Tinkering With: Jurassic World

The principle of tinkering with something isn’t to rag on something bad, but to look at something that might have been good but missed the mark, or that we wanted to like but didn’t, and to see how it could have been improved while staying true to the basic premise. With that in mind, let’s have a look at Jurassic World.

The Framing

Jurassic World opens on the wrong foot by spending unnecessary time establishing the family that doesn’t serve to make the characters any more sympathetic or strongly defined. Zach has a girlfriend who is never mentioned again, Gray confusingly doesn’t seem eager to leave on the trip he’s supposed to be excited about, and their mother is an irritating sanctimommy who mostly exists to cry and berate Claire. (Berating Claire is a major theme in this movie.)

The solution is to cut the parents entirely and start the movie with the boys on the ferry. The crow opening shot can stay, since there’s no reason that can’t take place on the ferry. Showing Gray excited and Zach bored is all we need to establish their characterization, and the line “Where’s Aunt Claire?” is sufficient to explain their relationship to her. Removing the parents also eliminates the odd scene where Gray abruptly starts crying about his parents getting a divorce, another plot thread which will never be mentioned again.

The Casting

I love Chris Pratt as much as the next Parks and Recreation fan, but he’s all wrong for this movie. It’s extremely difficult to imagine him as ex-military, and the romance between him and Bryce Dallas Howard is a strong contender for a Razzie.

Keeping his character as written, he needs to be played by someone who can both be a take-command ass-kicker and a lovable teddy bear, like Channing Tatum or…Channing Tatum. A corny casting choice, possibly, but appropriate for a movie franchise that places fun first. Alternately, if we drop the romance (probably a good idea), Owen can become an older Harrison Ford type with a more world-weary, seen-everything attitude.

To shake things up further, make Owen a woman. She could either remain as written or be an older character; either way she’d be more interesting than the existing Owen.

Claire

By far the biggest problem with Jurassic World is Claire. High heels and the fact that she’s repeatedly berated for not liking kids aren’t the real problem: The movie doesn’t respect her, and we can’t invest in a movie that doesn’t respect its own protagonists.

The first possible solution is simply to make her actually good at something. Claire’s ability to run the park is informed; we never actually see her demonstrating competence. She ought to immediately take charge when things go wrong and to competently handle damage control. Or maybe she’s a high-charisma people person whose employees really like her.

But I prefer the opposite tack: Make it her first day on the job. She’s a young career woman with all the right qualifications but no experience who immediately finds herself out of her depth when everything goes sideways. This would immediately turn her into a sympathetic character and it would make a lot of her existing actions more comprehensible, like not meeting her nephews (maybe she’s so harried that she forgot they were coming that day) and the bit where she messes around with her blouse to show that she’s ready to go.

Claire also lacks a character arc that fits into the action of the story. She gets to surmount her inability to care about the dinosaurs by crying a single glistening tear (all the women in this movie both cry and scream), but it’s a scene that doesn’t advance the plot. Her moment luring the T. Rex at the end is cool, but has nothing to do with her character arc. Properly the two ought to be connected: Maybe she’s afraid of the T. Rex and her big character arc is overcoming that fear. Or, if her main arc is learning to empathize with the dinosaurs, then the climax should hinge on that; maybe she ends up needing to communicate with the velociraptors, for instance.

The Plot

The plot of Jurassic World is full of holes. The military wanted a small-sized killing machine, but for some reason they built a giant one. When the Indominus Rex doesn’t show up on the thermal scanners, they immediately go into the enclosure instead of just calling control to ask where it is. And someone apparently found a prehistoric mosquito that had bitten a mosasaurus.

But you know what? None of that really matters. Fury Road is also full of dubious plot elements (if there are fuel shortages, why does everyone drive giant cars everywhere?), but nobody cares because the whole experience is so immersive and enjoyable. The trouble with Jurassic World is that we aren’t invested, so we get distracted and notice all the plot holes.

Jurassic World was full of glimpses of the really entertaining movie it might have been, but it was killed by the lack of likable characters with strong arcs we could invest in. A few minor changes could have allowed us to get our fix of rampaging dinosaurs in the context of a much stronger movie.

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