17th July, 1993. My father had died suddenly of a heart attack just over a month before. I am on tour with the Sound of Music, currently resident for three months in Bournemouth. My friend and I are co-producing a charity gala for a Bournemouth HIV/AIDS hospice starring pretty much everyone performing in Bournemouth over the summer. I am stressed, shocked, numb, driven. And Jurassic Park has just opened in the UK.
The SoM company had booked a cinema for a midnight matinee – our own private viewing, post-show excitement, some of us with sweets, more with alcohol. I sat next to Christopher Cazenove, a lovely, kind, talented man who died a few years ago, also too young. We were all excited, even me in my head-fucked state. We had no idea what to expect except that there were dinosaurs, Richard Attenborough and Sam Neill.
When Alan Grant, played by Sam Neill, dropped to his knees in front of a parade of dinosaurs, Christopher and I unconsciously and simultaneously reached for one another’s hands, both of us crying with joy and wonder. It’s a memory as fresh now as it was then, and I have watched Jurassic Park rather more in these ensuing twenty years than might seem reasonable. I can quote you most of the lines, in order. I am entirely smitten with velociraptors. It’s one of my favourite films ever.
Jurassics 2 and 3 – well, not so much. I switch off 2 once they leave the island (having made sure I get my velociraptor fix first) because it’s just silly. 3 is better because Sam Neill and Laura Dern are back, William H Macy is in it and the velociraptors get a load of airtime. But still. A bit meh, as they say.
Fourteen years on, Jurassic World has broken box office records around the globe. Yeah I know, they say that every time, but it’s just beaten Avengers: Age of Ultron, a film I have no intention of seeing. The thing is, I’m not a massive fan of a franchise. Yes, Star Wars the originals, Indiana Joneses up to a point, Lord of the Rings for sure and The Hobbit because who wouldn’t want to see Aidan Turner as an unfeasibly beautiful dwarf? But your Avengers and your Marvel this and Mission Impossible that… couldn’t give a toss.
So what is it about the Jurassic Park franchise? I couldn’t wait to see Jurassic World, but was a little nervous having viewed the ridiculous trailer of Chris Pratt leading a pack of velociraptors on a motorbike. I mean, seriously? The signs weren’t auspicious.
But within five minutes, I was lost, overwhelmed with joy, adrenaline and a kind of grief. I cried a lot. The first time was when that incredible John Williams theme kicked in. Then when the little kid, Gray, gets his first glimpse of the island. Then when we see the original Jurassic Park gates, looking oddly small. Then when I see the velociraptors. Then… then… then…
I’ve read a lot of blog posts and reviews where the writers say things like: “Cardboard characters,” “where’s the feminist perspective?”, “what’s the BAME index?” “why does the impending divorce of the kids’ parents never get mentioned again?” Normally, I would also be engaged with these questions, but with the Jurassics, I simply don’t give a shit. I’m not there to watch the people, I’m there to watch the dinosaurs. I’m there to weep when the brontosaurus dies in Chris Pratt’s arms. I’m there to cheer when Blue the velociraptor rips Hoskins to pieces.
If you’ve ever been on a safari, you know what an indescribable privilege it is to see animals in the wild, doing what they do. I am reminded of that feeling as I am immersed in Jurassic World.
So why is that? It seems to me that JW is made by fans, for fans. It ticks every box from the original film to every film Steven Spielberg has ever made. The dying brontosaurus is ET. The English babysitter getting eaten by the Mosasaurus references Jaws. Spielberg is the absolute master of the emotional hit. There is no irony in a Spielberg film, no post-modern knowing winks. Watching a Spielberg film and allowing yourself to be taken by it is to become a child again.
Close Encounters of the Third Kind and ET, are the films that most resemble Jurassic Park. They are not manipulative, unless you have no soul. They go straight for the heart, they are about deepest dreams and wishes, they are about love.
Jurassic World remains true to the Spielberg ethos of ‘never kill off the core family’. Core families are a vital element, and generally don’t mean blood families. There’s a lot of divorce in Spielberg films, there are parents who are not present, and adults who become surrogate parents (Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler in JP, for example). There are always children, and the children never die. Oh except for that kid at the start of Jaws, but we hadn’t got to know him and it was Spielberg’s first major film.
Jurassic World is also about man’s – or humanity’s – relationship with the natural world. Yes, it’s layered on with a trowel, but that doesn’t make it less valid. The dinosaurs are ‘assets’, the Mosasaurus feeding time with laughing spectators – well, have you seen the backlash against Seaworld and keeping whales in captivity just for our viewing pleasure? It’s about hubris and arrogance – the arrogance of the military, the arrogance of science. It’s about creating a hybrid dinosaur with the ridiculous name of Indominus Rex (part-cuttlefish, part-tree frog, part-raptor, part-oh who knows, they won’t tell us) because the public want something ‘cooler, with more teeth’.
It’s about Chris Pratt taming velociraptors, a concept so bonkers it actually convinces. But then, he imprints on them when they are born, so it does make a kind of sense. I only hope Blue, the one remaining raptor, pals up with the T-Rex after they save the park, because she’s going to be awfully lonely without her siblings.
Oh, and about the lead woman – Bryce Dallas Howard’s character, Claire, manages to run in insanely high heels. She runs really fast. She doesn’t take them off as you might expect just because Chris Pratt has told her too. No, Chris. Fuck you. I can run in my heels and do it while holding a flare to bring the T Rex out of the paddock to save everyone. She’s not Ellie Sattler, with her classic: “Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.” – but Jurassic World, for all its fabulous, adrenaline-rushed glory, is not Jurassic Park. Jurassic Park had a tiny cast, and a truly original storyline. It had a great script and genuinely terrifying moments and nobody had ever seen anything like it. And of course it had the wondrous Bob Peck and “Clever girl.” Jurassics, you are the business and I love you. Now and forever.