How ‘Jurassic World’ used the DNA of a beloved franchise to build a bold new universe
A brilliant chaos theorist once observed that “life … uh … finds a way.”
In Hollywood, so do multibillion-dollar properties. Hence the action fivequel “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” which roars into theaters Friday poised to devour the box office 25 years after the first film thrilled audiences around the globe.
Audiences appear to be as dino-crazy as ever over the franchise spawned from Steven Spielberg’s 1993 classic “Jurassic Park,” adapted from Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel about geneticists playing God with dinosaur DNA. The 2015 franchise-reviving “Jurassic World” scored record-breaking numbers before tallying $1.6 billion worldwide.
But “Jurassic World” also faced its share of criticism (remember the high-heels controversy? the filmmakers do), and franchise fatigue has set in before – 2001’s critically mauled “Jurassic Park III” put the series on ice for 14 years.
With a third “Jurassic World” film already in the works, to complete a planned second trilogy, the stewards of Universal Pictures’ valuable “Jurassic” universe have a tricky negotiation ahead: How do you keep the series’ core DNA intact while pushing a commercially vital franchise forward?
Early returns are promising, at least judging by overseas box office, with “Fallen Kingdom” opening to a better-than-expected $151 million from 48 markets over the June 8 weekend. (The film was released in key territories two weeks ahead of its U.S. launch, an unusual move but done largely to get ahead of World Cup frenzy.)
“I kind of see it like inheriting a garden,” said Colin Trevorrow, the director of “Jurassic World” and co-writer of each film in the new trilogy. “It is a verdant garden, and your job is to occasionally plant new seeds. But really you’re tending to something that was planted by someone else, and hopefully you can grow something new.
“We’ve been very careful and very thoughtful in every step of the way, and hopefully very respectful, but not too reverent. We want to hold it in our hands, but not too tight.”
New perspectives: One way to “grow something new” is to bring in a fresh perspective. In the case of “Fallen Kingdom,” that’s Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona, whose critically acclaimed work encompasses eerie horror (“The Orphanage”), survival drama (“The Impossible”) and emotionally charged fantasy (“A Monster Calls”). Elements of all, naturally, find their way into his “Jurassic.”
As a budding director about to enter film school, Bayona was among the legions of fans enthralled by Spielberg’s original film, which expanded everything he believed was possible in cinema.
“I never expected to see visual effects with that level of realism,” Bayona said, phoning from the Hawaiian island of Oahu that stood in for the fictional Isla Nublar in “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.”
“It was a game-changer,” he marveled. “I knew from that moment on that to tell stories in cinema would be totally different.”
Directing “Fallen Kingdom,” which picks up three years after the last film’s theme park turned into a nightmare buffet for genetically engineered prehistoric carnivores, he wanted to capture a sense of that movie magic he felt watching the first film decades ago.
“I remember the suspense of being in front of a T. rex for the first time, or the velociraptors in the kitchen. … I wanted to put myself in the position of the guy who saw ‘Jurassic Park’ for the first time to try to catch that same dimension,” he said.
The unique set pieces Bayona brings to life in the new film, from a script by Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, include a spectacular volcano eruption, an unexpectedly emotional image of a Brachiosaurus meeting its end, and a rooftop face-off between a domesticated dino and a new killing machine dubbed the Indo-Raptor.
Even so, it’s the little nods that bring Bayona’s “Fallen Kingdom” in spiritual alignment with its predecessors: A familiar glance in a rearview mirror; winged creatures soaring out over an ocean vista.
“As a director you try to create iconic shots that somehow resemble the original trilogy,” he said, “but we are (always) trying to switch the world that we are seeing in ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ upside down, telling you that the whole thing is getting more complicated, more complex.”
As the series progresses, the fundamental core of science run amok takes on increasingly greater stakes. For “Fallen Kingdom,” Bayona, Trevorrow and company sought balance between the Spielbergian emotions and thrills of the original film and deeper, more contemporary thematic concerns: How do we reckon with the consequences of past mistakes? How can we take responsibility for what’s happening around us?
These inward interrogations are embodied through former theme park manager Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and dinosaur trainer Owen (Chris Pratt), who, in “Fallen Kingdom,” are each examining the parts they played to help usher in a deadly new era of dinos walking the Earth.
The world around them is also struggling to reckon with the repercussions of what InGen has wrought: Animal rights activists fight for protections for the endangered dinosaurs; Congress holds hearings on what the government should do as a volcano threatens to kill the surviving creatures of Isla Nublar; international victims of Jurassic World seek legal damages; private arms dealers jockey to weaponize the most lethal of the dino corps.
