Jurassic Park Series Summary

This Jurassic Park / World series of posts finally meets its end. I had fun with it, and I’m also glad to be returning to the roulette of random topics for future posts. Especially since this series had some off-topic posts intermingled over the many weeks since this began, a list of all the final individual posts seems useful. So, to recap, I wrote:

  1. The initial introduction;
  2. A comparison of the first novel and the first film;
  3. What I love about the largely panned sequel;
  4. How I’ve come to accept the third movie, flaws and all;
  5. A review of Blue’s character arc;
  6. Which themes made The Battle at Big Rock so exciting to me;
  7. A reading of the Jurassic Park films as metaphors for family trauma;
  8. Gap stories I’d like to see, or a list of fan fiction projects I’ll probably never get around to; and
  9. What’s on my mind about Dominion as we draw closer to its release.

The Jurassic gap stories I’d like to see

I have a false memory about The Lost World, before the movie even came out. I distinctly remember Velociraptors running through a field alongside a train in what appeared to be rural America. Where’d I get this image from? A dream? A misinterpretation of a trailer? It doesn’t matter. It’s not real, didn’t happen. But even before the movie came out, I remember hoping that dinosaurs would end up on the mainland. When the freighter plows into the dock and the scattered remains of its crew are discovered, I thought maybe this would mean that raptors had snuck aboard and would now wreak havoc along with the Tyrannosaurus. Of course, this was not to be. But because of that specific hope, the difficulty of understanding exactly how the freighter crew was killed off has stood out to me more. If not the raptors, then how did it happen? The juvenile was taken back separately. The buck was in the cargo hold. How did such a large animal get its jaws into the pilothouse, wrenching some poor soul free from a hand that remained firmly clutched to the wheel? Why did it kill the crewmember who closed the cargo hold back on it but left the body apparently undisturbed? And how did the crewmember survive long enough to close the hold? For that matter, why would the Tyrannosaurus voluntarily return to the hold? The pilothouse, more than anything else, stands out to me, because while normally presented in narrow angles, there’s every indication that it’s closed off to the outside and undamaged.

All that to say, I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of a gap story that fills in what happened. I think it’d be fun to have a private investigator hired by one of the family of the lost crew to investigate events. Perhaps this leads to the discovery that more than the Tyrannosaurus was aboard the freighter. Perhaps he encounters disinterested police officials and active resistance from InGen execs determined to minimize the already disastrous events in San Diego. Maybe he runs into a pack of escaped raptors–or something else entirely! I imagine it as a bit of Chinatown meets Jurassic Park.

But there are other stories I’d like to see (or create myself, in the form of a little fan fiction). There are a few moments not relevant to the films that could offer gung-ho action-adventure. For instance, the Dinosaur Protection Group site has in-universe documentation dated October 5, 1994 that reports current dinosaur population levels on Isla Nublar based on a “1994 clean-up” and estimated dinosaur population levels on Isla Nublar based on a 1993 report. So of course, following the mercenary team that went into the island and cleaned things up, collecting and containing and cataloguing surviving dinosaurs, would be an interesting story. TellTale’s Jurassic Park: The Game, which never really quite fit as a direct follow-up on events from Jurassic Park, doesn’t have a narrative that works well with the newer movies, and so that can safely be disregarded, leaving a big opening.

The list of dinosaurs on Isla Sorna is presumably similar to the report that Alan and Billy had reviewed before Jurassic Park III, in which the Spinosaurus was noticeably missing. That same Dinosaur Protection Group page I referenced earlier discusses the illegal creation of other dinosaurs that were abandoned on Site B, resulting in the rampaging Spinosaurus. The page says that the new research happened over nine months and started 100 days after InGen was purchased by Masrani Global, while another page says that bidding for InGen happened in 1997 and the illegally cloned animals were introduced in 1999. A story that chronicled the backroom dealings and unethical science, or the release/escape of the newly resurrected dinosaurs, would probably make for an interesting tale. And there’s another mercenary adventure story waiting to detail the recapturing of the escaped Pteranodons from Isla Sorna in 2001.

I imagine Henry Wu weaving his way through all of these stories: part of the efforts to contain the situation on Isla Nublar, returning from his shipboard evacuation of the island to collect valuable scientific information only to be shut out of further genetics efforts until brought in by Masrani for the illegal experiments in 1999 that I’d like to imagine had to be shut down when the Spinosaurus broke containment, and finally meeting up with Vic Hoskins, forming a fateful relationship that would prove pivotal in Jurassic World, when the ex-military man led the mission to collect the pterosaurs.

Then there are the stories that can happen post-Fallen Kingdom. I’ve already rattled off ideas before, but there’s one concept I’d sort of like to play with at some point. At its core, an enterprising rancher has gathered up a small herd of Gallimimus and plans to grow the herd. He soon encounters two threats: something is hunting his new flock of bird mimics at night, and a government investigator shows up to claim that he’s in illegal possession of contraband intellectual property. The two threats collide pretty quickly, deciding the fate of the rancher’s whole operation. I think there’s some mileage in that for a short story, at least.

Anyone else have any gap or side stories they’d want to see, or any fan fiction they’d like to point out?

Jurassic Park as Metaphor for Family Trauma

The element that takes the Jurassic Park formula beyond simple action-adventure fun is the emphasis on human characters with flaws and clear arcs. That human emphasis has, whether intentionally or inadvertently, often resulted in movies with a subtext about family trauma. This is a topic I’ve thought and talked about intermittently on other platforms, but I want to try to develop it a little more here.

