The endearing brilliance of Jurassic Park and why the sequels suck
There’s a scene in Jurassic Park that perfectly encapsulates just why this remains one of the best summer blockbusters of all time – and an incredibly well written one at that.
Paleontologist Alan Grant sits in a tree with John Hammond’s two grandchildren, Lexie and Tim. As they talk about the difference between herbivores and carnivores, Alan turns to Lexie and utters the line “They’re not monsters, Lex. They’re just animals. The other kind of just… do what they do.”
This desire to treat these dinosaurs not as mindless genetic freaks or crazy monsters like Godzilla but living, breathing animals that justifies why this film is such a stroke of genius. These are just creatures trying to survive in a brand new world. They’re “doing what they need to do.”
Compare this to the disastrous trailer for Jurassic World: Dominion depicting dinos roaming around, smashing up planes and not being shot down, and the series that started as a thought provoking, intelligent discussion about man VS animal has descended into a dumb, poorly plotted popcorn muncher. But how did it end up that way?
Rewind to 1993 and Jurassic Park was – and still is to be fair – an absolute game-changer. Much like Jaws before it, the film riffs on the same sort of ideas that seafaring voyage brought up by holding back and not showing its hand too early.
In fact, the first half of Jurassic Park is almost entirely focused on the philosophical debate and ideas being portrayed before the second half. Jaws too did this, although that steers far more into monster territory than Jurassic Park does. At least in terms of depicting its bloodthirsty shark as a ravenous, rampaging menace. But back to our dinos.
In essence, Jurassic Park is a social commentary on the failings of man, our inability to separate animal from monster, along with the continued dissonance between overworked employees and their highflying bosses that think they rule the world.
These are the men who will sacrifice employee well-being to try and make more money and reach the stars for their own megalomaniacal needs. But enough about Jeff Bezos, we’re talking John Hammond, dino entrepreneur who starts this whole debacle with a big discovery.
For those who have never watched Jurassic Park, the movie revolves around this crazy man; an entrepreneur who opens a new wildlife park on an island called Isla Nublar. Only, this park is unlike anything ever seen before.
Collecting up brilliant minds from across the US, including mathematician Ian Malcolm, paleontologist Alan Grant and paleobotanist Ellie Satler, Hammond invites them all to his park in order to stroke his own ego and show off what a genius he is for bringing dinosaurs back to life.
As Samuel L Jackson’s character utters toward the end of the movie, “Hold onto your butts”; everything that could go wrong, does go wrong. Dinosaurs rampage across the island and the humans find the odds stacked against them. They don’t have many weapons, they’re separated, isolated with little radio contact and the dinosaurs are hungry for a good meal – and hunt.
Not just a great screenplay full of memorable moments, Jurassic Park is also a pretty faithful adaptation of Michael Crighton’s book of the same name.
Although there are no rocket launchers or bird cages that show up in the film (yes those really did happen in the novel!), Steven Spielberg’s direction and John Williams’ score combine with the realistic practical and CG effects to elevate this movie into the annals of history.
I mean honestly, the dinosaurs in this movie look so good and even the Behind the scenes footage shows how much work was put into pulling this off. And now? How far has technology come? Well, see for yourself. We’ve got CGI raptors.
Before we reach the “requel” that is Jurassic World, it’s worth examining the film where everything started to fall apart – Jurassic Park: The Lost World.
I remember watching this film in the cinema as a kid and being blown away, loving every minute of it. Having watched it again several weeks back in order to write this article… it’s terrible. I mean, it’s an absolute mess of a film.
The idea of a T-Rex rampaging around in the US was wild unto itself but the execution is not only farcical, it’s contrived and full of holes.
The early set-piece everyone will remember here is that involving two T-rexes attacking Malcolm and his motley crew in their mobile.
It’s easily one of the most tense and well-shot sequences in the whole Jurassic Park/World anthology… until you realize the moments leading up to this are ridiculed with issues and utterly outrageous character motivations.
But then the biggest issue itself stems from Jeff Goldblum’s character of Malcolm – who worked so well as a supporting player to Alan’s level-headed approach in Jurassic Park. The subtle shift here, changing him to the main protagonist, veered the film into strangely humorous and charismatic waters – something that’s later picked up on when Chris Pratt helms the franchise and adds the same sort of vibes.
