So yeah, Infinity War was great, Black Panther was ace, Ant Man 2 looks grand and I’m glad Solo’s got good reviews (thus far). But I’ve been way more excited about seeing dinosaurs on the big screen again, rather than superheroes and spaceships. This is maybe a nostalgia thing – every kid likes dinosaurs, and I expect many former children, now in their 30’s, will share the memory of going to the cinema and being amazed by the original’s awesome effects . Age definitely matters for these things, hence my complete lack of attachment to the Wizard of Oz. But among all the many magnificent beasts, the one that stood out was the T-Rex: the perfect emblem for the allure and threat of the natural world, but also the film’s ultimate hero (with its ability to somehow sneak up on raptors at the end). For 25 years I’ve rooted for that t-rex/ one like it and followed its, erm, many wise teachings to the extent it’s one of my favourite fictional characters. Now, with its return being just around the corner, I thought it’d be a good time to rank the rest. So hold on to your butts, and welcome to Jurassic Park. Be warned: there be spoilers.
4. Jurassic Park III (2001): By far the weakest in the franchise, this one has the same relentless food on the gas feel of the fourth Indiana Jones. No sooner has our returning protagonist Alan Grant stepped foot on the island than he’s confronted with both a T-Rex and series newcomer the Spinosaurus (which looks as silly as you’d think). There’s minimal build up and few moments of calm, with not even Sam Neill managing to make Grant look against the odds. Repeatedly, he leaves attacks unscathed, removing any suspense from proceedings. Furthermore, moments like his dream, him speaking raptor, or managing to hear the Spinosaurus coming from a satellite phone in its belly (which later ends up in its poop), represent cartoonish low moments for the series. And how the hell Ellie Sattler has the connections to call in the military at the end, to save the day, I got no idea. If my loved ones were caught on an island with dinosaurs I wouldn’t possibly be able to send in the marines – I wouldn’t know where to start! Maybe her SAS pals owed her a favour. This kind of lazy, amateur writing betrays the intricate plotting of the source material and makes it nothing more than a chase film – with no character development and no point. In addition, the island from the second is reimagined as a small series of corridors, ravines, platforms and thin edges that lose the open feel of the earlier two’s lush plains. It seems almost tailor-made for by the numbers chases. It’s well known there were production issues on Jurassic Park III – the team started filming it before they had a script finished, and this really shows. The dialogue is almost completely functional, with characters saying the bare minimum to connect the action sequences, and the few plot developments are based on a host of poor decisions. Sure, the dinos are still there (although with them scarcely being in the shade, they look daft now) and so is the iconic soundtrack. But make no mistake, this is less a Jurassic Park film than a made for TV B-Movie that watches like a videogame. Despite being a series fan, I’ve only watched it twice since it came out nearly twenty years ago, and can’t see myself bothering again. Still, the brief scene where they witness the creatures living in harmony is worth a smile. Albeit a brief one.
3. The Lost World, Jurassic Park (1997): Allegedly made to cheer Spielberg up after Schindler’s List, The Lost World is a perfectly passable piece of dinotainment. Jeff Goldblum returns as quirky maths genius Ian Malcolm. This time around he’s going to different island of prehistoric predators in pursuit of his girlfriend, who’s gone to photograph the critters living in harmony for propaganda purposes. It doesn’t last – hot on their heels are the evil Ingen corporation, sending hunters to gather these stunning animals up to take them to California. Cue more science gone wrong, with an in yer face subtext about parenthood and some big action sequences. Yes, compared to part one, the set-pieces are far more elaborate. There’s a stampede, a literal cliff-hanger and the infamous dinosaur in San Diego sequence (which feels very tacked on, even if the image of a T-Rex lapping up water from the swimming pool is kind of adorable). Although some of these bits look astounding, something the movie really lacks is the human touch or any real depth. It’s nice to see Malcolm bond with his daughter, yet as a protagonist he’s perhaps too outlandish to sell the film’s darker tone. The string of sidekicks are also nothing like as a memorable as those we’d met before, with me still not being able to tell you either Richard Schiff or Vince Vaughn’s characters’ names several viewings later. Unfortunately, this means large sections of the movie drag, with thematic conversations treading similar grounds to the first, but with less elegance, and the deaths having minimal impact. Still, years later I’m far more likely to dig it up than the third.
