Jurassic Storytelling

Last Monday I went to the movie theater to see Jurassic World: Dominion. I don’t often go to the theater anymore, but this movie was a special case. The original Jurassic Park (1993) was the first live-action movie I asked my parents to take me to see in theaters, and it has been one of my favorite movies all my life. Now, almost thirty years later, it seemed appropriate to see this final act of the Jurassic franchise in the theater as well. Movies and storytelling has changed a great deal in the past thirty years, so I went into the experience looking only at the nostalgic value and not much else.

Many people think the Jurassic franchise is only about the dinosaurs, and yet it has been a long-known fact that the original movie only has 15 minutes worth of dinosaur screentime. When Jurassic Park first came out, it was designed to be a Hollywood blockbuster movie, not some B-rated monster movie. It focused on the human storyline and the writing. It innovated use of CGI effects in combination with animatronics and (unused) stop-motion. And the original movie still stands up against today’s films as far as visual appeal.

Unfortunately, over the next 30 years of its development, CGI has gone from something used to make what is seen onscreen more believable to something which replaces believability altogether. Another franchise I went to theaters to see was the Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit. The Lord of the Rings brought Middle Earth to life with use of CGI, forced perspective shots, and miniatures, a combination of old school and new school technology. But it did have scenes where CGI pushed believability into unbelievable. And by the time The Hobbit trilogy came out, the reliance on CGI effects made the movies almost unwatchable for me. The only reason I saw them in theaters was due to the nostalgia factor again, held over from seeing the Lord of the Rings movies in theaters both with my friends and with my family.

While CGI has come to take up more and more of the screentime in fantasy, sci-fi, and action movies, I find that the writing itself has suffered. Characters come across as flat or underdeveloped. Cheesy lines abound or great actors are given hardly any lines to work with at all. Action sequences become bigger and more elaborate, going from “wow” to “wtf” as they play out much longer than necessary. Special effects scenes which would have offered a laugh in a B-rated film due to their hokeyness only manage to put me off further from spending money on movie tickets today.

I found that Jurassic World: Dominion had its own range of problems but also had some good points too. Like most movies today which utilize CGI, it has its fair share of the unbelievable, the hokey, and the cheesy. Many people may forgive these things because they interpret the movie as designed for kids or families, but Michael Crichton’s original Jurassic Park and The Lost World novels were certainly not children’s books. One thing I definitely have not liked throughout the Jurassic franchise is its devotion to this weird, formulaic storytelling where: 1. children always have to have a hero scene where they do something supposedly badass that the adults failed at doing, 2. the human villain is always some caricature of a greedy, selfish asshole only interested in money (JP-III thankfully didn’t have a human villain!), and 3. there always has to be a t. rex battle with something sufficiently badass to prove Rexy is Queen of the Dinosaurs, complete with victory roar. It’s the same story over and over and over again.

Something which surprised me about Jurassic World: Dominion is that it flowed similar to a three-act play, something exceedingly rare in today’s society of short attention spans and lack of appreciation for well-constructed plotlines. It gives me some hope that quality storytelling may come back to movies and that perhaps the over-reliance on CGI action sequences to sell them may come to an end eventually. I almost wish that JW: Dominion wasn’t the final piece in a trilogy, because it has enough interesting subplots to have been its own trilogy. There are plenty of avenues for spinoff storylines to take which would bring us less-formulaic repeats of the entire franchise to this point, but unfortunately, those will fall into the realm of missed opportunities. We can always dream, however!

Overall, I wish movies would end their reliance on CGI and go back to scripts which tell human stories meant to inspire rather than awe. We need well-developed characters rather than caricatures and stereotypes. Actors and actresses deserve scripts which allow them, not their stunt doubles, to show off their skills. And audiences deserve new stories, not recycled retellings of the same old stories time and time again. We need writers who won’t give up on quality storytelling!


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