Most of the Park and World films are guided by a loss of family unity and a gradual rebuilding of family around kids. The pattern starts with Jurassic Park: Tim and Lex come to the island to get them away from their parents’ divorce. Through the events of the film, they bond with Grant, who starts out as someone who is very child-averse. As he guides them through the park safely and comes to care deeply about them, he’s addressing the issue in his own otherwise solid relationship with Sattler: she wants kids, but he couldn’t stand them. In the final helicopter flight out, Alan and Ellie share looks that express a great number of things: relief, gratitude, affection…but also there seems to be a shared recognition of how things have changed, as the kids rest against the man who starts out the movie terrifying a child merely out of slight annoyance over an offhanded remark. At least within the scope of the movie, the kids have found a new family, somewhat ironically formed around a man who never wanted one.

The Lost World continues the pattern. This time, Ian Malcolm’s daughter Kelly finds herself torn between separated parents. Her mother’s off on a trip with a new love interest. Her father, a habitual divorcé who’s never made time to nurture relationships with his (ex-)wives or kid(s), acts similarly disinterested in her and inconvenienced by her presence. Rather than be pawned off on one of her dad’s acquaintances, Kelly stows away to come along on his next expedition. The horrors of the island bring her to bond closely with Ian’s girlfriend, Sarah, and Ian finds renewed focus on the safety of both Sarah and Kelly. Ian repeatedly risks his life for both of them. This focus on protecting family ties in rather nicely with the threat from the Tyrannosaurus family that occupies the second and third acts of the film. Once more, the movie ends with a moment of peace for the reformed family, with Kelly, Sarah, and Ian all on the couch; in a reverse on the original, the child stays awake and watches over the sleeping adults.

Jurassic Park III once more finds much of the character motivations in a divorce. The Kirbys have divorced, Paul hasn’t really moved on while Amanda has, and their son Eric is caught in the middle. Eric gets stranded on Isla Sorna because of Amanda’s reckless “fun” boyfriend. The trauma of the island pushes Paul and Amanda back together, and the little nuclear family appears restored by the end of the film. In a separate arc, Grant and Sattler have remained friends but split up; Grant seems to slowly be reintroducing himself to Sattler’s new life of husband and child, but he feels out of place. Ellie insists that Alan can ask for help if he needs it. And by the end of the film, he’s able to do so in a moment of crisis, and she’s there for them. The dinosaurs get their family arc, too, as the Velociraptor pack is desperately pursuing their stolen eggs, and the Pteranodon flock attack to feed their offspring.

By this point, the recurrence of divorce and separation begins to feel somewhere between a fundamental franchise building block and a tired trope trotted out simply because it worked before. Either way, it’s back again in Jurassic World. Brothers Zach and Gray get sent to the titular theme park to visit their aunt Claire while their parents finalize a divorce back home. (Side note: I recall people complaining that the divorce reveal came from nowhere, but this is hinted at from as early as the airport departure scene, and the scene where Karen and Claire talk made that pretty clear to me even though it’s not explicitly stated until a little later on.) Even as their family falls apart, the brothers recommit to each other, and Zach changes his attitude from an aloof bully to a caring and supportive older brother. Claire’s arc echoes both John Hammond (as the most visible face of the park administration’s hubris and a more prominent figure than Masrani) and Alan Grant. From Grant, she gets the same apparent disinterest in kids or parenting, and her commitment to saving her nephews provides a somewhat similar arc, though bogged down in sexism: Grant undergoes an attitude change that is not required by society but simply a natural progression that resolves a tension in his romantic relationship, while Claire is nagged by her sister about how she’ll one day want to have children, stares longingly at a child reunited with their parent, is called out or treated differently because of her awkwardness with kids, and is operating within a larger societal notion that women should be guided by a desire to nurture and raise children. Regardless, while the arc had its missteps, I do believe the intent was to provide an arc that echoed Grant’s. Her relationship with the rugged Owen, from exes to romantic partners, suggests something of a collision of the Sarah/Ian and Amanda/Paul relationships from the other films, as well. Then, of course, as I recently wrote about at length, Owen’s relationship with Blue and the raptor pack provides the dinosaur family narrative for this entry in the series.

Finally, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is partially about people looking for connection and purpose after losing everything. Owen and Claire have split up and slowly reconnect, Owen is motivated to save his abandoned baby Blue, and Claire is guided by a desire to make right her failings at the park and feels deeply obligated to the dinosaurs she once saw as only “assets.” Lockwood fell out with business partner Hammond after using cloning technology to duplicate his deceased daughter. Over the course of the movie, that cloned girl, Maisie, learns the truth about her identity only after she discovers that her “grandfather” was killed by his not-so-loyal assistant. Once more, a family is formed by film’s end, this time between Owen, Claire, and Maisie. As all three characters are returning in Dominion, perhaps this new found family will be a little more permanent. And for the dinosaur family, Owen reunites with Blue, only to part ways once more by the end of the film.

Not only is this deconstruction and reformation of family structures so central to the movies’ narratives, but the movies themselves work as a metaphor for that family turmoil–as I suggested way back at the top. The dinosaurs are a vehicle for children’s wonder, amazement, and curiosity. Family and children were clearly on the mind of Michael Crichton when he wrote the original novel. As he’s quoted as saying in The Making of Jurassic Park:

My wife was pregnant with my first child, and I found that I couldn’t walk past a toy store without buying a stuffed toy. And what I was buying, more often than not, were stuffed dinosaurs. My wife couldn’t understand it. We knew we were having a girl. Why was I buying all these dinosaurs? And I would say, “Well, girls like dinosaurs, too.” But it was clear that I was sort of obsessed with dinosaurs; and the whole idea of children and dinosaurs, and the meaning of what that was, was just on my mind a lot during that period.

