What the ‘Jurassic’ Sequels Fail to Learn From ‘Jurassic Park’
There are only two good Jurassic Park/Jurassic World movies. There, I said it. “Hold on to your butts” people, this article is about to get controversial.
The first of these two good movies is the original, Jurassic Park. But what made the original so great back in 1993? What continues to make it great even in 2018? The sequels tend to have a great amount of roar, but little strength in their bite. I’ll dive into this and discuss just what makes the first film shine as opposed to its sequel. After which, I’ll reveal the title of the only other good Jurassic movie, and then dive in further as to why.
Jurassic Park: When Spielberg Ruled the Earth
“Welcome to Jurassic Park”– John Hammond
Jurassic Park isn’t just the best Jurassic movie ever made, it is one of THE best movies ever made. I believe that there are four particular aspects of this film which set it apart. Those four aspects are character, theme, dinosaurs, and effects. Yes, it’s a rather broad smorgasbord of aspects, but it rounds the film out nicely.
Theme Pt 1.
“Yeah, yeah, but your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could that they didn’t stop to think if they should.”– Ian Malcolm
“What is the theme of Jurassic Park?”
There is no singular theme, but there are several themes that work simultaneously throughout the film. The film poses two core questions as part of its overall theme: “Is progress good?” and”Is progress bad?”. There are also several sublevels to theme that the film uses as statements. These statements cover topics such as sexism in survival situations, the difference between technology and progress, and the difference between adaptation and evolution.
Throughout the film, arguments are made for progress on both sides, and often rather ironically. Just look at the premise for the film as the biggest ironic answering of these questions. The very basis of Jurassic Park (the place) is built on the idea of using futuristic technology to bring back prehistoric creatures. In other words, progress is moving backwards. It’s this juxtaposition of ideas that novel author, Michael Crichton and screenplay writer, David Koepp utilized to deliver one of the best screenplays ever written.
Take this quote from Crichton himself:
“It seems to me that we live in a society in which technology is continuously presented as wonderful. We were less exposed to the negative aspects of technology which were inevitably there. One of my interests is to provide that kind of balance to these notions that cell phones and faxes are all wonderful and great. Isn’t it fabulous that we all have computers? Well, yes and no is my response.”
Jurassic Park excels because it doesn’t deliver the answers at the end like a sort of mystery, but presents characters that continually argue for the sake of a different side.
“You’ll have to get used to Dr. Malcolm, he suffers from a deplorable excess of personality, especially for a mathematician.”– John Hammond
Jurassic Park has some of the best characters in all of cinema. Ian Malcolm, Ellie Sattler, Alan Grant, and John Hammond are all iconic in their own way. Each one is defined appropriately and enthusiastically in the early stages of the movie, and delivers on that foundation until the film’s end. What makes these characters so well-developed is the stance that each of them takes on the overall theme. The two primary opposing viewpoints being that of Dr. Grant and John Hammond, with Dr. Malcolm and Ellie Sattler both opposing and agreeing with them in their own way.
“I hate computers”– Alan Grant
Alan Grant is old school, he loves digging up fossils, and he hates children. Grant is a fossil, and he wants things to remain as they are. He is happy with his job, getting dirty and doing all of the work. He could care less if he receives credit or compensation for his work. Dr. Grant is also the “dino expert”, especially once the raptors come into play. Grant has a deep respect for the past, but no intentions to embrace the future.
Take Grant’s first line in the film as his initial statement on the themes of the movie; “I hate computers.” Grant is blinded by his refusal to see merit in technology. Another key aspect of Grant’s character is that he is simply out of touch with the world around him, both technology and people. So, to answer the question(s); “is progress good or bad”, Grant would exemplify the argument that progress is bad. Compare these qualities with those found in John Hammond.
“I don’t think you’re giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody’s ever done before…”– John Hammond
Hammond is the futurist, he loves technology and scientific advancement, he also has grandchildren. He despises all dirty work, and often disregards it, even to the point of glossing over the death of an employee at the hands of the raptors. Most importantly, Hammond stands on the ideas of others, such as Dr. Grant, and uses his research to push forward for the sake of amusement. Not having respect for the past, he instead abuses it as an opportunity for the future. Hammond, however, is very in touch with people and even the infantile dinosaurs. At the same time, Hammond is also blinded to them by his refusal to accept that technology has flaws and demerits among its achievements. Hammond exemplifies the idea that progress is good.
