By Dushyant Shekhawat
Jurassic World is not Jurassic Park, any more than your Colvin Klien shades from Colaba Causeway are close to the originals. Maybe the once-flourishing franchise should take a cue from the dinosaurs, and embrace extinction.
Three years ago, I went through a bitter break up. It was the end of a tryst that had lasted over two decades, but I just could not take it anymore.
I’m talking about the release of 2015’s Jurassic World, a reboot of my formerly beloved Jurassic Park franchise, which plundered the legacy of the original and left long-time fans like me with a bitter aftertaste. Even so, the power of nostalgia prevailed, and $1.6 billion in revenue meant an obligatory sequel was on the cards. As Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom releases today (to largely negative reviews), it’s time to question if the once flourishing franchise should go the way of its top attractions, and embrace extinction.
Today my reluctance to watch yet another Jurassic film is as surprising as Pranab Mukherjee’s decision to accept an RSS invite. Because for me, the original Jurassic Park is more than just a movie. At a time when I was buried under Enid Blyton and Roald Dahl, the Michael Crichton novel the film is based on, became my first “grown-up book”. Just like the movie was the first live-action film that replaced Disney cartoons like Lion King and The Jungle Book.
For us ’90s kids, Jurassic Park is a pop-culture monolith, as popular as Star Wars, Harry Potter, or The Lord of the Rings. The first film spawned two sequels, which released to diminishing returns, and after the fourth film ended up stuck in development hell for over ten years, most of us relegated the ground-breaking classic to the past, content to review it with the rose-tinted glasses of nostalgia.
But nostalgia is a potent force. Profit-driven nostalgia even more so. As the millennial generation grew out of adolescence and became young adults facing the stress of having a job and earning a living, we turned to nostalgia to remind us of simpler, happier times. In an article titled “Why Nostalgia Took Over 2017” culture journalist Alan Seigel posits, “It makes sense that we’re constantly looking to the past for comfort, hope, and answers. Now that so many of our childhood experiences are digitised, it’s easier than ever to fall down the rabbit hole of nostalgia.”
As a newly employed generation sought solace in the familiarity of the past, studios and corporations saw a potential goldmine – and nostalgia was the TNT to blow open the mineshaft. According to Seigel, “Nostalgia is an easy sell. The Baywatch movie was a dud, but it still made nearly $178 million worldwide. The rebooted Mummy was so bad that Universal is reportedly abandoning a proposed series of monster flicks – and it still pulled in $409 million globally.”
The reboot made it clear that the old Jurassic Park was dead and gone, its legacy wiped out by the meteor that was Jurassic World.
Somewhere around the beginning of this decade, long-forgotten properties and franchises were dusted off and trotted out for Round 2. Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, He-Man, and even Polaroid cameras made a comeback. It was almost as if any trend from the ’80s and ’90s was ripe for exploitation. Given the climate, it was only a matter of time before a cultural milestone like Jurassic Park was brought back from near-extinction.
Jurassic World was supposed to mark a triumphant return to pop culture relevance for the franchise, and I was salivating at the prospect. Unfortunately, when I finally watched the movie, I found the words of Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm from the original, ringing in my ears. Speaking to the park’s creator John Hammond about the implicit arrogance that cloning dinosaurs conveys, he says, “Your scientists were so obsessed with whether or not they could, they never stopped to consider if they should.”
I wish they’d had an iota of the same clarity about themselves.
Those words have the same cutting accuracy when considering the glut of nostalgia-driven content flooding our screens today. Obsessed with recapturing the magic of the original, creators can’t leave well enough alone, and the results are often disappointing, like we saw last month with the underwhelming Star Wars spinoff Solo.
Jurassic World was a SFX heavy, two-hour-long exercise in self-referencing. Director Colin Trevorrow seemed keener on packing in as many Easter eggs and nudge-and-wink moments as he could, serving as a poor shell of Spielberg’s original. The philosophical treatises on the ethical implications of scientists playing God, the awe-inducing portrayal of nature as a primal, untameable force, the well-researched, nearly plausible science underlying the plot were all missing, replaced by a cookie-cutter summer blockbuster, with enough nostalgia bait to lure in the Jurassic Park faithful.
The reboot made it clear that the old Jurassic Park was dead and gone, its legacy wiped out by the meteor that was Jurassic World. As the series departs further from its roots with another schlocky sequel, I keep myself awake at night shuddering over the myriad ways this one-time classic will be devalued anew.
With the movie in theatres this week, I implore everyone seeing it to keep one thing in mind: Jurassic World is not Jurassic Park, any more than your Colvin Klien shades from Colaba Causeway are close to the originals. I haven’t seen the film yet, and when I do, I know I’ll be watching it with a feeling similar to the one you get when you’re scrolling through an ex’s Instagram.
This isn’t the series I once loved, but I still want to see how it all turns out.
Dushyant Shekhawat is an author at Arre.
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