(Don Shay & Jody Duncan, p. 3)

Dr. Will Tattersdill, an academic researching the “social history of dinosaurs” in popular culture over the decades, has discussed how dinosaurs “mean a yearning for the past” and allow the observer to experience both human culture and natural history simultaneously. It’s interesting to consider that framework in recognizing that these movies start with characters, especially kids, yearning to connect with the dinosaurs, being awed by the dinosaurs, before the dinosaurs turn against them. The past isn’t enough to shield them from the crisis of the present, and in fact leads to that very crisis, the dissolution of the preexisting family.

It pains me to say that I can’t recall who said this or where it was printed, but I vaguely recall a comparison made between dinosaurs and children’s parents. Dinosaurs are big, objects of affection, at times terrifying, representative of a past before you existed, just as parents are to kids. A divorce or separation causes a considerable amount of chaos and confusion, if not outright trauma, for a young child, and these devoted caretakers also may inadvertently harm the child in the process of an especially bitter divorce. I think there’s something there in the Jurassic Park franchise, in that these kids admire the dinosaurs, the dinosaurs cause them harm, and they ultimately learn to coexist with the dinosaurs and survive. That evolution typically overlaps with the reformation of the family or the creation of a new found family.

At least to my eye, then, the experiences of the characters make literal the emotional harm and healing associated with the largely background family dynamics that inform the motivations and relationships central to every Jurassic Park movie.

Big ideas in Battle at Big Rock

I really rather liked Battle at Big Rock. It’s a high-concept short film with a very close focus on how just one family is impacted by this new world of dinosaurs coexisting with the modern era. The dinosaurs look great, and the terrified family has enough characterization to really root for them. I would love a lot of little films like this, just showcasing the new reality of that dinosaur-infused world.

Maybe more than the core story itself, the ending vignettes really showcase the big and small ways that the world has changed. That’s where I think the magic really lies with Big Rock. It’s not just the dramatic, life-or-death struggle between humans and big theropods, but seeing dinosaurs as harmless pests, traffic hazards, beautiful wildlife to see when out fishing or camping, invasive species, and so on. Those quieter moments set up interesting questions, prompt fun ideas, and provide a variety of new narrative possibilities. Outside of movies, I could see a variety of storytelling initiatives that all end up under the Jurassic World umbrella.

It’s not exactly comparable to Xenozoic because in that world, the neo-prehistoric life has overwhelmed the natural order in the wake of apocalypse (and that life comes from a much broader range of geologic ages). But still, the idea of a whole world of stories of humans just interacting with these long-lost lifeforms creates the same sort of tingling up and down my spine. It’s an exhilarating concept!

Jurassic World Evolution 2 seems like it’s going to play with this concept of a world adjusting to live with dinosaurs. For instance, in a fairly early forum post, Frontier Senior Community Manager Jens Erik wrote, “Certain modes allow you to transport live dinosaurs into your park from the wild via remote capture and narrative events and in some levels, they’ll be wild dinosaurs in your surrounding area that you need to locate, tranquilise and transport back to your facilities.” That same post discussed how the game would have dinosaurs forming natural territories in their exhibits. Rather than the deluxe destination resorts of Jurassic World Evolution (or the first and fourth movies), this seems more like an effort at conservation and containment among us, not apart from us. But not all stories need to be so big as a story about conservation park-building.

More Big Rock-style encounters with dinosaurs, even quiet moments, even subtle moments, could make for fun stories. I could imagine:

  • A group of biologists and paleontologists study a community of dinosaurs in northern California, seeing whether they’re thriving in their new environment and how the native plants and animals are handling the new arrivals;
  • A Jaws-type adventure as a whaling vessel attempts to hunt down the mosasaur;
  • A group of children befriend a peaceful baby Apatosaurus that becomes a bit of a handful as it continues to grow bigger and bigger;
  • Animal control struggles to keep a compy problem in check in a small city; or
  • Scientists for a rogue state or terrorist organization have bought or engineered some predators that predictably get loose and munch on their overlords.

And I’m still thinking too narrowly, along the lines of movies I’ve seen before. You could do whatever you wanted with the premise of dinosaurs just being out in the wild now. The “big idea” from Big Rock is the promise that you can have any sort of humans-and-dinosaurs story now, that it doesn’t have to be defined by a single genre and doesn’t even have to look like a Jurassic Park movie. I’m sure I’ve said it before a time or two on this blog, and I’ll probably say it a time or two again. But this promise continues to excite me! I hope it gets realized, in more short films, books, comics, and things that don’t really look anything like what the franchise has been so far.

Blue’s Story

Jurassic World portrays the Velociraptors as very intelligent, feral animals that can nonetheless be trained, at least to a certain degree. Owen’s pack appears to bounce around in loyalty dependent on the situation, and there’s the constant tension from the beginning that they’re always a moment away from turning on and killing their human alpha. It makes sense that the raptors would be trainable but unreliable. You could expect the same from a “trained” wolf or tiger or bear. And the raptors are super-smart predators from another era.

Still, Fallen Kingdom relies on the audience to root for and trust Blue throughout virtually the whole movie. She’s the Good Dinosaur, if you will. And we’re shown early on in this movie that Blue is actually special in a number of ways, not just smarter than the other raptors but more empathetic. She and Owen have a very special bond.

At first, Fallen Kingdom seems to reverse on the depiction of the raptors from the predecessor film, making Blue, at least, a friendlier killer. But while I’ll admit that it’s at least somewhat of a retcon, I don’t think that the movies are actually in contradiction. Fallen Kingdom invites a different read, in which Blue has been a hero the whole time, a consistently loyal girl to her sisters and her human dad.