“Overall what I’m trying to do is focus on the kind of things that Michael Crichton put into his work,” explained Trevorrow, who is writing the next sequel with Emily Carmichael and will also direct it. “Those were relevant ideas, even if they were disguised as dinosaur films. If we’re only making these movies that are these Frankenstein films about the dangers of messing with nature, there’s a repetitiveness to that. And in this day and age it feels like we’ve gone past it.
“(Mankind has) made these mistakes and (they are) dealing with the consequences of (their) choices,” he added. “That’s what we wanted to lean into in this new set of movies.”
A lot of opinions: The makers of “Fallen Kingdom” realize that audiences in the social media era are arguably more critical than ever, even when it comes to seemingly small details in supersized blockbuster franchises. Trevorrow partly arrived at the creative imperative the hard way when he opened “Jurassic World” three summers ago only to be haunted by two words: high heels.
Yes, he heard the internet’s complaints about Howard’s action movie-unfriendly “Jurassic World” footwear. So he baked a direct acknowledgment of the gaffe into the sequel, in which she makes much more practical choices.
“First of all, of course there would never have been any plan to have her run in heels in the second movie — that wouldn’t have made any sense,” Trevorrow explained with a knowing laugh. “But I wanted to understand what about this really did upset people so much,” he added. “And it had to do with the messaging.
“It has to do with iconography and how imagery affects us,” he continued. “As opposed to just thinking, ‘OK, this time she’s not going to run in heels,’ I wanted to make sure that I was thinking that way about the whole movie — and about everything that we were doing.”
For Trevorrow, it had to go beyond sensible shoes. A few weeks after opening “Jurassic World,” he buckled up for a cross-country drive back to his home in Vermont with longtime collaborator Connolly to spend extended hours hashing out the sequel’s story. Occasionally they would stop in a town and observe how average moviegoers reacted to their movie as it played in theaters across the country.
“What we wanted to do was have long, eight-day conversations at the same time we were actually driving through a country full of very different kinds of people with diverse tastes and needs in entertainment, whom we were charged with entertaining,” Trevorrow said.
Examining the tastes of overseas audiences was also important, he added, “because this is a global franchise. It isn’t just for America.”
Training dinosaurs: One of “Jurassic World” most crowd-pleasing relationships — the bond between Owen and his trained charge Blue the velociraptor — blossoms in “Fallen Kingdom.” It’s an idea that originated, according to Trevorrow, from conversations with Spielberg.
“He has a fascination with the idea of these creatures being used in all of the ways that we use animals for militarization,” he said. “If he has an instinct, you’re going to listen — I felt like we could (show) the origin of how something like that could be possible.”
“What if we (saw) the very first moment that somebody realized they might follow orders? Or be able to communicate with humans? That led to a relationship between Owen and Blue that has actually become something we can find true emotion in.”
“I’m totally conscious of the ridiculousness of it,” Trevorrow was quick to add with a laugh, “but at the same time I do feel like, especially for kids, to be able to take these creatures that we are so fascinated with and then infuse an emotion in it — and hopefully infuse other ideas like our treatment of animals in the world, and our treatment of the environment and our relationship with it — I think there’s genuine value in that, if it’s done somewhat stealthily.”
Genetic links: Furthering the genetic links between “Jurassic World” and the “Jurassic Park” trilogy, original cast member Jeff Goldblum reprises his franchise role of mathematician Dr. Ian Malcolm in a “Fallen Kingdom” cameo. He relished the chance to revisit the character and to see how his views also have evolved since audiences last saw him onscreen in 1997’s “The Lost World.”
“My character was changed by those experiences, I imagine, and he’s now perhaps more present, grateful, and trying to make himself into a more effective contributor,” Goldblum considered. “Those are some of the things that I, myself, aspire to.”
He discussed Malcolm’s perspective on the happenings in the “Jurassic” world at length with both Bayona and Trevorrow before filming a scene in which Malcolm testifies before Congress about the dangers of science reviving creatures that nature made extinct.
Off-screen, scientists might not be creating baby dinosaurs out of amber samples – at least, not just yet. But for now and the near future of “Jurassic World,” the filmmakers hope audiences keep the real world in mind as they escape into the summer multiplex.
“As a global franchise, I feel it’s a fair thing to say that there are choices that we have made as a planet that we are now having to deal with together, as a planet. And we have to find a way to handle it,” Trevorrow said .
“I try not to take these movies too seriously, because I also simultaneously acknowledge that it is preposterous for dinosaurs to be running around eating people. I get it! That is the balance that we strike: Is there a way that we can also have these movies be about something, and not just be cotton candy?”