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Do ‘Jurassic Park’ Movies Even Need Human Beings?

Plus some other random thoughts about ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, but nobody goes to these recent Jurassic Park reboots because of them. Here’s how you know: Do you remember the names of their characters? No, you do not. (For the record, his character is named Owen, and hers is Kathleen. Just kidding: He’s Oscar, and she’s Claire. Or is that bullshit, too? See, you have no idea.)

The original Jurassic Park trilogy was hardly better in this regard: Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum were the stars of the 1993 original, but their characters were so unimportant that the producers cycled them in and out for the sequels, along the way indiscriminately adding Julianne Moore, Heather Graham, Vince Vaughn, Tea Leoni and William H. Macy. (By the way, one of those actors was actually never in a Jurassic Park movie. Can you spot the outlier? Harder than you thought, right?)

While watching Fallen Kingdom, which isn’t good, I thought a lot about our 25-year obsession with this franchise. For decades now, we’ve never cared about the human beings in these films. We go for the dinosaurs. And yet, not any of these five movies has really bothered developing any of the dinosaurs we encounter. The dinosaurs are just there … being dinosaurs. Which apparently is all we ask of these movies. Just give us dinosaurs — preferably, ones that make loud noises and have big teeth and claws. It’s such a low bar.

These films make a massive amount of money, but I’d argue they’d make just about as much if I were the star of them. Seriously, the Jurassic Park films don’t require actors of any pedigree in order to be hits. You wouldn’t watch me as Iron Man, Superman or Tom Cruise’s Mission: Impossible character. Maybe you’d give me a chance in one of the new Star Wars films if I were hanging out with Daisy Ridley or Oscar Isaac. But if I told you I’m the star of Fallen Kingdom, you’d probably just shrug and go anyway. After all, who cares how I am in the movie: Are the dinosaurs cool?

The Jurassic Park series, which started as a book by Michael Crichton, have always viewed its overgrown reptiles not as characters, but as symbols. Like a lot of horror movies, the first Jurassic Park derived its terror from the shortsightedness of humans. Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm — who’s as close to a fleshed-out person as these movies allow — suggests that maybe cloning dinosaurs is a bad idea. Nobody listens to Goldblum. Very quickly, Goldblum is proven correct. It’s an old narrative trope: Humanity thinks it can alter nature and play god, only to discover that scientists cannot control their powerful, unpredictable creations.

In a Jurassic Park film, a rampaging dinosaur represents our foolish hubris, literally coming to bite us in the ass for our arrogance. You’d think that smart characters would have learned their lesson after the first movie, but because Universal needs to justify making more films (and more money), ostensibly brainy individuals keep stupidly returning to the island to get attacked all over again. As ScreenCrush’s Matt Singer pointed out

“[The characters are] scientists, archaeologists, mathematicians, elite game hunters and the heads of multibillion dollar corporations. And yet the history of the Jurassic Park sequels is the history of idiots doing exactly the worst thing in every situation. The only way to really enjoy these movies at a certain point is to start rooting for the dinosaurs. At least their choices make sense.”

That dynamic was especially true of 2015’s Jurassic World, which relaunched the series by explaining that there’s now a dinosaur theme park on the island that’s, inexplicably, a massive success. I say “inexplicably” because, as my old pal Will Leitch argued at the time, “no rational human being would either build such a park or go visit it.” (By the way, many people have told me they definitely would go to a Jurassic World because, hey, dinosaurs. To which I say, dear god, have you not seen these movies? The dinosaurs always get out. Are you volunteering to be chum?) But no, I’m supposed to understand that our greed and natural curiosity would be such that, of course, people would build such a theme park and, of course, other people would pay good money to go to it. The films depend on the inanity of humans — both those on the screen and all of us inside the multiplex willingly swallowing this ridiculous conceit — in order to work.

It begs the question: Shouldn’t the filmmakers just abandon the idea of focusing on the people and instead center the action on the dinosaurs? If Jurassic World and the sequel have any compelling character, it might be Blue, the velociraptor that Pratt’s character trained who becomes integral to Fallen Kingdom’s storyline. There are obvious obstacles to this proposal — mostly, that Blue doesn’t talk — but it wouldn’t be that hard for the writers to introduce the idea that these dinosaurs have become super-intelligent.

Basically, let’s just go ahead and turn the Jurassic Park films into the Planet of the Apes prequels: You’re not expected to care that much about the humans in those movies. (Actually, that’s the whole point. Humans are portrayed as savage and base, while the apes have a nobility that exceeds that of the homo sapiens they encounter.) As Fallen Kingdom’s stellar box office has proven, we’ll see any Jurassic Park movie, no matter how terrible, just as long as they have dinosaurs. Humanity had its chance — time for the reptiles to assume the spotlight.

Here are a few other takeaways from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. (Warning: There will be spoilers.)

#1. Enough with the cult of Jeff Goldblum.

Let me say this at the top: I like Jeff Goldblum. I think he can be a great actor. But sometimes, great actors can get swallowed up by their own shtick. The thing they do so well — better than anyone else — becomes a formula that they milk, repeating themselves while being adored by fans who can’t get enough of it.

