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Jurassic World: Dominion Review (featuring the death modern entertainment)
Do your kids like dinosaurs? Yes? Then you’ll probably end up seeing this movie at some point. I know it’s PG-13, but we took our 5-year-old and he was fine. There are a few intense moments when he was covering his eyes in the theater, but overall he loved it and I have yet to notice any appreciable loss to his innocence.
The moviemakers knew what they were doing. There are two main target demographics for this film. The first is the parents and other adults nostalgic for the originals, which came out in 1993, when I was seven. I remember watching it in awe. The second, and I think the more important, is the young kids who play the games and buy the toys. Jurassic World is still one of the only places you can go to watch realistic dinosaurs roam and fight. But more than anything, Jurassic World is a merchandizing franchise. Do you have any idea how much Jurassic World legos cost or how many different species of Mattel Dinosaur figures there are to collect? It shows in the movie. Jurassic World: Dominion, like the two previous entries, is a movie made for children, by children.
The move is all spectacle. 90’s action movies had more story and depth. At least they had consistent and recognizable themes, interesting characters, and a coherent, if simple, storylines. This movie has dinosaurs. Big, scary dinosaurs. And they fight! Beyond that, it’s a barely understandable string of cliches and contrivances the movie doesn’t even attempt to explain. It truly doesn’t matter.
The movie begins with a news-style exposition about how dinosaurs now roam the earth and are contained and studies by a “benevolent” (aka obviously evil) corporation. At the end of the last movie, about two dozen dinosaurs were released into the woods behind an LA mansion. How did that lead to every dinosaur that ever existed spreading across the entire earth? Don’t know, don’t care. Why don’t the governments of the world do anything about T-Rexes rampaging through kids’ baseball games and trailer parks around the globe? I’m no anthropologist, but I do know that humans are very good at making other species go extinct. I think we could handle a few loose dinosaurs. Lions and elephants have to be carefully managed to keep their populations from dwindling, but massive herbivores and gigantic predators breed like rabbits regardless of the habitats they enter? Who cares? More dinosaurs! All the dinosaurs!
The plot involves a conspiracy by the aforementioned company, Biosyn, to spread gigantic, dinosaur-enhanced locusts around the world to destroy all their competitors crops or something. But the bugs go out of control and threaten the destruction of the planet’s food supply. Don’t worry, that’s not a spoiler. You might think this would be a mystery that is carefully uncovered over the course of the film, leading to a big reveal at the climax. You’d be wrong. Biosyn is explicitly unveiled as the culprit in literally the next scene after the locusts are introduced. It’s too complicated to carry on a good mystery when the kids won’t get it anyway.
Meanwhile, the main characters from the first movies, Owen and Claire, have their adopted daughter (the international criminal who released the dinosaur plague on the world in the last movie), along with their favorite baby dinosaur, kidnapped by the evil corporation, and must go on an adventure to save her. Fortunately, they have friends in the CIA. Also fortunately, the first place they look is exactly where she went. Very fortunately, the one woman Claire asks in the bathroom of a random street market is the one person outside the criminal organization who has seen the girl passing through. Very, very fortunately, this woman is a pilot who is willing to fly them to rescue the girl without any payment or benefit to herself for reasons that are never, ever explained. She’s just a great person, I guess.
On top of the already kinda generic characters we have in the series so far, to go with the incredibly generic and incompetent evil CEO villain, the movie adds a whole bunch of new and returning characters that serve little purpose and get no development. There are not one but two whistleblowers inside Biosyn, one original character (the immortal Jeff Goldblum) and one new guy. Neither of them can apparently secure the evidence, though, so they bring in Allen and Ellie from the original Jurassic Park (double the nostalgia!) to do it. Then there’s the new pilot, who’s basically a female version of Owen and does nothing essential beyond flying them to the dino sanctuary. There’s also another good genius scientist to match the evil genius scientist who created the dinosaurs and who, though now dead, holds the key to fixing all the world’s problems. (Did you forget about the locusts? I don’t blame you.) This gigantic pack of characters eventually saves the day, escapes the dinosaurs, and goes back to exactly how they were before.
You might ask, what’s the point of all this petty criticism? Okay, fine, it’s not exactly arthouse cinema, but it’s not trying to be. It’s a fun dinosaur movie. Can’t you just enjoy a good time at the theater with your kids? Well, yes, that’s exactly what I did. But is it wrong, when I go see a movie ostensibly made and rated for adults, to expect it to be, if not intelligent, then at least competent, complete with a logical chain of events and an adult understanding of the world? That’s basic storytelling. I don’t expect every piece of cheap entertainment to be a literary masterpiece, and I can appreciate a good spectacle for what it is, but does every single popular enterprise these days have to be the realistic equivalent of a Saturday morning cartoon?
The problem is growing. My wife harps on me all the time. We’ve been watching the new Disney Star Wars shows, and she gets annoyed when I point out all of the many absurdities and contradictions and cliches (I have a Master’s degree in fiction, so I tend to overanalyze stories). Just enjoy the show! It’s cool to see the characters and starships and lightsabers again. And I do, I keep watching, looking forward to it, even though they are terrible, just to remember a bit of what I loved.
But the original Star Wars was something so much more. No, it wasn’t a deep philosophical exploration. Yes, the dialogue was awkward at times. But it was a paragon of archetypal storytelling, practically defining the modern adventure story. There’s a reason it has lasted, that it is enjoyed by both children and adults, that it has influenced an entire genre of movies and books. No one will watch the new Kenobi show in five years. No one is meant to. It’s a disposable version of Star Wars, a cheap knock-off designed to generate a few clicks with minimal effort, streamlined to capture anyone who appreciates the veneer of Star Wars and expects nothing but a few hours of good, harmless spectacle. It’s a Saturday morning cartoon dressed up for adults who no longer get to watch children’s cartoons.
I think it speaks to the ongoing infantilization of the American popular culture. In a mass market, everything is written to the lowest common denominator, so nothing rises above the understanding of the child. The world isn’t real. It doesn’t have to make sense. It’s just a show. It just has to make you happy for a few minutes. It’s no fun to deal with complex emotions and hard decisions. Simple binaries are easy to understand and satisfying to feel. Sounds familiar? Our whole lives have taken on this dynamic. Our collective adolescence is extended indefinitely.
So no, I actually don’t want everything I watch or read or consume to be a streamlined experience that will entertain me but never challenge me, that will give me a nice diversions but require me to actively turn off my brain, that will separate the good guys from the bad but never show me the struggle within the human heart. It’s too dangerous. It’s too easy to slip into that mindset in the rest of life. It’s too convenient to slide by without ever considering what you are doing and whether it’s worthwhile, what you believe and whether it’s true, who you are and whether it’s good. Just have fun? Believe whatever feels right? Be whoever you want to be? Enjoy the show while it lasts because nothing makes sense and nothing really matters anyway? No.
In life and in art, give me quality, give me truth, give me life. Give me hardship, if that’s what it takes. I want to earn my satisfaction and enjoyment through experience and reflection. I’m not a child. I’m too old for a diet of sugary sweets. I know life doesn’t work that way. It’s insulting to be told otherwise. Give me something real or give me nothing at all. Better to starve of boredom than become addicted to cheap entertainment.
So go watch Jurassic World: Dominion with your kids. It’s a good way to spend some time together as a family. They will love it. You should hate it.