IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 142 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera
Four years after the cataclysmic volcanic eruption on Isla Nublar and the Lockwood Estate incident, dinosaurs freely roam among humans. Claire Dearing, former operations manager of Jurassic World, works to protect dinosaurs from illegal breeding organizations. She and Owen Grady have been living in a remote cabin in the Sierra Nevada mountains where they secretly care for Maisie Lockwood, Sir Benjamin Lockwood’s cloned granddaughter, and are astonished when Owen’s trained Velociraptor, Blue, shows up with an offspring that was reproduced asexually. However, Biosyn Genetics, a corrupt biogenetics corporation, kidnaps Maisie. Biosyn also just might have something to do widespread crop destruction by giant locusts which is threatening the world’s food supply….
Was it really twenty years ago that Jurassic Park was unleashed into the screen? It seems much more recent than that. Maybe one reason for that is that the sequels can never, and will never, come anywhere near the impact that it made. Here were dinosaurs that were more convincing than we’d ever seen before; Willis O’ Brien’s animated creatures in 1933’s King Kong had previously set the standard, his stop motion not significantly improved upon even by Ray Harryhausen while most filmmakers just opted for magnified lizards with things stuck on them or puppets. The excitement over its dinosaurs somewhat overshadowed Jurassic Park‘s mastery as a straight down the line audience pleaser, but its classic status is increasingly less in doubt. Fast forward to film number five and number two in the follow-up trilogy Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, and one wonders what the hell went wrong. The ones in between ranged from good to very good, but here was a film that told us John Hammond was stupid enough to build his park on a volcanic island, totally omitted Isla Sorna 2 and 3 in its mass evacuation, tried to impress us with its Indoraptor being trained to attack targets after you point a laser at them and emit an audio cue even though if you’re already pointing a gun with a laser beam at someone it’ll be a lot easier, simpler and safer to pull the trigger, had one of the funniest action set pieces in years with its tiny gyrosphere falling into the sea and very slowly filling up with water while our hero Owen Grady pried over the door with a knife, and – well, you get the picture. A slight plus amongst all the stupidity was some venturing a little down some different pathways, but even this was a concern as we wondered if the third film would get away even more from the dinosaur thrills that we want.
Well, said third film is finally here, after much delaying due to Covid. Somebody on a movie discussion forum said, in response to news that the script was being scaled down due to pandemic measures, that this could benefit the film because it would now have to concentrate more on plot and characterisation. Well, the trailer didn’t give that impression at all, instead suggesting that this could be the ultimate dinosaur epic with different types turning up all over the place. Indeed it does really treat the dinosaur fan with constant sightings, and right from the beginning too; the days of a long build up are long gone though one can miss that. Yet paradoxically the main thrust of the plot doesn’t actually concern dinosaurs at all. The 142 minutes do fly by as the human characters go all over the place and never stop for breath, though the piece isn’t very cohesive, often giving the impression that the script by director Colin Trevorrow, Emily Carmichael and Derek Connolly was randomly constructed. The final shots of Fallen Kingdom included the T-Rex at a zoo, the Mosasaurus attacking surfers, a Velociraptor overlooking a suburban California, and pterodactyls towering above a tourist-populated Las Vegas, and suggested that the sequel would go more into the premise of humans living alongside dinosaurs. However, Dominion, despite its admirable overall theme [which can be applied to whatever you want] of living together in harmony, doesn’t really go into this and focuses far more on plot strands that are weakly set up and don’t always seem to have much to do with each other. The poorness of the third Star Wars trilogy was largely [though not entirely] down to there being no overall plan in where the story was going. The Jurassic World trilogy isn’t quite as bad in that respect, but there’s still a sense that the writers had trouble concluding matters, and, while they certainly do their best to keep us constantly excited to distract us from this, there’s no real epic climax despite us being promised one.
So dinosaurs live uneasily with humans, and a journalist reports on the current state of affair while we see more fun footage of humans encountering dinosaurs, sometimes in bad ways, sometimes not. Apparently this footage was pulled from later on in the film and edited down, but we want to see more of this. Instead, one feels like there’s a whole film bypassed here. Just think of the fun that can be mined from the premise of the two coexisting, not to mention the potential exploring of ethical issues as prehistoric creatures imbalance the ecosystem or recalibrate the food chain. Anyway, not all the dinosaurs are roaming wild; many exist in the Dolomites beside the headquarters of the Biosyn Corporation. We know right away that Biosyn are responsible for this crop destruction, there’s no slow uncovering of a dastardly plot, no attempt whatsoever at mystery. Our screenwriters obviously thought that dinosaurs on their own are clearly not exciting enough any more, but they don’t handle their plot very well. Owen Grady is introduced lassooing a Hadrosaurus in what may or may not be a reference to that classic scene in The Valley Of Gwangi, while Claire Dearing is introduced smuggling out a young Triceratops with two others, though what I couldn’t get a grip on is that Bryce Dallas Howard seems to play a different character in each of these three films. Of course some people do hugely change, but again the writing really lets the side down here. She’s living with Owen Grady, but Howard and Chris Pratt have zero chemistry and the screenplay seems curiously reluctant to show them being affectionate or [god forbid] sexy. Soon Biosyn guys kidnap Maisie and Beta, and we meet the returning Laura Dern as Ellie Sattler, noticing how the locusts avoid Biosyn-produced crops. She approaches Dr. Alan Grant for help, and there’s no real reason for her to rope him in really, but Sam Neill and Dern retain a chemistry even though the script fails to find them much in the way of decent stuff to say.
