Everyone who knows me knows that, in my opinion, Jurassic Park is the best movie in the whole world. Ever. The Wizard of Oz and The Empire Strikes Back are close seconds, of course, but this one is forever my favorite. It’s also my favorite book, and Michael Crichton is my favorite author because of it (and, of course, because he’s awesome in general).
The plot is a technological retelling of Frankenstein and The Island of Doctor Moreau, but the closest it gets to the deep, unsettling questions of creation explored in those novels is Ian Malcolm’s “God creates dinosaurs. God destroys dinosaurs. God creates Man. Man destroys God. Man creates dinosaurs,” followed by Ellie Sattler’s sublime, “Dinosaurs eat Man. Woman inherits the Earth.” It never pretends to be a deep, insightful movie, but it’s just so slick and fun, you can’t help but love it. The effects in this movie have also withstood the test of time, which is quite a feat since there are big budget movies that came out a decade after this one that look goofy now. Sure, it has flaws, but who cares? Jurassic Park is AWESOME! *ecstatic cheers*
…but, when examined as a series, it’s a bit more underwhelming. *crowd all goes “awwww…”*
The Lost World (1997) starts out promising but quickly devolves into groan-worthy goofiness. I love that Ian Malcolm is back…but this version of him is devoid of any playful humor and intense reclining poses (of which there were many in Jurassic Park). Now, that’s not a bad thing, but instead of turning the character into a cynical and damaged guy who hasn’t yet recovered from the most spectacular and terrifying “I told you so” moment ever, he just ends up being kind of…blah. And that’s awful, because it’s JEFF GOLDBLUM. He should never be blah! And then they throw in a bunch more blah characters and you begin to root for the dinosaurs to just eat everyone so the movie can end. By the time the plot gets to a T-Rex gleefully stomping through San Diego, you’re just kind of done.
Jurassic Park III (2001) is just poorly written and awkward, featuring a whole lot of super convenient moments that just pointlessly leech tension from the situation. Sam Neill is the recurring character in this one, and he does an able job, but you can tell he’s super embarrassed in many scenes. The Spinosaurus is pretty fun, and occasionally menacing, though the plot device of his arrival being heralded by the sound of a Nokia ringer is sort of silly. And the Spino/T-Rex battle is fun, but still manages to not be all that memorable. Like The Lost World, this one just doesn’t have any real likable characters (save for Alan Grant), and the whole thing just feels goofy, and not in a fun way. You watch both these movies for the dino effects and that’s about it.
So why, when Jurassic World was announced, did everybody (myself included) begin salivating in anticipation. A 33% success rate for a series isn’t good. Why are we so unimaginably giddy for this one, especially when we have huge Star Wars, James Bond, and Marvel properties looming on the horizon as well?
I’ve got three reasons.
Every nine year old thinks of dinosaurs with a mixture of awe and terror. They’re the closest the Earth has ever had to actual dragons, and several of them could conceivably be ridden like huge skyscraper-sized horses. What kid WOULDN’T enjoy the idea of riding a Brachiosaurus to school and then trampling the building to splinters, making it recess forever!? Screw logistics, you know you thought about that at least once. Don’t lie.
The thing that made the first movie so captivating, especially to young viewers, is that, even though the characters spend a lot of time running away from vicious carnivores, there’s plenty of time devoted to standing in awe of just how cool dinosaurs are as well. Think of the Brachiosaurus scenes, or the Triceratops scene, or even the flock of Gallimimus (which, to Seven-Year-Old Me was one of the coolest shots of the entire movie because it took place during the day and looked so real that I was pretty convinced Spielberg had gone ahead and cloned dinosaurs to save on his special effects budget). Even the T-Rex becomes basically the hero of the story by the end. They’re scary only because they escaped. We all knew that if Nedry hadn’t done the thing, things would have been lovely and perfect, no matter what Malcolm said.
And so we gleefully await another entry in the franchise, despite two back-to-back missteps. Even if Jurassic World is terrible (which it WON’T be!), there will be dinosaurs that we haven’t seen on screen yet, so it’s automatically cooler than every other movie.
2. The nostalgia associated with the first movie automatically trumps the two sequels.
Jurassic Park wasn’t just a blockbuster. It was an important event in the psychological development in the minds of young people everywhere. I’m pretty sure I have an extra lobe in my brain devoted to everything dinosaur-ish as the result of viewing this movie. As a counterexample, think of The Matrix, a very good move that was followed by two meh sequels. If they announced a 4th Matrix movie today, fan reaction would be one of exasperation and shrugs. The first movie was incredible and iconic, but it appealed to adults, and never really grabbed the minds of its younger viewers in the same way as Jurassic Park, which urged kids everywhere to pursue careers in paleontology and genetics and ecology and filmmaking and computer programming. Those kids that said, “I want to be an astronaut!” or “I wanna be a ballerina!” were suddenly boring because you knew you wanted to dig up a new dinosaur and then bring it back to life and then keep it in your back yard to scare away mean kids. No one picks on the kid with a T-Rex in his backyard, after all.
My point is, this movie was the whole world for a while when it came out. Then we all grew up and watched the sequels and went “yeah ok, I guess.” But then we kept growing up and realized that growing up sucks and we wanted to be kids again. And then the trailer for Jurassic World came along and reminded us of those happy days when we all knew we were going to be famous scientists some day and that, if we were ever invited to an island where dinosaurs had been resurrected, we knew what to do in the event of a breakout.
3. We trust studios more today, for some reason
The percentage of bad movies made hasn’t really changed much, but I’ve noticed that public trust in studios has gone up. In the late 90’s and early 00’s, sequels were often met with “Why make another one!? You’ll just ruin it!” or “the sequel is never as good as the original!” even though there were many great sequels made at that time. Today, the idea of a continuation of a classic series is met with cheers, which means everyone has basically forgotten that Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008) was a thing that happened. But because Batman Begins (2005), Casino Royale (2006), and Star Trek (2009) breathed new life into franchises that had become, in pop culture’s eyes, silly, people became more forgiving. The consistent success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe also proved that audiences responded well when studios put effort into their sequels, which set the standard even higher. Remember when Batman and Robin (1997) was a highly anticipated blockbuster and made tons of money? Because it totally did. Such a thing could never happen today.
And so we wait for June 12th with a childlike giddiness that has only been stoked further with the release of the newest mindblowing trailer for Star Wars Episode VII. It’s a very good year to be a nerd.
If Jurassic World is good, I predict a new sequel a couple years down the road. If not, it’s still going to be a box office juggernaut because nostalgia is everything right now. I would literally give a major organ to speed time along. Sigh. Stupid linear time… *kicks rocks*
So, thank you for listening to me geek out, which, I guess happens every week, but you know what I mean. I’m going to go play with my dinosaurs now. Here’s the newest trailer for you, if you haven’t already seen it!
See you next week! We’ll be continuing with James Bond Overdose as Daniel Craig steps into the gunbarrel. Or, if I get a chance to see Avengers: Age of Ultron, then there will be much Marvel geeking happening. You’ll just have to tune in to see which!