The year was 1993. CGI had made an appearance in a few films up until this point (most notably in 1991's Terminator 2), but no one had been able to get skin looking natural and real. Then Steven Spielberg gave us an adaptation of Michael Crichton's techno-thriller Jurassic Park, and cinema changed forever.
I could go on for hours about how incredible and important of a film Jurassic Park is. It not only is a wonderful adaptation of the novel it is based on, but it brought CGI into the next century; while also birthing a massive, billion dollar franchise that has spanned 30 years. But none of this would be possible without the brilliant directing of Steven Spielberg and the excellent story penned by Michael Crichton.
That original film blew my mind at the tender age of 6. I have always loved dinosaurs. So seeing these majestic and terrifying creatures on the big screen was pure magic before my eyes. I wanted to be a paleontologist just like Alan Grant. I have vivid memories of watching Jurassic Park over and over again. Except one particular scene. The T-Rex escape scared me half to death! But I loved the film so much, I had the timing of that scene down to the second. So as soon as it started, I would walk out of the room and count on my fingers until that scene was over, then walk right back in and finish the film. Of course, as I got older, that scene became one of my absolute favorites.
And then we got The Lost World, and I experienced what a film with Jeff Goldblum as the main character was all about! The story may not have been as good, but the action was crazier, there were plenty more dinosaurs, and Jeff had me rolling on the floor laughing.
Jurassic Park III (the black sheep of the franchise) will always have a special place in my heart. The Spinosaurus is my favorite dinosaur, so seeing it chase down our heroes on the big screen was simply magical for me. JP3 was also (along with Jim Carrey and Ron Howard's How the Grinch Stole Christmas) the very first DVD I ever owned. I watched the behind the scenes features on that DVD over and over again, which ignited my passion for film.
Then, years went by and we all thought the franchise had reached its end. Until 2015 when Jurassic World came out and reignited the flame! Its success spawned two sequels (Fallen Kingdom and Dominion) and a television show (Camp Cretaceous). So with the newest "final" film, the franchise has wrapped up seven adventures worth of stories; spanning from Isla Nublar to the Biosyn Valley. But which ones are the best? Which ones are the worst? Time to find out!
So, are ya'll ready to run from some dinos? "Hold onto you butts," this is A Jurassic Franchise Review!
**Please note that these reviews will feature spoilers from all six films, including the newest film Jurassic World: Dominion, and seasons 1-4 of Camp Cretaceous.**
So, let's dive right in with the original Jurassic Park!
What can I say about Jurassic Park that hasn't already been said? It's hard to come up with anything that some other scholarly source hasn't already discussed at length. This film holds up so wonderfully. Adapted from the stellar novel by Michael Crichton by screenwriting legend David Koepp, Jurassic Park changed the face of filmdom forever. Sure, Spielberg may have invented the Blockbuster with Jaws, but this is where he PERFECTED IT.
It's a film that never needs to be remade.
The build up and suspense is perfect. Spielberg wisely builds the excitement of seeing real life dinosaurs for the first twenty minutes before finally giving us the Brachiosaurus scene (one of the most beautiful moments in film history). He then pulls back and doesn't let us see another dinosaur until Sam Neill has his moment with the Triceratops. Even still, it isn't until an hour into the film when the T-Rex finally escapes and all hell breaks loose. This film is an exercise in restraint. In teasing your audience until they just can't bear it anymore and then BAM! Hitting them with shocker after shocker in the back half.
But all that build up is worth it.
At this point, we really know (and truly care) about our characters. Alan Grant is a gruff guy with a tender heart. And even though the book starts off with him already liking kids, here we see a man grow to love the kids he is forced to take care of. It's a great arc for him. Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcom is a wry, sarcastic, an insanely egotistical fireball of a man. And we watch him react to the knowledge that he was right all along with absolute giddy. Laura Dern's Ellie Sattler is smart and competent; standing on her own among the rest of the cast. She handles what happens in the park better than half of her co-stars. And how could I write about this film without at least mentioning Wayne Knight's Dennis Nedry? He's absolutely iconic. Even characters with far less screen time like Sam Jackson's Mr. Arnold, BD Wong's Dr. Wu or Bob Peck's Muldoon feel real and lived in.
As for its faithfulness to the book, Jurassic Park is an example of how to get an adaptation right. Lines of dialogue and scenarios are lifted straight out of the novel. And even though some things have been changed (like Alan not liking children in the beginning, Lex being FAR less useless, and Hammond being much nicer) they still work well for the new medium. Characters need to be useful. As precocious and adorable as Lex is in the book, they had to give her something to do other than scream and get in the way. Likewise, making Hammond a much nicer proprietor helps the audience care more about the scenarios because we see that this man never had evil intentions. It becomes much more tragic and helps elevate the "man vs. nature" elements. But what is great is how scenes that were left on the cutting room floor made their way into the sequels. The scene from the novel with the rich family on the beach is placed at the beginning of The Lost World. The sequence in the aviary and the river chase are used quite effectively in JP3. Even Wu's dialogue about changing the genome and crafting the animals to their own specifications becomes a massive plot point in the entire Jurassic World trilogy.
But we came here for the dinosaurs.
