Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom - Frankenstein's Monster's Monster
In his video essay Jurassic World | The Cynical Blockbuster, Films&Stuff explored the meta-narrative within the 2015 series sequel. He explores the cynical treatment of the ‘antagonist’ Indominus Rex as a projection of the very film’s existence. It can be argued until the end of time whether Director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow did this intentionally, or whether it was a neat sub textual by-product of wanting to craft another dinosaur story. Of course I’m condensing everything (you should watch the video, it’s brilliant) but it inspired me to try and talk about a film I’ve wanted to say so much about since its release – Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
Once again written by duo Derek Connolly and Trevorrow but this time Directed by cinema master J.A Bayona (A Monster Calls, The Orphanage), the sequel took a complete left field for the series by simultaneously demolishing the past that tied it so close to the previous films and offering up a future that had Hollywood executives frothing at the mouth. Like Jurassic World, it’s a film I’ve got a lot of time for and differing opinions on. So without further ado I’d like to explore Fallen Kingdom using Films&Stuff’s analytical breakdown as a starting point.
*Spoilers ahead for the entire franchise, including 'Battle at Big Rock'*
But first, I think we may need some context…
Prologue : We’re Back! A Jurassic Park Story
*The following is a blog post written in June of 2015 in the build-up to Jurassic World’s release where I tried to emulate Charlie Brooker’s level of cynicism (more on that, here). It’s to show my fondness and adoration for the franchise in order to dispel and lay out anything that could be chocked-up to bias. Please try to ignore the ignorant attempts at self-superiority – I was an idiotic man-child at the time*
Roll back to the rock to the dawn of time to 1993...
Whilst yes my aim with these posts is to remain charmingly cynical whilst comparing things to ludicrous situations and attempting to thrive of the humour that comes from that I feel as if sometimes I should let my hair down (not literally, I still need to see) and be...dare I say ‘positive’ about something. I know, it goes against every code of conduct I have and I can’t even believe I’m suggesting such a thing but there it is. But let’s face it, cynicism is difficult for me when it comes to films and television. The two are old friends of mine, and unlike the ones who nail an empty plastic bottle to a tree and get sent to America for an art degree they are the type that don’t change; there’s a safety to them. And one of those dearest to me is in fact Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park.
Say what you want about the sequels (the less said the better, but we’ll get on that in a bit) the original Jurassic Park is a masterpiece in the eyes of many, and for good reason. This was the first real showcase for CGI, so of course many audience members were going to be in awe of whatever they were given regardless of the quality, but the film decided to go the extra ten miles with CGI that still holds up as well today. Almost to the point where the main argument against Jurassic World from the trailers is that the dinosaurs look more realistic in the original...again more on that later. As well as the effects front, the film also pretty much shaped the modern blockbuster BEFORE it became ultimately saturated to the point of no return and led to Michael Bay cock-ups that tarnish whatever little treasures from our childhood we had left. All of this combined with the top-notch direction Spielberg is known for and a sense of fun, danger and adrenaline sorely missing from many movies today made the original film the highest grossing film ever made at the time before James Cameron came by and crashed the Titanic into it then shipped it away to Pandora.
Enter 1995 and I pop into the world like a gooey screaming sack of disappointment. The new millennium's just five years away and things in the UK seem a little steadier than they were a few years ago. My parents in their infinite wisdom (or sheer laziness depending on how you look at it) bonk me in front of the television which is where I learn the majority of life’s rules and conventions - dropping an iron on a cat’s head will make it sore for a little while but don’t worry, he’ll be back next week good as new...in fact, nobody seems to stay hurt in this glowing box of mine, how quaint, this surely won’t give me any bad expectations of life in the future I’m sure.
Sadly, to avoid my eyes becoming quadrilateral, in my formative years I was given toys to split up my television time. My first five years of life according to my parents consisted of constant repeats of the VHS’ of Jurassic Park, Toy Story and Babe: The Sheep Pig and playing with various actions figures (Buzz Lightyear and a Velociraptor were my favourite - yes I still have them safe) acting out whatever little scenario my little imagination could muster up...maybe I was pretending to drop an iron on Buzz Lightyear’s head. Though this post isn’t about Toy Story, nor Babe (which I unfortunately didn’t have any action figures of) it’s about that there dinosaur one, the one that’s currently going through a revival with a new film being released tomorrow and is making me so excited I spent the last three hours pacing around the house because I couldn’t focus on anything else. Yes, that one.
