The trailer for the follow up to 2015’s Jurassic World dropped last month, bringing with it confirmation of two important returns to the franchise: sensible footwear choices, and Jeff Goldblum. Since then, like all good dinosaur disaster movie nerds, I’ve re-watched the previous Jurassic offerings in preparation for the new movie’s arrival in June. Yes, I’m going to watch it no matter how silly it looks. For all the bashing I’m about to give these films, I love them anyway, and I’m a glutton for punishment.
Every one of the films has been silly, and that’s fine. For starters, there’s the bonkers premise itself, not to mention that a theme park where the exhibits might eat you (and always find a way to do so) is somehow insured and attracts paying visitors; then there is the fact that in the world of the franchise, people never really learn, they just kid themselves that they have learned. In The Lost World, Hammond tries to reassure Dr Malcolm that they are not making the same mistakes; he wearily replies that Hammond is making “all new ones”. Are the sequels doomed to the same fate?
Here’s a reminder of the full trailer:
Now, let’s unpack. Every film in the franchise follows the same pattern, which goes something like this:
We open with a bad idea or a terrible mishap.
People go to a dinosaur island.
“Ooh, look, dinosaurs!”
“We’re totally in control!”
“Wait, do we have a risk-assessment for this? We don’t? Uh oh.”
“Oh no, dinosaurs!”
Big message about irresponsible capitalism/tourism/animal welfare
“Ah, the really scary one somehow isn’t as scary as we thought!”
“Phew, somehow we survived. Let’s not do that again!”
Final shots of dinosaurs looking all happy and peaceful now the pesky humans have gone.
On July 24, 2015, Colin Trevorrow revealed in an interview with WIRED that the film would not reuse the plot of people becoming lost on an island with free roaming dinosaurs and escaping like in the previous films The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III stating “That’ll get old real fast.” (From Jurassic Park wiki)
From what we can see so far in the trailer, I have my doubts… OK, maybe they aren’t lost. But it looks pretty familiar, and this pattern becomes more obvious and more ridiculous as the franchise goes on. We have seen this play out 4 times already; Fallen Kingdom will make 5, and unless something truly terrible happens, there will be a 6th movie as well. How many more mistakes are left? We’ve had hubris, curiosity & looting, extreme sports followed by a poorly-devised search and rescue operation, and genetic modification. What’s the big mistake in Fallen Kingdom? Is it just that classic human denial, that foolish assumption that this time it will be different?
If we consider the franchise as two trilogies, we get some more clues. Jurassic Park and Jurassic World were both set on Isla Nublar, showing the original park and then the updated version. The Lost World and Fallen Kingdom both show characters returning to dinosaur islands, knowing the inherent risks but going anyway; in the case of The Lost World, Dr Malcolm’s trip to Isla Sorna was motivated by the desire to rescue his girlfriend who had gone to study the ecosystem (though in the book he was much more keen to examine the social dynamics of the creatures) before the island was no longer protected from corporate agendas. In both the book and the film, taking dinosaurs off the island was seen as ultimately foolish; in the book, Dodgson’s team (who were trying to steal eggs for a rival company) faced a gruesome fate, and in the movie, InGen (who were trying to minimize their losses by harvesting adult dinosaurs) didn’t fare much better on the ground, and really should have learned a valuable lesson from the ‘T-Rex rampaging through San Diego’ incident. In both the movie and the book, there are two different teams of people on the island: the good ones and the bad ones. The dinosaurs don’t much care about whose side anyone is on…
So seeing that the apparent premise of Fallen Kingdom involves a plan to return to Isla Nublar, now a lost world of its own, to save the dinosaurs by evacuating them — well, like Dr Malcolm said, it’s a case of some of the same mistakes, and some new ones as well. A trailer should leave us with questions, but this one throws up more than most. Where are you going to evacuate the dinosaurs to? Are you going to send them over to Isla Sorna and have them fight it out with the natives? Have you built a new dinosaur island instead? Or are we going to see carnage in the streets of an American city again? How are you going to explain to the dinosaurs that you are only there to help? OH OF COURSE, you have a friend on the dinosaur council, right?
One of the weirdest aspects of the franchise is the determination to turn scary into friendly, or at the very least, sympathetic, in order to hammer home issues to do with the ethical treatment of animals. There is an explicit message about the animals not being monsters in the second and third movies, looking at the parenting instincts of T-Rex and raptor respectively. But this is where the franchise loses focus; these are not actual dinosaurs, they are modified reconstructions. Does a movie need to feel the weight of protecting the reputation of an extinct animal? Do we worry about whether the sharks in the Jaws movies were good parents? Do we need to like animals in order to care about the ethics of their existence?
Something really interesting in the book The Lost World is its discussion of the dynamics of the raptor pack. The movies try really hard to emphasise the raptors’ social skills, and miss the point that social skills are learned over time rather than genetically passed on. Parental instincts might kick in automatically, but in a complex system like a pack, chaos will ensue because there isn’t a previous generation to model good pack behaviour. The Isla Sorna raptors in the book are terrifying because they are chaotic; the only hierarchical marker is viciousness. The raptor nest is a mess; they trample on each other’s eggs, neglect their infants, and cannibalise the weak. The Sorna raptor pack in the movie The Lost World is organised enough to co-ordinate hunting, though they remain undisciplined and as likely to fight each other as target their prey. And yet, in a few years, by Jurassic Park III, they have learned to communicate, and to protect each other’s eggs? AND, they can somehow understand Dr Grant’s attempts to speak raptor? When the T-Rex pair got their infant back in The Lost World, they then returned to the trailer to thoroughly punish the humans. Surely a pack would do the same? What on earth did Dr Grant manage to say to the pack to appease them? It must have been a bit more impressive than “Help!”
Either Dr Grant managed to say something along the lines of this:
“Oh great and powerful raptors. Please forgive the egg stealing. We kept them safe for you. There is no need to kill us now. We’re friends, and you wouldn’t like the taste of us if you tried to eat us. We’ve been running around for ages in this sweaty jungle, terrified and showerless, and I’m sure we must smell bad. If you let us go, we’ll make sure no-one bothers you again. Humbly and with eternal gratitude, Dr Grant.”
Or the raptors didn’t understand a word of it, but they saw a guy who was so bad-ass that he’d turned part of a raptor skull into a flute, and was fearlessly taunting them with the remains of one of their fallen brethren, so they got the hell out of there before the terrifying psychopath did the same thing to them…
The new Nublar pack in Jurassic World is a more disciplined one because pack behaviour is taught to them; but even here, they have apparently lost that totally monstrous nature that so disgusted Muldoon in Jurassic Park. They accept a human as their alpha, albeit temporarily. And those bonds are so strong that their loyalty to him returns, even when that loyalty puts them in opposition to the Indominus. They are by no means tame, but pack loyalty overrides their survival instinct.
If Fallen Kingdom follows the same rate of development, Blue the raptor will have somehow developed opposable thumbs and the ability to read and write. She will probably use her new skills to reboot all the park’s security systems from the control room — hey, kids could do it in the first film and the second book. Maybe she sent a distress signal to the mainland and that is what inspires the rescue operation. Maybe she’ll set up her own twitter account…
We don’t just see dramatic escalation in raptor development; after the shock and awe of the first movie, the sequels have all had to ramp up the fear factor in order to keep the scares coming. As Obnoxious Kid The Younger says in Jurassic World, “We need more teeth!” That may as well be the motto of the franchise…
Unofficial Tooth Audit:
Jurassic Park: Rexy the T-Rex, 3 raptors, a venom-spitting dilophosaurus
The Lost World: More teeth! 2 adult T-Rexes, and the Sorna raptor pack
Jurassic Park III: More species! T-rexes are losing their magic now, so let’s focus on something bigger with less silly arms: the spinosaurus, which somehow managed to hide last time people went to Isla Sorna. You can hear it coming as it has a ringtone. The Sorna raptor pack are back, but let’s make them forgiving, and throw in some pterosaurs instead.