Many people remember the dinosaurs being in this film far more than they actually are. Spielberg wisely crafts each scene so that our imagination takes us further than special effects ever could. His mixing of animatronic puppets (crafted by the brilliant Stan Winston) with CGI is brilliant. And something a lot of modern Blockbuster filmmakers need to learn from. Notice how he NEVER has a fully CGI creature be the only thing in focus in his scenes? Whenever it is a close up and the dinosaur is the main focus of shot, it's almost entirely a real puppet. And whenever the dinosaur is CGI in the shot, Spielberg always has other real things around the dinosaur in focus. This way, we focus less on the CGI animal and more on the image as a whole. Later films in this very franchise, and dozens of other modern Blockbusters, like to have a fully CGI character be the ONLY thing in the shot. When this happens, our eyes immediately pick up on tiny details in the lighting and texture that give it away as fake. If you have something else real in the shot, it helps trick our eyes better.
Lighting is also nearly perfect here. That is one of the hardest things to get right in a CGI character. But once you nail it, it helps elevate weaker elements and pulls the image together. If you pause the film, you'll certainly see faults in the CGI. Things like the neck of the Velociraptor folding into itself when it rears its head. Or maybe the dinosaur's foot doesn't quite stay still on the ground. I mean, the film is 30 years old! But the lighting is so good that when you're watching the film in motion, your eye doesn't catch those small mistakes. Because the animal fits perfectly in its environment regardless of its rubbery skin texture. Our eyes glaze over the issue because it LOOKS like it belongs. Modern CGI tends to focus more on getting the skin texture right and making sure it looks real when an image is still. So much so that they don't get the lighting right; which immediately sets a character apart as CGI, regardless of how good your textures are.
But John William's music is the glue that pulls it all together.
This film has one of the most iconic musical scores ever made. The swelling violins perfectly capture the wonder and amazement on display here. It enhances the imagination, and helps us feel even more terrified when all the safety systems break down. John Williams is a legend and this music will go down in history as some of his best and most influential. Think about all the musical scores that came out after this film that tried to capture its spirit. It's countless.
Jurassic Park has barely aged a day. The characters are iconic, the directing is impeccable, and that musical score is one of legend. If you look really carefully, you'll see faults in the CGI (skin folding into itself or rubbery-looking textures, etc.), but the wonder is on full display here and that never ages. The build up is perfect, and the payoff is more than worth the wait. It's a film I could watch over and over again and never get tired of. One of Spielberg's very best. Simply put, Jurassic Park isn't just a masterpiece of the Blockbuster genre, it's a PERFECT film all around.
When the first Jurassic Park film broke the box office, Michael Crichton decided to return to the world of cloned dinosaurs and delivered a sequel to his original novel entitled The Lost World. Starring Ian Malcom who "only slightly died" in the previous novel, The Lost World has a much weaker story when compared to its father, but makes up for it by being one of the most engaging and enthralling thrillers I've ever read. Spielberg delivers the same here, and even improves on the story a little bit in the process.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is King Kong with dinosaurs.
Think about it. Both films feature people traveling to a mysterious island with good intent. Both films also feature a villain who wants to take the wonders of the island off said island for profit. Both films then end with that wonderful creature wreaking havoc on the mainland, proving that man was never meant to tame nature. John Williams even weaves his classic JP theme in-between lower, more tribal and drum-heavy orchestral pieces. Once I point it out, it's impossible to ignore. But that's part of what makes The Lost World work so well. It's a loving homage to the old adventure serials of yesterday. A pulpy dive into a forgotten world where dinosaurs exist and man is but a footnote in the history of nature's wonder.
Jeff Goldblum is is top form in this film. This might be one of my favorite performances of his. He has Ian Malcom down so well that it's impossible to separate the two now. He is so done with InGen and Hammond and dinosaurs. This is a man who truly loathes what he's been brought into. The book gives Ian a very unbelievable reason to go to Isla Sorna (aka "Site B", and island number two in the Five Deaths island chain). The story is framed as a rescue mission (just like the film), but in the book he goes to rescue fellow scientist Levine. Levine has intrigued Malcom with his theories on extinction. But I never felt that strong of a connection between Malcom and Levine. In fact, the book details several examples of why they actually dislike each other. In the book, Ian and Sarah Harding (played wonderfully in the film by Julianne Moore) are ex lovers. By making them current lovers, the movie immediately adds an emotional connection and a sense of immediacy to the rescue mission. Malcom is now personally involved and THAT is why he agrees to go to a place he knows will be fraught with peril. It works far better.
Jeff and Julianne are surrounded by some really solid side characters. While not quite as iconic as the supporting crew of the first film, Richard Schiff's Eddie Carr, Pete Postlethwaite's Roland Tembo, and even Vince Vaughn's Nick Van Owen make the most of their characters. Roland has a wonderful small moment where, after discovering the corpse of his friend (Peter Stormare's Dieter who's death mirrors Joh Hammond's death in the first novel), he informs Sarah "no one tells the little girl." This is a really great moment that shows that even though Roland may be a big game hunter, and one of the film's antagonists, he's still human. He knows the kind of damage this knowledge will do to Vanessa Chester's Kelly (who is a combination of the two child characters from the book).
Kelly herself is a memorable character. Though not always for good reason.