It must be acknowledged that this view of Blue is not shared by Owen himself. Owen clearly respects the raptors, but he is also clearly aware that they might kill him given the chance. And that’s undeniable; riled up enough, they probably would kill Owen and move on. But these raptors don’t have any reason to understand just how much weaker humans are; humans always seem in control of the situation, literally above them all, wielding treats and correction from a remove. They could easily kill Owen, but I suspect that were it to happen, it would be an accident. The raptors regularly jostle for rank, it would seem, and what could be an acceptable clash between sisters could be lethal if applied toward a human.

When we first meet the raptors, they’re responding to Owen’s commands (if perhaps a bit reluctantly). We are to understand that this has been a long journey to get them to respond promptly and correctly. But Fallen Kingdom also lets us know that the other raptors are going to be more problematic, that they don’t have the same level of empathy, the same ability for cross-species connection, that Blue has. Blue is the bridge between the worlds. Even Jurassic World doesn’t suggest that they’d kill for no reason. The antics with the pig and the keeper are the result of human negligence; it’s natural that the raptors, instinctively viewing the little fleeing piglet as prey, would be desirous of it, and it’s also natural that they might react with hostility toward a human suddenly and unwantedly dropped into their territory, a human interfering with their pig hunt, a human they have no connection to. They’d definitely kill that keeper; I’m not so sure, however, that they’d have lunged for Owen if he hadn’t rolled away. In fact, it’s not just the roll but his movement to face away from them that seems to trigger them. If they’d wanted to, they could have easily taken him down in the moment, but they were at least tenuously reactive to his commands.

After that, Blue doesn’t ever act aggressively toward Owen. In fact, none of the raptors seem to act aggressively toward their alpha. When deployed on the chase for the Indominus, they’re perfectly content to hunt down their target, running alongside Owen as an integrated pack. Sure, they’re caught off guard by the Indominus; they’d have no reason to expect that it could communicate with them. And it’s certainly big enough to be a real threat! When I first watched this scene, I saw the moment in which all their camera views are trained on Owen as a sign that they’d turned on him, that they were about to attack. Owen certainly believes they’d found a new alpha (after, it should be mentioned, the raptors would have reason to feel betrayed by being fired on). But again, in context of the softer view of at least Blue in Fallen Kingdom, it’s just as reasonable to see that moment as the raptors turning back to Owen for input about how to proceed. Because Owen doesn’t fully trust his pack and can’t intuit their thinking, he perceives it as a threat. But wouldn’t a loyal pack look to their leader, waiting patiently for his cue before proceeding? It’s only when the mercenaries start firing that they turn on the humans–and even then, they target the other humans, not Owen. Owen had warned early in the movie, in that pig-keeper scene, that if the raptors were fired on, they’d “never trust me again.”

Even in the ensuing chaos, there are signs of raptor loyalty. Charlie and Owen made eye contact during the fight, and even though she’d just killed another man, she didn’t react aggressively. She cocked her head, acted curious. She seemed to be awaiting input yet again, only to be killed by a rocket explosion a moment later. Similarly, Owen was able to get Blue to leave Barry alone by whistling for her; it’s as easy to say that she followed him because he was the leader as to say it was because she was hunting him instead. Later, Delta might even have attacked Hoskins because she recognizes him as a bad guy and a threat to both Owen and her pack.

It’s true that the raptors pursue Owen’s party and corner them, but why wouldn’t they? Owen’s their leader, and they’re trained to form up on him. Rather than attack, Blue lets him remove the camera halter. The raptors once more communicate with Indominus and look to Owen for input, which he’s able to actually signal this time. Frustrated by the raptors’ lack of compliance, the Indominus attacks Blue, making the ensuing fight deeply personal for Delta and Echo. The raptors fight for their sisters and their dad to the very end in this final battle. After the fight, lone raptor survivor Blue looks first to the Tyrannosaurus and then to Owen to determine what to do. Subtly warned away by Owen and apparently perceiving that she no longer has a place or a pack, she leaves without any aggression toward Owen or his companions.

Fallen Kingdom‘s additional details about Blue don’t have to undermine or contradict anything that came before. And once more in Fallen Kingdom, Blue feels fiercely loyal to her human dad and his human pack, though once more she ultimately chooses to go off on her own when all the threats have passed, seemingly recognizing that she’ll never fit in without her own raptor companions. She stays long enough to make sure Owen is okay, and then she leaves, choosing a life of isolation and freedom over companionship and imprisonment.

Blue is a loyal hero with a tragic arc. This is largely true for her antihero raptor sisters, as well. Both of the Jurassic World films ultimately support this read, especially when viewed together. And Blue deserves the interpretation!

How I learned to stop worrying and tolerate Jurassic Park III

I’ve never really cared for Jurassic Park III. It’s loud, dumb, and mean. It doesn’t truly do anything new. Once more, people return to an island full of dinosaurs, and bad things happen as a result. Sam Neill’s returning Alan Grant seems as fatigued with the tired cycle as the most cynical audience member, and that fatigue only grows as he puts up with surviving a dino-island yet again, accompanied by idiots. His shock and disbelief at having been tricked back onto one of these islands is matched by my own: it’s quite a contrived narrative that gets him there and in the predicament of once more standing down theropods.

But I’m not here to explain why I didn’t like Jurassic Park III. I’d imagine most people who have seen it could understand that well enough on their own. I’m here to explain how I came to tolerate it within the franchise.

The first step is distance. I return to these movies often enough, but it wasn’t too hard to leave III out of the rotation even as Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom were added in. Yet I still did return to it, with enough time between viewings that my impression could become more muted and less annoyed.

