Monday, November 11, 2013

Musing on Jurassic Park

You may have noticed that I was supposed to put up a movie review on Friday, but the good movie I considered reviewing, Jurassic Park, has been reviewed to death. It’s a fun movie. Spielberg did an excellent job translating Michael Crichton’s trudge of a novel into an endlessly rewatchable movie that brought dinosaurs back into the public eye. The flaws have all been talked about-dated science, poor logic, underdeveloped characters, etc. The strengths have also all been talked about-the likable performances, the masterful editing and directing, the beautiful music, and fantastic special effects.  The sequels are horrible, but I will deal with them eventually. 

So, what I’m going to talk about is the upcoming sequel. Is it really a good idea? What to do with it? Well, let’s see where the sequels went: the first sequel featured two Tyrannosaurs instead of one; the plot changed to be about unscrupulous dinosaur hunters than about the dinosaurs, introduced Stegosaurus to the dinosaur roll call, and only retained Ian Malcolm of the original characters. The second featured Spinosaurus instead of Tyrannosaurus, the plot was about surviving and escaping the island, introduced Spinosaurus and Ceratosaurus, and only retained Alan Grant of the original characters. 

Now, I wouldn’t call either film a good one. So, what would make a good Jurassic Park movie? Well, something as good as the original: Competent direction, good pacing, likeable, well-defined characters, and innovation and effort. Then comes the question-isn’t that what all good stories are about? Yep. 

This leads to another question-do we need another Jurassic Park movie? This franchise revived interest and love of dinosaurs when robots, cars, bullets, spacecraft, lasers and martial arts seemed to have left it in the dust. Even now, action films, romantic comedies, gross-outs, and superhero films clearly dominate the market while dinosaurs show up once every few years. There is an upcoming dinosaur film this Christmas, but there’s no guarantee it will be as good or as big of a hit as Jurassic Park.  So in that way, another film would be a delight.

On the other hand, is this the only way to get a good dinosaur movie? Jurassic Park was a great premise. The problem is, once a premise is done, that’s it. While studios love remakes and franchise reboots, it would not be a success critically or aesthetically.  Could the franchise be taken in a different direction? Not really. The original film doesn’t exactly lend itself to a sequel. The film has likeable characters and a novel setting, but the strong point is an event-after it happens, everyone is safe and goes their separate ways. Once our heroes escape, that’s it. There’s no reason for them to return, or for Hammond to try again, or for the dinosaurs to be in the proper circumstance to be menacing again.   It’s pretty much over, and that’s one of the reasons the sequels failed-the story has been told. The same thing happened with the Jaws films; after the original, there’s just no need for the story to continue. 

So now what? Well, there’s more than one way to make a good dinosaur movie. A simple idea is a film from a dinosaur’s point of view. Of course, this is anthropomorphizing, and it ranges: from the well-done novel Raptor Red and television show Dinosaur Revolution to the poorly done films Tarbosaurs 3D and Dinosaur.  This upcoming Walking With Dinosaurs movie is definitely in the same mold, and has many people worried for that. Anthropomorphism is also more for a children’s story, and this is reflected by the works I just mentioned-only Raptor Red is an adult book, and that’s more for language, gore, and advanced scientific concepts. 

So, the solution is to get dinosaurs and people together in a way where the people are in danger.  A truly genius writer could come up with something entirely new, but the main methods are the proverbial lost world, time travel, or prehistoric fantasy (caveman movies, for example).  These have been done to death, but to be fair, not that well done. I mentioned remakes-instead of remaking Jurassic Park, why not remake One Million BC (again)? Or The Lost World (again)? Or something similar with interesting characters. Both technology and what we know about dinosaurs have both increased, and it’s those particular innovations that made Jurassic Park so great; the dinosaurs were portrayed more realistically than ever before, and by new methods of technology.  

What would really help is a work that inspires many others. Jurassic Park inspired many more dinosaur books, films, toys and other media in pop culture. Walking With Dinosaurs led to dozens of similar documentaries. Everyone loves dinosaurs, and marketing on it would be easy. It’s this appeal that creates dinosaur movies in the first place, and they will be inevitable, no matter how much more popular hyper technology, superpowers, and other science fiction and fantasy elements may be. I have faith that the time of the dinosaurs in the public eye will come again, but I do not think Jurassic Park will bring it about.   That’s my take, anyway

So, if you have a great dinosaur movie idea, be sure to let me know. This Friday I’ll return to form.

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