Released this month was the much anticipated Jurassic World, the fourth installment in the Jurassic Park series. Taking place 22 years after the events of the third film, it has been received mostly positively, with its nostalgic throwbacks and awing special effects being highlights of the film’s release.
A family-friendly film that comes with some bite (quite literally), the premise follows the opening of the Jurassic World theme park on Isla Nublar – fully functioning and with dinosaurs, attractions and innovative technology as far as the eye can see. Our protagonist, Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard), is on a mission to improve park attendance – as strangely enough, resurrected creatures from 65 million years ago just aren’t cutting it any more. Cue the introduction of the Indominus Rex – bigger, badder, more brutal than any dinosaur currently at the park, and the result of a top secret genetic engineering experiment. Things inevitably go wrong when the highly intelligent and highly dangerous dinosaur manages to break free and wreak havoc on the island – endangering Claire’s estranged visiting nephews Gray and Zach (Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson), and requiring the involvement of the raptor keeper Owen (Chris Pratt) to help reign the destruction in to a manageable level.
As with any blockbuster film released, especially one with such build up and hype, audiences will be scrutinizing the representation of characters in the real world and how the plot develops with relationship to this. As expected,Jurassic World has been criticised for a few of its filmic choices – though this can be argued as not always being fair.
It has garnered criticism most significantly for its representation of the protagonists, as well as the scientific accuracy of the park itself. For the latter, this is simply a case of recognising that the film is based on building dinosaurs out of fragmented DNA to be utilised as public entertainment outlets, based in a world where a giant island full of 65 million year old dead creatures can survive our environment and be economically kept and fed. The filmmakers even give us the fact that the dinosaurs aren’t exact copies, but in fact the product of a whole host of mismatched genes to create the best, most entertaining animals possible – give the guys a break for not being exact with their feathers.
The former point however does provide some room for exploration; the cold, brutal and ‘unmaternal’ Claire is a stereotype of working women, in a pretty negative way. Her role in the film is a developmental one, which many argue is detrimental to women as it shows that the positive counterpart to her original being is the soft, feminine lover. To do away with these accusations – she firstly completes the whole film in six inch heels. Respect where respect is due, people.
To seriously address the films pitfalls in this area, it can be read in a multitude of ways – there’s a strong businesswoman at the top of her field, utilising the knowledge she has garnered in this position to try and do everything to control the outbreak. Undoubtedly, as she isn’t a physical worker on the island or with the dinosaurs, she’s going to need an expert in that area to help capture a freed genetic nightmare – hence, Owen’s arrival. They work together to try and quell the disastrous consequences in the Indominus Rex‘s wake, with her stepping up when needs be, worrying for the children that she has been tasked with looking after (more likely as they are her family, as opposed to a maternal instinct kicking in). Pratt is the motorcycling badass with a fun sense of humour, trying his luck with a woman that is above him in his work and in her mental attitude – very much bringing about an Indiana Jones-style adventure. The sexism is not as rife or as damaging as the film may have been accused of, though there’s always room for improvement.
A scene that has drawn much attention is Claire taking off her (poignantly) white shirt and tying it around her waist in a declaration of being ‘ready for the task’; something that on the surface could appear to be a little dig at the sex-sells nature of film, and that showing a bit of skin is presumed necessary for an attractive leading lady. This is, however, highly misinformed. Discarding her belt and retaining a perfectly ‘unprovacative’ outfit whilst altering it in a humorous way is simply that – humorous. A symbol that Claire has no idea what she is yet to face; yet she is willing to do it anyway as she knows the task needs to be done. The use of white isn’t new or clever, but poignant in the fact that it shows, as the film progesses, she is growing, getting involved and losing her uppity nature and naivety and it is tarnished by the environment around her. Her torn clothes aren’t an indicator of her sexiness or appeal to Owen, simply a factor of the world she is running, climbing and reacting in. This scene is a turning point for her being physically as well as mentally involved in saving the park, and she steps up to the task in the best way possible at almost every opportunity – the film’s finale being a credit to her ingenuity and strength.
Whilst the heavily relatable dinosaur personalities are definitely a winner for feminist variety, it is the other human characters that can be proven to be problematic. Whilst the criticism mentioned so far has felt weak and as if it’s grabbing at straws, Zara (Katie McGrath) and Karen (Judy Greer) do potentially provide a platform for a lack of real representation. Zara is an easily distracted, phone obsessed personal assistant – vain and the typical stereotype of a teenage girl, adding little to the film other than a fantastic death scene. Karen is the emotional, overbearing mother that does nothing other than cry and pander to her children’s needs; we have no connection to her character or concerns and she could be cut from the film without anyone knowing any different. These sort of two dimensional characters leave a hole in the film that dissuades audiences from connecting with the characters on screen, turning it into spectacle rather than anything more profound. But again, to counter this argument, most of the characters – bar the two protagonists and the non-human entities of the film – are victims of this severe lack of character building. Everyone has their own trope that they don’t really move much away from, aside Claire and Owen; though an interesting addition to this idea is the control room comedian Lowery (Jake Johnson) and his colleague Vivienne (Lauren Lapkus) who stand for the idea that romance and a relationship isn’t a defining part of a character. Two sides of the story for those who argue that Claire becomes this at the end of the film.
Overall, Jurassic World is designed to be entertaining and doesn’t contain enough damaging stereotypes or problematic gender issues to challenge its credibility in this field. The film is a great, fun – and most importantly – fictional representation of what it would be like if DNA could be pillaged for monetary gain, and the problems that come from this. Exploring capitalism and how humanity copes when all we have left to rely upon is each other – there are many important points and messages to be drawn from the fourth Jurassic Park instalment.
And what will be seen by the younger, more impressionable audience? A strong, independent woman stepping up to the plate and doing a great job of it when needed; alongside a strong, independent man that happily works with her and is challenged by her – two excellent role models in the making.
This article was originally posted to The Edge.