Believe it or not I remember when The Lost World: Jurassic Park was released. Now, the memories themselves are blurred seeing as I was only two years old but I remember distinct marketing for the film. All of a sudden, I was getting ALL NEW dinosaur figures, new characters and vehicles, and these ones had guns! (but even two-year-old me was never tolerant of violence against dinosaurs so all the men with guns were usually eaten by raptors or the Tyrannosaurs Rex). Never mind that the film was disappointing, though it will always still hold a special place to me as a guilty pleasure along with the third, the toys and clothing at the time made me joyous. I had a shirt with a freakin’ T-rex on it! And I took it to Playgroup with me! I dressed up as a mother fuckin’ dinosaur on one occasion! Never mind that I started crying and got sent home when my tail fell off, I was still the coolest kid with a blonde bowl cut in my playgroup. I became known to my friends as ‘the kid who likes dinosaurs’, a title I feel remained when I made the transfer to primary school. Every year for both Christmas and my birthday I would receive at least one dinosaur encyclopaedia or dinosaur book, and I’d read that shit front to back and trace the dinosaurs as good as I could. I was gleeful when I was able to show off against people that Pteradons and Mosasaurus WEREN’T actually dinosaurs but instead just different forms of reptiles/fish at the time because the definition of a dinosaur tells us they are strictly land creatures (check your privileges, everyone). Heated arguments would take place with people where I’d have to argue against my beloved Jurassic Park and tell people that raptors did actually have feathers and that just staying still wouldn’t stop a T-Rex and that despite the title, most of the dinosaurs featured in the films were actually from the Cretaceous period. When picking a book for my group to read whichever week I chose, I always attempted to make a case for The Magic Key book that had dinosaurs in it, much to the annoyance of both my friends and teachers at the time. I think you get the idea...I was possessive, dinosaurs were MINE. It was as if I found them and I was the only one who could be into them (again, despite Jurassic Park being the biggest film ever made at the time).
Time passed and this obsession continued to varying extents; my action figure collection grew larger, though this time dinosaurs now wreaked havoc on the likes of Spider-man and Batman (who unfortunately never had his ‘Anti-Dinosaur Batspray’ on him). Then the craze popped its head out again in 2001 when the Jurassic Park III train stopped by. Oh my, now as I was older I remember this time a lot more vividly, the toy machine pumped out more dinos, I got myself a neat Pterodactyl statue (again, still have it and again, not a dinosaur) as well as the patented Spinosaurus from the film’s marketing. Sam Neill was back as Alan Grant and Laura Dern was back as Ellie Sattler, it was like those drop offs in front of the TV all over again! I remember feverishly going to see the film with my dad on the opening day in a packed screening and poking my dad in excitement at the fact that the raptors now had small feathers (See! I told you Dad! I told you!) and almost teared up when the mighty T-Rex was taken down by this poser newcomer Spinosaurus. However, even at the age of six I knew the third film was disappointing (just like your mum) but that didn’t matter, the dinosaurs were still awesome and maybe they’d fix that with the fourth one - I couldn’t wait.
Thus, we come to the interregnum. ‘The fourteen year wait’ as I like to call it. The dinosaur love continued, animated series and films such as ‘We’re Back!’ ‘Extreme Dinosaurs’ ‘Walking with Dinosaurs’ etc. helped the wait, though most of these I re watched from before the third film was released. I wasn’t too internet savvy yet either, so I wasn’t aware of the production hell the next film was currently going through, so I continued waiting patiently with my figures and my books and my drawings and videos and eventually DVDs. My proper introduction to the internet (unless you count being only allowed on ‘Disney.com’ to play games there) came one day with my dad as he showed me how to search for stuff. Of course, my first search was Jurassic Park, where I instantly saw updates on the next movie and how...it wasn’t going very well. I was young, I was allowed not to take it well but the fact is I’d probably still react the same way now as films still mean so much to me (it’s as sad as it sounds). But more time passed and...you would have thought with how big the Jurassic Park films were that more films/television series would grow suit, but apart from the occasional animation and time travel film or documentary like Prehistoric Park I remained confined to the National Geographic channel for as much information as I could get. I mean, these were giant monsters that lived where we are now 65 million years ago...that alone is fascinating to me and always will fill me with some sort of wonder, no matter how cynical I get.
