Going into production, the makers of Jurassic World Dominion knew they had to deal with a raft of problems that most franchises don’t have to deal with.
They couldn’t change the villain – one of the key ways that long-running franchises refresh their offering. In Jurassic Park movies the bad guy remains the dinosaur no matter how many crazed megalomaniac humans are injected into the mix.
They also couldn’t really change the location. This isn’t a story of a world taken over by dinosaurs but of a theme park (essentially) going wrong. James Bond gets sent to Bermuda, or Brazil, or Baluchistan, or into space orbit or beneath the waves to ring the changes. The Jurassics are stuck with an island, and changing its name from Isla Nublar to Isla Sorna isn’t really switching things about all that much.
Also, Jurassic World Dominion can’t really prequel itself. The origin story – Dickie Attenborough dicking about with dinosaur DNA – has been done and doesn’t need doing again.
On the plus side, the Jurassic Park series are kids movies and there are always a new generation of children coming along. So there’s always the option of just telling the same story again and again, except with wildly improved computer graphics each time.
Two problems here: a new film every four years or so isn’t really long enough for a new generation to constitute a sizeable demographic. And on the graphics – sure, between the original Jurassic Park (1993) and Jurassic Park III (2001), when the franchise initially ran out of puff and looked like it was done, there were visible improvements in CG each time. The dinosaurs were more lifelike and scarier. But since the franchise was itself resurrected in 2015, there’s been no step change in how the dinosaurs look on screen. The CGI gets better, more things are possible and computers can even be used to smooth out the odd clunk when animatronics are used, which they increasingly have been. But the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park long ago leapt the plausibility barrier and have been as realistic as they need to be, to the point where it’s no longer a discussion. If you were about when JP1 came out, all people were talking about was how realistic the dinosaurs were (or weren’t).
So how, given all that, how do you solve the Jurassic Park familiarity problem? Director/writer Colin Trevorrow and writing partners Derek Connolly and Emily Carmichael come at it from several directions. First: junk the location – the park. Second: get the band back together and take it out on a greatest hits tour. Third: fill in the gaps by referencing other movies like crazy. Fourth: action, lots of action.
Here’s the plot bit. But in fact there are two plots. One features Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and Isabella Sermon, and centres on adults Owen (Pratt) and Claire (Howard) being forced out of a life in hiding when the “daughter”, Maisie (Sermon), they picked up in Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom is kidnapped by a megalomaniac Big BioPharmaTech guy (played as a complicated misunderstood evil genius by Campbell Scott) with a view to harvesting her unique DNA for some malodorous purpose. The company is called BioSyn. Though the writers mean BioSin. Think Monsanto as run by Elon Musk.
The other features… drum roll… Laura Dern, Sam Neill and, to a slightly lesser though very welcome extent Jeff Goldblum, who are on the trail of some unkillable gigantic locusts laying waste to crops globally.
Along with a Han Solo-style pilot co-opted into the adventure (played by the excellent DeWanda Wise), both parties converge at the lair of Big BioPharmaTech guy Lewis Dodgson, but long before then Trevorrow has been chucking everything at the screen in the hope that something sticks. A lot of it does.
The lair is the stand-in for Isla Nublar/Sorna, though the screenplay has already informed us that the dinosaurs are now all freelancing their way through the globe’s eco-system, and that the human population divides sharply on how to regard them – are the big beasts misbegotten or just misunderstood?
Talking of beasts – where are they? The dinosaurs get slightly lost in translation as Trevorrow, nervously you might think, tries to “fix” his franchise-fatigue problem by heaping the plate high in his all-you-can-eat-buffet approach. Here’s a Star Wars bar scene, there’s a Bond villain lair, over there some Indiana Jones orientalism. There are henchmen. Henchmen with henchmen. Impossible rooftop leaps. A bike chase. A car chase. Some Tom Cruise airplane heroics. A reference to Hitchcock’s The Birds. Another to Apocalypse Now.
It never stops. Eventually it has to, of course, but at some point Trevorrow sacrifices pace – along with likeable, plausible characters, the thing he’s really good at – in favour of quantity. Duck or you’ll be hit by the kitchen sink.
Through it all sails Isabella Sermon, holding her own against the seasoned talent and maturing visibly as an actor (and, slightly problematically, actually growing up on screen – she’s visibly a kid again in final scenes which were obviously shot first).
The fanboys don’t like the film, on account of the lack of dinosaurs, and they have a point. There are raptors. There are giganotosaurs. There are pterodactyls and whatnot. But this isn’t an elemental beast v human fight for… dominion. And there are probably too many actors on screen once Maisie, Owen, Claire and pilot Kayla eventually meet up with Ellie (Dern), Alan (Neill) and Ian (Goldblum).
The verdict: it’s a pulsatingly noble effort and it works while it’s working – until about half an hour from the end when, under the weight of its own sweat, it starts to collapse. Until then it’s been brilliant, stupendous, a lot of fun.
Let’s do it all again in four years.
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