June 21, 2015

Why One Death in Jurassic World is Massively Out of Proportion

Why One of the Deaths in Jurassic World is Massively Out of Proportion
When you see Jurassic World, you know dinosaurs are going to eat people. It's how they eat people that matters.

As I watched Jurassic World this week, the demise of one particular character didn't feel right to me (I'll avoid specifics so I don't give away any spoilers, but you can see who it is here). The sequence was certainly one of the most impressive set pieces in the film, even recalling (or paying homage to) Steven Spielberg's Jaws. But I was squirming in my seat because this was no ordinary Jurassic death. This was torture. And the character who dies? It's not even the villain. Not even close. The character is a nominal supporting character about whom we know very little. So why such a horrible death for such a non-essential character?

Reading some articles on Jurassic World after seeing the film, I realized I was far from alone in my feelings about this on-screen death. I discovered John August's take on the sequence after he read and added to an analysis by Devin Faraci at Birth. Movies. Death. Faraci really encapsulated how I felt about this sequence in his analysis:

I would say it’s the most horrible death in the movie. It’s well-executed (oddly this could be the only set piece in the movie that is structured in a way to actually give weight and meaning to the action within it) but that execution only adds to how deeply disturbing it is. It’s possible that this is the most horrible death in the entire franchise, or at least that it is running neck and neck with the death of Richard Schiff in The Lost World. It’s gruesome and it’s painful and it’s protracted.

Faraci continues to explain how and why characters die in action/adventure films like Jurassic World. Some unnamed background characters may die far away from our protagonists to give the audience a sense of danger. Good characters close to our protagonists may die in an act of heroism or to bring the peril much closer to the protagonist. And of course, many audiences feel evil characters deserve to die as moral retribution for their previous actions.

John August elaborated on Faraci's analysis of when characters deserve to die. Here's how August describes this particular character's death:

What makes this one death in Jurassic World so odd is that the character is neither hero nor villain. We’re not rooting for comeuppance, yet the sequence seems designed for exactly that -- payback for a karmic debt owed.

If this sequence had been used to kill one of the villains in Jurassic World, the feeling would be much different. Both Faraci and August guess that this set piece was very likely designed in an earlier draft of the script for a villain, but then the story was changed, the sequence was deemed too spectacular not to use and another character now dies in a way that is out of proportion to that character's previous actions.

Why does all of this matter? Because a death of this kind in Jurassic World not only does not feel deserved, it actually pulls the audience out of the ride. As I watched the sequence, I thought to myself, "This is horrible. When is this going to end?" And when it finally did, I wondered what was the point of such a gruesome death for an inconsequential character.

Jaws famously opens with the brutal death of a character we know nothing about and who we consider innocent. That death, however, sets the stage for the danger that the shark poses for the rest of the film. And we didn't even see the shark in the opening sequence. In Jurassic World, we already know the danger the dinosaurs pose to innocent lives when this sequence occurs. Even if we hadn't seen Jurassic Park or any other movie in the series, dinosaurs have already killed several people at this point in the film. We got it. Everybody better hold on to their butts.

Maybe this sequence is supposed to tell the audience that the rules you thought applied to Jurassic World have just changed: things just got a lot darker, nobody is safe, and you are going to have to watch more characters die protracted, gruesome deaths. Except the rules didn't change. The rest of the film certainly wasn't predictable, but the sequences all worked within the prescribed rules of Jurassic World based on our experiences with the earlier parts of the film and the original Jurassic Park.

In other words, how dinosaurs proceeded to eat people from this point of the film forward worked. And I wasn't squirming uncomfortably in my seat. The filmmakers upheld the social contract between me and Jurassic World. People get eaten. Swiftly.

This brings me back to looking at the sequence from a screenwriter's perspective. I have a ton of respect for both credited screenwriting teams on Jurassic World, Rick Jaffa & Amanda Silver and Derek Connolly & Colin Trevorrow, and I really enjoyed the movie. Jurassic World revitalized the franchise with great callbacks to the original Jurassic Park. But if this particular sequence stuck out so much for me, I wanted to understand why in terms of story.