And the cynicism did come. I grew older over the years (obviously) and I developed my sense of what was good and what was bad accordingly, most of what I write here is evidence of that. The saturation of quality film making for box-office success was bad, sequels were the enemy (with exceptions of course) but in all honesty at least once a week for fourteen years I scrounged whatever information I could for Jurassic Park IV. There were the rumours of course, that genetically modified dinosaurs had now evolved into human-like reptiles, that the dinosaurs were now smart enough to use weapons, that they escaped into the mainland and would cause terror to the public. I remember one plot that caused quite a stir was the idea of the dinosaurs contracting a deadly prehistoric disease that could wipe out the human race as they were not accustom to it, I remember fan posters for ‘Jurassic Park: Extinction’ and so on and salivated at each and every bit. But it all seemed futile anytime Spielberg gave an interview and declined everything that I had read...until 2011. Ten full years after the last film Spielberg gave a sign of hope as he and other writers teamed up to write a potential sequel. This was it. Holy shit this was it happening. The momentum grew and grew, the film added Colin Trevorrow as director, a perfect choice as I loved his film Safety Not Guaranteed. Dinosaur Supervisor Phil ‘You had ONE job, Phil!’ Tippett was being brought back along with a whole new cast and a secret story line. More rumours began, images were leaked, and worries were brought to fruition, but it didn’t matter to me. We were getting another movie, and if I was a religious man, I’d be praying that it came out well...
And that brings us to now really. The film is out tomorrow. My brain’s darting all over the place in excitement and adverts/toys/shirts/games are slowly filling up the shops around me. It’s not just nostalgia for me either, because the films have been re-watched so many times throughout my life that I don’t think it’s fair to call it nostalgia. It just feels like comfort now. I just hope Spielberg, Trevorrow, Pratt and everyone can knock it out of the park, no pun intended, and keep me smiling long after it’s finished in front of me. Actually, they’ve already succeeded really...they’ve spared no expense.
Our normal, cynical and bastard behaviour will resume shortly...
The Park is Open...
Five Years Later…
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Frankenstein’s Monster’s Monster
Consensus towards the fifth installment in the Jurassic Park franchise seems to be split perfectly down the middle – in more ways than one. Its polarised reception can go down to many seeing the film as two separate stories. The first involves the attempted rescue of all the dinosaurs on Isla Nublar in the build up to the island’s volcano erupting. Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) lead a team hiding under the guise of Dearing’s ‘Dinosaur Protection Group’ to airlift/transport many of the animals to the mainland for safety. The second half of the film of course falls back into the ‘corporations are evil’ metaphor and becomes a spinoff of Jurassic World that somehow culminates in a classic monster movie set in a gothic mansion. Now, both of those sound great to me…but complaints of plot contrivances are fairly justified.
The truth is, both halves of this film could have been fleshed out to feature length. Fallen Kingdom is an apt name for an unmade film about dinosaur lovers Owen and Claire ultimately failing to rescue the creatures that mean so much to them whilst intense courtroom debates wage morality wars in the background. However, this would have meant the end of Blue the raptor and mass possibility for merchandising rights. It also would have left the series in a stalemate, content-wise. What writers Trevorrow and Connolly wanted to build upon was a promise made by the fourth films own title. They needed to end up at a ‘Jurassic World’. Not a theme park, but a new age of dinosaurs across the globe.
Fallen Kingdom’s second half fulfills this promise by giving the next installment, Jurassic World: Dominion free reign. As a piece of a larger puzzle it serves its purpose. All the filmmakers had to do was toss in a couple exciting set-pieces, tease out Claire and Owen’s romance a bit more and let Blue and Rexy have their screen time and it would have been passable. That’s the cynical, Ingen-like mind thinking. That’s what Fallen Kingdom constantly feels at odds with, and that’s why it deserves more credit than it gets. Just like the contempt Jurassic World shows for its own creation with the Indominus Rex, Fallen Kingdom seems to want to actively punish itself for existing. It’s Frankenstein’s Monster’s monster – a being dragged into existence kicking and screaming from a tortured creature, that tries desperately to keep itself afloat.
So let’s quickly identify some of the biggest problems first, shall we? The Jurassic World series is obsessed with good vs. evil. It cares not for animal instinct, it wants to blatantly tell you whether a dinosaur is good or evil, whether it has a blue stripe or a gold one, whether you can pet it or it’ll rip your arm off. This obsession unfortunately stretches to its human characters too. Hoskins and Henry Wu are cartoonishly evil, just moments away from twiddling their non-existent moustaches. Fallen Kingdom introduces fucking BUFFALO BILL’S Ted Levine as a dinosaur hunter. Gee, I wonder what ‘side’ he’s on? Pratt still feels stagnant as Grady thanks to a lack of a distinctive character arc, whilst Howard fares better with the more-rounded Claire. As protagonists they’re still fairly bland but both of them have endearing qualities that could make for interesting stories – unfortunately the script barely ever touches on them. And it’s here where there seems to be a big problem, but first we need to discuss Fallen Kingdom’s biggest strength.
