Photo: Jurassic Park/Universal Pictures
‘Jurassic Park’ – Brush with Extinction
‘Jurassic Park’, the ‘adventure 65 million years in the making’, is now a multimedia franchise 30 years in the making. Beginning with a 1990 science fiction novel penned by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park has spawned sequel novels, video games, theme park rides, and of course a number of blockbuster sequels to Steven Spielberg’s revolutionary 1993 film adaptation. These days, the franchise is perhaps as vital as it ever has been, with a number of Lego-themed cartoons, a new DreamWorks Animation series on Netflix, and a Jurassic World trilogy capper due to release in 2022. But like the tenacious dinosaurs of Isla Nublar, the survival of Jurassic Park has not always been certain. Naturally, merchandise and theme park rides survived, but after the release of Jurassic Park III, it took 14 years for another sequel to enter cineplexes with 2015’s Jurassic World.
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Perhaps due to this brush with extinction, the keepers of the Jurassic Park IP began to genetically reengineer the franchise in the 2010s. The first issue to be addressed was the continuation of the Jurassic film series. A 2005 draft of a proposed Jurassic Park 4 infamously featured human-dinosaur hybrids, a concept that was pretty roundly dismissed as being too ludicrous. While the final plot of Jurassic World did end up revolving around hybrid dinosaurs, its DNA was assembled from far less uncanny sources. For the story, producers Kathleen Kennedy and Steven Spielberg tapped Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver. This married screenwriter team had found success with the rebooted Planet of the Apes series, suggesting they would adapt easily to the concept of scientifically-enhanced wild animals wreaking havoc on humanity. Colin Trevorrow, fresh off of indie success with Safety Not Guaranteed, was vaulted into the director’s chair, while former sitcom player turned newly-minted movie star Chris Pratt was chosen to headline.
Lego Finds a Way
The cast was rounded out with a number of veteran actors, including Bryce Dallas Howard, Irrfan Khan, and Vincent D’Onofrio. Despite early suggestions that the film would pick up with characters played by original stars Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, and Laura Dern, they ultimately chose to start out with a soft reboot–the film takes place in a world where a successful Jurassic theme park has been running for years.
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From the original film’s cast, only actor BD Wong appears in Jurassic World; Wong played the minor antagonist, Dr. Henry Wu, in the 1993 film. The fact that a tertiary character from one scene in a 22-year-old movie received a greatly expanded role shows that the franchise runners were, for better and for worse, committed to the expanded cinematic universe treatment for Jurassic World. Indeed, Dr. Wu has become something of a good luck charm for the franchise, much like R2-D2 and C-3PO have been for Star Wars–he’s the only character besides the T. Rex to appear in every instance of Jurassic media since 2015.
Following the big box office returns and the resoundingly tolerant critical reviews of Jurassic World, Universal began franchising out the franchise. Like the supposedly sterile dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, the once-dormant film series suddenly found itself breeding in captivity. Life found a way. Naturally, the first move would be to create a children’s series that could be used to sell toys–honestly, it’s a bit shocking that there was never a Jurassic Park cartoon in the ’90s running alongside Men in Black, Extreme Ghostbusters, and Godzilla: The Series. While the series missed the boat on the halcyon days of Multiplex-to-Saturday morning cartoon adaptations, it found a natural partner for its animated series debut in Lego. Lego had been creating their own sendups of Hollywood franchises since 2005’s Lego Star Wars: Revenge of the Brick, and had already teamed up with DC, Marvel, and Scooby-Doo before the Jurassic collaboration. The fact that Chris Pratt happened to be the star of the first Lego Movie and the first Jurassic World movie is probably just a coincidence.
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The Lego adaptations mostly chronicle events leading up to Jurassic World, including protagonist Owen Grady training baby raptors, Claire Dearing attempting to appease the hubristic park owner Simon Masrani, and Dr. Henry Wu creating the hybrid franken-dinosaur known as the ‘Indominus Rex’. They also catch up with fan-favorite characters Dr. Alan Grant and Dr. Ian Malcolm and even whip up a nefarious nephew for unfortunate Jurassic Park antagonist Dennis Nedry. Despite being full of irreverent Lego humor, they provide a bridge between the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World trilogies, serving a similar purpose as Dave Filoni’s Clone Wars series serves to the first two Star Wars trilogies. The fact that this task was trusted solely to the borderline parodic Lego cartoons is a bit like the moment when crucial plot details leading up to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker were released exclusively on Fortnite, but I digress. Interestingly, the collaboration with Lego eventually led to Jurassic-themed Lego sets being created based on the cartoons Lego made based on the Jurassic movies. God creates Jurassic Park. God destroys Jurassic Park. God creates Lego. Lego creates Jurassic Park.
