When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth: An Apology to a World Long Lost

I owe an apology.

In fact, I owe a few. The biggest one I will get to in due time, but I owe one to all of you, my loyal (or casual, perhaps even stumbling upon this site for the first time) readers. A few years ago I got caught up in nostalgia and praised too highly something that I normally am quite demanding on: a movie. Specifically, I am referring to 2015, a roller coaster year for me personally that saw me come to terms with a great many things regarding myself, my relationships with others, and my appreciation of art. These are reasons why I behaved the way I did then; not excuses. Many of us were – and clearly still are – swept up in the tide of nostalgia that reboots, rehashes, and long-awaited sequels provided for us in the cinema, but this is no justification for my actions either. Now, to be clear, I do not dislike Jurassic World, the 2015 release that marked the fourth film in the vaunted dinosaur-centric series. I called it one of my favorite movies of that year, after all. I realized at its release that it was a derivative film that hearkened back to the original in a manner that often exploited our nostalgia, and I was okay with this because damn it I wanted more dinosaurs! It didn’t matter that they didn’t have feathers now, nor did it matter that the most well developed character was a velociraptor and the rest were bland at best. I got my dose of dinosaurs again, and it was a grand, old time at the popcorn palace. I saw Jurassic World three times in theaters, which pales in comparison to the five times I saw Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens that year (always with different people too!). However, while both were derivative of their original film and capitalized on the success of their predecessors, The Force Awakens offered us lovable new characters who fit right in alongside our established favorites. We are all right with the notion that these are the people who will carry our beloved franchise into new stories. I do not make apologies when I say that Star Wars succeeded at this with their latest saga film, Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi. I’ve spoken more on this matter, and probably will again, but the important thing is that Star Wars took things in a new direction with new characters and delivered a well-crafted story that does not call back to the original films as its most previous film did.  The Last Jedi listened to Fleetwood Mac and went its own way. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom fucked around within itself like Fleetwood Mac and has steered the series off a cliff, and not even Chris Pratt with a gun and gusto can offer much support in saving it as it sinks.

I will not provide spoilers for the latest dino-spectacle, nor will I demand you stay away from it. You are your own person, after all, and perhaps you will like it. For me though, Fallen Kingdom really fell in a manner that is disrespectful of the original Jurassic Park. To be fair, this is hardly the first disappointment of a dinosaur sequel in the franchise – in fact, none of the films that have followed the 1993 original have delivered the goods the way it did. Nevertheless, none of the sequels have lost their way as this latest one did. Jurassic Park III is a more coherent movie than this latest despite all of its flaws – of which it has many, and it should not be forgiven for simply being less underwhelming than Fallen Kingdom. Still, there is something to say about simplicity. The original film is astoundingly basic in its concept: there is a park with dinosaurs that needs a test run clearance in order to open. From there, we add on the wonder of “Wow! Real dinosaurs!” Steven Spielberg offers heaps of fantastic wonder in so many of his movies, but perhaps none so pure as in Jurassic Park. There is a moment in Fallen Kingdom where Bryce Dallas Howard, who at least gets boots this time, asks Chris Pratt if he remembers the amazing joy he felt the first time he saw a dinosaur. It, like so many other instances is a chance for that movie to take off, but it just keeps bogging itself down in an abundance of activity. Too much happens in two hours for us to ever connect with the characters or the cliche-laden plot. Unlike the first Jurassic Park where Spielberg lets scenes stew to bring home the point at the heart of the story, beyond all the dinosaurs and colorful cast of characters and incredible scientific advancements that all feel so real, what he really wants us to experience is the moral of the story: we should not play God.

That’s it. At its core, Jurassic Park is a lesson in not meddling with nature, for just because you have awesome technological power to create new life, you do not have the means to control that new life. It’s a prehistoric retelling of Frankenstein of sorts; a cautionary tale for all would-be creators. As Ian Malcolm states in that first film, “But your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.”

I realize that the story has moved on from that initial theme, yet none have extensively explored anything other than what amounts to a rehash of it.

It would also help if we got less of timely Rexy, the Tyrannosaurus rex from the first movie who has continued her role of deus rex machina through three films now. It was amazing on the first go round (I even declared her grand finale entrance to be my favorite Spielberg movie climax moment), yet her appearances in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom are a little too convenient. It’s no surprise anymore when she shows up just the good guys need saving or a bad guy needs to be stopped.

Ultimately, 25 years later, Jurassic Park is a enduring classic because it does more with less; Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom does less with more. The muddled plot and shallow characters will not do it any favors in preserving it in the cinematic halls of time, and its most gracious fate very well may be to fall into extinction.

Now while I have not and will not provide any spoilers for Fallen Kingdom in this post, I will offer up some good videos on the series, some of which do delve into spoils territory, so I will mark those accordingly, and encourage you to watch them (especially if you’re in charge of the next Jurassic Park movie):

Non-spoils: “Jurassic Park – Using Theme to Craft Character”

Spoils: “The Problem with Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom”

“Pressing the Dinosaur Button – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” – a unique take on how to fix a big problem in Fallen Kingdom

“Serious Questions -Jurassic Park Franchise” – for fun

Finally, my most sincere apologies to… The Lost World: Jurassic Park. I declared Jurassic World to be the best sequel in the franchise after I saw it, and stuck with that for too long. Again, I do still enjoy Jurassic World, and it certainly stands above Jurassic Park III and its own latest sequel. Nonetheless, I have kept what was rightfully yours on its shelf for too long. I now declare, that while it is not a perfect film by any stretch either, that The Lost World: Jurassic Park is the best Jurassic Park movie after the original. It is much maligned for being inferior to its predecessor, but let’s look at what it does right and original and give it the at fewest one thumbs up it deserves. You want more Goldblum? Check. You want intriguing new characters to join him? Check. You want more classic Spielberg suspense in sequences like trailer hanging off the cliff? Checkity check. You want Spielberg to provide awesome introductions to the established players like the T-rex and raptors while simultaneously introducing new ones like the pachycephalosaurus? You better believe check! You want Pete Postlewaite as a big game hunter bored with a lack of challenges seeking to hunt the greatest quarry that ever grace the world in the T-rex? Checkarino! Finally, do you want more of dinosaurs? Then you have come to the right place. Welcome to Jurassic Park…’s off-site dinosaur breeding island. And then San Diego.

For more on this, I encourage you to check out Filmjoy (formerly Movies with Mikey) for a more extensive defense of this still solid movie:

Thanks for reading! Be sure to come on back next week for more fun!

Go Brazil!

Alex

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