John August summarizes the screenwriting takeaway lesson nicely:

Early deaths help establish the rules of the world. Late deaths create closure. It’s the middle deaths like this one in Jurassic World that are often the most challenging. Too mean-spirited, and you risk turning the audience against you. Too generic, and you’ve lessened the stakes for your hero.

This particular sequence was tricky for Jurassic World, and while visually spectacular, the set piece ultimately didn't work for the story in my opinion. If this death was seen from the perspective of our heroes and we could see and feel their reactions, the impact would have been a lot more effective, even though some of the spectacle would be sacrificed because of our distance from the death.

Death is the ultimate choice when writing a screenplay, and as screenwriters, we need to consider the timing and impact of each death on our heroes and our audience.      


 

Your Comment

42 Comments

This film is just for entertainment and nothing more. That scene is probably the most funny scene in the whole movie. That's what it's for... The film is a parody of itself. It's almost impossible for South Park to spoof this movie cause they integrated everything allready. Something good usually doesn't fit the screenplay gurru rules... Why do you think it's such a succes...
If you wanna do some serious analyzing you might wanna watch a different kind of film.
This is made for fun, so laugh! And stop worrying!

June 21, 2015 at 1:43PM

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Marnix Ruben
Director
155

"The film is just for entertainment and nothing more"
Whatever! A culture that entertains itself with the portraying of death is a sick one and recent events just show that.

June 22, 2015 at 8:32AM

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So how about those Saw movies?

June 22, 2015 at 5:26PM

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Darren Orange
Director/Producer
219

I guess you don't like it. Oh, well.

June 22, 2015 at 8:37PM

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Vincent Gortho
none
537

A culture that entertains itself with guns that's a sick one. Violence isn't present all over the world, it is in places lacking comon sense, proper education and most of all a lack of chance.
Ghost/monster stories are around as long as man can speak. To scare the shit out of little kids, to warn them for real danger but most of all just for the fun of it!

July 25, 2015 at 3:07PM

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Marnix Ruben
Director
155

This is my problem with a lot of screenwriting tips and discussions. In my opinion, there are no rules to how a screenwriter has to portray anything. If they feel it's in service to the story, that's their prerogative. Besides, one can't always look at each element of a story and try to explain every jot and tittle about how it pertains to the picture at large. In life, things happen, and sometimes writers include them. This death scene never brought me out of the film. I did look at my girlfriend in awe and talked about how horrible it must have been for her to die, but it didn't remove me from the ride that is Jurassic World. Besides, this scene was probably foreshadowing to the final scene of the film anyway.

But let's go out on a limb and just for fun say that this film exists and the events portrayed actually happened and this character died exactly like that. You can't blame god/nature/whoever for killing this person in a way that didn't really feel justified to the overall news story about the incident, can you? Sometimes terrible things happen. Just because the writers chose to show it doesn't mean that other people didn't die in as gruesome ways.

I try to write as if whatever I'm writing is real. I try to develop my world and the causes and effects the story create within it. After that, it's all about what I choose to show.

June 21, 2015 at 2:02PM

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Colby Doler
Writer / Director
81

This post from r/truefilm talks about the exact same thing and is a good additional read. http://www.reddit.com/r/TrueFilm/comments/3a2zj1/about_that_horribly_han...

June 21, 2015 at 2:11PM, Edited June 21, 2:11PM

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That movie was a let down. The pace was too constant (it worked in Mad Max because it served a purpose), the characters were totally cliché (without the grit of J1) and there was none of the visual cleverness of the first one. It could have been so much better, even keeping the same story outline. I personally thought this death was the only thing that gave some pace to the movie despite the fact that we didn't care about the character.

Even the cool color palette made everything look superficial. Also the VFX had some problems, mostly lighting (lights and shadow too soft) making it easy to spot a real and fake shot with the heli... should not happen with such an AAA movie.

