(Softcore) Torture Porn in Jurassic World

Just in case I wasn’t the last person in the world to see Jurassic World it should be noted that this post contains SPOILERS. 

It’s hard to imagine that anyone went into Jurassic World not knowing what to expect and yet the death of the hapless Zara (Bryce Dallas Howard’s assistant) struck a false note. Even in a movie where the main premise is people being killed by dinosaurs the death of Zara is out of place. While trying to look after a couple of kids long after anyone else would have been justified in giving up, Zara is swooped up by a pteranodon then subjected to several mid-air drops and catches before being dropped into the mosasaur pool. Before she even has a chance to surface, Zara is gathered up again by a diving pteranodon and lifted into the air just far enough to be swallowed by the mosasaur breaching the surface. We have several close-ups of her terrified, screaming face throughout this sequence. It’s a trifle overdone for a character that has perhaps half a dozen lines. 

Let’s put it this way: the billionaire owner of the park, ultimately responsible for a genetic engineering programme to create creatures more terrifying than “plain old dinosaurs,” dies in a helicopter crash after flying through a swarm of escaping pteranodons in a sequence less elaborate than the one in which Zara expires.

Up until now, all of the deaths in the Jurassic Park movies are at least morally neutral. A lot of deaths don’t rise above the level of industrial accidents. Civilian deaths are generally just unlucky “wrong place, wrong time” affairs. A few are sporting matters, where the victims are combatants who played to win and lost (think that hunter guy from the original film). The most dramatic deaths have generally been reserved for the villains of the movies.

In Jurassic World, there are three main villains: the billionaire owner, the mad scientist, and the guy wanting to weaponise the genetically engineered dinosaurs. The owner is a moderately sympathetic character, who argues with the mad scientist about the creation of Indomitus Rex (after it all goes pear shaped, of course). The scientist points out that the owner requested “cooler” dinosaurs to maintain the park’s profitability, thereby passing the moral buck somewhat.  Normally the villains would die in appropriate manners. 

The owner, as described above, dies in a helicopter crash. So far so good. However, the scientist is whisked away safely from the island, presumably to begin work on the sequel. Finally, the time comes for the main villain, Hoskins, to die. Hoskins wants to weaponise the genetically engineered dinosaurs and therefore treats the whole disaster as some sort of proof-of-concept “opportunity.” Fittingly, Hoskins is killed after a tense couple of seconds in a standoff with one the very raptors he wanted to deploy. However, this climactic death is treated with more dignity than Zara’s. Hoskins’s hand/arm gets bitten, he screams, the camera cuts away and we see a spray of blood on the window. (An armed Chris Pratt just stands by and let’s this happen. This is not portrayed as a conscious choice—he just looks on.)

It seems odd that the most elaborate and shocking death is saved for the only woman who obviously dies in the movie, perhaps the whole series (maybe some female visitors bite it in the stampede/panic, who knows?). The character spends most of the movie chasing after Bryce’s nephews. She has been charged with looking after them because the person who is supposed to be is just too damn busy. Zara’s biggest crime seems to be her inability to keep track of a teenager and pre-teen who are determined to try and lose her in the huge crowd. I think she answers her mobile phone at one point which the boys then use as the distraction to escape.

The problem with Zara’s death sequence is that it is not befitting the character. It’s the most elaborate, drawn out, spectacular death in the movie (and, again, perhaps the whole series) and the amount of screen-time dedicated to it probably totals more than the rest of the time that Zara is on screen. Maybe it’s supposed to be shocking. Maybe it’s supposed to shake-up the conventions of the genre. That along with “Coooooooool” is about the only reason that this sequence is in the film. If so, it’s about the most cowardly way that it could have been done.

This is a piece of very expensive cinema in which no detail was left to chance. Everything that is in this movie was the result of many very-specific decisions, time, money, and effort. The filmmakers weren’t actually brave enough to kill off a character that the audience had an emotional investment in seeing survive. 

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