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'Jurassic World' and the maternal instinct
Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins star in "Jurassic World." - photo by JJ Feinauer
At the outset of the early 1990s, long before 3-D made an aggressive comeback and computer-generated imagery was still a rare novelty, Steven Spielberg released a film about dinosaurs that quickly became nothing short of a cultural phenomenon.

"Steven Spielberg's 'Jurassic Park' is a true movie milestone, presenting awe and fear inspiring sights never before seen on the screen," film critic Janet Maslin wrote for The New York Times at the time of the film's release.

A lot has changed since then. Technology, most notably, has advanced to a place where seeing giant prehistoric monsters isn't all that uncommon anymore.

Another thing that has changed, arguably at least, is how Hollywood handles its blockbuster properties. Though sequels and remakes are nothing new, there's no question Hollywood's reliance on nostalgia to sell tickets at the box office is a defining feature more now than ever before.

Enter "Jurassic World." An updated dinosaur adventure set in the same world as Spielberg's original film. Reviews thus far have been mixed-to-favorable, with an aggregated score on Metacritic of 59.

'Jurassic World' is pure, dumb, wall-to-wall fun," Chicago Sun-Times' Richard Roeper wrote in his review. "When they hand you your 3-D glasses, you can check your brain at the door and pick it up on your way out."

But unlike the original, much of the chatter around the film has nothing to do with the impressive special effects. Indeed, it's the family dynamic of the film that have a lot of reviewers in a tizzy this time around.

"Was it really necessary for 'Jurassic World' to resurrect gender stereotypes along with the dinosaurs?" Vulture's Jada Yuan wrote in her critique of the film's handling of its female characters. Yuan yearns for the "tough, resourceful heroine" the first film had in Dr. Ellie Sattler. This go around, audiences are stuck, according to Yuan, with a groan-worthy parody of female stodginess as played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

But it isn't simply feminism that's under the microscope in the mind of some critics; it's family dynamics in general.

According to Yuan, one way in which the audience is introduced to Claire's (played by Howard) cold and seemingly unpleasant feminism is through her indifference to the feelings of her nieces and nephews. Claire, apparently, was supposed to have a playdate with them, but work got in the way.

"Claire is so careerist, unfeeling and apparently 'unmaternal' that she clacks her heels around barking orders in bangs and a white pantsuit," The Daily Beast's Marlow Stern wrote of the film. According to Stern, Claire represents a sexist dream of how unmotherly women are ruining the world. Her journey, he claims, is to finally learn to become "a considerate wife and mother."

The task at hand, Stern quotes the film's director as saying in relation to the film's story arch, is to watch Claire's exploration of "femininity" progresses.

"Femininity is, by and large, a social construct," Stern argued. "And in 2015, to 'embrace' one's 'femininity' doesn't have to mean choosing motherhood and a man over a successful career."

But, to be fair, most critics don't seem particularly bothered by the film's portrayal of gender roles.

In fact, some argue there's a wider context "Jurassic World" fits into that shouldn't be ignored when it comes to family dynamics.

"The movie buys Spielbergs idea that maternal instinct is something that danger brings out, whether youre a Stegosaurus or a woman," Grantland's Wesley Morris wrote in his review. Morris did, however, agree Claire is underwritten in this regard.

Even though Spielberg didn't direct the film, he acted as a producer. Plus, the film is largely seen as an homage to the director's distinctive blockbuster-with-heart style.

One of the most prominent themes in Spielberg's films, according to many who care enough to pay attention to these sorts of things, is how integral family relationships are, even when the world is being invaded by aliens or rogue dinosaurs are on the loose.

Many of Spielberg's classic films such as "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial," and "Minority Report," to name a few grapple with how divorce or the loss of a family member impacts the lives of the stories' protagonists.

"'Close Encounters' is about aliens, but its an alien story told by a child of divorce," Sean Witzke wrote in his retrospective on Spielberg's films in Grantland. The broken family is a subject "looming over nearly every film in Spielbergs oeuvre," according to Witzke, and according to Morris, it might be constructive to see "Jurassic World" as a diluted version of Spielberg's earlier films, even though it clearly "leaves Spielbergs farm" and ventures into less sentimental territory.

But whether or not criticisms of "Jurassic World's" take on motherhood are fair, Yuan and Stern represent an important shift in film criticism.

While discussing the arguments that lit up the Internet over the diversity in films like the new "Fantastic Four" and the latest Mad Max installment, Flavorwire's Sarah Seltzer argued, "This debate has the contours of an old message board argument from the early days of Internet flamewars."

Identity politics has found its way into the mainstream consciousness, and movies are feeling the heat.

"Whats amazing about this round of fighting," Seltzer continued, "is that big-budget films seem to very slowly be responding to progressive critiques."
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