Literally, it banked the second-biggest opening weekend of all time with an estimated $204 million debut, knocking Avengers: Age of Ultron down to number three. By the time the actuals come in, Jurassic World could actually take down The Avengers’ 2012 record of $207.4 million for the biggest opening weekend of all time. But the movie already has one impressive record in the bag—biggest global opening weekend over, opening simultaneously in over sixty markets and earning over HALF A BILLION DOLLARS in THREE DAYS. There are countries that don’t make that much money in three years. Jurassic World has probably saved the summer of 2015 from the dumpster, and certainly this is a compelling case for global concurrent release strategies.
So what are we talking about here? What does this mean? Does this signal the end of superhero movies, as several of you posited in my inbox over the weekend? Uh, no, sorry. Next year’s double-whammy of Superhero Face Punch and Captain America: Civil War will ensure we keep seeing those movies for a while—I won’t be surprised if one year from now we’re all making terrible “audiences unite” puns while discussing Civil War’s crazy box office. What Jurassic World’s mega-success tells us is what I was getting at when I wrote about Netflix and the future of film last week—we live in the era of spectacle.
Spectacle makes money. The trailers in front of Jurassic World were almost all spectacles like Everest or The Walk, about the guy who walked on a high wire between the towers of the World Trade Center. There were the requisite comic book movie trailers, and space epic The Martian as well. Southpaw’s trailer stuck out like a sore thumb because it was the only one that didn’t feature something exploding or a wide shot of space. The idea of adult-oriented dramatic fare is almost completely gone from theaters, with the character-driven narratives and non-explodey stories migrating to TV. When people say that The Godfather wouldn’t get made today, they are wrong. The Godfather would absolutely be made today—as a television show. Also, Chris Pratt is now a bona fide Movie Star. Long may he reign as the Superior Marvel Chris, even when he’s in movies that could have been so much better.
For the one person who didn’t see this movie, SPOILERS
Jurassic World, the let’s-pretend-the-two-previous-pile-of-sh*t-sequels-don’t-exist sequel to Jurassic Park was never going to be as good as the original. Jurassic Park is lightning in a bottle, not only a great movie in its own right but a landmark of special effects that, for better or worse, ushered in the CGI era of blockbusters. Its impact on cinema is akin to another Steven Spielberg film, Jaws, which created the idea of “summer movie season” as a time for action-driven spectacle movies. So no, Jurassic World was never going to be that. The only way it could advance SFX is if the filmmakers brought actual dinosaurs to life, and summer movie season is practically a holiday on the American calendar. There is no new ground for Jurassic World to break.
On one level, Jurassic World works really well. It is a big, action-driven spectacle that is actually fun to watch. There’s a lot of sound and fury, but unlike, say, the recent output of Michael Bay, it does not destroy your senses to watch. It’s a little slow to get going, but once the action kicks into gear this is the kind of movie a quote-whore critic could describe as “a thrill a minute!”. On that level, this movie annoyed me a lot less than Furious 7, which is just insultingly stupid, and San Andreas, which is just sort of boring. But to get to that level, you have to turn off your brain.
Because Jurassic World, under the dino-gloss and Chris Pratt’s rakish smile, is not very good. Director Colin Trevorrow, who is also one of four credited screenwriters, makes an early and interesting choice to use this fourth entry into a franchise to comment on franchise filmmaking itself. The characters talk about the creation of Indominus Rex, an ungodly engineered abomination just waiting to break out and eat all the people, to lament the state of blockbuster filmmaking. The first film’s biggest wowzer, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, is no longer enough. Now park goers (read: audiences) want “bigger, louder, more teeth”. And Indominus Rex, an ugly, cartoonish, visually unpleasant creature, seems to be Trevorrow’s analog for big, dumb, ugly action movies. This is smart and sly and subversive, and for a moment I thought maybe this would be Jurassic World’s way of finding some new ground for itself, to be one long riff on terrible summer action movies.
But no, that doesn’t go anywhere. Once it is established that I-Rex was created to appease fickle crowds who demand bigger and badder entertainment, the thread is abandoned. Instead the subtext of the movie is: Remember Jurassic Park? I do remember Jurassic Park! I remember the first time John Williams’s iconic theme played, as Dr. Grant and Dr. Sattler saw real dinosaurs, the music calculated to crescendo with the dinosaur sound effects, and how majestic and awe inspiring that was. This time out, Williams’s theme, tweaked by Michael Giacchino, plays as we get our first look at…a theme park. And its corporate headquarters. It’s not majestic or awe-inspiring, it’s f*cking sad.
This is the case throughout the movie. Jurassic World can’t hold a candle to Jurassic Park, yet they insist on reminding us. To be fair, the movie played completely differently to younger members of the audience. Kids, unburdened by memory, loved it. But to anyone who recalls the original, World’s T-Rex climax is cheap and unearned, but still they push that T-Rex button, putting nostalgia over story. (In the context of World, the mosasaur had a much better set up and deserved triumphant moment.) And none of this is touching on the latent sexism throughout the movie—Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire, is a missed opportunity to subvert the role of “uptight action movie shrew” but Trevorrow does not follow through on it. He explicitly has Pratt’s uber-alpha Owen point out that Claire is an Uptight Action Movie Shrew—TWICE—and neither time does anything with it, except draw attention to the trope. It’s like saying, “Ugh, look at this awful outdated thing, no seriously, just keep looking at it.” It’s so frustrating.
That’s my pull quote. “Jurassic World, it’s so frustrating.” If you can divorce your brain from the sensory input, great, have a good time. Because you cannot think about anything that is happening in Jurassic World, or else you infringe on your own ability to enjoy it. A lot of people can do that, but if you prefer to actually engage with what you’re watching, you’re going to have a bad time.