After discovering the most awesome force the planet’s ever seen (marketing merchandise directly to young children), one animated series was not enough. Fortunately, Jurassic Park director and producer Steven Spielberg also happens to be a founder of Dreamworks Animation. Whereas the Lego features tend towards more anodyne representation of the man-eating dinosaurs, the Dreamworks Animation/Amblin Entertainment series Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous targets a slightly more mature YA audience. The series follows a group of teenaged camper/interns spending the summer on Isla Nublar when the disastrous events of Jurassic World unfold. The series has lighthearted moments and even throws in a cute baby Ankylosaurus sidekick named Bumpy, but it isn’t afraid to pull punches. In Camp Cretaceous, survival skills are tested, dinosaurs attack, and characters die. While the series still seemed to be finding its footing in season one, it’s already been renewed for a second season due out in 2021.
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The Series Evolves
For a groundbreaking series about groundbreaking science, the Jurassic Park franchise too often plays it safe. The original trilogy was increasingly a series of diminishing returns, trading the original film’s palpable thrills for perfunctory setpieces until Jurassic Park III had you actively rooting for the dinosaurs every time Dr. Grant wasn’t onscreen. Part of the problem was that the series seemed unsure whether it wanted to give viewers a cohesive serialized story or a collection of tangentially related episodes, frequently splitting the difference between the two. Following Jurassic Park, central characters Ian Malcolm, Alan Grant, Ellie Sattler, and John Hammond have never appeared in the same film together. It’s like if The Fast and the Furious had a film without Vin Diesel, another film without Paul Walker, and then a film that’s just The Rock and Jason Statham going solo… Oh wait, they did do that.
It makes sense for a franchise like Jurassic Park to tell stories around a concept rather than a core group of characters, but the issue is that Jurassic Park always seemed noncommittal about characters introduced in its sequels while still being hung up on the stars of the series debut. When the Jurassic World trilogy broke ground, there seemed to be a course correction in this regard. Through thick and thin, the film sticks with protagonists Owen Grady and Claire Dearing, as well as series antagonist Henry Wu. Even so, the series continues to this day to be preoccupied with its freshman class. Jeff Goldblum returned to Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom in what amounted to an overhyped cameo, and the franchise’s upcoming sixth film is set to finally reunite the class of 1993. In a move that seems just a little bit over the top, 2022’s Jurassic World: Dominion is even bringing back the majorly minor character of Dodgson, despite the fact that the character’s original actor is currently serving a six-year prison sentence. Dodgson! We’ve got Dodgson here! See? Nobody cares.
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Rising from the Ashes
As the direct sequel to the 2015 film, 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom faced a similar predicament to 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The park has again collapsed and with it the initial sense of discovery. While new characters retain a sense of wonder, our primary protagonists mostly seem annoyed to have to be dealing with dinosaurs again. In a way, Fallen Kingdom comes across as yet another simultaneous correction and retread for the franchise. It received a reception similar to Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi—it was too unfamiliar for some diehard fans and too beholden to its own disparate mythology for some critics. That being said, it may be the freshest installment in the series since the first. Directed by Guillermo del Toro acolyte J. A. Bayona, the film begins with the melancholic imagery of brachiosauruses being subsumed by volcanic ash and ends up becoming a moody baroque haunted house drama with dinosaurs instead of ghosts. It’s also the first time the series fully acknowledges the implications and applications of the genetic breakthroughs that the park scientists have achieved, providing the narrative with a philosophical direction that could allow it to fully outrun its theme park titillation roots.
Fans have often called for the series to fulfill the premise’s promise of a full-on conflict between humanity and dinosaurs, but so far the films have only delivered this in furtive bursts. The Lost World is perhaps most remembered for the sequence of the T. Rex rampaging through the streets of San Diego, but this moment occurs right at the tail end of the film. Jurassic Park III concludes with a massive brigade of soldiers arriving on the coast of Isla Sorna to rescue survivors, only to have there be no actual interspecies confrontation. Fallen Kingdom concludes with the dinosaurs finally having escaped into the mainland. After five films, the genie is officially out of the bottle.
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When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth
Fallen Kingdom shows a few scattered moments of dinosaurs menacing mainlanders, and Colin Trevorrow’s 2019 short film Battle at Big Rock has a family of campers narrowly escaping from the jaws of an allosaurus. Producers of the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion have stated that the final film is not a Godzilla story of dinosaurs attacking cities, but is rather a more grounded tale of dinosaurs existing somewhere out in the world for those lucky (or unlucky) enough to come across them. The film will also flesh out the vast scientific implications of dinosaur-creating technology, which Fallen Kingdom revealed had culminated in the creation of a human clone. They were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
Chris Pratt has suggested that Dominion is the Avengers: Endgame of Jurassic movies–it’s a global adventure that weaves together storylines from the last thirty years of collective Jurassic lore. In addition to bringing back characters from the first film, Dominion will also feature Omar Sy and Jake Johnson’s characters from the 2015 film, Justice Smith and Daniella Pineda’s from the 2018 film, and new characters played by Mamoudou Athie and DeWanda Wise. The film, which led the pack as the first major studio picture to return to production during the pandemic, reportedly wrapped its 18 month shoot at the UK’s Pinewood Studios in early November of this year. In yet another technological first for a series so preoccupied with them, production involved investing in 40,000 COVID tests and over $6 million in safety protocols. They spared no expense. Jurassic World: Dominion is scheduled to be released June 10, 2022.
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