The second step required me to let go of my frustrations as I gave up on my annoyance. And there were a lot of things that frustrated me: the aforementioned laborious way in which Dr. Grant is brought back, the obnoxious Kirbys, Billy’s fake-out death and abrupt return in the rushed final moments, the lackluster depictions of the dinosaurs, the super-monster version of Spinosaurus, the super-intelligent raptors, the mean-spiritedness of the deaths…Even petty things that aren’t inherently flaws within the film, like the writers’ decision to end Grant and Sattler’s relationship, with Ellie settling down to have kids and Alan refocusing on his digs in isolation. Just let it all go. I had to accept that those things exist in the movie and there’s nothing for me to do about it.

The third step was being goaded to return to the film by people who found things to like about it. And yes, there are things to like about it–it’s a technically impressive film if nothing else. Plus, hearing from people who like it and can re-contextualize some of its less-impressive elements can lead to a little altered, more forgiving perspective when viewing. That leads right into the next step.

The fourth step is reframing some of the things that used to bother me. For instance, it always bothered me that Eric Kirby, a 12-year-old kid, managed to survive alone on the island for weeks; his survival skills appeared to outmatch even Grant’s, whom he rescued, and he appears to have performed a series of death-defying stunts in his parents’ absence, for instance collecting fresh tyrannosaur piss or obtaining a claw from a Velociraptor. But the actual events in the movie can provide an implied narrative that isn’t so outlandish and is a little easier for me to suspend disbelief. Eric was lucky. He wandered onto the InGen site, finding a source of food, water, and shelter. The abandoned tanker truck made a perfectly secure abode that could be sealed from dinosaur threats. He didn’t spend his time becoming a hardened survivalist so much as simply hiding and staying out of the way. Maybe he happened to collect the tyrannosaur urine after having observed one of the tyrants passing nearby with compies scattering before it. Maybe the Velociraptor lost its claw in a fight with a rival or in taking down prey, and Eric just collected it later. When Grant is ambushed by the Velociraptors, it’s not because he screwed up; he was carrying their eggs, and he didn’t know it. They could smell them, surely, and their entire objective was in retrieving their brood. Eric then dashed in with his supply of gas grenades. Once more, it was luck that got Eric through. Clearly, the kid is tough, determined, and smart, but we don’t have to accept the notion that he’s the most badass member of the group.

The fifth step is pure happenstance. As this whole process was taking place, years–now literally decades–after the movie was released, I got really into Jurassic World: Evolution. And some of the coolest dinosaur skins in that game were based off models from Jurassic Park III. Most realistic? No. But coolest. The dinosaurs in that movie are really vibrant. I liked those models. It was a small thing, but it let me come around to their depiction in the movie.

The sixth and final step is to find the things I outright like in the movie and to focus on them. For instance, much of III is a big, fun safari adventure just like The Lost World but with a smaller cast and no rival team. This adventure narrative leads to some very cool action sequences, like the initial Spinosaurus attack, the Velociraptor-induced stampede, the boat attack, or the aviary ambush. And while the movie avoids moments of true wonder that balanced out the first two movies, it does at least have a beautiful aerial sequence when the rescue team first arrives, and there’s the slow-paced moment on the river right after Grant lays out his theory about boys who want to be astronomers versus astronauts. And yes, the raptors are way too smart at this point, and the males’ little fringe of quills was a poor nod to the developing notion that dinosaurs like them would have been feathered, but the elaborate communication was still interesting behavior, and it did serve as a further attempt to present the dinosaurs as animals, not monsters (even as that effort is undermined by the wildly inaccurate and hyper-aggressive Spinosaurus that is fixated on hunting down all humans). And okay, the movie has a mean streak, but it’s okay for the franchise to lean into horror a little more–Fallen Kingdom‘s gothic vibes are great–and anyway, wasn’t I just praising The Lost World for being a darker film?

And that’s how I’ve learned to tolerate Jurassic Park III. Of course, I don’t really need to go soft on a movie in a massive blockbuster franchise. But it’s a franchise I’m otherwise rather fond of, and it’s nice to actually enjoy a rewatch of that third entry.

The Charms of The Lost World

Rotten Tomatoes has Jurassic Park at 92% fresh, in contrast to the rotten 53% of The Lost World and even worse 49% of Jurassic Park III. Clearly, among most critics there’s a widely agreed-upon loss in quality between the first film and its sequels–and audiences generally agreed as well. But while I recognize that The Lost World isn’t as good a movie as the original, I’m with the 53% of critics who had a generally favorable impression of the first sequel.

Part of my fondness for the film is pure nostalgia. I was only 8 years old when the movie released. By this point, I’d watched Jurassic Park many times on home video and played even more hours with an assortment of tie-in toys; I’d read the sequel novel by Michael Crichton (although, curiously, I wouldn’t read the original until a few years later); and while I no longer remember the particular entertainment magazine, I remember flipping through glossy photos of the actors, sets, and dinosaur animatronics while reading behind-the-scenes details in advance. While I had been very interested in Jurassic Park, I was a bit too young for it when it came out; I just loved dinosaurs, but the movie was initially a little too scary for me (I vividly remember covering my eyes the first time during the kitchen scene), and I certainly didn’t get to go see it in theaters. I was primed to love the newer movie in the full, over-eager way a kid can love anything, and with a nearly quadrupled promotional budget over the original, Universal was clearly doing everything in its power to burrow brand recognition and excitement into every young person’s head.

As I’ve aged, my views about the movie have shifted, but I’ve never been able to regard it too harshly. For what it is, it’s a lot of fun: a big, prehistoric safari for the first half that shifts to something resembling survival horror and ends with a King Kong– or kaiju-style monster rampage through San Diego.