She features in one of the franchise's sillier moments where she kicks a Velociraptor onto a pile of wood. Many people groan at this moment, but I've never had too big of a problem with it. The film does a good enough job of setting it up with her gymnastics backstory. And Jeff Goldblum's line "the coach cut you from the team?" always makes me chuckle. Her and Jeff have very good chemistry throughout. I completely buy that she is his child from a previous relationship. They share some really great moments, including one of my favorite lines in the film when she is about to back Sarah Harding and Malcom tells her "it is so important to your future that you do not finish that sentence." Classic!
The overall plot and structure of The Lost World: Jurassic Park is very similar to the novel it's based on. Several moments of action and lines of dialogue are lifted right off the page. But the details changed drastically in the transition to the big screen. Some of the abandoned elements, like the chameleon-like Carnotaurus, would be recycled later in the franchise (in Jurassic World to be exact).
But again I say, we came for the dinosaurs!
Yes, every little child's response when they heard there was a sequel to Jurassic Park was "what dinosaurs are in it?" And boy oh boy, Spielberg does NOT disappoint. There are more than twice as many dinosaurs with twice as much screen time here in the sequel. Spielberg wisely gives us a few moments of wonder and joy with these prehistoric beauties before ratcheting the action up to eleven. He recreates several iconic moments from the novel nearly beat for beat. In one scene he captures a moment in the novel featuring a heard of Triceratops except he uses a heard of Stegosaurs; much like how he used a Triceratops for the scene in the first film where the novel used a Stegosaurus.
The effects here are even better than the first film. The lighting is perfect or nearly perfect in almost every CGI shot. And the animatronics are even more life-like than before. These animals are REAL. But Spielberg's masterstroke is the attack on the trailer. This is (in my opinion) the best action scene in the entire franchise. It matches the action in the novel nearly perfectly. After Ian and Sarah save the life of a baby T-Rex, the parents come calling. And they are NOT happy.
The tension is so real and intense. Everything goes from bad to worse in a matter of seconds leaving you scrambling (much like the characters themselves) to hold on for dear life. Eddie Carr is one of the bravest characters in the series and truly dies a hero's death. But that's when the film turns and now our characters are forced to team up with the very people they fought against when they first arrived on the island. It is a wonderful situational reversal that challenges how our characters react to one another. This is where the film really speeds up. One situation seamlessly bleeds into another, going from camp attack to the raptors stalking the survivors in the long grass before you even know it. And what a sequence that is!
To see the raptors slowly approach through the grass is an eerie sight to behold. It stands out as one of the best sequences in the series.
All of it culminates in an outlandish, but still believable, ending with the T-Rex transported to San Diego where it wreaks havoc. This is such an amazing ending that it literally took the franchise four more sequels to finally get back to the concept of seeing dinosaurs invade everyday society. You can tell Spielberg is having a blast here, and that energy is infectious. Just like in King Kong, we are giddy at seeing our everyday surroundings trashed by a prehistoric beast. If you speak Japanese, you'll even catch one moment that calls back to Godzilla, the original rampaging dinosaur!
Needless to say, The Lost World: Jurassic Park is Spielberg at his most childish fun. He is having a blast, and so am I every time I watch this film. It may not have the strongest storyline, but Spielberg's masterful directing and Jeff Goldblum's effortless charm help elevate this from being a standard run-of-the-mill sequel.
While it wasn’t as well received during its theatrical run as its predecessor, time has been very kind to The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Sure the story isn't as good as the first film (a symptom carried over from the novel), and some of the characters are less iconic. But The Lost World is a thrill ride; an adrenaline shot that builds until it pops with such excitement and energy that you can't help but smile. Jeff Goldblum brings the perfect wit and eccentricities to Ian Malcom; a man who is truly tired of saying "I told you so." With dialogue as memorable as the action sequences, Spielberg proves that stellar directing can make a lesser story just as exciting. So while JP will always remain the best film of the franchise, this first sequel is my personal favorite of the bunch.
The year was 2001. I had just turned 10 and was reaching the peak of my dinosaur obsession. And luck would have it, I was blessed with a new Jurassic Park film! Jurassic Park III is considered by many to be the black sheep of the franchise. But director Joe Johnston, yea THAT Joe Johnston (director of Jumanji, Captain America: The First Avenger, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, and The Rocketeer) has crafted a killer thriller that isn’t nearly as bad as most people make it out to be.
Alan Grant is still the lovable curmudgeon we all know and love. He is running another dig for his students while staying as far away from living dinosaurs as possible. That is until wealthy couple Paul and Amanda Kirby (played by William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) come to him with an offer: an arial tour of Isla Sorna, far away from the danger, in exchange for funding for his dig. With money scarce, Alan agrees to what he thinks will be a simple pay day. But as we learn, the Kirby’s are not who they say; for their son (Eric) has been lost during a very ill advised parasailing accident and they refuse to leave without him. They're also paint and tile folk, not the rich socialites they introduced themselves as. Alan will be forced to deal with these hapless boobs while fleeing from even more dinos, some far more deadly than his last encounter, on an island he's never been to before.
I love how quick of a turn this film has.
It goes to great lengths setting up that Cooper and his men (mercenaries hired by the Kirby’s to keep them safe) are badass dudes that know how to handle anything. And the second they land on the island, they are shit out of luck; IMMEDIATELY running into the new menace, the Spinosaurus, and turning tail back to the plane. The two most qualified guys to lead are the first ones to go, leaving the rest of our civilians stranded with no way off. This film's opening action sequence packs a wallop. Once the 20 minute mark hits, we are off to the races in a brutal and terrifying plane crash scene that turns into a Spino vs. T-Rex fight without missing a beat. This is an EIGHT MINUTE ACTION SCENE! It's one of the longest continuous action sequences in the franchise and honestly, it's such a strong start that the film struggles at times to keep up with its high energy.