It’s rare these days that Goldblum actually plays a character. Mostly, he plays “Jeff Goldblum,” the dignified, nattily-dressed, suavely verbose man of mystery. He’s 65 years old, but he couldn’t be hotter. BuzzFeed last year declared that the actor “Is Officially the Internet’s New Boyfriend.” He’s ground zero for tons of memes. And in a recent Vulture conversation, he deployed the usual coy wordplay and self-amused observations about his eccentric personality that have become his staple. I’m not sure if it’s true that Jeff Goldblum is the internet’s boyfriend — but he’s definitely our favorite little exotic pet. Mommy and daddy, he’s so cute: Can we keep him?

Goldblum delivers a cameo in Fallen Kingdom — Ian Malcolm basically reminds humanity that we shouldn’t be messing with nature — and so it’s given the world another opportunity to relish in his Goldblum-ness. But although his role is very brief, I found it distracting to watch him. In theory, he’s portraying Ian Malcolm — the smart-ass mathematician from the first Jurassic Park who’s quick with a quip — but the role has so become his public persona that they’re indistinguishable.

In fact, you can argue that Jurassic Park began our belated love affair with the actor, who soon parlayed that performance into an equally iconic part in Independence Day. Despite the good work he often does in Wes Anderson’s recent films, Goldblum too often shifts into that halting ho-hem-hmm speaking/humming style that’s his trademark, which essentially serves as the aural equivalent of a twinkle in his eyes. It’s meant to convey a cultivated demeanor — a cockeyed, enlightened detachment from the ugliness of ordinary life — but it usually just reads as smug. Which makes it hard to get on the bandwagon of online love that’s been happening for Goldblum for a while now.

I liked him as an actor — I’m less fond of the viral muppet he’s become.

#2. Welcome to the Resistance, ‘Jurassic Park’ franchise.

In disaster movies, it’s a common narrative device: Some nerdy scientist tries to convince military generals or government leaders that an earthquake/meteor/plague is imminent, and because nobody believes the nerdy scientist, they do nothing to avert catastrophe, which sets the movie in motion. In Fallen Kingdom, the filmmakers do a mild tweak on this cliché. The image hasn’t popped up online yet, but several observant viewers caught this dig at Donald Trump and his science-skeptic base:

But that’s not the only Trump diss in the movie. As Vanity Fair’s Nicole Sperling notes, one of the film’s villains (Toby Jones) sports a ridiculous hairdo reminiscent of the president. And one of the other baddies disparages a female character by saying, “What a nasty woman.”

“We are living in a time of monsters right now,” Fallen Kingdom director J.A. Bayona told Vanity Fair, “but we also need monsters, we need fantasy to process what we are going through.” But it’s not really a fantasy to imagine Trump not being into big reptiles. Here’s him last year at Halloween giving the cold shoulder to some kid in a dino costume:

Fail Donald Trump GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

#3. Don’t worry: Bryce Dallas Howard doesn’t run around in heels in this movie.

One of the many things that was dumb about 2015’s Jurassic World was the fact that Howard’s character Claire, a well-dressed operations manager for the park, spent the whole film running around in high heels. The impractical footwear became a punch line soon after the movie’s release: As The Atlantic’s Megan Garber described it, “Claire runs across floors of slick stone and grounds of moist mud. She sprints and leaps and crouches. She drives an ambulance. She shoots a gun. She saves some lives. She takes some others. She grows as a person, and as A Woman. And she does it all in ridiculously spiked heels that you really, really hope are decked out with a good pair of DreamWalk™ Comfort Insoles.”

Because of Claire’s stilettos — and the character’s general damsel-in-distress helplessness as big, strong Owen rescues her again and again — Jurassic World deservedly got lambasted for being a step backward for empowered female characters in blockbusters. (This is why it was even more triumphant in The Force Awakens, which came out about six months later, that Daisy Ridley’s character gets mad at John Boyega’s Finn for trying to take her hand when they’re running away from the bad guys. Hey, dude, she can take care of herself just fine.)

So, it was natural to wonder if Fallen Kingdom would address StilettoGate. Rest assured, the movie does. This time around, Claire is wearing boots when she returns to the dangerous dino-island. But in the first scene she’s in — when she’s at her job — she’s still rocking the heels, a sort of narrative middle-finger to those who took issue with her style choice in the previous film. “When I first read the script, I saw that it was like, Claire’s going into the office, and it said that I was wearing sneakers,” Howard recently told Mashable. “And I circled it. I was like, ‘Absolutely not.’ Like, of course she’s going to wear heels to the office! She’s a chick who can outrun a T-Rex in high heels. This is her happy place.”

Colin Trevorrow who co-wrote and directed Jurassic World, co-wrote Fallen Kingdom, and he too seems to have internalized StilettoGate and is a little defensive about the criticism. “First of all, of course there would never have been any plan to have her run in heels in the second movie — that wouldn’t have made any sense,” he told the L.A. Times. “But I wanted to understand what about this really did upset people so much. And it had to do with the messaging. It has to do with iconography and how imagery affects us. As opposed to just thinking, ‘Okay, this time she’s not going to run in heels,’ I wanted to make sure that I was thinking that way about the whole movie.”

In case that makes Trevorrow sound like an incredibly enlightened woke bae, let me point out that, although Howard’s character may not run around in heels in Fallen Kingdom, Claire is just as dull as she was in Jurassic World. Maybe they’ll address her lack of a personality in the third film?