For a fairly mindless big summer blockbuster, Jurassic World gets pretty darn meta.
If the true protagonists of the movie are the dinosaurs, as I talked about last week, then the true villain is consumerism, and how it warps people’s approach to these creatures — wanting them to be bigger, scarier, with “more teeth,” without any thought for the consequences.
Thematically, this is a pretty clever approach. The original Jurassic Park existed in this movie universe, so no-one can be ignorant about what can happen if you make dinosaurs into a theme park. Only blind, greedy consumerism could allow for the creation of another park on the same island, and so that greed is woven into the plot of the movie.
But there is a strange dualism here. The consumerism in the movie reflects the desires of the audience as well — the need to see bigger, more dangerous dinosaurs, the sense that the T-Rex and velociraptors are old, that we want the iconic monsters but something newer and scarier too. And if they can fight each other? All the better. As the movie critiques the consumerism within its world, it feeds into our consumerism, giving us the dinosaurs we want to see, letting them fight, even unleashing that iconic T-Rex while handwaving that it isn’t actually any safer for the cowering guests than the Indomitus Rex was.
And Jurassic World is very aware of this contradiction. It might fail on a feminist measuring scale, but it knows what it’s doing as a big summer blockbuster, fourth in a franchise, trying to comment on consumerism. The movie has a lot of product placement, and it’s not even vaguely subtle, as we see Starbucks and Pandora stores placed prominently in the background of theme park shots. The director claims this was a deliberate plan, and I believe that, as an ironic reminder for the viewer of how commercial this all is. They’re obvious because they’re reminding us that we’re being sold to as well, that we’re guests at the park too, responsible for the”gimme more” attitude that allowed this rampage to happen.
In fact, without the demands of the movie audience, many aspects of Jurassic World’s consumerism don’t make sense. Perhaps I’m naive, but I find it hard to believe that people could find “regular” dinosaurs boring, especially with that in-universe history of destruction. I’d be squealing for days if I got to go to that baby herbivore petting zoo, and I’m not sure the awe of actually driving past a herd of brachiosaurus would ever fade. It’s the movie viewers, not the park guests, who demand to see potential destruction, “bigger teeth.”
And similarly, the park’s complete lack of health and safety regulations is solely because of our demands as an audience, the danger that it promises. We want people to fall into the velociraptor cages so we can see the thrill of them trying to survive. We want the Indomitus Rex to escape. And it doesn’t really need to make sense in the rush of the moment, as long as it’s cool.
Of course, it’s not all unbelievable. The movie’s anti-consumerist message only works because it’s grounded in reality, as it particularly clear with the introduction of the mosasaurus. This creature comes with blatant Sea World imagery, complete with crowds being soaked by water flying from its tank, and amongst all the dinosaur drama, this is the moment that feels the most familiar and realistic. People gaping at a creature in a watery cage, making it perform for their gasping entertainment.
But even though the movie makes good points about greed and consumerism, it does have a slight problem with pushing things too far. Take, for example, the pteranodons’ rampage. We were told, not long before, that dinosaurs kill to eat or protect themselves, and that the Indomitus Rex is therefore something else. The pteranodons mindlessly killing tourists and leaving their bodies behind didn’t make sense according to the movie’s own rules, and so could only have been included because of a desire for more dramatic dinosaur set-pieces. And then we come to the death of Katie McGrath’s assistant character. The gruesomeness of her death really stuck out. It was incredibly drawn out, as she was dropped and grabbed and dropped and grabbed again. She screamed and screamed, and was smashed and caught, before finally getting eaten by both the pteranodon and the mosasaurus. The gratuitousness of this violence really stood out, compared to the simple “eaten by a dinosaur” deaths we usually see, and because it was far more graphic than anything any villain faced. She’s just a side character, but she’s used for an extended piece of horrifying drama, because that’s what the audience demands.
And let’s not forget that both the movie and the companies still profited from the film’s product placement, even if it was used to make a point. In the grand finale, we see some huge icons of consumerism get destroyed in the great battle of dinosaur vs dinosaur. The destruction is part of the thrill of the final battle, and it seems like a statement of nature over consumerism… but still, we’re watching engineered creatures fight each other and destroy familiar stores for our entertainment, while those stores get extra advertising and extra space in our brains.
The movie’s take on consumerism is fascinating, because in the end, it contradicts itself multiple times. First, there’s the consumerism in the movie, which we delight to see destroyed. Our delight is also then a form of consumerism, as all this destruction is designed and packaged for our entertainment. The movie then comments on our own consumerism… but it’s own commercial nature transcends this self-consciousness, as it pushes things further and further to please the audience, becoming more gruesome and more nonsensical in the process. Jurassic World tries to critique consumerism, but in doing so, it misses just how much it was shaped by consumerism too.