Jurassic Word Dominion is a rip-roaring, flawed visual and aural sensation against a rogue sonic boom heard worldwide, Top Gun: Maverick. Maverick’s premium large format screens will be consumed by idiosyncratic humans trying to defend two sides of a coin versus a maverick pilot defining his place in a modern world; both films should do well at the box office.
But should they?
It would be easy to point fingers at the studios for mining their various intellectual properties for new stories. There isn’t a month where Disney doesn’t have some new variant of a Marvel or Star Wars property that doesn’t have social media abuzz.
Is there room for everyone at this table?
Similar questions are posited in the third Jurassic World installment, Dominion. Following the events in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, we see the young, brash Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) living off the grid, trying to protect a precocious Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon) from an impending disaster.
Not that any entry in the Jurassic film series, whose characters are based on those created by Michael Crichton, hasn’t had an impending disaster in its midst. The films in the original trilogy contended with the implications of ideological decisions made by others, only to have disasters befall them. Resourcefulness and knowledge defined these movies (I know some will disagree with this logic applied to The Lost World and Jurassic Park III.)
Jurassic World Dominion’s disaster is different, born of the same human frailties.
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they never stopped to think if they should.” Trevorrow, who co-wrote the screenplay with Emily Carmichael, based on a treatment he wrote with Derek Connolly, pines to balance the preternatural warning Dr. Ian Malcom posited in the original Jurassic Park 29 years ago.
In a way, Trevorrow and company succeed. A story full of genuine humanity is buried underneath the massive footprint of a Giganotosaurus. Of course, it takes three friends from the past to get us to that point, namely Dr. Ellie Sattler, played brilliantly by Laura Dern, Dr. Ian Malcom, played by the magnificent Jeff Goldblum, and the ever wise, curiously quiescent Dr. Alan Grant. Dern and Neill, who were last seen in Jurassic Park III, experience a bit of role reversal, and Dern is this film’s strength. Goldblum is a bit of curiosity within this story; his character is relevant, but he is not as boisterous in that Goldblum-like way. This trio’s character arcs bring them together with the Jurassic World trio, not in a well-shot if misplaced action centerpiece that I think people will be talking about as much as the complex and beautifully shot animatronic combined with CGI dinosaurs.
Filming on Jurassic World Dominion began pre-Pandemic in multiple locations and had to shut down for four months. In those months, the production was able to sequester themselves. The cast was able to knuckle down with Trevorrow to form an ensemble worthy of the original Jurassic Park.
The Jurassic World characters come into their own, while the Jurassic Park characters round them out. “Human behavior flows from three main sources: desire, emotion, and knowledge.” Plato’s words apply equally to the supporting characters, namely Campbell Scott’s Dr. Lewis Dodgson, BD Wong’s Dr. Henry Wu, and DeWanda Wise’s Kayla Watts.
All three have a hand in the desire, emotions, and knowledge to get our two trios out of the situation created for Jurassic World Dominion. With that comes specific logistical issues inherent in a film that runs 2 hours and 26 minutes, the longest in the franchise.
Even without the visually beautiful and terrifying animatronics and CGI dinosaurs that inhabit the film, the pacing of the film is frenetic. The franchise’s gas pedal sticks to the floor, deciding if this latest entry is a look at the ideological implications it proposes or a frenetically paced Indiana Jones/Jason Bourne–type globetrotting adventure. It just can’t seem to keep its feet on terra firma.
It manages to be both, but in doing so, it truly feels like the Jurassic series has run its course. I long for the days of yore, where the wonder and awe were the technology used to create something that should not be here, where intellect and healthy debate drove the central thesis of a movie. I know audiences want more than that today.
Where do we go from here?
Jurassic World Dominion reminds me of Jason Bourne, of characters who had already run their course trying one last time to prove their relevance in an air-tight world that sought to cast them out in the first place. Dern shines, Campbell annoys perfectly, Goldblum is diminutively charming, Neill observes, Wong mystifies, and Wise is resourceful. The story paints Pratt and Howard in an awkward light. It was awkward because their characters were far more adventurous in the first two Jurassic World films, especially Pratt, who was very cocksure at training Blue. Still, this dichotomy demonstrates just how much parents today struggle, perhaps even more so, to understand their children who demand independence. Yet, the combination of the characters creates an evolution of humanity, painted against the change of the story’s antagonists.
It isn’t enough, though. Michael Giacchino uses John Williams’ theme sparingly, and the music is not as strong as his previous efforts in the series. The film’s frenetic pace eats at the film’s intelligence. Audiences won’t see Jurassic World Dominion for its evolutionary intelligence; they will see it for the wow factor. To boot, Jurassic World Dominion was shot on 35mm film, 65mm film, and VistaVision by John Schwartzman. Shooting on film is something that is rarely done these days because of cost. The justification is in the jaw-dropping visual impact as much as the Dolby Atmos mix, booming in just the right spots.
As much as I admire its evolution, Jurassic World Dominion’s revolution is too little, too late for the franchise.
Jurassic World Dominion
Directed by Colin Trevorrow
Screenplay by Emily Carmichael and Colin Trevorrow
Story by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, based on characters by Michael Crichton
Starring Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill, DeWanda Wise, Mamoudou Athie, BD Wong, Omar Sy, Isabella Sermon, Campbell Scott, Justice Smith
PG-13, 146 minutes, Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment