‘Jurassic World Dominion’ Tests Sustainability of a Franchise
“Bigger. Why do they always need to go bigger?” Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Golblum’s) question about Jurassic World Dominion’s new antagonist, the Giganotosarus could be applied to the Jurassic series in general. It could be explained by the vast majority of franchise filmmaking, which is a game where you try to outdo the previous entry while meeting ever-changing audience expectations. A game of balancing nostalgia and the new.
How long can this game last. Even though the original premises were simple, a franchise’s sustainability must eventually end.
Jurassic World Dominion , in which Colin Trevorrow returns to the director’s seat following J.A. Bayona’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, is certainly bigger. Dominion has the longest runtime, cast from two generations, number of subplots and is the largest Jurassic movie ever. It’s also earning big at this weekend’s box office. As the lowest reviews of the franchise have indicated, bigger does not always mean better. If you expect another critical pan here, you are reading the wrong writer. At the moment, I don’t care about “better than” and “worse-than” conversations. For now, however, I will say that I enjoyed Dominion , partly because it is a clear testimony to the strengths and weaknesses in the blockbuster movie business.
Why go bigger? Because we clamor for it, and we have done so ever since Darth Vader revealed Luke Skywalker’s parentage in 1980. That move drove sequels — from The Temple of Doom (1984) to The Dark Knight (2008) — to attempt to reach the heights of Empire Strikes Back. Some succeeded, while others failed miserably. We send a message to our fans, our social media chatter and most importantly, our wallets that we want bigger — longer runs, more characters and higher stakes.
At the same time, audiences want familiarity to recall how they felt when they first saw that entry. This creates a delicate balance. This creates a balance. We’ve seen the argument of the “overly” familiar with Jurassic World (2015) and The Force Awakens (2015), and the “excessively” off-brand with The Last Jedi (2017) and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018). And we’ve seen attempts to swing the needle back the other way and balance the new and the old, with The Rise of Skywalker (2019) and Jurassic World Dominion, films that left many fans frustrated.
Expectations get more difficult to manage the longer a franchise is in existence. We’ve seen it happen time and time again with Terminator, Fast and Furious, The Wizarding World and Transformers.Even the unshakable MCU has faced its share of post-Endgame (2019) growing pains, as Marvel challenges audience expectations with projects such as Eternals.
Undoubtedly Top Gun has been a huge success story since its launch over Memorial Day weekend. It isn’t Top Gun . We haven’t been inundated with sequels, spin-offs, animated series, and network reboots in the years since Top Gun (1986). Yes, Joseph Kosinski’s filmmaking is outstanding. But Tom Cruise, our last movie star has managed to keep the series alive. Maverick does not have to be a surprise or defy the expectations of a Top Gun movie. It can instead enjoy its own nostalgia, while still feeling fresh, which allows it to surpass the original without deconstructing it.
When it comes to Jurassic Park sequels, only the first Jurassic World has received mostly positive reviews, and even those were somewhat reluctant, aided by the fact that it had been 14 years since Jurassic Park III (2001) and that newly minted leading man Chris Pratt was its star. Jurassic World was the most similar to Spielberg’s original. However, aside from a fresh coat and a subplot that involved military interest in trained Raptors, it did little to advance the franchise. It was a film that aimed to wow an audience by going bigger and reminding viewers why they fell in love with Jurassic Park (1993) in the first place.
But, it was also a film which served as a warning: You can’t go back. The thrill of seeing dinosaurs like we did in 1993 can’t be replicated, and whether it’s called Jurassic Park or Jurassic World, the idea of dinos set loose in a theme park cannot support a franchise on its own. Trevorrow came up with the fascinating theory that humans can clone dinosaurs and can then create new species, weapons, food sources, and change the ecology of the planet.
Even Spielberg understood that he couldn’t surpass what he did in the first, so he shifted directions and delivered a pulp adventure story with the bones of King Kong (1933) and The Lost World (1960) in The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which was only loosely based on Michael Crichton’s sequel novel. Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III became a fast-paced survival story that combines likeable characters with action. All the Jurassic sequels have one thing in common: they are B-monster movies. They have multi-genre elements, finger-wagging about nature’s dangers, and are the type of stories Crichton excelled in. There’s a reason why every adaptation of his work outside the first Jurassic Park and HBO’s Westworld, are firmly B-movies. It’s in the source.
Trevorrow, who took over the franchise and co-wrote each of the Jurassic World entries, has been dogged by the idea that he was merely chasing the 1993 film. But I don’t think he was. I believe Trevorrow was conscious and not without humor that the franchise had to push the boundaries of the idea of dinosaurs living alongside humans in the modern age. Fallen Kingdom was a movie that played to Bayona’s strengths. It started as a disaster movie, but then it became a horror story that mixed Resident Evil and Dino Crisis ,. Maisie (Isabella Sermon) was cloned and hunted down by a genetically engineered monster living in an old house. The film’s conclusion, which showed dinosaurs roaming the world, promised humans a life with them.
But Dominion ‘s opening shows that dinosaurs live among humans. However, it’s not a story we haven’t seen in many kaiju movies. Instead Dominion ,, much to many people’s dismay becomes about the attempt of genetic research company BioSyn to control both food and health industries. They use dinosaurs as a means to this end. BioSyn’s owner Lewis Dodgeson (Campbell Scott), and scientist Dr. Henry Wu(BD Wong), connect the film back with the first. However, their interests are not limited to dinosaurs and the future of life on Earth. The fact that this movie was shot during COVID-19 adds an extra layer to its environmental leanings, and what we’re willing to sacrifice in order to believe that we control nature.
Dominion also features the most locust action since The Exorcist II: The Heretic (1977), a sequel that also tried to go bigger but was panned upon release. Notably, Martin Scorsese prefers it to Friedkin’s original, which is motive enough to at least reconsider any critically maligned sequel to a classic, if that entices anyone. In all seriousness, the result of Jurassic World: Dominion is a franchise entry that feels less like Spielberg and the most like Crichton’s bibliography, a grab-bag of elements from The Andromeda Strain, Westworld, Congo, Prey and Jurassic Park.
Dominion defies what some people hoped to see. It is understandable that people expected to see old and new characters come together to fight the dinosaurs. However, Ian Malcolm (Sam Neil), Ellie Sattler(Laura Dern), Owen Grady, Owen Grady, Claire Dearing, Barryce Dallas Howard), Maisie lockwood, Kayla Wise, Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie), and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) don’t get together until the final act. The result is a third act, which is more bizarre, messy and interesting. It’s not Jurassic Park . despite a few callbacks. This seems to be the point. In order to survive, the franchise has evolved into something else. Is this a sign to end it? Should Hollywood allow it to lie for now, and then be rediscovered by a future generation?
I’m sure that many of you are saying yes. I understand. Yet, I’ll counter. I believe it is impossible to continue a franchise that has been around for so many years. This franchise used to include Jurassic Park IV with rockets strapped onto raptors and sent into war zones. It was once suggested that a group of dino-human hybrid mercenaries be created. These ideas are extreme leaps from where the 1993 film began, and yet, the Jurassic World trilogy has laid the groundwork in which both of these scenarios are still ridiculous, yet plausible in the world that’s been established. I say, “Bring it on!”
Jurassic Park is undeniably an iconic film, but it’s impossible to imagine a sequel to it. Some may interpret this as calling the franchise’s end. With their sequels, Spielberg, Johnston and Bayona showed that it can also mean letting go, running wild and going bigger. There might be a masterpiece somewhere else, or there may just be more B-monster movies similar to the ones that inspired Crichton & Spielberg. This is a legacy that most franchises can only dream of.