The pacing is rigorous. Once the group lands on the island, there is barely a moment to stop for a breath. This is wonderful, but also a detriment. This is the shortest JP movie by far, clocking in at a mere 1 hour and 32 minutes! By comparison, the next shortest film in the series is Jurassic World, which clocks in at 2 hours and 4 minutes. That's a difference of 32 MINUTES!! There could have been so much more here! In fact, you can almost feel some missing chunks. Scenes are clearly edited out, and odd transitions feel like the studio was trying to speed things along. The ending comes very abruptly and leaves you dissatisfied with the resolution. But the ride is fun while it lasts.
By introducing a brand new super predator in the Spinosaurus (my all-time favorite dinosaur), JP3 starts playing with the concept of InGen making secret experiments not listed in any database… something the Jurassic World films will take and run with. The Spinosaurus is a wonderful addition to the world, though some fans took issue with it killing the franchise icon, our beloved T-Rex. But Spino is a wholly evil beast in its own right. This is the only time in the franchise where the lead dinosaur continuously stalks our characters throughout the entire film. Think about it. The T-Rex wasn't stalking anyone in JP, it was just around and free. The Rexes in The Lost World were defending their territory and child. The Indominus in Jurassic World just went after anyone and anything it could find. The Indoraptor in Fallen Kingdom does stalk Owen and Maisie, but only in the final moments of the film. And our characters just happen to run into the Giganotosaurus in Dominion. But once they hit ole Spiny with that plane in JP3, he's got his eye on them for the rest of the picture. So the Spino just has that extra menacing quality to him.
The phone ringing in its belly might be slightly silly. But at the same time, you know that when that phone rings, you're fucked.
The Velociraptors have an interesting role in this film. This is where the franchise starts showing more of the intelligent and even paternal side of the vicious dinosaurs. They're still skilled and calculated hunters (with one scene involving them setting a trap). But here we also see how they defend their children and even call each other for help. They also follow our characters, but not simply to eat them. Billy (played by Alessandro Nivola) decides to take several of their eggs and store them in his "lucky pack" (a lazy rip-off of Sarah's "lucky pack" from the previous film). So now the raptors are stalking our characters in addition to the Spino. Damn, they really are screwed! Alan also makes use of a 3D printed vocal chamber from Velociraptor fossils to effectively communicate with the beasts. This feels like a wonderful linking piece between the vicious beasts of JP and the trainable animals that Owen has in JW. The raptors in this film also have my favorite look of the series. That blue/grey with the red eyes and the feathers on the head is so aesthetically pleasing.
This film also finally gives us deadly new flying reptiles. Yes the pteranodons glimpsed at the end of the previous film are now attacking in full force. In fact, their sequence in the aviary is not only heavily inspired by a scene from the first novel, but it's one of the best action scenes in the franchise.
The pteranodons are straight up terrifying. I mean, just look at this shot right here.
Those eyes scared the hell out of me as a child, and even 20 years later, they still give me the willies. The special effects in this scene are also stellar, even by today's standards. The finale action sequence involving the Spinosaurus hunting our characters down in the river is also a thrilling scene. This part is inspired by a sequence in the first novel where the T-Rex chases Alan, Timmy, and Lex. Although the inter-cutting to Barney the Dinosaur may not be Jurassic Park's finest hour.
JP3 went through notorious production woes. The script was changed DAILY. The producers, writers, and director could never come to a full agreement. Which may be why the film 's editing feels choppy at times. The addition of Ellie Sattler simply to have her be married to a man who can provide a deus ex machina at the end is a waste of a fine character. (But I mean, I'll take any amount of Laura Dern I can get). Combine that with problems with animatronics, and it’s pretty much a miracle this film turned out pretty decent. The famous duel between the Spino and T-Rex was supposed to be fully animatronic, and much longer. Except when the scene was shot, the newer stronger Spino animatronic LITERALLY ripped the head off of the T-Rex machine that was pulled out of storage after The Lost World.
The studio needed to scramble to find enough money in the budget to complete the scene in CGI. That actually may be why this is the film where weaker moments of CGI start to pop up. By 2001 CGI had become cheaper and easier, so now is where we start to see dinos that don't quite match their environment due to bad lighting. To be fair, most of the shots still look fantastic. And even the bad shots still look fairly good considering this film is 20 years old. But here is where we start getting more "really good CGI shots" as opposed to a "living breathing dinosaur." The green screen in the beginning is also pretty obvious.
There are several dumb moments that happen throughout the film. Some are moments of comedy that miss the mark, like the above mentioned Barney cut-away gag, but others are meant to be taken seriously. The most famous of these is when Alan has a nightmare that ends with a Velociraptor calling his name. I get what it's trying to do; show that Alan is still traumatized by the raptors and their intelligence. Also, it's a dream and weird things happen in dreams.
But even still, it just comes across as silly. It actually might be one the silliest moments in the whole series. Top 5 at least.