Director J.A Bayona is an artist. He knows how to wring every last drop of tension from a single camera movement and paint haunting silhouettes in the midst of even the most artificial set-piece. You could easily make a 'best-of' list of outstanding scenes from this film off the top of your head, ranging from the head-pounding T-Rex/helicopter opening to the Indoraptor stalking young Maisie (Isabella Sermon) in bed. The visual ideas and presentation far exceed the groundwork on display here story-wise. Expert visual effects, animatronics, puppetry and lighting fluently bring to life the series’ best work dozens of times throughout the film, though it’s rare for the two halves to be in sync (much like the film as a whole).
There are exceptions, of course. Moments of utter beauty that actually made me weep in the cinema. ‘The Death of Jurassic Park’ sequence for example, where Owen and Claire watch the original Brachiosaurus from the first film cry out for help as the smoke engulfs it is…heartbreaking. I couldn’t think of a better way to portray the death of the island, and its poignancy is remembered far beyond the film it’s actually from. This is more than anything else a promise not to rehash the same stuff from the previous four films. The island/park doesn’t exist anymore, so we can’t even contemplate going back there. To use a phrase from another recently-revived franchise…
“Let the past die. Kill it, if you have to…”
- Ben Solo
Brilliant filmmaking out of the way then, the film’s second half encourages this ethos of re-enacting the past a final time by taking the genetically engineered dinosaur plot from the previous film to its inevitable conclusion...Dracula. Yep. When you create a genetically engineered anything the final product will always be a monster with no purpose but to scare and entertain, add onto that the gothic mansion the second half of the film takes place in and you basically have a condensed horror film section. Now, as always with me, I often stay awake at night thinking about how much further they could have pushed the horror aspect of the Indoraptor, but the truth is what’s there is pretty damn creepy. From its extending, prickle-like fingertips to its stuttering jaw and hyperactive movement, this thing is as far from a dinosaur as possible. It’s a killing machine that loves to stalk little girls. Then much like in how the Indominus Rex is treated in Jurassic World, the idea of the Indoraptor is fetishized more than the creature itself. Much like the cold-hearted conglomerates placing bids in the basement, the promise of what the animal could mean is what the story is more interested in. It’s never given its fair stab at attaining true iconography despite being in the perfect setting. It’s instead sacrificed to the greater gods of the original in order to fully establish Blue’s importance to Owen and continue the ideology brought up in the previous film of ‘good dinosaurs’ and ‘evil dinosaurs’.
In the screenplay, nearly every decision makes sound thematic sense. Hinging the halfway point on a volcano eruption puts every character, human and dinosaur, at the mercy of mother nature to showcase the futility and karmic vengeance of the series’ antagonists. A side-story about young Maisie being a human clone of John Hammond’s unspoken partner’s daughter may have sparked furious debate from internet dwellers, but in context of a world where dinosaur/animal cloning is well up and running it makes sense for such things to be in practice. After all, as Henry Wu says ‘if I don’t innovate, someone else will…’ The only problem with this is the character detail and action, because it dampens the thematic depth of what’s going on much of the time. Satisfying and powerful action sequences are sometimes sandwiched between misfire comedic scenes of Owen running from molten lava whilst tranquilised. Jurassic Park remains a family franchise even in its darkest moments, but it’s never resorted to undercutting tension in such a way before. This is a problem that the MCU has in spades, but I never thought I’d see such a tonal sacrifice in a beloved dinosaur movie.
I know I keep flip-flopping. It’s frustrating for me too. But in a world where tentpole Hollywood blockbusters all feel the same, I respected Fallen Kingdom for such uncertainty to the point where I couldn’t put my finger on it. Its parts are finely-tuned but its identity is hidden behind the best intentions. And as we all know ‘some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions.’
Conclusion, Battle at Big Rock & Looking Forward to Dominion
Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly have consistently said that Fallen Kingdom was conceived as the middle, integral part of a trilogy. It’s the growing pains of a franchise moving into its next stage. As Maisie makes the decision to release the dinosaurs into the mainland she fulfils the prophecy of the series’ new title, and I can’t help but get goosebumps every time I watch that closing montage of dinosaurs invading day-to-day life. The lion attempting to standoff against Rexy? *Chefs Kiss*
We still don’t know the actual plot of the next film, but it’s recently wrapped production. Trevorrow is back on directing duties having co-written the screenplay with Emily Carmichael, and the two also collaborated for last year’s short film Battle at Big Rock – a proof-of-concept film that blew so many fans away. So let’s talk about it briefly and how it signifies where the series can go moving forward.
