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Photo: Jurassic Park
There are but a handful of movie moments more ingrained in the imaginations of moviegoers aged one to one hundred than the first time they ever saw a dinosaur brought back to life in Steven Spielberg’s ‘Jurassic Park’ (1993). The image of Sam Neill’s Alan Grant, Laura Dern’s Ellie Satler, and Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm stumbling out of their buggies with mouths agape gawking up at the titanic brachiosaurus as the now-iconic theme echoed across meadowlands rife with prehistoric beasts has become inseparable with the very notion of cinematic spectacle.
When audiences have sat down to watch the film over the past thirty years, ‘Jurassic Park’ has miraculously been able to live-up to its infamous tagline, truly remaining an experience that feels 65 million years in the making. Because of the revelatory inaugural film in the franchise, many expected even bigger and better things to come as the universe was expanded and dinosaurs continued to walk the Earth. Alas, this excitement would be thoroughly dashed by a succession of worn-out rehashes and underwhelming reboots which only served to dilute the original film’s impact rather than enhance it.
But to parrot the question pondered by many both in the theaters and behind the scenes for two and a half decades; what went wrong? Furthermore, what can be done by desperate executives to salvage the fated franchise before ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ – the self-identified coda to the six-film saga – releases in June of 2022.
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‘Jurassic Park’ – When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth
Adapted from Michael Crichton’s acclaimed book of the same name published only three years prior, it is admittedly hard to overstate the seismic impact ‘Jurassic Park’ had on audiences and the landscape of Cinema over the past three decades. At the time of its release, it held the record for the highest-grossing film of all time grossing $912.7 million in its initial theatrical run and $1.029 billion after subsequent digital re-releases. On top of the unprecedented fiscal haul, the film was hailed as the epitome of the modern blockbuster, winning all three technical Academy Awards it was nominated for and being routinely hailed as one of the defining cinematic achievements of the twentieth century.
For such a grandiose achievement, the film’s narrative is relatively uncomplicated. Expert paleontologists summoned to remote island theme park under false pretenses discover that a fervid aging industrialist has discovered a way to bring dinosaurs back to life. Cut to the frenzied pandemonium that ensues after the park’s safety precautions are deliberately sabotaged and the creatures escape from their cages, and one will pretty much have a grip on the brunt of the plot. What this two-bit synopsis fails to mention is the incredible work put in by the exceptional cast to make each and every character feel grounded in some sense of realism while they come to blows with a T-Rex or play the world’s worst game of hide-and-seek with a pack of velociraptors.
The aforementioned trio of Neill, Dern and Goldblum each knock it out of the park with their respective portrayals, offering some of the most likable protagonists in action Cinema history and proving themselves essential cogs in the film’s wheel. Supporting turns from Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, and the late great Richard Attenborough are all equally valuable to the film’s success, and while some criticism has been levied at the pair of child actors at the film’s core, they more than carry their own next to giants of the silver screen both real and computer-generated. All in all, an ineffable sense of spectacle coursed through every frame of ‘Jurassic Park’, but for some reason, that spectacle ran dry as soon as the helicopters escorted the park’s survivors off of Isla Nublar and into the shimmering horizon.
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Convoluted Sequels and the Edge of Franchise Extinction
After ‘Jurassic Park’, the world had been irreparably returned to a time when dinosaurs ruled the Earth, and the box office. Attempting to capitalize on the film’s unprecedented popularity, a sequel to the project was fast-tracked and cites were set on making a full-fledged franchise akin to Spielberg’s previous efforts with ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (1981) and the character of Indiana Jones. Production on the second film was so hasty in fact that pre-production began before Crichton was able to publish the follow-up to his 1990 original entitled “The Lost World” (1995). Because of this, the film was only able to incorporate loose elements from the novel into the film’s story and characters. While some creative distance was placed between the new film and the prior installment in the series, there were many returning players both behind and in front of the camera.
Spielberg stepped back into the director’s chair for the sequel alongside a returning writing, producing, and editing staff and Dr. Ian Malcolm himself, Jeff Goldblum. The film’s plot catapulted the debonair chaos theorist into the leading role, picking up four years after the first entry and pitting the doctor and his team against the unsavory inhabitants of a previously undisclosed second island said to have been Hammond’s original breeding ground before being seeded over to the dinos in a hurricane and left to its own devices. Joining him on his latest trip to the cretaceous period are Julianne Moore’s tempestuous and single-minded paleontologist Sarah, Richard Schiff’s equipment specialist Eddie, Vince Vaughn’s video documentarian Nick, and Vanessa Lee Chester’s daughter to Malcolm and stowaway on the journey Kelly.
The crew, tasked with documenting the creatures in the wild to establish a general policy of no interference, butt heads with a surprise second team deployed by InGen and bent on capturing as many dinosaurs as possible. While not a failure, much of the bizarrely-titled ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’ (1997) comes across as a shiftless retread of the thrills and chills that came before, without nearly as compelling a cast of characters or personal stakes. Instead of addressing these flaws, the franchise simply doubled down on them, tracing the same confounding path with the trilogy’s bookend ‘Jurassic Park III’ (2001).