June 21, 2015 at 2:21PM, Edited June 21, 2:38PM

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Haroun Souirji
Director / DP and Producer
366

If you wanted to take the time to find the root of all problems with Jurassic World, and I don't recommend it because it would be a total waste of time, I'd start with logic. High heels, this graphic death, cathode ray tubes, weepy mom, Vincent d'onofrio... the list goes on. Everything that is "wrong" with the film comes from lazy logic or gaps in logic. In the end it doesn't matter, people are there to see dinosaurs and it delivers dinosaurs. It'll make over a billion dollars whether or not the script has logic gaps.

June 21, 2015 at 2:25PM

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Ivan Salinas
Filmmaker
193

I couldn't agree with you more Christopher. I immediately knew what death you were talking about. When I saw this death scene in the movie, it was very shocking to me. Maybe that shock factor was what they were going for? After it occurred I leaned over to my friend sitting next to me and had to ask him to be sure - "wait, was it that person who just died like that?"

Maybe we're all just so upset because it was such a good looking actor that they chose for the role. It hurt me. It was so painful that I actually would have rathered see any of the other main characters (besides Chris Pratt) die. This person was certainly the least annoying of the bunch. This person was so undeserving. Even Claire might have warranted such a fate. It pulled me out of the film a bit because I was thinking about this person for the whole second half of the movie, almost hoping they would show up somehow. Why? Why???

June 21, 2015 at 2:26PM, Edited June 21, 2:30PM

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That death was an obvious nod to Jaws. I knew that character was a goner as soon as I saw her apathy towards the kids...not really a spoiler. Then again, if you're reading this article its YOUR fault=) The lead military dude should've been the one to get it like that.

June 21, 2015 at 3:07PM, Edited June 21, 3:07PM

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Josh.R
Motion Designer/Predator
782

I agree, I saw it a mile away that shes not going to live to the end.

June 22, 2015 at 5:29PM

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Darren Orange
Director/Producer
219

double post some how.

June 22, 2015 at 5:29PM, Edited June 22, 5:29PM

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Darren Orange
Director/Producer
219

It was a fun "roller coaster ride", with all the usual Speilbergian suspense tricks...

i.e. The only people who die are "extras" that we really know nothing about and thus we don't care too much. With the main characters the real danger will come as close as possible, but nothing will ever happen to them. They could punch a vicious dinosaur in the face, but there would be no consequences afterwards.

This is one of the things I absolutely HATE about Speilberg films because things become so predictable and boring. If we could only graft on a little of George R. R. Martin to Speilberg's style and then have main characters suddenly die off horribly in unexpected ways, it would radically spice things up and stop me from falling asleep before the end of the film. ( you probably would not want to bring kids to this version of the movie, as they would need lots of therapy afterwards )

June 21, 2015 at 4:00PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32774

Uhm... Spielberg didn't direct this. He didn't write it. He didn't produce it, although he has the obligatory executive producer credit. This was not a Spielberg film in the literal sense of the word, and I dare say it was not Spielbergian in any other metaphoric sense either. Spielberg would have directed this so much better, and he would not have allowed such a hollow script come anywhere near the set.

June 22, 2015 at 1:09PM

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You're correct. The two brothers wouldn't have been used as peril-props if this were a Spielberg film.

June 22, 2015 at 1:18PM

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Ivan Salinas
Filmmaker
193

Given the history of the "Jurasic" franchise I would expect Spielberg would have final say on almost everything, even he wasn't the person directly on the controls.

I agree that Spielberg would have been a better director, but this film is still packed with all the typical "Spielbergisms" that have made me grow tired of him as a director. I can't remember the last time I saw something from Spielberg that I would call edgy...

June 23, 2015 at 11:56PM, Edited June 23, 11:57PM

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Guy McLoughlin
Video Producer
32774

Munich.

July 1, 2015 at 4:12PM

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I counter your last line with this: Jurassic Park The Lost World.

