How the Jurassic Park franchise lost its way on the road to its (alleged) final chapter, Jurassic World Dominion

click to enlarge How the Jurassic Park franchise lost its way on the road to its (alleged) final chapter, Jurassic World Dominion
Will Jurassic World Dominion have teeth or will it bite?

In 1993, dinosaurs walked the Earth.

Expertly weaving CGI and practical effects together, Jurassic Park was an event. Director Steven Spielberg captured the awe and terror of the magnificent extinct creatures. It is the type of work you could encase in amber, show it to people decades from now, and it'd still capture that same sense of awe. Through his sheer strength of vision, it created a legacy that's stood the test of time. Telling the story of foolhardy humans who believed they could resurrect prehistoric creatures for a theme park, it revealed how our own arrogance would be our demise if left unchecked.

This is quite an appropriate metaphor for the franchise expansion that followed the original film. Four years later there was 1997's The Lost World, the only sequel directed by Spielberg (which makes it the best of the bunch). Shortly after that was 2001's Jurassic Park III, a film most memorable for a strange moment where a character dreamed a dinosaur shouted their name at them. Then, more than a decade later, came 2015's Jurassic World and 2018's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Even with flashes of creativity, they felt derivative and lacked an understanding of what made the original so iconic.

Now, we are getting Jurassic World Dominion (June 10). Set four years after Fallen Kingdom, it shows a world where dinosaurs now roam the Earth freely. It has upended the established order of life, challenging whether people are the dominant force on the planet anymore. Returning are Chris Pratt's Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire Dearing, a pair of painfully shallow cardboard cutouts masquerading as the new trilogy's lead characters. Seemingly recognizing that these new characters haven't connected with people, the film is also bringing back a whole host of familiar faces from Jurassic Park: Sam Neill as Alan Grant, Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler and Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm.

It is part of this sixth Jurassic entry attempting to pivot to what has become known as a "legacy sequel," figuratively resurrecting the central characters that started it all and seeing where they are all these decades later. It is a move that reeks of nostalgia-fueled desperation, betraying a lack of confidence and imagination in the current trajectory of films.

It is easy to see why. The first 2015 sequel was a rather rote retread. It tried to offer something new under the guise of self-awareness that only came across as defensive and hollow. The second one in 2018 was a fascinating artifact as it took two vastly different films — one a generic action romp, the other a pseudo-fright fest — and tried to jam them into one feature. While there was a lot of fun to be had in what essentially became a haunted house with dinosaurs, it still couldn't hold a candle to its origins. That first film still shines bright, even as many of these subsequent incarnations have done their best to dampen it.

The dinosaur spectacle was the magnificent attraction, but what made Jurassic Park a cut above was its well-realized characters and how, despite all their flaws, they were an integral part of the experience. Pratt's Owen instead is a boilerplate generic action man, devoid of the necessary charisma and charm to carry such a film. To quote Dr. Ian Malcolm, "That is one big pile of shit." The return of the original cast is an indication the filmmakers know that, a transparent way to try to bring back some of the old magic. It is unlikely to achieve that goal.

What was captured before was lightning in a bottle, handled carefully by a committed cast and master craftsman. The legacy of Jurassic Park still endures, despite all the repeated efforts to cheapen it with an excess of sequels that fall far short of the brachiosaurus heights it reached. Thankfully, we can always return to the 1993 classic and know we'll be warmly greeted with a full-throated "Welcome to Jurassic Park." ♦

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