Jurassic Park/World Films: the Definitive Ranking

Jurassic Park/World Films: the Definitive Ranking

Having at long last watched Jurassic Park III and been pleasantly surprised, I now feel able to give an informed opinion about their relative quality, from best to worst.

1. Jurassic Park. The original and still the best. The special effects have aged tremendously well for a film that’s nearly 30 years old, the characters are brilliant and the combination of wonder, terror and pacing is still unmatched.

2. Jurassic World. A surprisingly effect restart to the series, hitting all of the classic notes but in pleasantly new ways. The genetically modified ‘Indomitus Rex’ and the trained raptors struck the right balance between being new innovations within the Jurassic framework and there were some nice but not heavy-handed homages to the original.

3. Jurassic Park III. A simpler story than the others, consisting of ‘go to the island to rescue a boy’, but the characters are likeable, the dinosaurs suitably perilous and the film itself, at just over 90 minutes, doesn’t drag. Surprisingly successful.

————————————–Line of ‘would recommend’————————————

4. Jurassic World 2: Fallen Kingdom. Whilst avoiding the disaster that is The Lost World, Fallen Kingdom still has the major problem that in most cases you’re rooting for the dinosaurs. Setting the scene in an isolated manor is certainly more plausible than having a T-Rex rampaging, unnoticed, around San Diego, and there are some nice moments, but it still falls flat.

5. The Lost World: Jurassic Park. A travesty from beginning to end, from the unsympathetic characters, the unbelievable T-Rex episode and the lack of anything uplifting or inspiring. Ultimately, we’d all have been better off if the dinosaurs had eaten everyone 30 minutes in.

All Jurassic films contain certain themes – T-Rex, raptors, tense escapes from dinosaurs and so on – but there are two essential elements that distinguish the successful from the unsuccessful: (1) That your sympathies should be with the humans, who must therefore be likeable and sympathetic; and (2) that the film, despite the peril, conveys a sense of awe and wonder at the dinosaurs themselves. Both of the ‘below the line’ films fail at at least one of these elements, but those above the line, particularly Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, have them in spades.

2 thoughts on “Jurassic Park/World Films: the Definitive Ranking

  1. I’m glad to see you’re finally tackling a serious topic on your blog.

    Interesting choice of elements for determining quality. I had certainly not considered variation in perspective across the films of rooting for dinosaurs vs rooting for humans. This definitely explains your low ranking for the Lost World, which I found shocking as I consider it a good film

    I actually rank it 2nd, although my elements of interest are somewhat different.

    [Element 1] suspense/safe-zones
    By safe-zones I mean periods of the film where everything is temporally safe, and the viewer can recover. Too many modern films are action/action/action, or a gradual crescendo of adrenaline to a peak where the film ends. In my opinion this is film-makers trying to prevent viewers from reflecting on what they’re seeing as it watch it by keeping them on them ever closer to the edge of their seat with their nails evermore dug into the armrest. Enjoyment through stressful exhilaration is cheating the brain by hijacking the body’s stress hormones.
    I contend that the new Jurassic World films are more in the mold of crescendo rather than saw-tooth.
    Jurassic Park does this quite well, with the (1) rain scene after jeeps go dead (2) jeeps go off cliff (3) eating icecream back in the visitor centre (4) in the control room restarting the system. The Lost World also has some key scenes like this: (1) high hide (2) being saved by the hunters and the trek/camp through the jungle (apparently safe) (3) reaching the communication compound (4) escaping the island watching T-Rex in chains.

    Alien is a film that masters the safe-zone/suspense dynamic in a film.

    [Element 2] Sci-Fi vs Futuristic
    There’s a difference for me between present-day sci-fi and futuristic sci-fi. The difference is in the suspension of disbelief. I can happily enjoy a Star Wars film, but I know it’s never going to happen so it can never be as atmospheric as a film like Outbreak/Contagion or Primer (even!)

    Jurassic Park and the Lost World have nothing futuristic. Satellite phones are clunky, computers run command-prompt unix/linux, with boring grey user interfaces, and the Jeep tour is decidedly low-tech (cathode ray tube touch screen just like in The Science Museum!)

    But Jurassic World? Holograms in the museum? Gyroscopic magical travelling balls? Minority-Report style user interface on back-office monitoring computers?
    There’s no need to be futuristic in a Jurassic World film. Okay, maybe the frog-DNA thing from Jurassic Park was somewhat suspect but generally Jurassic Park didn’t need really need to stretch your suspension of disbelief too much. Get the mosquito, extract the dna, fix up some broken bits, and whip up some 80s-style test tube baby science. Believable.
    Hybrid designer dinosaurs that can go invisible and just work? That technology is definitely not present day. Maybe they could have pulled it off if they had a showcase of all the warped failures they produced in their struggle to master the challenge, but no time is given to it.
    In Jurassic Park, an entire 10 minute scene (in the theater ride) is dedicated to this.

    [Element 3] Believability
    This is somewhat related to the sci-fi present vs sci-fi futuristic idea.
    It basically boils down to: Dinosaurs being harnessed for entertainment a la Dinosaur Park, Dinosaur Circus (believable), dinosaurs being trained and controllable by humans for military use (unbelievable). There was a great war technology invented in the 20th century: tanks.

    Maybe Jurassic World 3 will have armoured dinosaurs with rocket launchers strapped to their heads.

    1. Interesting point about realism/futuricity – I hadn’t thought about that. You’re right that Jurassic Park’s realism is a great strength and that World would have been better without the holograms.

      I found the attempt to train the raptors reasonable and in keeping with the spirit of the films though: given the (in-series) establishment of raptor intelligence of being at least dog/big-cat level if not higher, it makes sense they could be at least partially trained (we’ve trained leopards, hawks, etc.) and that someone would try – but I felt the film’s conclusion was that actually using them in the military was as bonkers an idea as it sounds.

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