June 26, 2015 at 5:22PM

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Jake Gorton
Producer
272

Well, in my opinion the scene tells us that the particular dinosaur is actually a thoughtless death machine and capable of killing it's own species without having any thought or plan (like raptors do), besides eating dead sharks, if it has the opportunity to do so. This sequence tells audience to get ready for a much bigger dino-kills-dino scene which finally happens near the ending.

June 21, 2015 at 5:00PM

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Kemal
74

Really?? A write up complaining about a death for a park goer in a movie about dinosaurs escaping? How is that unmotivated?Everyone in the theater laughed at this scene. Do you not understand how dark humor works? Personally I think alot more random civilians should of died gruesome deaths. Jurrassic world sucked for much larger issues than a 15 second death shot.

June 21, 2015 at 6:45PM

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Stephen Herron
Writer/Director
1173

Sure there had already been some dino caused death prior to this, but this was really the first time that the chaos hit all the thousands of visitors. I sort of looked at the death as a way of showing how vulnerable they all were. It was reminiscent seeing a large bird on Nat Geo or discovery attack a small animal. Yeah it's sad, but when you see it in nature, it's like... "Well that's mother nature for you, those little guys are going to get picked off from time to time." However, to suddenly see the same thing but have the prey be a person... has definite impact. I interpreted it as the humans are just another link in the food chain and they are suddenly thrown into a raw form of nature that we are usually protected from. It served to heighten the tension for the following scenes very well I thought.

June 21, 2015 at 7:14PM

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Totally agree Chris. That death was fucked up. Seeing this movie really reminds you how great Spielberg is and how much I miss him in the director's chair.

June 21, 2015 at 7:51PM

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Micah Van Hove
Writer
director, producer, dp

One thing Faraci mentions: if you see Zara being lifted up and then in the distance swallowed, it becomes a "gag death" and forgivable. If you show close ups of pain, fear, screaming, it's a horror movie death and out of place.

I find that comment really interesting. I totally get that emotionally. But I don't intellectually understand what's going on and what causes the change in audience attitude, interpretation, emotion.

June 21, 2015 at 10:41PM

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Adrian Tan
Videographer
931

Speaking as a screenwriter, while I can understand how someone can just enjoy this movie as mindless entertainment, I don't see how you can say Jurassic World revitalized the franchise. It added nothing and truthfully, if you took away all Jurassic Park symbolism (including the score), no one would be raving about this film; you'd basically have Carnosaur 4.

From a technical standpoint, the movie is great, but from a storytelling one, it's terrible. Jurassic Park 3 had a more cohesive plot and better developed characters than this movie. JW was missing the sense of both awe and dread that the first film had. It was entirely predictable and never once did I feel any of the main characters (except D'Ononfrio's one-note antagonist) were in peril. I'm still not sure who the protagonist was because I don't know who had the most to lose, or who was making the big decisions, or who arced by the end. There were too many plot holes and decisions that seemed more deus ex machina than anything else. And just once, if they really want us to get the feeling that anything can happen, I wish they'd kill or injure one of the kids. I'm tired of these movies having the precocious kid character who saves the day using his/her [fill-in-the-blank] skills while they truthfully should be the most vulnerable of everyone.

June 21, 2015 at 11:24PM

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Lee Shapiro
Writer/Producer
11

My wife didn't like it. I thought they were makin a bit of a statement to say women can now die in jp films. Two died in this. Although I had some issues with the film this wasnt one (for me). And overwhelmingly i thought the film got more things right than wrong. Ie the final climactic scenes were bang on especially how they incorporated the classic score.

June 21, 2015 at 11:31PM

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Dean Butler
Writer Director Shooter Editor
662

This death scene is what finally got me in to this kid tested- mother approved -by the numbers popcorn flick.
It was a shame that the rules didn't change.
I don't like to feel safe when watching a movie. I want to believe that anything that is plausible can happen.