2. Jurassic World (2015): A return to form for the franchise. In a way I look at the series as helping define, then subsequently undermining, my formative years – before bringing them back in style. After a long break, co-writer/ director Colin Trevorrow dug up the bones of the original series and brought it back to life. Fittingly, the story sees the departed John Hammond’s dream become a reality, with a zoo by way of Disneyland on the island. Among other things, audiences can enjoy live feedings, pet the animals, go on gentle rides and see the latest in dangerous genetic hybrids. Speaking of which, thanks to some irresponsible scientists we have the ultimate dinosaur: the Indominus Rex (aka the i-Rex). Heck, it’s so nasty it even hunts for sport. Really, it may as well be twiddling a ‘tache or wearing dark leather gloves. After the usual security mishaps, it’s on the loose with tonnes of tourists to pray on. Luckily, fresh from guarding the galaxy, Chris Pratt is there. Here he stars as dinosaur trainer Owen: a man so badass he rides a motorcycle alongside Velociraptors. If this sounds goofy, it’s because it is. Jurassic World isn’t necessarily a great movie. Pratt and co-star Bryce Dallas Howard are both on form, making for likeable characters, yet they have very little chemistry together. And since the heroes never truly feel out of their depth (the kids can fix cars and, again, he trains bloody raptors) there’s not much tension. Still, with the focus on fun, spectacle and self-awareness it’s everything you’d want from a modern reboot: an entertaining two hours and a love letter to the first. For this reason, Jurassic World was maybe the oddest movie to bring a tear to my eye. In a perfectly handled bit of nostalgia, the T-Rex that’d been imprisoned ’til then, is freed and saves the day again by beating up the i-Rex. It was like watching my childhood duke it out with another much younger kid’s and win. Afterwards Rexy climbs a hill, showing off the scars picked up from the original, to survey the landscape and give an almighty roar. The queen is back!
1. Jurassic Park (1993): This will surprise nobody – I’m not the kind of contrarian that’d make anything but this the victor. The original dinosaur thriller, Jurassic Park came out in 1993 yet has aged better than every other entry. Back then it was a revolution in special effects with awe-inspiring creatures running, herding and feasting. The action sequences are first rate, with Spielberg doing spectacle and suspense in equal measures. The T-Rex chasing a car may be pretty thrilling, but the raptors in the kitchen (with two kids) are darn frightening. However, no small part of why these sequences work is how great the cast and their characters are. There’s no boring roles in Jurassic Park. Each gets their time to shine, or contribute to the film’s substance with a different take on the ethics of engineering these animals. Yes, for a movie where dinosaurs chase people around an island, there’s a surprising intelligence to the script. Based on a bestseller, by sci-fi legend Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park doesn’t skimp on the science. It takes its time in gradually selling its premise, with thoughtful dialogue and some expert pacing. The start attractions are slowly introduced, baiting the audience, before all hell breaks loose. Sam Neill and Laura Dern are great as reluctant heroes – palaeontologists initially seduced by Hammond’s amazing idea, their bewilderment is completely convincing, making their sense of dread all the more powerful. Moreover, whilst the book had them as teacher and student, their dynamic as lovers gives an emotional backbone. Grants transition from skeptic to would-be dad is handled with enough care for audiences to excuse the cliche, and frankly outdoes every other arc in the series to date. Finally, John Williams’ score needs a mention – along with providing the single greatest movie theme ever composed, he gives every single scene a sense of beauty, wonder and danger. I don’t know if this is in the classics canon with Lord of the Rings and Star Wars, where every generation below mine watches it. Although if not, it certainly should be, and with each new feature I’d hope young kids start to dig around their parents collections to find out where they came from.
Will the new one live up to it? I doubt it, but I fully intend to catch up with my favourite dinosaurs again next month. If even a bit of it can recapture the joy of first seeing dinosaurs onscreen then I’ll be darn happy. And if early reviews from the Spanish premiere are anything to go by, I will be.