Some fans have argued that the Kirby's are the most annoying characters in the franchise. I would have to disagree (I'll tell you who the most annoying characters in the franchise are when we get to their film). William H. Macy and Tea Leoni play their parts wonderfully. And yeah, Amanda may shout "Eric!" a lot and we as the audience know that is stupid. But that's kind of the point. It adds tension because we're expecting something to show up and investigate the noise. These two are regular everyday schmoes. Up until this point, most of the people in these movies have been some kind of expert (paleontologist, paleobotanist, chaotician, etc.). Now we see how an average middle-class family would fare on this island. And it would SUCK. But these characters also have a few human moments that keep them from being cliches. Two of these include Paul Kirby's boat story, and a moment when he walks in on Amanda (his ex wife) changing. Him covering his eyes just says so much about what kind of man he is. I've also seen people say Eric surviving on the island is unbelievable. But if you can believe that Newt survived on LV-426 in Aliens, you should have no problem believing that a capable teen could find shelter and hunker down for a few weeks.
Jurassic Park III gets a bad rap. But looking at what it presents to you (and the troubles it faced simply being made), I think it turned out pretty good. The pacing is as ferocious as the new threats. Speaking of, the Spino is a monster and the pteranodons are terrifying. And I have fun watching these characters realize they are in completely over their heads. It does feature some silly moments and odd editing, but I certainly don't think it's as bad as many make it out to be. Maybe I have some rose-colored glasses on due to my nostalgia for this film, but the directing is solid, the acting is realistic, and the action scenes are thrilling. If I want to enjoy a shorter trip to Isla Sorna, JP3 is not a bad choice.
Jurassic Park III came out and, even though it made plenty at the box office, everyone thought that was the end of the franchise. For years nothing new came from the world of Jurassic, until 2015 when relatively new filmmaker Colin Trevorrow partnered with producer Steven Spielberg to re-open the park! Jurassic World is the fourth film in the franchise, and although it wasn't perfect, it conquered its flaws and brought about a brand new Jurassic age to audiences everywhere.
The park is finally open!
Jurassic World brings the dinosaur action back to the big screen in a really exciting way. Yes, some plot points in the film, and several nostalgic elements, repeat beats from Jurassic Park. But these are purposeful and respectful nods to what has come before. Don't worry, the film also brings us several brand new elements to the franchise. Firstly, we get to see what a working park actually looks like! With working rides, concessions, exhibits, and even a damn petting zoo. Jurassic Park never had any of these things. This feels like a true-to-life amusement park, cheekiness included. In fact, the film has several points where it pokes fun at the commercialism of it all. It has a wry sense of humor about how ridiculous this would all be. And yet, it still feels like this is what would happen if a giant conglomerate made a biological amusement park.
This is Sea World with dinosaurs.
In fact, this film has multiple moments of satire, and not just directed at the amusement park industry. Several gags poke fun at action movie cliches, like Claire tying her shirt and saying "this means I'm ready." Or at the end when hapless geek Lowery (played by Jake Johnson) goes in for a kiss with his co-worker, only for her to tell him "I have a boyfriend." When he inquires why she never talks of him, she simply says "because this is work, it would be inappropriate." Fair point. This satirical slant helps the humor hit the target more often than not, something this film's sequels struggle to do.
(If you would like to dive deeper into the satire on display in this film, I recommend reading bullet point #4 in this article here.)
The next interesting step this film presents is the training of raptors. Chris Pratt's character Owen Grady is their trainer. I love how the film presents this concept. The raptors are basically treated as you would treat a lion. These are vicious and dangerous animals. Just because they are smart enough to learn commands does not mean they won't try to kill you if you turn your back on them. Something one unlucky handler finds out the hard away. This film really hones in on the intelligence factor of the raptors in a big way. And it is something that the entire JW trilogy will continue to explore. We also get our new mascot for the franchise in Blue. Blue is the most intelligent and empathetic of the raptors, and her relationship with Owen is something each film will build on.
But our grandest addition is the brand new dinosaur, the Indominus Rex!
The Indominus Rex is a hybrid animal created specifically for the park. Keeping with the tradition of mocking commercialism, it seems that after 10 years of business, people just aren't as excited to see a living dinosaur as they used to be. Hilarious, and very true-to-life. So Dr. Wu (BD Wong returning from Jurassic Park) cooks up something fierce and terrifying to boost profits. This actually begins a trilogy of hybrid storylines that will continue to play out in Camp Cretaceous and Fallen Kingdom. The Indominus is a welcome addition to the dinosaur cast, and certainly one of the scariest beasts to roam the park. Its breakout sets in motion a chain of events that will shut the park down and throw everything into chaos.
This film certainly has the most interesting storyline of the sequels so far. And it's closer in feel to the OG film than The Lost World or JP3. Because while we deal with the escaped dinosaurs, Claire (one of the higher-ups in the park and played by Bryce Dallas Howard) must find her nephews who are lost somewhere in the park. This gives us another cast of youngsters to follow, and adds an emotional core to the film. So if the story is better than the previous films, is this the best sequel? Well sadly, no. This comes down to the two biggest problems with the film: writing and directing.
The writing is the biggest issue, so I'll start there.
