10:30am PT by Richard Newby
How 'Fallen Kingdom' Finally Moved the 'Jurassic Park' Story Forward
[This story contains spoilers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom]
“Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming,” Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm says in The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), the first sequel to Jurassic Park. Twenty-one years and three more sequels later, Goldblum’s line, delivered in his career-defining staccato fashion, has become more than an exercise in wit. His line has become the formula of the franchise, shock and awe in the face of almighty dinosaurs, followed by the sheer terror that comes from the realization that these animals were never meant to be controlled.
Within the formula established from Jurassic Park (1993) to Jurassic World (2015), we’ve watched as humans come to the dino-inhabited islands of Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna for research, rescue ops and vacations, and then we’ve watched them try to escape, losing members of their party to gnashing teeth and razor-sharp claws along the way. Regardless of how big of a franchise Jurassic Park has become, it’s never been able to entirely escape a feeling of familiarity. But within those first four films, seeds were planted, ideas evolved, and finally with this weekend’s release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, something new has hatched.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, directed by J.A. Bayona takes a page from another Michael Crichton property: Westworld. The 1973 film, written and directed by Crichton, sees amusement park robots turn on human visitors, and serves as an early basis for the author/filmmaker’s concern with the misuse of technological advancements for entertainment. Readapted as HBO television series by Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy in 2016, Westworld took the concept of the original film and expanded it by asking questions that go beyond the simple idea of robots gaining sentience and attacking humans at a theme park. What would this role-playing environment mean for the lives of humans who could leave their morals and pasts behind and become anyone? What would it mean for robots who have memories and feelings, to be used as tools for human pleasure? What kind of culture could self-aware robots create within the recreations of humanity’s past? Ultimately, Westworld questions what a revolution of robots would really look like when taking into account the past and present of humans.
Fallen Kingdom is, quite obviously so, not as smart or layered as a multi-season, ten-hour television series. But the film does ask questions, necessary ones, about what mankind’s ability to clone dinosaurs would ultimately lead to. And Fallen Kingdom asks these questions, not by distancing itself from what has come before, but by recognizing its place in a franchise known for sequels that take small steps.
Jurassic Park was never intended to be a franchise. When Steven Spielberg brought Michael Crichton’s novel to life in 1993 it became an unprecedented success. The highest-grossing movie in history at the time, Jurassic Park was a financial and technical marvel that ushered in a new age of blockbuster movies — a phenomenon that Spielberg first achieved with Jaws (1975). This first film feels the truest to the tenets of science fiction, with an emphasis on the science, in its questions of ‘what if?’. Through Dr. Malcolm, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Jurassic Park took a grounded approach to questions of morality, chaos theory and technological expansion within tension-filled and spectacle-driven narrative. And while Jurassic Park could have easily worked as the one-off entry it was intended to be, demand increased for Crichton to write a sequel novel. The author repeatedly declined, until Spielberg told him that if he wrote a new one, he’d be willing to direct it. Thus, The Lost World was born.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park not only doubles down on the spectacle of the first film — new island, two T-rex and more Goldblum, it strides into the realm of the fantastic. Drawing inspiration from its namesake — Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel The Lost World (1912) — the sequel is a pulp adventure story. Malcolm’s action hero cynicism and quest to rescue his girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) are the result of a film less concerned with questions of science and morality than it is with pitting these characters against antagonists like Pete Postlewaite’s Ahab-esque dinosaur hunter and John Hammond’s selfish nephew, whose grand plan is to create a smaller version of the park in San Diego.
The Lost World is a film, to borrow a line from Hammond (Richard Attenborough), that feels like it “spared no expense." Yet in the efforts to surpass the original, it offers little more than the entertainment of exceptionally crafted set-pieces. When Jurassic Park III came around in 2001, and saw Joe Johnston pick up the reigns from Spielberg, who had burned out on the franchise, it felt like this third entry was simply taking pieces from the previous films. Jurassic Park III, while not bad, is a film that refuses to question what the existence of an island of dinosaurs means, and thus feels stale because of it.
Universal spent over a decade trying to relaunch a franchise that seemed perpetually stuck in development hell. Outlines were made and scripts developed — one involving militarized dinosaurs in the Middle East, and another involving human-dinosaur hybrids, but these ideas seemed like too great a leap from where the franchise left off. Finally, Jurassic World (2015) went into production and it saw the theme park that Hammond had originally envisioned completely open, and stocked full of cloned dinosaurs.
Jurassic World receives a significant amount of criticism for director Colin Trevorrow’s nostalgia-baiting. And while the film certainly utilized the nostalgia of audiences to take over the box office (it landed a then record $208-million-dollar opening weekend in North America, and a $1.672 billion global gross), Jurassic World made significant contributions to the franchise. In introducing the hybrid dinosaur, the Indominus rex, and trained raptors, Jurassic World follows the natural course of human nature — our inability to cede control of the natural order of the world, and our rapid onset boredom when it comes to modern marvels. While Trevorrow’s film doesn’t take audiences off the island, it carefully sets up a world in which militarized dinosaurs could be a thing of the future. It’s a film that operates under patient franchise-building, something it doesn’t receive enough credit for in an age where franchises often skip narrative beats in a hurry to reach the payoff.
The action moves away from the island to perhaps the most surprising place a dinosaur movie could be set, a manor in Northern California. It’s there that Fallen Kingdom becomes a full-on gothic horror movie. Those familiar with Bayona’s filmography, particularly his film The Orphanage (2007), will notice fairly early on that while scripted by Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, Fallen Kingdom is very much in the vein of the director’s previous work. With its high ceilings, long corridors, secret basement labs and dumbwaiter, the mansion of Hammond’s one-time business partner, Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), is the perfect setting for a ghost story. And what more inventive ghost story than one that features reptiles that should be dead held captive in a basement prison, while a secret order of individuals from across the globe place bids on them for military and medical purposes?
Fallen Kingdom is the first film to make it explicit that the resurrection of a formerly extinct species has medical and scientific benefits and hazards previously undreamt of. The film doesn’t quite reach the point of dino-soldiers and human hybrids that the Jurassic IV scripts of old utilized, but it sets up a world that’s not far away from those ideas coming to fruition. While Hammond focused on theme parks, Lockwood saw the potential in cloning, going as far to clone his dead daughter and raise her as his granddaughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon). Lockwood, like Hammond, isn’t a bad man, but he is culpable for what he unleashed. Bayona’s film takes an interesting moral point of view where not even our heroes, Owen and Claire, emerge entirely guiltless from the world they’ve created.
At the beginning of the film, in a congressional hearing to decide the fate of dinosaurs facing re-extinction, Ian Malcolm says that humanity has opened up the doors to death. This is true, but they’ve also opened up the doors to life. Maise, and the film’s terrifying hybrid that’s more monster than dinosaur, the Indoraptor, become question marks in how far humans should bend the boundaries of life and death. If humans have this kind of control over life, then what does death mean? This is the question that’s revisited within the shadows of the Lockwood mansion, and ultimately set loose in the world in the film’s finale. Although the film can be occasionally silly, and is perhaps a Vincent Price short of being a big-budget Roger Corman movie, the questions posed by a Jurassic movie have not been as interesting in some time. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is the first sequel to fully recognize that the end-point of resurrecting dinosaurs would never be a theme park, but a new world order in which chaos reigns.