ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jim LaMotta is one of Pittsburgh’s premiere wrestling announcers, as well as a great writer. This article originally appeared on Steel City Underground. You can follow Jim on Twitter.
The highly-anticipated Jurassic World: Dominion hits theaters this weekend, and depending on the schedule to do commentary for a wrestling show on Saturday, I plan to see it either this weekend between calling the chaos on the canvas or next weekend. Either way, since Comcast owns Universal Studios, the production company of the franchise, the original trilogy has been on various channels on the Comcast system to further promote the release of the latest installment. Plus, even if you have another cable provider, the advertisements for this film are everywhere. Fast food commercials have sandwiches based on the dinosaurs, and Dr. Pepper cans are stamped with the Dominion logo.
One thing is for sure, in the pandemic era when some new releases opted to go the stream route, this is a movie that has a major atmosphere around it that not many films have had recently because of the pandemic. Since Sam already did a very good job of the individual film analysis of the series for this site, and recent bouts on insomnia have kept this franchise on my TV on a regular basis, I wanted to take a different approach to the premise of this franchise.
What made this series work and so popular for almost thirty years?
Similar to most successful franchises, some of the sequels have been hit or miss. I found that Jurassic Park is a particularly good example of cinema that had to attempt to thread the needle between art and the cash at the box office. Granted, the discussion can be that the movie business is just that, a business, and the total revenue is the true barometer of success. Before the receipts for Dominion are even tabulated, the franchise has generated nearly five billion dollars over the span of three decades. That doesn’t take into account the numerous spin-offs, the merchandise, and theme park attractions associated with it.
Still, some purists have to wonder if the aura of a certain production would’ve remained untainted without a subpar sequel?
The majority of the Halloween sequels diluted what was accomplished with the John Carpenter original. Speaking of the original, as we know, the legendary Steven Spielberg directed the first two installments of the dinosaur adventure, and opted to serve as an executive producer for the remainder of the franchise. Still, even Spielberg knows the risk of sequels, which is why he stepped away after the iconic Jaws original film. We could’ve done without Meyers running around for a few extra decades, the same way nobody was really clamoring for Jaws to invade Sea World.
Still, cash is king and the almighty dollar is what drove Universal Studios to cash-in on the massive success of the 1993 movie.
Michael Crichton, the author of the 1990 novel that the original film is based on, made big money for his involvement in the movie, and it was only after the enormous success of the movie that Universal wanted a follow-up book from him so that a sequel could be developed to capitalize on the success. The Lost World was published in 1995 and hit screens by 1997, but the biggest takeaway was that the narrative of Jurassic Park was originally intended to be a stand-alone story. The novel wasn’t designed to have a follow-up or leave unanswered questions to be answered with a later edition. By nature, stretching the story to get another film from it lowered the quality of the story. Sure, the logic was there that explorers went to find dinosaurs, and knowing the danger, Ian Malcolm traveled to rescue them, but the fact that a second island wasn’t mentioned at all in the first film tells the audience that this entire concept materialized to justify another movie at the box office. Of course, after two films, it’s only natural to want to complete the trilogy, and it wasn’t surprising that the further the story got away from the original premise, it quite literally yielded diminishing returns, as 2001’s Jurassic Park III, a project that was still very profitable, generated the least amount of revenue of the initial trilogy.
Although, it wasn’t simply the extension of the story that saw a dip in its effectiveness.
There are many key aspects of the 1993 version that the two follow-up films just didn’t have. First and most importantly, the concept of dinosaurs wandering around the modern day world is such a neat concept. We’ve seen the fossils and the illustrations of what these massive creatures would’ve looked like so there’s always the question about what it would be like to see the animals in-person. Next, the casting and character dynamics, while garnering mixed reviews at the time from critics, was very well-done. This movie is about dinosaurs chasing humans, it’s not supposed to be on par with the character depth of Citizen Kane. Sam Neil’s Dr. Grant was an all-business paleontologist that detailed how the velociraptors would’ve devoured a youngster who disrespectfully called the fearsome creatures “a giant turkey” in an early scene before he protects the kids of the film, Lex and Timmy, the grandchildren of InGen founder, John Hammond, during their adventure through the park. Pittsburgh’s own Jeff Goldblum played the role of Dr. Ian Malcolm, the bombastic professor that was so cool that he became a favorite of the film for audiences. Hence the reason why Malcolm is the lead protagonist in the second film, taking the role previously held by Alan Grant. At the same time, it wasn’t Lex and Timmy in danger, but Ian’s daughter, who invited herself along for the trip not knowing what would be on the island. At the very least, it was the same basic story with the same basic premise. Still, I think The Lost World gets a little too much flak and in my opinion, the dinosaur rampaging through the streets was a little too much of a stretch (even for a dinosaur film) after the initial story on the second island was solid. As we know Jurassic Park III brings Dr. Grant back onto the scene, but the narrative is very flat, and I’d consider the film nothing more than an excuse to complete a trilogy.
Ironically, the stray away from the original concept is more or less what allowed Jurassic World to jump-start the franchise again. It was almost 15 years since the audience saw the dinosaurs on the big screen, and with a combination of Chris Pratt as the new protagonist, and kids cast to rejuvenate the original Timmy and Lex roles, the movie worked.
Aside from the humans, the hero and villain dynamic was used for the prehistoric creatures throughout the franchise. The 1993 movie had the raptors to chase the humans before the T-Rex makes the save in one of the final scenes. When the new trilogy hit screens, Blue was a raptor that became a favorite of the audience to combat the more “villainous” dinosaurs.
Some of the key aspects that made such an impression on audiences during the release of Jurassic Park were both the animations, which were made by the Sam Winston production company and the visual effects. There are a few different documentary clips on Youtube that show some amazing footage of how the prop dinosaurs were used in some of the more iconic scenes, as well as filming techniques that were used to camouflage the computer-generated portions as well. I always thought film sequences were much more impactful when the audience actually saw the object on screen as opposed to something computer-generated. Maybe I’m wrong, but there just seems to be a disconnect when you can tell that the “danger” on-screen is just a digital addition in post-production. Perhaps, that’s another reason the sequels didn’t quite reach the level of the original since CGI creatures are much cheaper to add in later, thus adding to the eventual profit margin at the box office.
The Jurassic World sequel, Fallen Kingdom was a subpar film that lacked story and the visual presentation previously seen in the franchise. I’m generally a very pessimistic person, but I’ve honestly wondered if Fallen Kingdom got the green light simply because Universal wanted to get a second trilogy from the franchise.
That leaves us with Dominion, a film that will bring together our original favorites with the modern day cast. I don’t have major expectations for this film, but I hope I’m wrong about doubts of the quality of the narrative. I’m hoping that Dr. Grant, Malcolm, and Ellie Sattler weren’t just brought back for the sole purpose to use the nostalgia to sell the final piece of a second trilogy because there wasn’t a quality story for Dominion.
Ultimately, Jurassic Park remains such a treasured part of American cinema because it had adventure, action, and wholesome characters. The score by legendary composer John Williams, who worked on a number of Spielberg projects, enhances all of those pieces of the puzzle to create a franchise that remains an endearing movie nearly thirty years after its debut in theaters.