Like most people, as a kid, I loved dinosaurs. Unlike most people, as I got older, my fascination with them never tempered. While I don’t have the encyclopedic knowledge of a career paleontologist, my dinosaur IQ is solidly above average. When I was younger, I had didactic dino books that I devoured daily. My two little nieces are also now forming an interest in dinosaurs and I’ve bought each of them their own dinosaur information book, which I will give to them when I see them, next week. I can hardly wait to sit with them, pour through the pages, and teach them about these magnificent creatures that once existed and ruled the planet but are now relegated to being less than even a memory; they’re simply one of Earth’s echoes.
Part of my obsession with dinosaurs lies in my general interest in fiction and the ideas that people come up with in order to tell stories. Dinosaurs seem like they belong in that category – an imaginary construct developed by someone to thrill and entertain. After all, they don’t feel any less spectacular than Captain America, a Xenomorph, or Optimus Prime. But, despite how it feels, in contrast to all of the above, dinosaurs were real. That’s still amazing to me! And, almost as amazing is that, thanks to the movies, they’re practically real, all over again.
In 1993, author Michael Crichton, director Steven Spielberg, special effects guru Stan Winston, and Universal Studios combined their efforts and talents and resurrected dinosaurs, thrilling both children and adults around the entire world. At the time of its release, Jurassic Park was the highest grossing movie of all-time, and it remains my personal favorite movie. I’m sure at some point, I’ll do a #ThrowbackThursday column on Jurassic Park (check out all of my #ThrowbackThursday columns here. Have I mentioned that they’re my favorite component of the Movie March?), so I won’t harp too much on it, now. But I’ve long described it as the movie that made me love movies and also as the movie that convinced the world that anything is possible.
Obviously, Jurassic Park had a massive personal effect on millions of people, and it’s very clear, after seeing the fifth film in the franchise, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, that among those millions of people is director J. A. Bayona (The Orphanage, The Impossible). Fallen Kingdom is Bayona’s massive love letter to both of Spielberg’s original films while he also makes it very clear that the franchise is now a different beast, engineered to be bigger and scarier than its predecessors, mirroring the contest of the Jurassic World films, themselves. There are approximately a dozen obvious, deliberate, and blatant callbacks to Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park (mostly the original, though) that super-fans will pick up on immediately. But Bayona and Universal also manage to devour what Spielberg created and take everything into a wild and unpredictable new direction, with no looking back.
Fallen Kingdom is The Lost World to Jurassic World‘s Jurassic Park. Narratively, the two sequels are extraordinarily similar, right down to the character archetypes included and the roles they fill within the story. I’m not saying that the films are identical, but there’s definitely plenty of influence from the The Lost World to be found within Fallen Kingdom, and I suspect that it’s entirely intentional, as part of Bayona’s homage to Spielberg (though Bayona doesn’t receive a writing credit. Still, it’s his movie and he gets any credit or blame directed the film’s way.). Ultimately, though, the film works not because of or in spite of this, but rather due to the fact that the path the story takes is undeniably, and sadly, organic.
The film begins when Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Dearing is made aware of the impending natural destruction of Isla Nublar, the site of both the original Jurassic Park and the more recent Jurassic World amusement parks. She is recruited by a collective of researchers and preservationists to enlist the aid of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) in tracking and wrangling the disparate remaining species on the island in order to prevent their second extinction.
I won’t get into what happens from there, but I really don’t feel like I need to. Just that little bit of the story is enough to cause some people to throw up their arms and fling close-minded vitriol at the concept. I can hear people, now, saying, “Why risk your lives for killer beasts?!” And, while anyone who has watched American news or frequented American social media, this week, has seen that empathy and concern outside of oneself is in far-more-alarming scarcity than anyone could have previously believed, the question posed by the film is never whether the animals’ lives are worth saving; the question is whether or not they are to be considered as truly alive, to begin with.
But, let’s be honest; as mentally stimulating as such a debate may be, you’re here for the dinosaur action. The film has received, somewhat surprisingly so, mixed reviews. I’ve not read any reviews in full, since I haven’t finished writing my own, yet, but I’ve seen a couple of the negative reviews’ teaser excerpts. I recall one stating, as its summary, that the film doesn’t truly offer any thrills. My response to that is to speak for yourself, buddy. While I can admit that the film doesn’t quite hold the same level of nostalgia as the last film (aside from all of those callbacks), I don’t think accusing this film of essentially being boring is a one-size-fits-all criticism. The guy to my immediate left certainly disagreed, as he was jumping and involuntarily yelping throughout the entire movie. While it didn’t quite have that palpable of an effect on me, I was thoroughly enthralled and entertained by the action.
While I personally preferred the visual aesthetic of the first Jurassic World, with the clean, shiny amusement park up and running, this darker, grittier veneer suits Bayona’s horror background exceedingly well. There are several truly innovative shots and sequences that easily succeeded in generating the desired squirms, winces, and shouts from my audience. Bayona knows how to properly build tension and construct an effectively suspenseful scene and he seems to take great joy in doing so, here.
The truth of the matter, however, is that even though the dinosaurs have always been the featured attraction of this franchise, at its heart, the series has always been about people. It’s about humanity’s tendencies towards self-destructive arrogance as well as self-destructive selfishness. Fallen Kingdom touches a bit on both, but mostly the latter. The film suffers from some clichés – particularly in terms of the aforementioned character archetypes. But if you hear anyone complaining that the characters behave unintelligently, maybe you can kindly remind them that real people are far more guilty of unintelligent behavior than anyone in the movies, and, as a result of that truth, these characters behave rather believably. That’s actually the saddest aspect of the film.
Overall, however, the film is fun, exciting, and depressingly insightful. It’s not a benchmark of filmmaking like Jurassic Park. And it’s not a nostalgia-fueled throwback like Jurassic World. But it’s a worthy entry that pays tribute to what came before while applying more modern societal sensibilities and fallacies to the franchise’s themes and philosophies. And there are lots of dinosaurs. I’ll never let myself become too jaded to appreciate that. If you won’t either, go and enjoy. If you’re ready to hate on it before you even sit down to watch it, stay home. The rest of us don’t want you there, anyway.
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