Thoughts: Jurassic World’s Wild Success: Why?

jurassic world

Jurassic World has defied all expectations to garner the biggest opening weekend in history (both in the US and internationally). It beat out The Avengers to secure the top spot, and it’s far along the path to breaking the billion dollar mark. The Avengers had a four year build up with critically and commercially successful films, on the whole. It was the ‘dream team’ of Marvel’s B+ players in one film. The success almost writes itself. Of course, the brilliance of the film helped on the way, as people (myself included!) watched it more than one time. But, my question is, how did Jurassic World become so popular? How did it break box office records? It really boggles the mind! (I could explain it via Odeon’s ludicrous decision to charge an extra pound for those films it deems as ‘blockbusters,’ but that’s beside the point. Surely charging a pound extra for a film will make it more successful than those film who don’t have the extra charge lumped on top of the normal ticket price?!?!??!)

Regardless of the quality of the final product (click here for my review), there was scant indication that Jurassic World would reach such heights. The last Jurassic Park sequel, Jurassic Park III, was released in 2001, to poor reviews and middling financial success. The magic in the Jurassic Park franchise looked to have been revealed as fakery. It put a hold on four-quel indefinitely at the time. Of course, Hollywood will return to any franchise sooner or later. And thus was born Jurassic World, the product of development hell and endless script rewrites.

The trailers for Jurassic World didn’t exactly whet the appetite, did they? A theme park, a few new dinosaurs (and a genetically modified one!), the slower-paced iconic Jurassic Park theme…it all added up to a slightly diverting but never intriguing series of trailers. Even though the trailers were shoved down our throats, that’s part and parcel of any blockbuster, isn’t it? Trailers and teasers and TV spots are burned onto our retinas until we beg to see the film in full. So what was the difference for Jurassic World?

Was it nostalgia? For those born in the mid to late 1980s, Jurassic Park will be a childhood classic. I saw it at the cinema at the age of 7/8 and it was the best thing my youthful eyes had ever seen! Blame nostalgia for the success of the Transformers films, the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, etc. All those who were at a similar age in life when Jurassic Park was released may be overwhelmed by nostalgia, and also be parents. They may want their children to experience the same feelings as they did when watching the original. Of course, why not just show them the original? But nostalgia is a mighty weapon in Hollywood’s arsenal. And parents who remember the brilliance of Jurassic Park may drag their children to see Jurassic World.

Can that really account for Jurassic World’s success? Surely those same people who fondly remember Jurassic Park also remember The Lost World and Jurassic Park III? The Lost World may have its defenders, but is there anyone who defends Jurassic Park III? As the last film before Jurassic World, how could that set up promise of a good film in the Jurassic Park franchise? Although not common knowledge, the people who were really nostalgic about Jurassic Park surely knew about the development hell of Jurassic World. Why would that spur them on to watch it?

Of course, I know the answer myself: curiosity. You force yourself into thinking that maybe it will be a new beginning for Jurassic Park. Even though it’s been through developmental hell, there may be a chance that it turns out alright. The trailers disappoint, but that’s okay; trailers always lie. Humans, unlike dinosaurs, have the great ability to ignore the past and hope for better in the future. Jurassic Park III may have involved a talking raptor (in a dream, yes, but still…), so how could the franchise get any lower than that? Hope and curiosity can mix together to cause an urge to go to the cinema for the latest reboot/remake/sequel/prequel. I myself fell into this trap (and fall into the trap often!).

And come on, I mean, it’s got Chris Pratt in it! You know, Star Lord, man! Who? When has he starred in a bad film? The Lego Movie and Guardians of the Galaxy were both among the top films of 2014. Forget any of the other stars in Jurassic World (the annoying Gwen Stacy in Spider-Man 3, the annoying kid in Iron Man 3, the annoying scientist in The Amazing Spider-Man…); Chris Pratt is THE MAN. However, we are constantly told that stars don’t sell films nowadays. It’s the franchise, not the star, that sells. Look at Tom Cruise and Edge of Tomorrow. Great film, middling box office. Will Smith doesn’t sell films any more. Brad Pitt doesn’t sell films anymore (but what about World War Z?). In the 1990s, slap a big star onto a film poster and it was usually a big hit. That is not the case anymore. Or has Jurassic World proved that theory wrong?

I’m not sure. I’ve read that the appeal of seeing dinosaurs on the big screen pulled many punters. But is that so? We’ve had dinosaurs on the big screen for over twenty years now, from Jurassic Park to Walking With Dinosaurs 3D.  My belief is that once you’ve seen one CGI’d dinosaur, you’ve seen them all. What’s the difference between Jurassic Park’s T-Rex and Jurassic World’s T-Rex? There is no difference. Jurassic World promised a new dinosaur in the mayosaur and a hybrid monster dinosaur in the Indomitus Rex. The other dinosaurs we’ve seen before in the Jurassic Park trilogy. And, to my eyes, the CGI in Jurassic World is no better than the effects seen in the trilogy.

The appeal of Jurassic World may be a combination of all the above factors and some more. But in my opinion, the main source of Jurassic World’s success is consumer laziness. Yes, me, you, everyone: we are all lazy when it comes to most things, including the cinema. The choice between something brand new and something familiar is no choice at all, most of the time. Why try something new when there’s something familiar you can try instead? Yes, Jurassic Park may be stale, but it’s better than trying something original. As ticket prices increase as the months pass by, we are more finicky about the film we go to see. But we choose something to comfort us, not something to challenge us.

And that’s the problem we face today. We complain about Hollywood recycling/rebooting/re-sequeling franchises, but pour money into every franchise they offer. Jurassic Park is a franchise of diminishing returns, and Jurassic World is no exception. In two or three years’ time, we will have a sequel. After that, the trilogy will be rounded off. Maybe, if we’re lucky, there will be a Jurassic Universe to rival the Marvel Universe, with Triassic Park followed by Cretaceous Park…and we only have ourselves to blame!