Even worse though, the animals in Juassic Park shifted to no longer behave like animals, edging ever-closer into monster territory. It’s subtle, and there’s enough expository-laden dialogue to try and hide this, explaining away actions through instinct.
Unfortunately there’s none of that in Jurassic Park III, the film that managed to stop Jurassic Park sequels and delay the inevitable until 2015.
The word monster has been used a lot in this article and for good reason too. In Jurassic Park, all the dinosaurs behave and act like animals.
The T-Rex attacks the car by its paddock because it believes the kids are a source of food. It intentionally ignores Alan when he throws the flare, seeing it as a more interesting distraction. And it wasn’t interested in Tim gawking at it when it feeds on a Gallimimus. These are all pretty accurate animal instincts.
Fast forward to Jurassic Park III and we have a T-Rex ignoring a large fresh kill to chase humans and try to eat them. No matter how annoying Mrs Kirby is, screeching out “Eric!” every 5 minutes, it’s quite the stark contrast when you think where this film series started.
Jurassic Park III is officially where the franchise runs out of ideas. Gone is the thought provoking discussion and ideas, instead we get some half-baked ideas about raptor intelligence and a menacing Spinosaurus that chases the group across the island. Even Alan Grant sports a pained expression right the way through, like he knows he’s walked onto a dumpster fire. Apologies to any Jurassic Park III fans watching this!
The script for this film is nothing short of atrocious, with the laughable idea of having a Raptor utter “Alan” on the plane in a dream unintentionally hilarious. Unfortunately, this also makes the raptors less menacing as a result. All round it’s a disaster and unsurprising that it took 14 years for the next sequel/remake Jurassic World to hit theatres.
Now to be fair, Jurassic World isn’t terrible. Outrunning a T-Rex whilst wearing high heels at night notwithstanding, the movie anchors itself as a soft reboot of the original movie, a “requel” as the most recent Scream would call it.
The trouble is, the movie lacks the same thought provoking ideas and balanced views on man vs nature. Instead, the movie’s story pivots on a new bio-engineered animal known as the Indominus Rex, a creature that’s been spliced with different DNA because punters are getting bored of regular dinos.
Ignoring how well zoos do across the world, Jurassic World presents the aforementioned monster flick front and center, deciding to do away with animals acting like they should and veering the series fully into monster territory. Given T-Rexes show up in both Kong films, along with the animated series Camp Cretaceous (which is actually very good) its unsurprising that the writers felt like mixing things up. Oh, and the least said about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom the better.
So now we have Jurassic World: Dominion, which includes dinos out in the real world and apparently able to take out planes, stop ships and push humanity back decades. It’s a ludicrous concept, something you’d expect a bunch of stoners to riff about late at night. But nope, we’re fully going ahead with this idea.
The reason Jurassic Park worked is because the concept and ideas were believable. As I said earlier on, the humans had the odds stacked completely against them. They didn’t have the resources. I mean, they had to rely on John Hammond’s terrible schematic reading in order to turn the power back on. The danger and tension was real because these people were out of their depth.
Here though, the entire premise expects audiences to believe every military across the world have just completely caved and not even thought about shooting these creatures. Remember in Jurassic Park III when the military showed up on the beach to save Alan and the gang? Remember how safe they all were once they had a military escort? If Jurassic Park III makes something look good, you know you’ve done something wrong. And Dominion exemplifies those problems and dials it up to 11.
Of course, Dominion could prove this critic wrong and turn out to be a really thought provoking movie, riffing on the same topical and interesting ideas the first achieved. But then again, why bother going through the hassle of making a good film in the first place?
In this age where Disney have completely monopolized the film industry, it’s all about making them dollars and raking in money. And what better way to do that than taking every tried and tested trick in the book and throwing it into a throwaway popcorn munching film?
Unfortunately, the Jurassic Park/World series has dwindled from the thought provoking, interesting and incredibly well written original film into a genetically spliced abomination that needs to crawl back to extinction. Jurassic World: Dominion will likely make bank, potentially lending itself to more of these films, but it’ll do so at the expense of creative bankruptcy.
And is it really worth tarnishing the reputation of a beloved franchise just to make a quick buck? As Dr Ian Malcolm would say: You were so preoccupied with whether you could, you didn’t stop to think if you should.
What are your thoughts on Jurassic Park and its sequels? Do you think the series should be left alone? Do let us know in the comments below, we’d love to hear from you!