The Extinction of the Event Movie: “Jurassic World”

Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Jurassic World isn’t as good as Jurassic Park, not by a long-shot: but then again, how could it be? In 1993, effects like those were uncanny and literally awesome: the movie was as much about the wonder and novelty of the theme park as it was about the terror of rampaging dinosaurs. In 2015, that’s just another bit of the spectacle that Hollywood is known for, and it’s easy to read the parallels in the film between B. D. Wong’s scientist explaining how focus groups and executives forced him to genetically modify the dinosaurs in order to make them look more appealing and the sort of discussions that occurred between director Colin Trevorrow and producers like Spielberg.

My mother took me and my brother to see Jurassic Park at the midnight, Thursday premiere, despite the fact that we were eight and nine years of age; the line wrapped around the block, and faux souvenir newspapers were handed out to all in attendance that bragged of the newsworthy opening of a dinosaur-populated theme park. It was something special, the sort of event that, the next day, made you the coolest kid in school, not the person everybody has to avoid at the watercooler, lest they inadvertently spoil something. When my girlfriend and I saw Jurassic World last night, at 11:00, there had already been multiple screenings (starting as early as 7:00), and the theater was sparsely populated: the event had given way to convenience and family schedules, and with everyone’s entertainment-packed scheduled, no pressing need to see Jurassic World. 

Ultimately, from a critical perspective, I agree with that: there are better films out there, and there’s no real need to see Jurassic World: it’ll be just as good, if not better, in your home theater on DVD or HBO or whatever some years down the road. But that can be said for just about anything Hollywood does these days: I want to see big tentpoles like Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Spectre, but I won’t be disappointed or suffer from FOMO if I just catch them down the road. For certain films that are all hype, innuendo, and spectacle, like The Man From U.N.C.L.E., I have to confess that I’m simply burned out, in a way that I wasn’t when Charlie’s Angels blew my mind. Maybe it’s a generational thing: films are still making a killing at the box office, but I haven’t seen the big grossers (Furious 7 or Avengers: Age of Ultron) and came out to this one purely out of nostalgia and a sense of investment in the story (which may be another reason for studios to invest so heavily in building or resurrecting franchises, like next month’s Terminator, or the one true event-movie remaining: Star Wars: The Force Awakens).

I suspect it also has to do with the way we talk about movies these days. I wasn’t surprised that Jurassic World immediately spawned a series of posts about its “regressive anti-feminist behavior”: that’s how we talk about films now. They’re first and foremost disappointments, secondarily talking points, and then and only then can they even approach being popcorn-chomping entertainment. Sure, it’s a bit improbable that Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) wears heels throughout the film, especially since she outruns several dinosaurs in them, but to criticize the fact that she’s wearing a pristine suit and has no time for her nephews is missing the larger point that she’s an executive at this very profitable theme park. She’s not a field researcher like Lara Dern’s character from the first film: she’s not going to dress the same way, or have as much practical experience. What matters is that when the time comes, she’s just as active in saving the day as Owen (Chris Pratt), so why can’t we focus on and celebrate that? You could read into the fact that the filmmakers are criticizing her lack of maternal instincts . . . or note that this is a convention used for putting children into peril that’s been used throughout filmmaking history, on fathers and mothers alike.

Sometimes a film is just about running away from dinosaurs. Because people can’t see it for that, but also because it’s just that (spectacle without wonder), I’m prepared to call a rough time of death on event movies. This doesn’t mean critical DNA won’t be harvested from the preserved-in-celluloid remains of the once-mighty films that roamed this Earth and that films won’t one day find themselves miraculously revitalized and relevant again, but for now, the event movie is extinct.

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