Okay before we begin, I want to be clear: I am basing this off the first teaser for Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker. This is in no way a commentary on the film itself, which I have not seen…yet. I’m only breaking down the marketing methods behind this:
Okay – I hope this avoids any confusion, should you be reading this after the film has been released. With that in mind…let’s dive in.
We’re a little more than a month away from Star Wars: The Force Awakens and you can feel the excitement in the air (or in life forms living inside your cells). Right now, the internet is alive with rumors and speculations, friends are discussing characters, even the people at work have theories. My last article on Luke Skywalker proved that I too have caught the Star Wars bug.
The excitement is out there, and the movie does look amazing – but there is one thing that is bugging me.
When examining the history the Star Wars franchise, one thing becomes apparent very quickly: they/we like toys. So much so that a throwaway character like Boba Fett (who is simply referred to as “bounty hunter” in Empire Strikes Back) became a central figure in the mythos based largely off of action figure sales. Hmm, maybe toys is too general – masked figure toys. I mean, it is largely what a lot of the most popular Star Wars characters – Darth Vader, Boba Fett, Jango Fett, General Grievous – they all have at least most of their faces masked, and all have been used as major merchandising figures.
Enter Kylo Ren, next in the “everyone looks cooler with a mask” way of thinking. So right away, Ren represents what Star Wars fans think looks cool. Yet that is just appearance, let’s hear him speak:
Okay, wow – obsessed with Vader much? It’s sounding more and more like Kylo Ren is part of the “Acolytes of the Beyond,” a group that is obsessed with collecting Star Wars action figures – I mean objects representing the Dark Side of the Force (Vader’s possessions appear to be all the rage).
So Ren is a collector… a moody, anti-social young man who spends his days talking about something that happened thirty years ago. Seeing it yet? Let me guess, is he pale under that helmet?
It can’t be by coincidence that Kylo Ren bears so much resemblance to the community he is becoming a part of. Some could also see him as director J.J. Abrams himself, trying to finish what Darth Lucas started so many years ago… but that is just going into specifics. Abrams is an admitted fanboy, who hates the midichlorians of Phantom Menace with as much passion as anybody.
The question is: will it work? Will it be intelligent? Will it be fun? Or will that scene of “I will finish what you started” be only a serious version of something like this:
Only time will tell… although it would be kinda funny to have Captain Phasma be the only “adult” villain in the movie.
Kylo Ren: “I will finish what you started.”
Captain Phasma: “Sir, are you talking to the helmet again?”
Kylo Ren: “NO – what? No! I was just… meditating on the Dark Side! I have far, far too many things to do in my busy dark lord schedule… it is a cool helmet though, right?”
Fourteen years ago, Jurassic Park III hit theaters (yes, you are that old). The film received mixed reviews with many people calling it more fun than The Lost World… but also more stupid. The “they’re not monsters, they’re animals” approach championed by Steven Spielberg was gone, replaced instead with “here’s a new dinosaur… bigger and more terrible than T-Rex.” Granted, Jurassic Park III never pretended to be anything more than a simple thrill ride, just watch the trailer:
Three big things to take away from that trailer: 1. Dr. Grant is back!!!!!!! 2. Raptor intelligence. 3. New dinosaur – bigger and meaner than Tyrannosaurus.
So while the film was an experiment, it does not seem like one the producers would like to repeat. Let’s look at the trailer for the brand new entry, Jurassic World:
Three big things to take away from that trailer: 1. Star-Lord is in Jurassic Park!!!! 2. Raptor Intelligence. 3. New dinosaur – bigger and meaner than Tyrannosaurus.
Yeah, it seems like at least one part of the Hollywood machine, Jurassic World‘s marketing, is very content to recycle the old hooks of Jurassic Park III. Both films also share a similar “over the top” approach. Jurassic Park III includes shots in a river, in a giant bird-cage, in a lot of environments to add spectacle. Jurassic World shows much the same… adjusted from 2001 to 2015 (over the top means so much more today).
This marketing move is perplexing, given how the last film was received. While some fans enjoyed Jurassic Park III‘s ride, manywanteda return to the more intelligent Spielberg approach. Instead, audiences will be treated to Indominus Rex, the new dinosaur created by genetic modification… of all the largest and most dangerous dinosaurs into one… cause that sounds intelligent.
Escalation is a typical strategy in Hollywood sequels: bigger means better. Jurassic Park has been a film franchise that has followed this philosophy with every sequel. One T-Rex became two, became a Spinosaurus, became an Indominus Rex. What’s next? Two cloned dinosaurs… are they planning to give it wings? The problem with this approach is that it all says one thing: what is there isn’t exciting without something new added. In this case dinosaurs… dinosaurs are not exciting without new and better dinosaurs. What?
Granted, the story arch of the first Jurassic Park does not lend itself well to sequel material. There is a park that makes dinosaurs, dinosaurs get out, dinosaurs eat people – cut and we’re done. It isn’t an idea that demands “what comes next?”. The Lost World tried to change the formula, adding messages of conservation and naturalism vs. profiteering… to mixed results. Jurassic World looks squarely back in the first movie’s camp, however the trailer does contain some self-awareness that may be a sign that audiences are in for a treat. After all, Jurassic Park III had no character calling out how inane its central plot mechanic was.
Director Colin Trevorrow is untested, and that can be a good thing when it comes to injecting freshness into a series. However, two recent developments have further damaged excitement towards Jurassic World. Trevorrow has already said he has no plans to return for a sequel, which can be taken as either creative vision to do something else… or the studio was less than pleased with the final product. By itself, it is easy to assume the former, until we look at the early reviews… or lack thereof. As of right now: no critical review has been received on either Rotten Tomatoes or Metacritic. This is odd for a movie with such an imminent release. Pixar’s new film, by contrast, does not release until later than Jurassic World – and that already has reviews pouring in.
Time will tell what type of movie Jurassic World is. One thing seems already certain though, the Jurassic Park franchise marketing department needs to go extinct.