First of all, this is a step-up. Trevorrow’s direction and masterful use of tension are on full display here, I wonder if he sat down with Spielberg and Bayona for a few pointers. Essentially one big set piece, the film basically features an Allosaurus attacking a family inside an RV unit whilst on a camping trip. The utilisation of space and the limitations of the setting are what makes the sequence thrive and feel reminiscent of the series’ best moments. The velociraptor kitchen scene, the original T-Rex appearance, the RV hanging off the cliff edge – all of these arise from insurmountable tension that aren’t solely caused by the dinosaur but bolstered by it. And the perfect example of this in Battle is after the RV’s rolled over, and the family’s baby begins to scream. Not only is it timed and framed perfectly, but there’s a oncoming sense of dread as the Allosaurs’ jaws break through the windshield and move towards the little one. It sounds weird but I got so giddy thanks to the mirroring of the short’s opening where the Allosaurus attacks the baby Nasutoceratops by the campfire. It’s a technique Spielberg himself uses; capturing a moment of whimsy and turning it against you. It’s the joy of holding a baby raptor in your hands only for you to be hunted down by them later…If Dominion can successfully merge a handful of these tense, peril-driven set-pieces with a good enough story for bringing back all the legacy characters then we might be in for something truly special.
But with the return of Sam Neill, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, where does that leave Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard? Chances are the two of them remain together, and their relationship with Maisie may have developed (have they adopted her?) but it’s difficult to think of pickup points for Owen Grady’s character. He arrived during Jurassic World pre-formed, and his flat-arc can only stretch so far so the attachment to Blue (and partially Claire) is the only thing keeping him afloat. Meanwhile after Claire’s character failed to encompass Alan Grant’s role of parental coming-of-age in the original film with her two nephews, she’s been given a second chance thanks to Maisie. The mother/daughter bond could finalise her transformation from corporate spearhead to nurturing powerhouse rather nicely, and it’ll be interesting to see the way that a possibly multiple dinosaur attacks will threaten this. Whilst she’s not portrayed at the primary protagonist, Claire’s story as a character is infinitely more interesting than Owen’s throughout the sequel trilogy, and I’m hoping that amidst the huge cast for the next film she finally gets her chance to shine. Fallen Kingdom managed to cram many things in during its runtime, but the most lasting negative trait is the feeling of it acting as merely a precursor to the next instalment. Of course I disagree with this, there’s so much I love about the film and it’s always important to share things you’re passionate about, but I can’t deny the consensus of the majority. But hey, at least it gave me a good title for this editorial that harkens back to Films&Stuff’s video essay…
Jurassic World was Frankenstein’s monster because it embodied the negative traits of the commercial film industry within its story. Fallen Kingdom, when thought of as a trailer for Dominion, takes that notion one step further and becomes a piece of that industry. It doubles down on the monstrous aspects and becomes Frankenstein’s Monster’s monster…
God, I can't wait...
All the Jurassic Park /World films are available on DVD, Blu-Ray & 4K.
Jurassic World: Camp Cretaceous is now streaming on Netflix.
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Hey everybody, I know that here in the UK lockdown technically ends on December 2nd and that we're all feeling owed a Christmas surrounded by friends and family after laying destitute for the year. But it's important to remember that even with a vaccine potentially on the horizon we're still months, maybe even a year from beating COVID-19. Statistics are showing that only 11% of the British public are actually isolating this time round. We've broken daily record cases of the virus and our death toll continues to rise. Despite all non-essential stores being asked to close I've seen dozens of shops refusing to do so, and their mentality matches the worst of the British public.
It's the same as it's been for almost 9 months now. Don't go out unless you have to. Wait for the vaccine, and then party as much as you want. Don't make this many people's' last Christmas.
But what about elsewhere in the world? It's important to always stay informed because information is key to fighting against those louder voices that are usually spreading misinformation. Take 10 minutes a day to just look up something new going on in this world of ours. It's usually not pretty, but it's important.
Whether it's the continued civil unrest across Uganda, the death of hundreds over the past few weeks in Tigray whilst the Ethiopian government toys with putting a stop to its conflict from the army.
Outside of Africa protests are marching in Guatemala after another unarmed black man was killed in a scene we're now too familiar with. It's hard to stay up to date I know, and the carrd I keep using at the end of these posts seems to be falling into disarray so if anyone knows of another helpful, up-to-date link to stick at the ends of these posts please let me know. Until then, it's still a useful starting point for your 10 minutes...
Thank you for Reading.
Stay Safe everyone.
See You Next Week.