Jurassic World: More teeth and more species! No-one’s scared of T-Rex at all anymore, so we literally have to invent Super Raptor Psychosaurus. Let’s have hundreds of pterosaurs this time too. Let’s make the raptors kind of nice, then scary, then kind of nice again. WAIT — let’s have a mosasaurus as well! Land, water and sky dinosaurs: NOWHERE IS SAFE. OK, bring out Rexy at the end, to save the day again.
So what can we expect from Fallen Kingdom? You guessed it: even more species, and even more teeth. I’m calling it now: FIRE DINOSAUR. Obviously very different to a dragon. No? OK. There are at least some different predators in the trailer, but don’t worry — remember, we’re back on Isla Nublar, which means Rexy the friendly neighbourhood T-Rex is back to save people from other predators. She’s practically tame now, right? And SO MUCH nicer than those Isla Sorna ones… However, we have the addition of ‘more peril’ this time round too. Do dinosaurs not provide sufficient peril on their own any more? ‘People on dinosaur island’ is high concept enough, isn’t it? Why do we need ‘People on exploding dinosaur island’?
So can we look forward to? First up, there don’t seem to be any obnoxious genius children on dinosaur island. No invited guests, stowaways or unfortunate parasailing victims. No miniature hackers, gymnasts or survivalists. No barely-veiled excuse to draw out an adult character’s parental instincts and encourage them to focus on breeding rather than their life’s work. (The young looking chap in the trailer is 22, so he’s just a young’un rather than a child.) There are glimpses of a young girl in some of the promo material, but it seems like she’s part of the off-island storyline. So that’s new!
Secondly, all hail the return of The Blessed Jeff Goldblum as Sexy Unbuttoned Mathematician Dr Malcolm. From what we’ve heard so far though, don’t get too excited, as his role is meant to be a ‘meaningful’ cameo. Sorry. Here’s a gif to numb the pain.
So it looks like the movie is resting on Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire, and Chris Pratt, the Perpetual Runner-Up In Best-Chris Competitions, as Owen, pictured in the trailer with a cute little baby raptor. AWWWW! IT SOUNDS LIKE IT’S PURRING! DAMN IT, they are meant to be terrifying!
Perhaps Rexy could get a romantic storyline this time. She’s been there since the beginning, all on her own. Perhaps they’ll take inspiration from King Kong, and have her fall in love with Owen. Maybe she will try to keep him as a pet, and then he will email Blue and get her to come and rescue him, then they can all team up to fight
a dragon a fire dinosaur evil scientists.
Alas, there is not much sign of that in the trailer, which instead shows humans and veggiesauruses trapped between something much worse than a rock and a hard place: death by volcano, death by meatosauruses, or death by falling off a cliff and drowning. But the trailer only covers the first hour or so of the movie, and the general impression coming through from interviews is that there is something darker going on in Fallen Kingdom.
Whether the tone is darker or not, the same questions seem to be there:
Do the creators of the dinosaurs have a moral obligation to ensure their welfare, even though they shouldn’t have made them in the first place? (Yeah, probably.)
Will life find a way to protect them again? (Perhaps they can all learn to swim? They managed to overcome the lysine contingency as well as breed, so surely swimming shouldn’t be too hard for them…)
Will the rescue party be motivated by a desire to protect, or a desire to save valuable corporate assets? (Probably both. Either two teams, or a not-so-hidden agenda.)
Will I love this film even if it’s silly and predictable? (Yeah, probably. Just take my money.)
Are you sure we can’t have a fire dinosaur? (Let it go.)
Let me know what you’re expecting and what you’d like to see!