June 22, 2015 at 1:04AM

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Vincent Gortho
none
537

A gruesome, unnecessary death of a non essential character, really?
And what does this mean? If means that the Hollywood whores, Spielberg included, know why people go see that kind of movies. They know they have to cater to the base and vile instincts of a not very sophisticated audience that wants to see human killed in horrible death. Have you noticed how people slow down when there is an accident, on the other lane on the other side, in the hope to catch something horrible? By the way, to have traveled extensively and having been raised abroad, this is a truly unique American trait of character. I know, tough to believe, but true. In France and Germany people are not as voyeuristic as they are here. A gruesome, gratuitous death in a movie will be just that: a gruesome death for the sake of it. As far as I'm concerned I have no idea why anybody with a brain wanted to see that movie, which is probably identical to number 1, 2 and 3, big dinosaurs running after people. We kill them at the end of each movie and they come back bigger and nastier in the next one. Why not keep watching number 1 again and again. It's not that the story is really worth it, right?

June 22, 2015 at 8:39AM

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Can somebody enlighten me about the death of the character? I haven't seen the movie yet and don't mind spoilers. Otherwise this article is completely beyond me.

June 22, 2015 at 9:06AM, Edited June 22, 9:06AM

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Emre Tufekci
Director
235

Actually never mind, I was able to find more information.

June 22, 2015 at 9:28AM

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Emre Tufekci
Director
235

There are certain storytelling objective truths. Just like basic lines, shapes, and geometric forms provide the basis to aesthetics, I believe there are certain guidelines that provide structure to stories. I am all for the "punishment should fit the crime" approach to filmmaking if you want to go that way. However, unwarranted deaths happen all the time in real life and movies should be allowed to reflect that. In this case, I do believe that horrific death did serve a purpose. It set the tone for the off-screen genocide of thousands of people who were there. It also establishes how out of place humans are in the dinosaur food chain/environment (or why nature was wise enough not to have humans share dinosaurs' timeline). In the end, I think this is a futile exercise of nitpicking a film about a dinosaur amusement park.

June 22, 2015 at 9:59AM

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Agreed, wholeheartedly.

For everyone saying "this was just a fun movie, stop being so critical" - that's totally fair and unfortunately I would say you're right. I should've had much lower expectations. The problem for me is the original Jurassic Park (in my opinion) is a great work of cinema and it's really hard to turn that nostalgia off. The original isn't just a flashy blockbuster of CGI dinosaurs - it's a fantastic story that poses a truly provocative question. The writing is excellent, the characters are multi-dimensional and feel real, the visual story-telling/cinematography is economic and so effective...it's all around great filmmaking. The depth of the original is what made this newer one feel so shallow.

June 22, 2015 at 3:35PM, Edited June 22, 3:36PM

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Micah Dudash
Independent Filmmaker
169

I agree to a point. Still really enjoyed the new one, in particular all the nods to the previous entry. When the _____ smashed through the _________ skeleton I was like. YEAH!!!! And when __________ pulls out the flare... Nailed those moments.
But character wise... for sure much more shallow and one-dimensional, though I did like the four core characters (kids and two adults) everyone else was paper thin except maybe the Doctor, who there wasn't enough of.

June 22, 2015 at 9:39PM, Edited June 22, 9:39PM

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Dean Butler
Writer Director Shooter Editor
662

Didn't think it was that dramatic at all.... it wasn't particularly gory or anything.

I thought the season ending of GOT was more unnerving that this.

And if you want it even more torturous, then go watch the 2013 edition of "Maniac"... now that has some really nasty death scenes in it.
Heck evne "Eden Lake" has some stomach wrenching scenes.

This, in Jurassic... was almost comical.

June 23, 2015 at 4:31AM

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Torben Greve
Cinematographer
753

I think in a PC world these dinosaurs are heroes. They don't discriminate. You don't have to be an antagonist or protagonist. They kill anything that moves.

