When the original Jurassic Park was released back in 1993, it was a global phenomenon overnight, becoming the most commercially successful film in movie history. And despite the subsequent sequels receiving an altogether mixed reception, over two decades later the demand for hapless victims of yet another set of loose and hungry dinosaurs is as strong as ever. With the release of Jurassic World setting a new record for worldwide openings, making over $500 million in one weekend, the biggest movie debut to date.
But what makes the Jurassic franchise so popular? Is the sight of people being eaten alive by rampaging dinosaurs really that appealing? Admittedly, yes, but the Jurassic films are more than just about wanton slaughter, they’re more than just about dinosaurs. They’re about people too, and in the Jurassic World it’s humanity that once again takes center stage.
Jurassic World, may revolve around yet another dinosaur park gone wrong, but it’s about a very human problem. It’s about the value of life, of individuals, and how as we advance into the future, we are treating that life with less and less respect, lost to a pursuit of power, wealth and control.
“The key to a happy life is to accept you are never in control” the park’s owner, Masrani (Irrfran Kham) informs us. Yet ironically ‘Jurassic World’ is the antithesis of this maxim, instead a place where people and dinosaurs alike are reduced to objects. The dinosaurs, as described by the park director Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), are commodities rather than living things – “just numbers on a spreadsheet”. And people are treated in the same way, only of value as generators of profit, or simply as tools.
And so when the inevitable happens and their genetically engineered dinosaur escapes, their first concern is not the safety of the visitors, but the image and profitability of the park. Quiet “asset containment” is chosen in favor of evacuation, with non-lethal weaponry no less. Unsurprisingly, the team sent to capture the half T. Rex, half velociraptor, camouflaging “monster” dino are presently slaughtered. Their lives, far from sacrificed, are merely thrown away, ironically represented by still profiles and flat lining heart rates on a screen, “numbers on a spreadsheet”.
“But they are not. They are alive.” Says the main protagonist, Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady. And that’s essentially the message Jurassic World and Spielberg’s franchise as a whole is attempting to convey – a reminder of the importance of life, in all its forms, and our growing mistreatment of it. To Owen, who trains the park’s velociraptors to view him as the alpha male, “it’s not about control. It’s a relationship based on respect”, and he isn’t just talking about the raptors, but life in its entirety.
Each character differs on what the worth of life is, some put a price on it and others perceive it as priceless. Those who value life survive, those who don’t are destroyed – or rather eaten – by their own insatiable greed, in a gruesome poetic kind of way. Even the Indominus Rex, who kills for sport, a very human metaphor for a lack of understanding and respect for life, is turned upon by its own kind. By a T. Rex and the velociraptor “Blue”, who stand together in a (somewhat unbelievable) mutual brotherhood, fighting not for sport, but for life.
And therein lies the appeal, “we want to be thrilled” are the words of one corporate sponsor, but what sets the Jurassic franchise apart is that it does more than just thrill us, instead it’s a very human message that has us coming back for more.