Let me begin by saying that I do not think this film is terribly written. The scene with Wu discussing the DNA code in the Indominus is one of my favorite scenes in the franchise and perfectly encapsulates several technological/philosophical discussion points from Crichton's novels. But there are several key plot points that feel really lazy that bring down the whole proceedings. The most egregious is the way in which the Indominus escapes. The animal changes its thermal readings and color to hide from the handlers. Thus, once they go inside the cage to check, it attacks and escapes. Cool. But there are two really annoying leaps in logic that make this scenario possible. Owen (Navy tracker, trainer of raptors, and all around serious badass) notices that there are scratches on the inside of the walls. Did the beast escape? Well maybe instead of immediately jumping in the cage, you should check the other side of that wall and see if the tracks continue... right? Oh, no, you just go right in. Also, Claire leaves to call into the control room to check on the GPS tracker implanted in the dinosaur. You didn't want to check on that BEFORE your pals went into the cage? Why didn't she just call from the viewing center she was just in? Bad reception apparently. In fact, bad reception is the cause of several moments of miscommunication and drama throughout, with no explanation given. Lazy. So basically, the Indominus escapes due to human stupidity.
The second issue is the directing.
Again, I'm going to preface this by saying that for his very first massive Blockbuster film, Colin Trevorrow does a very good job. This is a franchise that is very special for many people and Colin had a lot riding on this film's success. Considering all of this, it's fairly well directed. But there are certainly sections where you can feel his inexperience. Chris Pratt gives a good performance, but several moments feel hollow. He wasn't given enough to work with. There are also a few moments of action that feel a little amateurish. Like certain shot choices during the Indominus escape and the famous raptor run. The raptor run in particular is a fairly fun sequence, but it almost overstays its welcome. This film could greatly benefit from some tighter editing. These small issues keep good moments from being truly great moments.
In addition, this is the only film in the franchise to have completely CGI dinosaurs. Big mistake.
Not having a real puppet for lighting reference, aside from a mechanical Apatosaurus head, makes life a lot harder for your animators. The special effects are certainly good, but sadly the "good GGI" shots are more abundant than the "real animal" shots. The dinosaurs are just a little too shiny. This is partially due to Trevorrow making one massive mistake when it comes to digital characters: making them the only thing in the frame. When we have absolutely nothing real in the shot, our eyes are able to pick apart the inconsistencies in lighting a lot faster. The ending hero shot of Blue has not aged well. In fact, the CGI in this shot looks to be about the same quality as some of the weaker shots from Jurassic Park III (which is equal parts a slight on this film, and praise for that 20 year old film). Thankfully, the filmmakers learned their lesson and integrated more puppetry into the following sequels.
But the good news is that by and large, most of these writing and directing issues are over with by the end of Act One. Once the Indominus escapes, the good outweighs the bad and Jurassic World becomes a thrilling and nail biting adventure. There are several memorable action sequences including the aviary break out and the final showdown between Rexy, Blue and the Indominus Rex; with our friend the Mosasaurus making a special appearance.
Jurassic World is a great comeback for the franchise. It has some thrilling action scenes, an interesting story, and a crazy cool new creature. I just can't help think that it could have been even better with another script polish, more animatronics, and a slightly more experienced director at the helm. If Spielberg or Johnston had returned to direct this, it would have been the best since the original. Problems aside, Jurassic World is still one of the better entries in the franchise.
I won't go into as much detail, but I do think it is important to at least touch on the Netflix series Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous, as this show has become rather important to the overall DNA of the Jurassic World trilogy. The first television series set in the Jurassic franchise, Camp Cretaceous starts out as a children's show, but rather quickly becomes quite thrilling; regardless of the target audience. The dangers of Isla Nublar are not tame.
Taking place during the events of Jurassic World, the first season of Camp Cretaceous does an exciting job of running parallel to the film that inspired it. We get to see events taking place on the other side of the island as our campers Darius, Kenji, Sammy, Yaz, Brooklyn, and Ben join Jurassic World's new summer camp program. Once the Indominus escapes, the show expertly connects the pieces by having our characters from the show encounter the beast in-between scenes from the film.
The first season ends with the gutsy decision of leaving our group of campers stranded on Isla Nublar.
Seasons 2 and 3 then take place during the six month period between the ending of Jurassic World, and the opening scene of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. These seasons deal with big game hunters and the perils of living on an island populated by dinosaurs. One of which, Bumpy, an asymmetrical Anklyosaurus adopted by Ben becomes extremely lovable and the show's mascot. But don't be fooled. Bumpy grows quickly and becomes quite formidable. Season 3 also introduces the deadly Scorpius Rex.
This monster is revealed to be Dr. Wu's first attempt at a hybrid. Yes, a secret experiment BEFORE the Indominus Rex. But this creature was deemed too unstable and ugly for the park. A great reminder of the commercial elements behind a profitable amusement park/zoo. The Scorpius is a scary and deadly addition to the Jurassic World legacy and its inclusion in the story helps bridge the gaps of the hybrid storyline between Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom. Speaking of, season 3 not only gives more credence to why the volcano on Isla Nublar becomes unstable, but it also ends with a two-part episode that links directly into the opening scene of the fifth Jurassic film.
Season 3 ends with our heroes finally escaping Isla Nublar.
