franchise, still a great piece of entertainment if taken on surface level though

  3. avatar
    Harrison Abbott on

    I don’t think the film implied Zara deserved that death, moreover you can watch horror films and see people who in no way deserve to die, die horrible deaths. So why is this different? Good people can die in bad ways. It’s something we all love Game of Thrones for having the guts to do

  4. avatar
    George Seabrook on

    Because Game of Thrones is about subverting the tropes of Fantasy television and literature, where the good guys very rarely win, and when they do it isn’t a happy ending. That’s great, it’s nihilism. Horror Films are about scares and horror and death, and existential crises.

    Jurassic World however, is (attempting to be) an adventure/action/blockbusting romp. There are rules and tropes to be followed, and there has to be good reason for these tropes to be broken or subverted. But Zara’s death (more specifically how it is depicted) doesn’t work off enough foundation or groundwork to be subverting (although I can kind of see it as a way of vilifying the bigger=better formula, saying that when things go bigger, it gets worse and PEOPLE DIE!).

    The key problem I have with Zara’s death is that she is not enough of a character as shown in the film. She is neither good nor bad, although in one scene she shows genuine panic and emotion at not being able to find the boys. It’s probably more professional concern, but still, it’s a moment of emotion that makes me empathise ever so slightly with her. When she is killed, the camera follows her, and makes her fear and pain at her imminent and incredibly cruel death front and centre. It’s a hilariously exaggerated and stupid death, but it’s also incredibly cruel, and by putting her fear front and centre we are put in her shoes. Good characters in blockbusters NEVER die this brutally, unless they are saving someone else by doing so, or it is to demonstrate the overall horribleness of the villain. Yet the “villains” are animals. And by having them kill civilians we don’t know, we are able to experience this brutality. Zara’s death saves nobody. If the death was shot from the boy’s POV it would have meaning for them, about the rampant chaos going on, yet they follow her and make it personal.

    This would be a GREAT death for D’Onofrio (whose character is played totally cartoonishly bad) as it would make laughing about it a guilt-free emotion. But Zara isn’t bad, she isn’t good, she is just there. They don’t lay enough groundwork (what they do lay is pretty good foundation but it is super underdeveloped) to make her either. But her fear is 100% real and boy can you feel it. The over the top nature of her death makes it something that the film ENJOYS doing, and something it does to remind us that the Mosasaur is there for the finale. It is callous and outside of the genre language that the rest of the film makes an attempt to use.

  5. avatar
    George Seabrook on

    tldr: no you’re wrong, cinematic language of the death (and of the genre) and the story before hand makes this completely different to Game of Thrones or Horror.

  6. avatar
    Anneka Honeyball on

    Good people die all the time though. This may be a film, but it is grounded in an ironic reality. The whole theme of this film is “you can’t control nature” – the dinosaurs don’t give a sh*t about a person’s character or their history. They saw a vulnerable target amidst the fleeing crowds (She told the kids to “stop running” even though there was inherent danger – she wasn’t exactly being smart about this) and as carnivores, that pteradon took an opportunity to hunt, and the subsequent interference of the Mozasaurus was inevitable. Zara’s death was mainly about spectacle – which in a film of this nature, is bound to be somewhat violent. But I also genuinely believe it was meant as an ironic sort of statement. This is a character who spent most of her living moments with her eyes glued to her phone – her lack of focus on the immediate danger is what got her killed. And as I said before, good people die all the time – the recent shooting spree in the US only exemplifies that. It’s sad, but true.

  7. avatar
    George Seabrook on

    Because it is outside of the language being used by these films. It’s like reading a google translation of this exchange originally written in English, translated into chinese and back into english. Sure it makes some sense, but the structure and handling of the language has been completely mangled.

    Anneka, you make a good point about WHY Zara dies due to her lack of focus, her lack of appreciation, but I’d just like to clarify that Zara IS NOT A GOOD PERSON! She is also not a bad person. The film doesn’t do enough work with her to send her either way, you can see the groundwork being laid, but clearly they cut some stuff out that would have been much better. I have no problem with her dying, as the irony and thematic intent behind it (as much as it should have been handled better) is interesting.

    My argument was that her death did not need to be SHOWN in that way, and it didn’t make any sense by the camera’s logic (the camera as a character I mean) for it to be done that way. Travelling WITH Zara, so we see it all up close, with her, feeling her fear, is incredibly cruel. It would NEVER happen if she was an out-and-out good guy, and this is the sort of death given to a bad guy, yet she is also not that. D’Onofrio’s death is comparatively gentle Harrison – sure it’s violent, but for all we know the raptor slit his throat and then started eating him, we don’t see it up close. Zara’s is tauntingly cruel, and horrific. The death would work MARGINALLY better if we saw it from a distance, from the perspective of Zach and Gray, because the film certainly cares more about them than Zara. Following Zara makes no sense AND is unnecessarily cruel.

    Seriously, that’s it. Your thematic reasoning is interesting and I have little to no problem with it, but you are shifting the goalposts by not addressing what I actually said.

    My finaly thing being that the “Good people die all the time in the real world” argument does not matter in films. If you really want to bring that argument into it, just ask yourself why the T-Rex didn’t immediately eat Claire. Dylan Roof is a psychopathic human being. The dinosaurs in this film, are not animals, they are written actors.

    • avatar

      Zara is not the first time an undeserving character died in this series. People were upset over Eddie’s death in The Lost World, but he didn’t have entire articles written about how cruel, evil and unfair his graphic, gruesome death scene is. We SEE him pulled in half, while, when Zara is eaten, she’s tastefully hidden from view by the Pterandon.

      And what did poor Udesky in Jurassic Park III do to deserve having his back sliced open and his neck broken by a raptor? Zara just got thrown around. Udesky, meanwhile, actually did get tortured.

      People just don’t want to admit they’re uncomfortable seeing a pretty woman get killed, so they try to articulate some other reason, and come up with “It was too violent!” or “She didn’t deserve it!” Yeah, well, you can say the same thing about Eddie and Udesky before her. So where were you in ’97 and ’01 when two likable supporting characters with twice the personality and screentime of Zara died so horribly?

Reply To Ashleigh Millman Cancel Reply