The cast is truly great, too. Jeff Goldblum’s return as Ian Malcolm, now the lead protagonist, offers a new spin on the character, who has gone from rock star to worn-out dad. I like that the movie inverts his role within the narrative, especially as it builds on the trauma he endured at the park. I also like that Malcolm is prominently confronted by the consequences of his former cavalier attitude toward women and relationships. Then there’s Julianne Moore, who’s great in everything, as not only an adventurous paleontologist but a sort of maternal force: Sarah Harding argues that dinosaurs nurtured their young and views the island as a way to test her views, she’s supportive of Kelly in a way that Ian isn’t, she attempts to care for the wounded juvenile tyrannosaur, and she protects Kelly when the adult tyrannosaurs show up in the camp site. Pete Postlethwaite is shockingly sympathetic for a poacher, with his wearied no-nonsense attitude in working for yet another rich idiot, his concern for the injured, his focus on problem-solving and willingness to set aside a grudge, his quixotic quest to be the best hunter on the planet, and his eventual separation from the mercenary lifestyle that all together suggest an inner nobility guided by self-imposed rules of honor, like some modern-day knight. Richard Schiff plays loveable tech geek Eddie Carr, completely out of his element but a downright good guy who sacrifices his life for his colleagues (in a truly horrific death that deeply disturbs me every time–I find myself screaming, “Eddie’s a hero! He deserves better!” on just about every viewing); Peter Stormare has a notable side role as Dieter, the asshole second-in-command for the poachers; Arliss Howard is an anti-Hammond whose snide and overconfident façade that barely covers a weaselly inferiority complex is easy to hate; Vince Vaughn plays his usual laid-back-bro-with-a-heart-of-gold; and Richard Attenborough’s single appearance in the film is scene-stealing.

The Lost World also has a little more darkness and moral complexity than the original. After all, it confronts the audience again and again with the proposition, are the heroes even the good guys? Hammond sends Sarah off alone to an island full of lethal prehistoric animals, which just isn’t smart regardless of her survival skills on the African savannah, and he dispatches the remainder of the team without even adequately informing them of the risks–for instance, that another, and much better funded, InGen team would soon arrive to pillage the place. To be fair, he clues in one member of the team, but of course Nick Van Owen is a saboteur and eco-terrorist who’s willing to put others’ lives in danger for the sake of freeing the dinosaurs, and he doesn’t bother to fill anyone in until things get set in motion. Sarah and Nick make several decisions that compromise the safety of both teams: freeing the dinosaurs in the camp, taking the juvenile tyrannosaur with them, keeping the bloodied clothing instead of discarding it so that the tyrannosaurs are all that much more easily able to track them, and taking the bullets from Roland Tembo’s gun. Sure, most of these actions were inadvertent, but it’s also true that most if not all of the deaths can be traced to their choices. Of course, it’s still easy to root for them since they care about the dinosaurs and we know them better than the hunters. And who really wants to cheer for poachers, even commanded by someone as charming as Pete Postlethwaite, when the scummy Peter Ludlow is writing their checks and some of them, like Dieter, are just vicious, uncaring, and brutal? (Whether we should actually devote so much to conserving species brought back from extinction after dozens or hundreds of millions of years is another question entirely that this film doesn’t really wrangle with; Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom at least engaged with that debate but quickly backed away from it.)

Then of course the dinosaurs themselves are great. I love the speculative socialized and nurturing behaviors shown. Would Stegosaurus really have cared for its young like that? It doesn’t matter; it was still some fun behavior to model, a nice counterpoint to dinosaurs as dumb and slow brutes, and the animatronics and computer animation that brought those stegosaurs to life is really something else. In general, the special effects look even better than those in Jurassic Park, showing some impressive updates in technology in a few short years, and all of the returning dinosaurs get a bit of a makeover even as a few new critters make their appearance. And while the Compsognathus / Procompsognathus amalgam is maybe a bit of a miss, most of the other new additions seemed rather true-to-life for the time. Plus, in 1997 paleontologists were only beginning to discover more and more feathered dinosaurs, so it was fair enough (probably) to leave them all scaly.

There are things that I truly don’t like about the movie. The pacing is a bit all over the place, as the plot moves forward in fits and starts, and the San Diego sequence, while exciting, feels like it belongs to a different movie (of course, if you think of the whole movie as an homage to King Kong, which surely would have been in Steven Spielberg’s mind, then the final act makes more sense). And that San Diego sequence offers a tantalizing possibility but in some ways doesn’t go far enough; dinosaurs on the mainland would have been a practical way to move on from the repeated trips to remote islands for similar survival stories, and it wouldn’t be until Fallen Kingdom that the franchise finally took advantage of this. Not that all of my complaints lay in that final section of the film, but also, I can never wrap my head around the logistics of how the Tyrannosaurus buck broke out of the cargo hold, killed everyone, and then was once more trapped; an explanation could exist, and perhaps it would even be something that would satisfy me, but the bizarre appearance of the ghost freighter has always invited the question of what exactly happened–and I don’t think of myself typically as the sort of doofus yelling “plot hole!” just because something’s not explicitly depicted onscreen. Then there’s the one really bad casting choice: Harvey Jason, an English actor, plays Ajay Sidhu, the Indian assistant to Roland Tembo, and it seems to be a textbook example of brownface.