But as the fourth season begins, our campers find themselves stranded on one of the other Five Deaths islands. Season 4 very well may "jump the shark", by including the addition of autonomous robots into the mix. Mantah Corp, a rival company to InGen, uses automated robots vaguely resembling dogs to manage the dinosaurs on their island facility. Robots may seem a bridge too far for some, but really, this is a franchise about genetically created dinosaurs... so, are automated robots REALLY that hard to believe? This season also introduces the idea of dinosaur fight rings, non-dinosaur related creations, weaponizing animals for military use, and other plot points that will become important in the final two films of the franchise. In truth, I think the addition of the show helps fill in plot holes, and make some of the more outlandish story elements feel more lived in and explored. And season 4 brings back my favorite Spinosaurus for another round of chaos!
And then just a few weeks after the release oF Dominion, the fifth and final season was released. This season did a wonderful job of tying all the loose thread of the franchises together. We saw how Lewis Dodgson gets the Barbasol can, we witness the herding chips' first use, and we even get justice for the death of the T-Rex Buck in JPIII!
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous is a rather fun expansion of the Jurassic franchise. It features engaging characters, exciting action, and beautiful animation (that improves with each season). The show also fills in plot holes, gives us new genetic creations, and even some extra time with our old favorites. Some of the writing can be a bit childish at times, but that doesn't ruin it from being pretty darn entertaining.
Here's where things start to go wrong. When I first heard that Colin Trevorrow was not returning to direct Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, I was intrigued. As I mentioned above, I felt that his lack of experience was one of the few faults of the previous film. And then when they announced that Spanish director J.A. Bayona (director of The Orphanage, one of the best and saddest horror films of the past decade) signed on to direct, I was certain that Fallen Kingdom would be a superior sequel. Oh boy, was I wrong. Bayona does a fine job directing, but he can't fix the myriad of problems this script presents. This film has the weakest and most unoriginal story of the franchise, brings our characters to cartoonish levels of two-dimensional-ism, and offers nothing new to the world of Jurassic Park. Bummer.
Let's start with the story. The volcano on Isla Nublar is suddenly active. Why? Because the story needed it to be, damnit! (In point of fact, Camp Cretaceous does address this plot hole in a rather satisfying way, so maybe watch season 3 of that show before you watch this film.) Anyway, now that the island is in danger, our heroes need to find a way to save the dinosaurs. Claire is running an animal protection organization to help in this endeavor. She is invited by Eli Mills (played by Rafe Spall) to take part in a rescue operation to get the dinosaurs to safety. Eli runs the estate of James Cromwell's Benjamin Lockwood, former business partner of John Hammond. Why is this the first we are hearing of this partner? Because he never existed until now. But to his credit, Cromwell does a solid job of giving us a new Hammond figure in the franchise.
Claire recruits Owen to help out because he knows how to catch Blue. But when they arrive on the island, they are double crossed by dino tooth stealing Ken Wheatley (played by Ted Levine). Oh no, Eli was lying! And he plans on taking the dinosaurs to the Lockwood estate and selling them on the black market to the highest bidder. Eli is also revealed to be the man (and the money) behind Dr. Wu's hybrid experiments. They have taken the DNA of the Indominus Rex and have created a new super predator with the expressed interest of training it to be weapon of war. This predator is the Indoraptor.
There are a lot of bells and whistles in that plot. But the sad thing is that when you boil it down, it's the exact same storyline as The Lost World. Good guys want to save dinosaurs on an island, bad guys want to take dinosaurs off the island. The bad guys succeed and we end the film with a dinosaur wrecking havoc on the mainland. The only difference is that the turn is switched from "now we have to work with the enemy" to "we've been betrayed." And they throw in a volcano and another hybrid for good measure. The Indoraptor is cool, but we literally just had a film all about a hybrid dinosaur. It's less special now. Each previous film has brought new elements to the franchise. Fallen Kingdom does not. We've seen almost everything here before, and changing the setting does little to mask its familiarity. The only new element it brings to the table is the introduction of Maisie, a human clone, and the reason Lockwood and Hammond had their falling out. But sadly, this plot line does not get the attention it deserves and only truly gets fleshed out in the next film Dominion.
Fallen Kingdom suffers from "middle movie syndrome." The first half feels like a conclusion to Jurassic World, while the back half feels like a prologue to Dominion. Which leaves the film itself without a true identity.
This is a big issue, but it would have been easier to swallow if the script was better. FK features the worst script in the franchise by far. This film has the most instances of "bad humor." Jokes come at you left and right, and not a lot of them land. In addition, characters are no longer real in any sense. They are all just cliched versions of themselves. Owen is too much of an action star. So much so, that I don't even feel tense when he's in danger because I know he'll get out of it with nary a speck of dirt on him. Ted Levine does what he can with the character of Ken Wheatley, but he is written as a typical hunter villain and not much else. Meanwhile Rafe Spall (who I usually love) gives such an over-the-top performances as Eli that it's shocking anyone was convinced he was a nice guy to begin with. At least Arliss Howard's Peter Ludlow from The Lost World had some business savvy.
Remember earlier when I said that the Kirby's were NOT the franchise's most annoying characters and that I would bring them up once we got to them? Well, here we are.
Fallen Kingdom gives us the characters of Franklin Webb and Zia Rodriguez (played by Justice Smith, and Daniella Pineda respectively). Oh how I dislike these characters. Franklin is only there to be the annoying comedic relief. He doesn't want to be a part of the mission and complains at every turn, including ruining the traditional "I'm in awe looking at dinosaurs" moment featured at the beginning of each film. His high pitched scream is good for a laugh or two, but beyond that, he is an annoying addition to the human cast.