It’s off to Malta, and, even though we’re not seeing real animals nor animals that exist today, it’s not pleasant to see these magnificent creatures being kept in captivity, made to fight each other in a ring or even being eaten. It all begins to feel like a Bourne movie with dinosaurs replacing a shaky camera, as espionage leads to gunplay, roof top chasing and finally a lengthy Grady on his bike pursued through the streets. It’s technically extremely well put together but isn’t as thrilling as it ought to be, a flaw with many subsequent sequences. He and Claire meet Kayla Watts, a pilot who delivers the live cargo for market vendors and has access to Biosyn HQ. She agrees to fly Owen and Claire there, where Ian Malcolm now works. Malcolm invites Alan and Ellie to the headquarters to secretly help investigate the locust problem, but from here on its mostly about groups of characters being separated and then meeting again as they encounter various perils, which isn’t as thrilling as it might sound because Owen is now basically the Dinosaur Whisperer. The way the locust part of the story is concluded is really lazy, and don’t get your hopes up for a big showdown between two creatures either; there is a showdown but it’s lacklustre. The lack of effort seemingly put into the final act is quite astounding, and I haven’t yet mentioned the way the most potentially interesting [outside of the dinosaurs of course] aspect is handled. Maisie- or rather the clone that’s in the form of Maisie – finds out some stuff about her background which deepens her character and her character’s importance, but after a nice scene where she talks about being a clone, she’s given very short shrift.
With all these issues, thank god also for the multitude of prehistoric animals, and with more use of animatronics than in any other film in this franchise [including the last two combined], creating a nice, even synthesis between new and old school special effects, though maybe it’s best to forget the Quetzalcoatlus sequence. The largest of all the flying reptiles is allowed to attack an airplane, but the former isn’t given any closeups and the CGI of the damaged plane is absolutely appalling for such an expensive production. But elsewhere technically things tend to be tops, even in terms of combining characters with backgrounds; Covid meant that more material was shot at Pinewood Studios than was probably intended, but it’s hard to tell and I always enjoy seeing the nearby Black Park, one of my favourite nearby places to have a good walk. Dimetrodons [the lizard-like creatures with sails on their backs] make their first appearance in ages, and it’s also nice to see feathered dinosaurs, reflecting recent trends in thinking; that we saw none before in this series can be explained away by the fact that earlier animals were partially engineered with frog DNA. There’s a ‘Gigantosaurus’, the ultimate predator; though obviously following the Carnosaur type e. g. Tyrannosaurus Rex, Allosaurus, the designers have given it some unsettling details, even if there’s little attempt to create the combination of fear and awe Steven Spielberg did with his T-Rex. One character confronting several Dilophosaurs is probably only scary because we remember what one of those did in Jurassic Park, but there’s a genuinely edge of seat set-piece set on ice with two characters faced with a creature who can pop out at any second. Generally there’s not enough fright or wonder, and it doesn’t help that the characters seem to strike super hero poses in certain scenes. I mean – come on!
Neill gives a more committed performance than his lazy turn in Jurassic Park 3, and Pratt looking bored is actually a plus because he’s less irritating than usual. But the script frequently lets previously seen characters down, especially Dr. Wu. He was previously brought back as a brilliant but self-indulgent geneticist who may not have had the respect from Hammond he thought he deserved, so became determined to outdo him at whatever cost. But here, this believably conflicted villain is all but stripped of villainy. Dr. Lewis Dodgson was an antagonist in Jurassic Park yet oddly Sattler, Grant, and Malcolm never become aware of his involvement in 1992 happenings. In any case, thank god for Jeff Goldblum, who’s given the best lines and even makes the lines he’s given which aren’t good into something. He almost seems to be on the verge of breaking the fourth wall at times, is certainly having fun, and energises most scenes he’s in. He’s even allowed to say “Jurassic World? Not a fan.” Trevorrow does a solid job of direction, but tends to keep things on one level and is unable to reach a higher level of excitement for any decent length. Oh how we miss Steven Spielberg. It’s also worth noting that Trevorrow lied about something quite major that happens. Michael Giacchino’s music score is certainly thrilling when it needs to be, and sometimes approximates the John Williams sound, but relies too much on alluding to Jurassic Park‘s main quiet theme without actually stating it, which is rather frustrating; either play the theme or not! But then the film as a whole is frustrating. If you want your dinosaurs, well, you’ve certainly got them, in spades. This lifelong dinosaur lover couldn’t help but enjoy Jurassic World: Dominion on some level, but frequently throwing creatures at the viewer fails to compensate for the big problems largely caused by a very messy screenplay. The final shots are quite beautiful both visually and in their meaning, but appear out of place because they seem to conclude a film that has much more substance. I guess that Jurassic Universe will be the next trilogy, but the way that things are going it will be very far from being out of this world.