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Don’t let the title fool you. I love Jurassic Park. The original film is a tremendously good time and aside from being a watershed moment in cinema, its use of CGI and action make is still one of the best ever made. While the sequels have all fallen short, including the recent update, which was basically a remake, they do make money, though there is a reason for that. But maybe it’s time to stop making these movies, and not because they are all retreads of the same theme (a thing that has worked well for the Fast & Furious series) but for much deeper reasons. Here are 4 that explain why maybe these movies shouldn’t be made (and one reason why they should).
Anyone who saw 1993’s Jurassic Park, and especially those (like myself) who saw it in theaters on release, remembers that feeling, right? One that is almost indescribable and oh so rare in movies. There, right up on screen, were dinosaurs, and they weren’t obvious stop-motion, rear-projected dinosaurs we’d become so accustomed to but seemingly living breathing creatures that were unlike anything any of us had ever seen. It left us awe-struck, slack-jawed, and more so, wanting more. The rush of the whole experience was like an addictive drug. It was the kind of wonder so many movies promise but so few truly deliver, and it’s no fault of theirs, Jurassic Park was just that important, that different. That wondrous. Walking out of the theater or seeing it on your home screen for the first time, you were in a kind of daze for bit. It felt great. So great, every single one of us wanted more. And so we waited for that more and when it came, surprisingly, they were a letdown. None were able to recapture the feel of the first. But why?
Naturally, revisiting something you’ve already seen isn’t going to have the same impact. That’s why the filmmakers of all the Jurassic Park sequels thought they needed to go bigger (see below). Yet despite how unbelievably convincing the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park look and felt, the only reason they had any impact was because we cared about the people in their way. That’s the real magic of Steven Spielberg’s film and Michael Crichton’s book. We are so quickly and easily attracted to the people in the story, we are motivated more by their actions in trying to stay alive than the monsters trying to eat them. That’s powerful. Every character in the first film is memorable, but that’s not the case in the others, whose characters were reduced to being fodder. Unless a new film can make the movie about the people and not the monsters, no new Jurassic Park movie is ever going to be worth it.
For some reason, studios consistently feel that to build a franchise, they must go bigger. Bigger action, bigger stories, bigger casts, and with Jurassic Park, bigger dinosaurs. That’s not always a bad thing if it makes sense in expanding the story. Think of the original Star Wars trilogy, Harry Potter, or even to some degree, the early Avengers films. With Jurassic Park, the subsequent movies have never really built on the foundation. Aside from some peripheral elements, the dinosaurs have always been the focus with something new and even more ferocious than the last being the only constant. The problem is the miscalculation in thinking that this alone will make it work. It doesn’t. All this does is necessitate a need to create situations where that dinosaur can be used. Think of the limited uses of the T-Rex in the original, a series of sequences that grew organically from its introduction. Now compare that to Jurassic World where the Indominus rex (pictured above), a genetically-created dino runs around chasing everyone, its very existence being an attraction. The filmmakers even make the point that people grew tired of the T-Rex, which they then go ahead and prove wrong anyway in their own film. Yes, that’s a design of the story, but it fails to recognize that the T-Rex was less a boogeyman hiding in the dark but an animal making decisions it might naturally do, which made it all the more terrifying. We never knew when it was coming. All other Jurassic Park movies flipped this, making it necessary for the dinosaurs to show up, ending up with contrived action moments that all lead to the same. And that is …
What Spielberg probably learned early on in making Jurassic Park is that with this premise, there is only one thing that can happen: a dinosaur chases people and it either kills them or they escape. There’s really nothing else left to do. Fortunately, he understood that (like he did with Jaws) and made the gaps between these moments substantial, capitalizing on Crichton’s message about Man’s hubris in the face of nature and even more importantly, developing the people on the run. Think how rarely the T-Rex is actually on screen and yet how dominant its presence is. It was all about suspense and building tension for when the next encounter came. Jurassic World (like all the two earlier sequels) was simply a string of contrived moments to put people in danger rather than giving any one of them any depth, even if the screenplay tried to dabble with romance, another poorly-conceived idea that was wisely avoided in the original. And yes, being chased by a dinosaur is inherently scary, as is I’m sure, getting eaten by one, and so these scenes are necessary, but overplaying them, especially after four films, is a trap.
So that said, is the Jurassic Park franchise destined to be retreads or is there hope that something can be made that recaptures what the first film did for so many. Maybe, but there is reason to make more, if anything because …
There is nothing wrong with bringing the world Jurassic Park created to a new generation, and certainly sensibilities change, creating great opportunities for taking the old and making it new. In fact, we need it. If not Jurassic Park then something like it. Movies are like no other medium, able to give audiences experiences that inspire as well as entertain, some, the great ones, where we become participatory in the universes the filmmakers build. When Jurassic Park hit theaters in 1993, it was more than a new movie, it was a cultural phenomenon, a touchstone that reinvigorated interests in dinosaurs and the study of them. It galvanized everyone and created a fascination that is still going strong. In the decades since Jurassic Park was released, we’ve learned even more about these majestic creatures, coming to understand more about what they were and how they lived. Maybe this is where Jurassic World could go. Imagine a film that is not a monster movie where teeth are the thing but rather the study and exploration of them. I mentioned the word ‘wonder’ at the start. Is there a story where than can happen again? Can wonder be renewed? With the inclusion of Jeff Goldblum’s character announced for Fallen Kingdom, maybe there is a chance. The tagline for the movie is ‘Life Finds a Way,’ borrowing the famous line Goldblum’s character spoke in the first. Let’s hope the filmmakers find a way as well to make Jurassic Park a wonder once again. Though let’s be honest, it’s undoubtedly going to be two hours of people being chased once again. What are your thoughts?