Other than that, though, I wouldn’t say that The Lost World is a bad movie. It’s just tonally different from Jurassic Park. It’s not about the same things, and its recurring characters are (appropriately) different than they were before. This is an adventure movie, a spiritual successor to movies like the original screen adaptation of The Lost World in 1925, or King Kong in 1933, or any of the kaiju movies spawned out of them. It’s part monster movie, part safari adventure, and it maybe feels a bit disjointed because of that. Or maybe it’s because The Lost World is a crueler movie with a less-clear moral center than its predecessor. Doesn’t make it bad, but it does make it difficult to categorize. It’s rough around the edges, more inclined to brutality than awe, with deeply flawed characters filling the roles of protagonists and antagonists. It’s an interesting experiment for such a damn big blockbuster movie. And I’m still charmed by it.

Jurassic Park: Book vs. Film

It’s common knowledge that the book is always better than the movie. Except for when it isn’t. Jurassic Park is a fairly unique case, in that the movie is an incredible achievement and is distinctly superior to the book, and yet in adapting from print to screen, it takes some liberties and changes some characters and plot arcs for the worse. While I do believe that the best version of Jurassic Park exists on the screen, there are some notable caveats that go with that statement, and depending on your storytelling priorities, it’s perfectly reasonable to favor the book. It’s sort of a tie, then, isn’t it?

Below are the elements I favored in each version.

Better in the Film

  1. Almost all of the characters. Except for the case of Gennaro (made into a symbol of corporate greed and embodied primarily by cowardice) and Nedry (who remains a fairly simple bumbling villain, and yet another character motivated by greed), they’re all more human and complex.
    1. Hammond is refreshingly reformed, not a simple corporate bad guy or “evil Walt Disney” like the book, and I think his realization over the course of the film that the park was a bad idea, his recognition that his consultants’ concerns about power, control, and chaos were right, provides a fantastic character arc that also serves to reinforce the central theme of the movie in a better and more subtle way than the preachy lectures from Malcolm in the novel; this also provides a nice setup for Hammond’s reformation and attempt to get the dinosaurs left alone that motivates him to act in The Lost World.
    2. Grant has a fantastic new arc, becoming more comfortable with children and developing paternal characteristics that had otherwise been lacking and suggest a likely improvement in his long-term relationship with Sattler (and so I’ll never really forgive Jurassic Park III for bringing the two back as exes, with Sattler having found another partner to start a family with).
    3. Speaking of Sattler, the sensitivity and fearful resolve brought to the role by Laura Dern make for an improved character over the more generic Action Hero Woman defined solely by beauty and nerves of steel in the book.
    4. Malcolm is made to be hipper and funnier, somewhat less a boring know-it-all, in part thanks to far fewer speeches and in part due to the magnetism Jeff Goldblum naturally produces.
    5. Switching the relative ages of dino-nerd Tim and scaredy-cat Lex, and then making Lex a computer geek, makes Lex far less annoying and gives her something practical to do while retaining Tim’s function in the story. Helpful, endearing kids–who are still kids and require protection–make Grant’s arc even more plausible and, more importantly, make it easier for the audience (or at least me) to care when the kids are imperiled. (I literally gasp every time I watch that Explorer slide over the edge with Grant and Lex barely grasping the line to safety in time.)
  2. The design of the park is gorgeous, the sets are amazing, and it looks better than I could have imagined from reading the book alone. In fact, the book makes the park seem smaller, in a way, even though there’s a more involved tour and then the extended river raft sequence to show more of it and more of the dinosaurs in it. (Tough to beat the lush Hawaiian ridges in the background of the film for making the island and park seem enormous.)
  3. The movie focuses on a smaller set of intense action scenes with plenty of smaller character moments in between. The book is too much a run of threat after threat, with virtually no character development (I’ll talk in the next section about the cool moments of meandering the book gets into, but they’re not there for character development).
  4. The movie really nails moments of awe. In the book, there’s more sickening dread throughout. Whereas the movie still opens with the Velociraptor attack, it then shifts to introducing our characters, and when we get to the island, we get the cool Brachiosaurus scene. The book lingers on moments of horror, characterized by the introductory scene in which a maimed man is brought back to the mainland to die, followed by a prolonged subplot about several Procompsognathus that have escaped to the mainland to prey on infants.
  5. The movie ends with a sense of hope and renewed purpose. The book ends on a darker note, with a much higher body count, the island napalmed, predators escaped to the mainland, and the surviving protagonists held prisoner.

Better in the Book

  1. Gennaro is done a great disservice in the film by combining his character with Ed Regis and killing him off early. I really like the Gennaro of the book. He’s still representative of corporate greed and irresponsibility, but he’s frankly not a bad man, and he’s provided an opportunity for reluctant redemption. Gennaro’s also the book’s everyman and therefore makes for the most relatable viewpoint character, in contrast to the author’s mouthpiece that is Malcolm or the Action Heroes of Grant and Sattler.
  2. There is not a single best version of Muldoon, but the book’s version has some strong points in his favor. I love Bob Peck’s portrayal, but I also like the older, alcoholic, roguish figure of the novel. I also enjoy Muldoon’s meatier role, as he becomes centrally involved in the subplot of attempting to get the park back online, doing things like tranquilizing the adult Tyrannosaurus, finding Nedry’s corpse, and distracting the raptors when attempting to restore power. And there’s the fact that Muldoon makes it out alive in the book. I do prefer the film’s treatment of death–anyone and everyone is at risk, and even though the body count is lower, it’s not the simple use of violent death as moral consequence that Crichton tends to employ in his books. Still, Muldoon’s a character I want to make it off the island; he knew better, and he actually paid attention to the threat the dinosaurs represented. It’s especially humiliating for the film version of the character in that he’s taken down by the dinosaurs he’s supposed to know and respect/fear.
  3. The dinosaurs in the book are more accurate, at least for the time of publication. The film takes too many liberties with some of its dinosaurs, though they are still mostly quite realistic (again, for the time of release) and certainly dynamic in a way that most audiences hadn’t seen before. Even the weird divergences in the book, like Velociraptor actually being Deinonychus, are explicitly discussed, and the speculative behaviors presented for some of the dinosaurs are exactly that–speculative, not necessarily inaccurate.
  4. The book actually answers the questions raised by its central mysteries. The movie never explains why the Triceratops keeps getting sick (nor does it even bother to suggest that Sattler is right) or how the Velociraptor were breeding without notice or able to escape their confinement to lay eggs in the park. The novel simply had more raptors, so it was easier to imagine them secretly disappearing at night in small numbers, but the movie has only the three, so it’s a little harder to imagine that no one would ever notice (then again, they had a skeleton crew to run the park, even more so in the movie).
  5. The book also spends more time fleshing out how the park is run and staffed, how things go to hell and how systems are restored, and even what the dinosaurs really are. I liked the moments spent with Muldoon, Wu, and Harding and the more behind-the-curtain elements that their stories, and Hammond’s, provided. While I’d never want to see a movie remake of Jurassic Park, which is more or less perfect as is, I really wouldn’t mind at all a television series that adapted the novel and mirrored its more meandering pace and curiosity about every element of how this park could possibly exist. Spielberg rightly focused on the awe and spectacle, but I like Crichton’s intense focus on rationalizing everything, on making it seem real, like an incident that had actually occurred. Crichton was interested in the infrastructure and logistics of it all, and I suppose I am too.