Grant vs Hammond
“Who’s the jerk?”– Ellie Sattler
What creates conflict long before the dinos start eating people is the opposition of ideas between Hammond and Grant. Even on their first encounter Grant is offended by Hammond’s flashiness, and Hammond struggles to convince Grant to even look at what he has built. Because of this central conflict of ideals, Grant and Hammond stand at odds, driving the story forwards and setting themselves apart as the lead characters.
This isn’t to diminish the roles of Ian Malcolm and Ellie Sattler. Rather, the other two primary characters round out and challenge the opposing viewpoints of Hammond and Grant.
“Look… We can discuss sexism in survival situations when I get back.”– Ellie Sattler
Dr. Ellie Sattler is a mix of the positive qualities in both Hammond and Grant, but also has strengths where Grant has weaknesses. Ellie is idealistic like Grant, but is also forward thinking and open to progress as is Hammond. Dr. Sattler is who “saves” Grant by being a patient guide towards the future, and also the one who physically saves Hammond by restoring power and getting him off the island. She is also one of two voices that oppose the traditional views of sexism in survival situations.
“Hahahrawrrahaha”– Ian Malcolm
Ian Malcolm represents everything that Grant hates about the future, children, and John Hammond. He’s noisy, he’s messy, he’s a futurist, and he’s arrogant. Dr. Malcolm is talkative and charismatic, similar to Hammond, but he also shares Grant’s apprehensions, therefore conflicting with Hammond. For, in addition to be everything about Hammond that Grant hates, Malcolm is everything in Grant that Hammond hates. Malcolm is anti progress for progress’ sake. He is analytically hesitant rather than empathetically enthusiastic , and he does not approve of building off of other’s work.
Theme Pt. 2
Is Progress Good?
“I don’t think you’re giving us our due credit. Our scientists have done things which nobody’s ever done before…”– John Hammond
Dr. Grant initially represents the “no” viewpoint. Grant does not interact well with technology, he lives quite literally in the past, and he doesn’t want to rely on the future in any way. However, Dr. Grant survives the events of the film by acting as the surrogate father of two children. Grant is also eventually saved by the children’s mastery of technology; and their ability, in junction with Ellie’s, to utilize technology to get the Park’s defenses online.
Grant, like Hammond, is awed and even slightly pro-dinosaur when he first encounters them, but eventually decides not to endorse the Park. In other words, Grant learns to endorse the future, but does not lean entirely into the idea of progress as a positive force.
Hammond initially represents the “yes” viewpoint. Hammond embraces technology, takes the progress of others a step forward, and lives for what can be. However, Hammond’s progress only drives himself and his companions backwards. Hammond brings the past into the future, and survives by more “primitive means”. Technology fails Hammond. The systems are bypassed and ruined by Nedry, the electronic self-driving cars stop, the fences fail, and the power doesn’t come back online at the click of a button. Instead, Hammond survives by utilizing shortwave radio, Muldoon’s hunting skills, and gas-powered jeeps.
Hammond starts off very pro-dinosaur and also very pro-technology, but is also very pro-progress. At the end of the film, Hammond realizes some of the follies of unrestrained progress and also decides not to endorse the park.
To answer the thematic question of “is progress good?”, the film says “maybe”. Unrestrained genetic process puts Grant into trouble, but technological progress such as computers later saves him. Grant learns that he needs to progress with his environment. Unrestrained progress gets Hammond into trouble, but he is saved by his ability to adapt to different means of survival. Hammond learns that he needs to progress with purpose in order to succeed. So, progress is sometimes good.
Is Progress Bad?
“What’s so great about discovery? It’s a violent, penetrative act that scars what it explores.”– Ian Malcolm
Much like the opposing question, the film leaves a vague answer to this thematic question as well. Progress is good when it allows scientists to better understand dinosaurs. It is good when it allows better computers and security systems to be developed. But, progress is bad when it proceeds without discipline. This is the sum of Ian Malcolm’s beliefs; chaos is inevitable in any scenario. When one proceeds without caution and without having put in the entirety of the work towards discovery; then progress may bring benefits, but it will also certainly come with detraction.
