Jurassic World and the Cynicism of the Blockbuster

06/17/2015  By  Martin R. Schneider     No comments

When Bryce Dallas Howard’s character in Jurassic World justifies the creation of the film’s antagonist monster, she declares “No one’s impressed by a dinosaur anymore.”

This seems to be not only her reasoning for creating the Indominus Rex, it’s also the film speaking for itself, attempting to justify its own existence. “Bigger, more dangerous, cooler”, the film tells us what it is trying to be, because that is what their interpretation of what focus groups and marketing told the producers it needed to be. As Indiewire critic Sam Adams observed, the first two-thirds of Jurassic World is all about why movies are so bad, poking at the industry while going through a boring checklist of homages to the first film. Jurassic World (FRC review by Ashley Herald here) is the latest in a line of bad films being made by committee, using one of the many tricks that major studios have used to convince us that audiences want something they actually don’t.

First, let’s talk about the “bigger, cooler, harder, better, faster, stronger” argument. If “no one’s impressed anymore” were a legit complaint, then no one would have made another film ever again once people figured out that the train barrelling toward the camera wasn’t actually going to hit them. What we’re talking about is “action vs. spectacle.” The former refers to the presence of a human connection with actual audience empathy for the characters on-screen, the latter provides a more intellectual astonishment, not unlike a fireworks show on the 4th of July. Blockbuster films have adopted the “fireworks” model, and while fireworks are pretty and fun to look at, they also don’t draw people in the way a film is supposed to.

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This leaked backstage set shot is more effective than any of the CGI raptors.

Movie studios are consistently upping the ante of what can be done with computerized effects, while losing the actual connection to story and character, which is what draws people in to begin with. Yet they continuously learn the wrong lesson from this, convinced that the answer to people not caring about their fireworks is to make bigger and better fireworks. Jurassic World blames the audience, showing numerous shots of teens checking out the crystal-clear picture of their Samsung Galaxy S5 instead of watching the dinosaurs. But the reason people aren’t wowed by special effects anymore isn’t because of cell phones, it’s because the effects are no longer connecting with the people.

Second, studios are making (and losing) money by straight-up telling you that you want something, and trying to force it into your brain.

Major studios have been trying to convince audiences to buy whatever they sell for years, and it’s become a high-risk, high-reward situation. You can do it in an established IP to the tune of some $511MM, but if you can’t do it in a case like The Lone Ranger, then expect major losses. This is why, despite billions of dollars being made every summer, the blockbuster model is still expected to collapse upon itself in the next decade, as predicted by the people who made it popular.

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This cost $250 MILLION.

Finally, blockbuster films also keep us coming back by finding a formula which works, and repeating it over and over. It’s gotten to the point where they need to justify it in the films themselves. Age of Ultron sets up an intriguing premise that The Avengers (superhero team) want to save the world again and again, but ultimately only when it doesn’t involve making any actual changes to it, which is a complaint many critics have had about the The Avengers (film franchise) for a long time. It literally makes the complaining parties the bad guy. It then proceeds dedicate two-and-a-half hours to doing exactly that: maintaining the status quo, ignoring past developments, telling the same story and changing nothing because there are sequels to be made for the next eight years.

Large scale movies like Transformers, Jurassic World, and in particular The Avengers are seen by studios as exactly what they are: Investments. Protecting investments and taking creative risks rarely go hand-in-hand, which is why Marvel Studios has famously found itself at odds with its creative talent, including Edgar Wright and Jon Favreau. This model isn’t good for filmmakers, pushing each of them away in their own right. Even Joss Whedon, once Marvel’s golden boy who would put his influence on all their films, has walked away from the table. To counteract this, the studio has made it a point of hiring more inexperienced directors lacking in clout to helm their blockbusters, most likely because these are the people least likely to fight the studio over creative control.

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I will never not find this image amusing.

 

This is 100% what happened with the hiring of Colin Trevorrow, who is clearly unhappy with it.

Jurassic World reeks of cynicism and disgust for the filmmaking system, making us sit through two acts continuously calling attention to the completely commercial nature of this park, and by extension, this film. Characters complain about the soullessness and overreach of corporations while the film plugs Samsung, Hilton, and Verizon all the same. Chris Pratt bemoans the use of focus groups, but his film wouldn’t exist without them. John Williams’ iconic theme appears just in time to herald a young child’s enthusiasm at the luxurious accommodations and park-side view of the Jurassic World Hilton Resort. As Adams points out, “There’s no lampshade big enough to cover the movie’s lack of a soul.” Trevorrow’s attempts to simultaneously have and eat his own cake aren’t subversive; they’re just hard to watch. By holding Jurassic Park in such esteem while failing to realize what made it good, Trevorrow is holding his own film in contempt. To bastardize the words of Cat Stevens: if you’re gonna sell out, sell out.

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I legitimately can’t tell whether or not this is a real product, and that’s a problem.

We’re at a point now where studios have gotten so good at convincing people of what they want that no one has any idea where to go.

Blockbusters are bigger than ever, records are broken almost every year, yet the films themselves feel less fun, with more animosity towards their audience. Age of Ultron declared openly that it didn’t need to move any characters or plotlines forward to get your money; it was content to be a two-hour trailer for upcoming films. The Lone Ranger is flat-out ashamed of its source material, taking itself too seriously to really engage with its source or its audience. In Jurassic World, they actually punish the park/movie-goers for engaging in the film’s blatant product placement using violent pterodactyl-based deaths. After years of giving us what they convinced us we wanted, the current film model is now eating itself. Blockbuster films have adopted the Funny Games model of self-congratulation, but instead of attempting to shame the audience for their love of violence and gore, they now make a giant showing of how little they have to try to take our money, and we keep proving them right.

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About Martin R. Schneider

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Martin Schneider has opinions about a lot of things, and sometimes he writes them down. But he tries not to be a douchebag about it, though.

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