A fairly neutral point is how each version left the state of the fictional universe for potential sequels. Certainly sequels are never necessary, but we’ve certainly had plenty of sequels nonetheless, and it’s interesting to consider how the changed landscapes at the conclusions of the original stories impacted what later stories could reasonably be told.

The book closes off any option of a return to Isla Nublar, given its dramatic napalm bombing finale. However, it does leave the dangling thread of some of the dinosaurs having reached the mainland–at least some Procompsognathus and what is suggested to be Velociraptor. That might have been a rather limited scope for a sequel, but you’d immediately be in a world where dinosaurs were coexisting with remote human populations, and that could have been interesting. I’m rather glad we didn’t see that sequel, though, because I don’t think I’d much care for such a scenario where there were only a few small theropods left. Sure, it could have been an interesting story about preserving and containing de-extinct and now endangered life that was nonetheless an invasive species, but I bet it would have been more a monster narrative about killer dinosaurs.

Ultimately, it was the better choice for Crichton to abandon this subplot. And, given his interest in a plausible prehistoric park and in the nuts-and-bolts infrastructure of it, the existence of a Site B makes a lot of sense and is a good starting point. It doesn’t feel like a do-over, but more a reflection that Jurassic Park would have required considerable facilities for genetics, manufacturing, incubation, and raising the young dinosaurs that likely would have to be larger than the infrastructure suggested even in the book’s version of the park. It’s a natural development. I’m also hardly alone in finding that Crichton’s best stories tend to borrow themes and structures from classic literature, so it shouldn’t be surprising that he turned to perhaps the most signature adventure story of humans stumbling upon a lost prehistoric land for the sequel, lifting even the title of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World for his novel. Once more, Crichton spends a lot of time on nuts and bolts, building out a plausible sequence of events for the characters to discover this lost world and articulating a coherent explanation for its existence and abandonment. But the plot itself suffers, and he reuses character types from Jurassic Park, down to bringing along two kids. Truly, once the team gets to the island, the plot takes a backseat to a series of mostly disconnected action set pieces, interesting speculative dinosaur behaviors, and long-winded philosophical debates among the protagonists. The central mystery on the island–how can the ecosystem support so many carnivores?–is not especially interesting and keeps getting derailed by the next action scene. And the central antagonists are just bumbling poachers, as Crichton apparently felt it necessary to bring the BioSyn corporate antagonist behind Nedry back into the mix in a rather mundane way. Perhaps the most unusual carryover from the first book is the return of Ian Malcolm, a character who was quite dead. While a bizarre choice, I imagine this was an acquiescence to audience interest and the very living version of the character in the movie. It might perhaps be another nod to Arthur Conan Doyle, who in addition to writing The Lost World was of course the creator of Sherlock Holmes, whom he once killed off and later brought back.

Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp had their own loose ends they could have followed up on. After all, there’s no mention of bombing the island. There could have still been dinosaurs on Isla Nublar. Perhaps InGen could have sent in a team to try to control the situation, encountering new threats and exploring previously unseen areas of the park. The mysteries left unanswered in the film could have been addressed. And while the lysine contingency would have gone into effect with the absence of human intervention, the animals’ continued survival would have been another mystery to answer–after all, that was another question left to address on Isla Sorna either way. While they largely scrapped the broad adventure plot of Crichton’s sequel, they did pull in several of the characters, a few of the action sequences, and the broad concept of the second island, so Nublar was left neglected. Of course, the films did eventually get back to Isla Nublar and a reorganized park, but in the process, they left the fate of the dinosaurs on Isla Sorna in shadow. Why was the volcanic eruption on Isla Nublar a potential threat of re-extinction for the dinosaurs if they were thriving on Site B? The only for-certain explanation, provided in ancillary materials like the Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Survival Guide, is that the animals were relocated from Isla Sorna to the new park on Isla Nublar. Were they all moved? How did InGen get around the apparent preserve status set up for Isla Sorna after the events of The Lost World, especially if they completely depleted the newly established ecosystem in the process? Regardless, it would have been nice if each film didn’t act as though there was only one island with dinosaurs on it, that island being whichever one was the focus of that given film.

But now I’m way off topic. The bottom line: there are a great many things I like about both the book and movie version of Jurassic Park, and I’m glad they both exist.