So progress isn’t bad if done holistically and with genuine purpose, but progress for the sake of progress is bad.
Sexism in Survival Situations
“Dinosaurs eat man. Woman inherits the earth.”– Ellie Sattler
Ian Malcolm breaks his leg. Hammond is old. Grant merely knows how to run from dinosaurs. Tim knows how to hide. The characters survive because of two individuals, Ellie Sattler and Hammond’s Granddaughter, Lex. Ellie Sattler risks her life to turn the power back on when Arnold fails. Yes, she has help from Muldoon, but ultimately the outcome relies on her. Ellie restores the power and gives everyone a way off of the island. Later on, Lex understands the computer systems and restores the security measures. Lex provides the means with which to survive long enough to make it to the escape that Ellie gives with her actions. In other words, Girl Power.
“Ah, now eventually you do plan to have dinosaurs on your, on your dinosaur tour, right?”– Ian Malcolm
Jurassic Park isn’t about dinosaurs. Dinosaurs are an element of the film, but are not the focus. In fact, dinosaurs are even irrelevant to most of the film’s conflict. The creatures act rather as catalysts to provide a sense of danger and move the events of the film forward.
There aren’t even many deaths on screen. A total of five people die from dino attacks in the film, and only four of those deaths appear on screen. Jurassic Park, the attraction, is all about dinosaurs, yes, but Jurassic Park the film operates with little regard to the beings themselves. Steven Spielberg latched onto the project before the novel was even completed, and he did so because he liked the idea of a film that portrayed dinosaurs primarily as living beings instead of as monsters.
So, yes, dinosaurs are a big draw to the original film, but the film itself is not bogged down in trying to deliver popcorn moments of gore and destruction.
“Spared no expense”– John Hammond
Jurassic Park features the first successful blend of CGI, stop motion, and animatronics in a major film, of course people flocked to this movie in 1993. However, effects that aren’t new cannot sustain a film or a franchise. The effects may be dazzling, but they are not why the movie continues to stand out.
In fact, the majority of dinosaur shots in the film are completed with animatronics and stop-motion. The reason that the CGI stands out is because it augments what couldn’t be completed with 1993’s animatronic technology. CGI was used conservatively so as not to breach the suspension of disbelief. So, while the quality of the computer image isn’t as detailed as modern CG, the use of it in Jurassic Park is so minimal that it is hardly noticed.
Where the other Jurassics fall short
“Uh uh uh! You didn’t say the magic word! Uh uh uh! Uh uh uh!”– Dennis Nedry
Three out of the other five Jurassic movies are neither memorable, nor fun. In fact, all of the sequels have failed to understand what makes Jurassic Park stand so high above the competition. There are two key factors that inhibit the latter films from achieving the same level of memorability and success. Those factors are statement and sincerity.
“Boy do I hate being right all the time.”– Ian Malcolm
The Jurassic sequels struggle with what statement to make. And yes, Jurassic Park poses questions more than it makes statements, but it does so with clarity and attention to detail. The most common issue that the sequels have with this is that they either attempt to make too many statements or fail to execute their intended statements by following them through with the full attention of the story and/or its characters.
The first two sequels struggle with this the most, both of them being basic retreads over the thematic ideas of the first film. Both The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III feature watered down characters from the original that exemplify the same beliefs they held at the first film’s conclusion. This makes for a lack of character development and a rather bland story that falls apart and becomes a generic run away from monsters movie. The only Jurassic sequel to succeed in making a statement to any degree is Jurassic World.
Jurassic World succeeds in taking a new stance on an old theme. By jumping the Park and the technology forwards twenty years, the series can pose new questions as to what responsible progress looks like. The scientists in the film progressed similar to Hammond, but did so with a greater sense of responsibility. However, when attempting to take what was proposed by others and push it a step to far, they are once again faced with the same problems as the characters in the original film. This updated retreading of those ideas doesn’t make for a great film, but makes for a decent sequel.