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Despite an effort to change perspectives behind the scenes demonstrated in the hiring of ‘Jumanji’ (1995) Joe Johnston to helm the project and Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, and Jim Taylor to pen the script, the final result was nearly identical to Spielberg’s efforts four years earlier. Another one of the film’s original trio, here Neill’s Alan Grant, is plucked from their lives and forced on a convoluted quest that pits them up against a similar set of hungry dinos. William H. Macy and Téa Leoni portray a pair of estranged parents attempting to locate their missing son who they believe may have wound up stranded on Isla Sorna after a paragliding accident, tricking Grant and his assistant Billy portrayed by Alessandro Nivola into stewarding them around the island’s less-than-friendly residents. After a breezy 92 minutes, ‘Jurassic Park III’ cuts to black before anything of any real significance occurs. No well-earned character maturation and no jaw-dropping action set pieces, sending the trilogy that had begun with a roar out on a snuffled whimper.
A New World Order For the ‘Jurassic’ Franchise
It would be fourteen years until another entry in the franchise would finally hit theaters, coming in the form of ‘Safety Not Guaranteed’ (2012) director Colin Trevorrow’s admittedly keen yet overwhelmingly glossy ‘Jurassic World’ (2015). Receiving the series best reviews since the original debuted 22 years prior and eventually grossing an estimated $1.6 billion worldwide, the third most ever at the time, the film cannot be lumped into the same category as the aforementioned lackluster sequels. ‘Jurassic World’ returns audiences to Isla Nublar, now the site of a newly refurbished resort, theme park, and nature preserve from which the film derives its ominous title.
It focuses on the endeavors of Chris Pratt’s rough-and-tumble ethologist Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard’s self-centered park operations manager Claire Dearing as they try to stop a genetically engineered dinosaur super-hybrid known as the Indominus Rex from killing everyone on the island after it escapes confinement. The reliance on CGI throughout the film serves as both a blessing and curse, allowing the filmmaking crew to create a fully-realized theme park audiences could only have dreamed of before while also forfeiting the tactile feel and earned intensity of the first film. Despite this, the likable cast and a welcome dose of grandiose spectacle helped cement the film as the most successful dino epic since ‘Jurassic Park’.
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Sadly, the 2018 follow-up ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ would share more in common with the latter half of the original trilogy, disappointing eager fans anticipating a project that would bolster the last film’s strong foundation and begin to flesh out the world in a way no film had been able to prior. Despite a tacked-on fifteen-minute rampage through San Francisco in the second film, the franchise had never transported its scaly colossi further than the shimmering shores of Costa Rica. ‘Fallen Kingdom’ saw a plot to save the dinosaurs from a second extinction after a dormant volcano on Isla Nublar came to life.
After leaving the island, the pair find that the plans they had initially signed up for predicated on the relocation of the creatures to another neighboring island was actually a front put forth by interested parties intending to sell off the dinosaurs to the highest bidder. While visually arresting and admirably melancholic, J.A. Bayona’s film ultimately came across as a needlessly contrived and disappointingly detached misfire, leaving yet another black mark on the franchise and counteracting whatever hard-fought good-will had been accrued by ‘Jurassic World’.
So Where Do We Go From Here?
When all is said and done, is there any hope still left for the ‘Jurassic’ franchise? Despite all of the signs that may be pointing towards the opposite, the answer remains yes. Audiences still cling to the belief that life will find a way for Trevorrow’s return to the franchise and the self-described coda to the 6-film-saga ‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ slated for release June 10 of 2022 will finally live up to the promise of Spielberg’s miraculous original and somehow make the interim four films worth it for the eventual pay-off.
The original trio is set to reunite on screen for the first time since 1993, joining Pratt, Dallas-Howard, and the rest of the ‘Jurassic World’ regulars as they try to survive the hordes of dinosaurs let loose on the continental United States at the end of ‘Fallen Kingdom’. While details remain scant about the film itself and how it will connect to each of the films that have come before it, it’s been revealed that ‘Dominion’ will transport audiences all the way to the days when dinosaurs truly ruled the Earth, proving that this film will indeed be an adventure 65 million years in the making.
By Andrew Valianti
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Andrew Valianti is a writer and an aspiring producer-director, and all-around film lover. While writing both features and reviews for the Hollywood Insider, Andrew has focused on the intersection of cinema and politics as they relate to empowering diverse stories and viewpoints. Through both study and practice, Andrew has seen first hand the many ways in which film and media can have a positive and meaningful impact on everyday lives. His personal views align with the Hollywood Insider, as he views journalism as a means to empower and mobilize positive change rather than spread gossip or negativity. He believes that art ignites action and has sought to pursue stories that further this goal.