June 23, 2015 at 1:58PM

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Really pleased to see no mention of the character's gender in this article. There are already so many complaints such as it being "a stab at women and feminism blah blah blah".

Admittedly, this sequence was one of the most intense I've seen in a JP film. However, I applaud the filmmakers for being bold and taking a risk with this death. It certainly made me uncomfortable.
And in film, that's not necessarily a bad thing.

June 23, 2015 at 9:28PM

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Her death made sense imo. Cautionary tale, and it set up the rule of 3 with the 3 victims of the mosasaurus. That way it's more rewarding with that last final feast. If the deaths were predictable and "correct" in everyone's opinion then it wouldn't be fun to watch.

June 25, 2015 at 8:42AM

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Josef Lorenzo
Director
221

You seem to be ignoring the conservative ideology of Jurassic World. The character in question gets bashed about for an unusual amount of time because she rejects the maternal prerogative. The female executive also rejects her assigned role as maternal figure, at the beginning of the film, but, in the conservative trajectory of this film, she learns to embrace the neanderthal character played by Chris Pratt, and by the end of the film her character is transformed from cold executive to warm "motherly" type, as the film ends with a reification of the nuclear family.

Jurassic World is a terrible film, both in content and form. It undermines its critique of capitalist hubris with a barrage of in-film brand plugs (I couldn't remember much of the plot when it was over, but I felt like I needed a Starbucks coffee on my way to the Mercedes dealer (http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/wonkblog/wp/2015/06/12/jurassic-worl...). So, the "one death" that baffles the author above is perfectly in keeping with the overwhelmingly conservative message of the film: it's a celebration of neanderthal politics in the form of the nuclear family, women who "know their place," and rampant capitalism.

June 26, 2015 at 1:37AM

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Michael Truscello
Associate Professor
74

I mean, what are you doing watching JW if you are over 15 years old anyway. Really. Why?

Has it come to that in YOUR world?

July 5, 2015 at 1:05AM, Edited July 5, 1:08AM

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This is not a death scene, it is a torture scene, and it would be totally acceptable in an R-rated horror flick (and would have included lots of blood). It is reminiscent of the first kill in Jaws, but that girl was taken underwater and drowned--that was a death scene, and was needed to set up the danger. Zara suffers most of the biggest fears humans dread--falling, drowning, eaten by wild beasts--all in a few seconds--then is swallowed alive and is doomed to go through several more--darkness, claustrophobia, suffocation--and a big dose of the fear we all have and that is helplessness in not being able to escape death (in her case one of the worst). The fact that she is a pretty young girl and as far as we can see with her very little screen time a good and innocent one just make us feel very uneasy at her torture, so if the intention was just to give us a little jolt of dark humor that was not successful. What I noticed is that after her scene the film goes down, beginning with the fact that no one ever mentions Zara after she is gone, not even the kids that witnessed her torture! It was the last sadistic jab at Zara's character by the lazy writers and director to never have her name mentioned again. When you kill off an innocent character in such a horrible way you MUST develop them fully so that their death has some meaning, even if it is to make us viewers feel worse about their demise, and this mistake was not the only hole in the script. There are a lot of entertaining scenes in Jurassic World which is why so many have seen it, but as a writer I cringe more by bad writing then I do at horrific scenes like Zara's torture, and other films will no doubt "up the ante" when it comes to screen violence in PG-13 films due to this scene--but I do hope they do not make the same mistake JW made here, not because they wrote the scene in but because they wrote very little to build up to it or help us understand it. www.facebook.com/groups/zaralives/

July 12, 2015 at 2:34AM

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Larry James Guerra
Writer
74

Either spoil which one you're talking about or don't write about it at all. I had to read the comments here, leading me to another site to find out which death you were talking about. Sorry, but bad article. Spoil what you're talking about or don't waste our time dancing around it, hoping we'll remember as if we just saw the movie last night.

July 16, 2015 at 3:00PM

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So which one are they talking about? I still don't know...

July 25, 2015 at 9:06AM

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