“They’re dinosaurs. Wow enough.”– Owen Grady
While Jurassic World manages to make some semblance of statement, it fails to do so sincerely. The film bogs itself down by not committing to either treading new territory as it does with the Indominus Rex, or to any of the dangling plot threads it starts but never concludes. What are these plot threads? They are InGen’s diabolical plans, Wu’s naive involvement in a sinister project with Hoskins, and the idea of training and working with dinosaurs.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom struggles with both starting and finishing its plot threads in a similar manner. InGen is gone, Wu is still seemingly out of all loops, and the villains diabolical plans are never fully explained or realized. Also, selling an actual dinosaur for under $100 million, I’m not buying it.
All four of the Jurassic sequels fail to embrace the sincerity of dinosaurs as living beings within a failed system and instead just doubling down on the dinosaur blood and gore. Dinosaurs are really cool to watch, but they are no longer “wow enough” to hold a movie together when too many other questions are being posed and sort of explored. This isn’t to say that Jurassic Park is a serious movie for its entire run, but rather that it balances the laughs and the fun with heartfelt characters and a meaningful story.
The Only Other Good Jurassic Movie
“There we go. Over the top. Find your footing.”– Alan Grant
The only other good Jurassic movie is… Drumroll please.
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Yes, I’m being serious.
The second installment in the reboot series is the first to do something new. It is also the first to say “screw it” in regards to the first film’s themes and just have fun with the dinosaurs run amuck premise.
Thematically and in terms of narrative, this is the worst Jurassic movie. The characters are flat and generally one-sided. The exciting premise of the dinosaur cloning process being applied to humans is shoehorned in and wasted. The repercussions of the previous film are nearly non-existent. Blue is suddenly a friendly attack dog. And Ian Malcolm pops in twice to try to add a sense of the poignant franchise’s former meaning and purpose. The film is just thematically a mess, but it is a mess executed to near perfection.
Director J.A. Bayona keeps trekking onward past where the previous installments draw the line, and just has fun with the absurdity of it all. There are dinosaurs headbutting prison walls. Chris Pratt rolls away from incoming lava. Bryce Dallas Howard slaps the sand. The dinosaurs are finally put to destruction somewhere that isn’t a tropical jungle island. The tightness of the mansion and museum atmosphere gives the dinosaur rampage and gore a breath of fresh air. For once a film in the franchise is better when it is about dinosaurs.
Fallen Kingdom is by no means a great film, but it is a great Jurassic film. By diving head on into the absurdity of what the franchise has become, this sequel finds its niche. It is also the only sequel to be worthwhile and even come close to living up to the original in terms of doing something new. It does this by abandoning its sincerity in terms of seriousness and embracing its sincerity as an over the top run away from dinosaurs movie.
“I’m, I’m simply saying that life, uh… finds a way.”– Ian Malcolm
I just want to reiterate that Fallen Kingdom is nowhere near the same level as Jurassic Park. If you think that Fallen Kingdom or any of the sequels is on the same level then please A: see a Doctor, B: rewatch Jurassic Park, and C: read the original novel to better understand the complexity of the initial work.
I find myself often evaluating movies on two different levels. 1. Is a film coherent and consistent in terms of its story, narrative style, and characters? 2. Is it fun? A “good” movie can be coherent but not “fun”. A “good” movie can also be “fun” while being completely incoherent and nonsensical. But, a “great” movie must be both 1 and 2. This is what sets Jurassic Park up to be great. It is what sets Fallen Kingdom up to be good. The lack of either or both of 1 and 2 is what holds back the other films from being “good”.
The first three Jurassic sequels fail to be more than just a Jurassic Park sequel because they are two caught up in living in the original films shadow. Fallen Kingdom succeeds (albeit at a bare minimum) by saying “screw this shadow” and doing something fun and different. Rather than trying to retrace the franchise’s steps and follow its roots, the film embraces what the franchise has become.
P.S. If you have had the pleasure of reading Crichton’s novel, then you may have noticed an Easter Egg planted in this article. Comment below if you can guess what that Easter Egg is!
P.P.S. For a different opinion on the franchise, check out this ranking of the Jurassic Films
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