It has been fourteen years since Jurassic Park III hit cinemas – long enough for Steven Spielberg’s $2bn-grossing dinosaur franchise to seem extinct.
It was set on two islands off Costa Rica, where the tyrannosaurus rex and others were reborn for the ultimate safari, and there have been numerous failed attempts to hatch a fourth instalment. And so scepticism precedes this summer’s Jurassic World. Even from its characters. As Bryce Dallas Howard’s corporate drone Claire Dearing notes: “No one’s impressed by dinosaurs anymore.”
After the BBC’s series Walking With Dinosaurs recreated these ancient beasts for television, it no longer seemed so special when a triceratops or brontosaurus mooched across the small screen. So it’s no surprise that Spielberg and an army of film-makers underneath him have struggled to bring a fourth outing of the franchise to fruition.
Jurassic World in pictures
One script boasted ideas so ludicrous it made Harrison Ford hiding in a refrigerator to shelter from a nuclear blast in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull look sane. The esteemed John Sayles (director of Lone Star) and William Monahan (who won an Oscar for scripting The Departed) worked on a story that involved a top-secret genetics lab’s programme to cross-breed humans with dinosaurs.
Other efforts attempted to see pteranodons make it off the islands of Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna and head to the mainland. But it was only when screenwriters Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver took a crack that it began to take shape. Inevitably, the ideas came from Spielberg: that the dinosaur park would finally be open to the public, that a trainer would be able to tame those vicious velociraptors and that a dinosaur would escape – “three key ideas” as incoming director/writer Colin Trevorrow says.
Previously known only for the 2012 time-travel indie Safety Not Guaranteed, the 38-year-old Trevorrow doesn’t hold back when it comes to the earlier drafts. He calls events in the Sayles/Monahan work “bananas” and comments about the Jaffa/Silver script, “I read that but I knew if I directed that movie, I’d make a bad movie”. Trevorrow and co-writer Derek Connolly penned their own version – one that slyly comments on its own creation.
The plot of Jurassic World sees the park a decade into its existence. But with visitor numbers dwindling, the owners face the same problem as Spielberg and co: interesting audiences in a spectacle that’s now old news. The solution? A genetically engineered dinosaur, the “indominus rex” – a hybrid creation, straight from the lab, that blends DNA strands of various creatures.
The way Trevorrow sees it, inherent in Jurassic World is a story about blockbuster culture. “We’re always waiting to be entertained by the next thing – what is bigger, better and faster? I felt like we ultimately made a movie about ‘Jurassic Park IV’. It is the indominus rex! Why would you make another sequel to one of these movies? It’s a horrible mistake. Well, because there’s a lot of money on the table. Why would you rebuild a park? We re-make our mistakes because somebody somewhere is going to make a lot of money.”
Needless to say, the indominus rex escapes from its enclosure – a “containment issue” as the script wryly puts it. Spielberg’s third idea – that of a raptor-trainer – comes in the shape of Owen Grady, a cocksure park ranger played by Guardians of the Galaxy star Chris Pratt, who has the ability to soothe these particular beasts. Compared to Sam Neill’s palaeontologist and Jeff Goldblum’s chaos theorist from the original Jurassic Park, he’s cut from much more heroic cloth.
Even so, when the first trailer was released last November, it hardly inspired confidence. Cut to a slowed-down version of John Williams’s famous score and concluding with Pratt on a motorbike alongside racing raptors, it caused an outpouring of mirth.
With so much riding on the $150m production, Trevorrow admits he’s uncertain about how much plot was revealed in the first trailer. “They haven’t shown everything – there are a lot of surprises left... our team felt they needed to make sure people knew that this was going to be different, and it wasn’t going to be a retread.”
It’s why Trevorrow changed the title from the obvious “Jurassic Park IV” to Jurassic World – to emphasise that this time it’s not just the addition of 3D that’s giving us something different. Even so, that first trailer – which also features a gigantic mosasaurus leaping out of the park waters and munching on a dead shark – arguably showed too much. “I was very against it,” admits the director. “As a film-maker, I would love for people to see nothing, but, in this day and age, I recognise it’s all part of it.”
Another modern-day phenomenon Trevorrow was forced to deal with was social-media speculation about the film; not least that Spielberg stopped production of the film because he wasn’t happy with the script. “I think it’s part of the job at this point,” says Trevorrow. “There’s nothing I can do to control it. I understand that what’s at the source of most of it is a deep love for something that is pristine to people; their childhood represents something that they don’t want anyone soiling or messing with!”
While this is par for the course, he could be forgiven for expecting some solidarity from a fellow director. Yet The Avengers’ Joss Whedon reacted against a clip that showed Pratt and Dallas Howard bantering about their one failed date. “I’m too busy wishing this clip wasn’t Seventies-era sexist,” Whedon tweeted. “She’s a stiff, he’s a life-force – really? Still?”
While Trevorrow’s characters might lack the self-aware badinage seen in a Whedon production, the director is more interested in paying tribute to Spielberg. From the male/female banter to the old-fashioned scares, arguably Jurassic World is the closest we’ve had to a Spielberg holiday blockbuster in years.
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According to Trevorrow, the Jurassic franchise is where his executive producer’s heart lies. “He obviously cares about all of his films, and I know Indiana Jones is important. But Indiana Jones was also George Lucas. That was his character. This was [Spielberg’s] franchise and it is very personal to him. He loves dinosaurs!”
Still, in a year that has already seen the return of Mad Max and has impending reunions with The Terminator, Mission: Impossible and Star Wars, does Jurassic World have what it takes to roar at the box office? Trevorrow is confident. “I feel good. Never since we discovered there were dinosaurs did anyone get sick of them. We haven’t heard that problem. Kids go through a stage where they love dinosaurs – boy or girl.” The real test will be when the park opens for business.
Jurassic World opens on 11 June