Jurassic World: Why Hollywood Monsters Have Lost Their Bite
Now more empathic than ever, could film’s fantastic beasts be doing themselves out of a job?
It used to be so simple with movie monsters: they tried to kill us and we tried to kill them back, which worked fine with elemental classics such as Jaws, Alien and Godzilla. But now we seem to have found a new method for killing movie monsters: empathy, which is spreading through the beast community like a virus.
The latest victims are the dinosaurs of Jurassic World, returning in forthcoming sequel Fallen Kingdom. Our hero Chris Pratt, you may remember, learned to communicate with his buddies the velociraptors. He wept at the death of an apatosaurus, but understood how dinosaurs only rampaged because of how we treated them. He felt their pain. Expect more of the same this time: rebooter-in-chief Colin Trevorrow has said that the Jurassic franchise is really about “our responsibility to the living creatures that we share the planet with”. You can’t argue with that. Although it kind of takes dinosaurs out of the monster category altogether.
They are not the only ones. A very similar scenario played out in the recent Rampage, with Dwayne Johnson and his giant white gorilla buddy, George, who helped save the world from the other monsters. And again in Kong: Skull Island. Kong wasn’t a monster; he was just lonely, and decent enough to save the humans from other monsters. Even the rebooted Godzilla turned out to be a saviour of humanity. And as for The Shape of Water – well, that saw humans and monsters get much, much closer.
Children’s movie monsters are similarly empathetic. More often than not, the message is “there’s nothing to be afraid of”. Dragons make good pets; giants are Big and Friendly; Dracula is a lonely single parent (in Hotel Transylvania 3); and the monsters of Monsters Inc don’t really want to scare children. In that movie’s cop-out ending, they discover children’s laughter works better than screams. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’s director, JA Bayona, peddled similar sentiments in his previous film, A Monster Calls, in which a giant tree creature helps out a traumatised boy.
That is not to say that any of these are bad movies, but monsters wanna monster! They used to represent the unknown, the uncanny, the unspeakable. If we reclassify them as simply misunderstood non-humans, we’re effectively putting them out of a job. There is still hope: witness the terrifying predators of A Quiet Place, or – later this summer – the return of old-school giant sharks (The Meg), and alien manhunters (The Predator). But if it turns out that the giant shark is “just protecting her young”, or the Predators only wanted to test out their newly acquired massage skills, then I’m going on the rampage.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is in UK cinemas from 6 Jun.