But Franklin pales in comparison to how much I hate Zia. Her inclusion in the story baffles me. She is a peleo-veterinarian. That's right, a dino-vet. I have no problem with this. The problem is that she's never been to the Jurassic World park. Hell, she's never even SEEN a live dinosaur! You're telling me that of the tens of dozens of vets that park clearly had to have staffed, none of them wanted to help Claire? Do they all resent the animals now? Was Claire really that bad of a boss? Did she purposefully seek out the most inexperienced person for the job? The world will never know. This is all made worse by how Daniella delivers her lines. She yells every line at whomever she talks to like they are her enemy. It does not matter if she is talking to evil hunter Ken, fellow co-worker Franklin, or her boss Claire. She snaps at them like they just asked her an insulting question EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Can you not be nice, even to your friends? Why are you so mad at everyone?
This grating personality of hers ironically makes Ken's line "what a nasty woman" his only human moment in the film.
In addition to character problems, there are moments where the screenwriters seem to forget the logic of something they already set up. Like when the Indoraptor can't smell Owen and Maisie hiding two feet below it, even though Claire said earlier that Blue (a regular Velociraptor and NOT a super hybrid) can smell a person two miles off. At one point, Zia tells Ken "these are powerful sedatives, one too many and she could have respiratory failure" while holding a tranquilizer dart meant for Blue. But later on, Owen is shot with one of those same darts and he wakes up and is able to shake off his drowsiness in minutes. This lack of logic makes his sluggish escape from lava involuntarily comedic and completely lacking in any tension. Owen is a superhero and he'll escape simply because the plot needs him to live. The same problem affects the dive off the cliff in the gryosphere. And even though I appreciate the use of animatronics in the scene where Owen and Claire draw blood from the T-Rex, Owen's escape through its jaws feels like a massive stretch. It may be the most ridiculous moment in the franchise simply because it feels so unnecessary and has no dramatic weight whatsoever.
This script desperately needed a polish. It turns out that this film was written while Colin Trevorrow was knee-deep in his ill-fated Star Wars: Episode IX - The Duel of the Fates. So even though he is credited as one of the screenwriters, I have a feeling that most of the writing was relegated to his writing partners.
But Brett, we don't care about the story or the script. We came here for the DINOSAURS!
Okay, fair enough. Ask and ye shall receive. This film doubles up on the dinosaur action. It also wisely brings back multiple animatronics. The animatronic for Blue is the most realistic dinosaur puppet I've ever seen on film. The Indoraptor was also created as a real animatronic and it certainly is one of the best looking dinosaurs in the series. Having a puppet adds that extra realism, and it helped the animators make sure the Indoraptor looked as real as possible. It really does look great. There are still a few weak shots, but by and large, the effects are an improvement from the previous film. J.A. Bayona may not be able to fix the script issues, but he certainly can direct an action sequence. A scene near the beginning featuring a Baryonyx is quite tense. The volcano run is suitable epic. And the finale with the Indoraptor makes great use of Bayona's horror skills. This sequence feels like a haunted house film and even features some clear homages to Nosferatu. Michael Giacchino also works over-time to create a musical score that really nails the epic legacy of the Jurassic franchise.
I also like the concept and the philosophical ramifications that Maisie brings to the table as a character. In a world where genetic manipulation seems to be the norm, it was only a matter of time before we started cloning humans. It's just a shame that her story really doesn't take hold until the next film. Fallen Kingdom actually works much better when viewed as a chapter in a saga as opposed to a singular self-contained story. Jurassic World leads directly to several plot points in the film and Camp Cretaceous adds context to some of the more outlandish elements. The opening scene of this film is even expanded upon in the final 2 episodes of the third season. This goes a great deal to help the film feel more complete.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is by far the weakest entry in the series. It has a few thrilling sequences, some beautiful special effects, and a kernel of a neat idea. But sadly, we've seen this story told before. And we've seen it told MUCH better. The script, and the absolutely grating additions to the human cast, only compound those problems. Still though, flawed Jurassic is still fun Jurassic. Bayona does what he can, but he was hired as a director not a screenwriter. It's clear he had no say in the story and simply shot this to the best of his ability. His hard work does show in several key sequences, including a haunting final act. It's just a shame this is his only contribution to the series. I hope he gets more work elsewhere because as long as he has a good story, he can do wonders. But just like how the Star Wars prequels work better with the addition of The Clone Wars, when viewed as a piece of the larger story that is Jurassic World, Camp Cretaceous, and Dominion, Fallen Kingdom turns out to be an important, but very flawed, chapter in the Jurassic saga.
SIDE NOTE 1: In Jurassic World, Simon Masrani says that he invested $20 million in the Indominus. And then here at the black market auction, Eli is selling each dinosaur for roughly $20-$40 million. Seeing as how Gal Gadot was recently paid $10 million for playing Wonder Woman and Amber Heard needs to pay Johnny Depp roughly $12 million after their lawsuit, $20 million per dinosaur feels EXTREMELY cheap. Like, laughably cheap. Shouldn't they be worth at least double? Or does the black market sell things at a cheaper price than market value? I'm not sure how that works.
Although perhaps in a world that has been genetically creating dinosaurs since before 1993, maybe the price tag has come down a lot???