The Friendly Film Fan takes a closer look at the “epic conclusion of the Jurassic Era.” Minor spoilers ahead.
On June 11, 1993, audiences were treated to the most fulfilling summer blockbuster event (without Star Wars in the title) since Steven Spielberg’s Jaws, a pseudo-horror film from the same director which substituted the boogeyman for the world’s most dangerous predators that we didn’t even know enough about to realize that many were covered in feathers and sounded almost nothing like the echoing roars coming from their animatronic throats. The film – a hard one to guess, I know – was Jurassic Park, which earned almost $1 billion during its original theatrical run, and held the record for the highest-grossing film of all time until James Cameron’s Titanic released four years later. Today, articles, think pieces, rankings, reviews, and analyses continue to be fascinated by the main draw of the film: the dinosaurs.
Based on a combination of animatronics, model work, and early-development CGI, the dinos in that original film are still viewed as the most life-like ever created (though their realism has since been called into question), a towering achievement in visual effects that not only pushed the CG era forward in good and bad ways, but became the gold standard for the whole of the movie industry. To this day, the visual effects of nearly any major blockbuster with creature effects are compared to them, and four sequels later, even the film’s own franchise has been unable to capture the same magic. But what made the dinos themselves iconic – apart from the VFX – was their use in the story to teach humanity a lesson in hubris. When you unleash a monster, it’s going to do what monsters do. The dinosaurs’ presence in the film was essential to telling its story. So why is it that the supposed final film in the whole franchise seems so disinterested in its flagship creatures?
Jurassic World Dominion – directed by returning Jurassic World helmer Colin Trevorrow – picks up some time after the events of its immediate predecessor, Fallen Kingdom (directed by J.A. Bayona), with a literal plague of locusts threatening the world’s food supplies that aren’t grown by the most subtly-named big tech company ever, BioSyn. This where the returning legacy characters are brought into the fold, as the scientist who begins investigating this phenomenon is none other than Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), who recruits the help of Alan Grant (Sam Neill), and eventually re-teams with Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to stop BioSyn from destroying the world’s crops. That’s the first story. The second story is that Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are now harboring the clone girl from the last film, who is kidnapped along with Blue the Velociraptor’s child, and they must launch a rescue mission to get both children back. If these sound like two ideas from two separate movies, neither of which has much to do with the other apart from simply being in the same franchise, they are. In fact, the former has almost nothing to do with anything from the previous two films. And within all of that, where are the dinosaurs? The film’s answer? “Around.”
It may be genuinely astounding to hear, but the dinosaurs themselves are actually the least important element in Jurassic World Dominion’s bloated runtime. They happen to be where many of the main characters go due to their being unleashed on the world at the end of Fallen Kingdom, but they are not the enemy, nor are they especially helpful. If anything, the creation of a “Joker-like” dinosaur in this movie is proof positive just how little thought went into the one element most people are paying to see when they go to the theater. In Dominion’s terms, the dinos are simply there because the word Jurassic appears in the title, not because they are at all essential to telling either A-plot story or to the B-plot underneath them. In fact, if one took the dinosaurs out of Dominion entirely, the main thrust of the film would not really change at all. The only times they actually matter are at the beginning, at the end, and whenever the film wants to falsify and then immediately deflate any tension it presents. Hell, even Fallen Kingdom had the guts to literally blow up the island and wring some emotion out of the moment.
This isn’t all to say that Jurassic World Dominion is an outright pile of garbage in film composition or storytelling – it’s certainly a failure, but not even the worst film in its own franchise – but in practically abandoning its flagship creature’s essence to the story in favor of concluding a story from Fallen Kingdom that no one really cared about and having to justify bringing back franchise legacy characters that have nothing to do with the main thrust of the film itself, it loses the magic of what made this all happen in the first place. Jurassic Park movies are (or should be) about how mankind reacts to the presence of dinosaurs and vice versa, but instead, Dominion’s only real showcase of them is once at the beginning, and once at the end. The rest of the time, they’re in a manmade valley that BioSyn created specifically so that they couldn’t get out into the world, which was the whole point of the last film’s conclusion. It’s never actually explored – apart from the two segments I mentioned – what dinosaurs living amongst humanity would mean to the common man or to those not directly tied to either of the two main stories, except in the film’s most effective sequence (also towards the beginning) when the manufactured locusts surround a barn with children inside. So, if the film can’t justify the presence of dinosaurs in its own narrative, what about the legacy characters it brought back? What makes Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum so essential to concluding the franchise that they needed to be in this movie?
Legacy character fan service can be fun. In fact, it can even be one of the best parts of films that know how to both honor and build upon those legacies. In successful attempts, you get Creed, Blade Runner 2049, and most recently Top Gun: Maverick. Even in The Force Awakens, one can see how Han’s presence is not made redundant even as it is largely unnecessary (though the circumstances by which that film came about are entirely different). But in unsuccessful attempts, one is left with films like Ghostbusters: Afterlife and the film to which Dominion is most often compared to, The Rise of Skywalker. (Jury’s still out on Spider-Man: No Way Home.) These are films that use legacy characters for one purpose, and one purpose alone: to nostalgia-bait audiences into buying tickets while never doing anything interesting with those characters. They don’t grow, they don’t change, they don’t really affect the narrative at all, but they’re always brought in as some part of an “epic conclusion,” even when they don’t really matter. Dominion falls under such a curse, as it only gives Sam Neill and Laura Dern one thing to do for two-and-a-half hours, and leaves poor Jeff Goldblum (who is weirdly bad in this) to the dinos. I’m sorry, no, to the locusts.
Jurassic World Dominion isn’t the worst film in the Jurassic Park franchise (Fallen Kingdom continues to hold that distinction), but it’s certainly not doing itself any favors by extending its already overly-bloated runtime only to include stories and characters that don’t end up mattering while it flip-flops between what story it wants to tell. It’s not thrilling, interesting, subversive, or satisfactory. If anything is true of it, it’s actually the most boring one of the bunch. All this to say, a Jurassic movie can’t be a Jurassic movie without dinosaurs playing an essential part in the narrative. Dominion sees treats both them and the human legacy characters as box office punchlines.
I’m giving “Jurassic World Dominion” a 4.6/10
- The Friendly Film Fan
Film critic in my free time. Film enthusiast in my down time.