The first dinosaur movie I ever remember seeing was Irwin Allen’s ‘The Lost World.’ I was five-years-old when I saw it at the Grove Theater in downtown Upland, in Southern California. From watching that film – about an expedition to a remote jungle where dinosaurs still exist – I learned a number of things.
I learned the words “Plateau,” “Expedition.”
I learned what a “Tyrannosaurus Rex” was.
I was exposed to some of my earliest on-screen demonstrations of sexism and male chauvinism, among them the moment a stuffy male character utters the now infamous line, “’Mrs.’ is still the best title for a girl.”
But most significant of all (to my five-year-old self) was the monster-sized realization that a dinosaur on the big screen – even when played by monitor lizards with plastic horns and fins glued on – is the greatest thing in the world.
Jump with me to the present, and the latest ‘Jurassic Park’ spin-off, ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” The fifth big-budget, cinematic dino-adventure of the ‘Jurassic Park’ series – begun by Steven Spielberg in 1993 – it was directed by J.A. Barona (‘The Orphange,’ ‘A Monster Calls’). Critics have generally been unkind to “Fallen Kingdom,” a direct sequel to the 2016 reboot, ‘Jurassic World,’ which made a ton of money, but wasn’t particularly good, especially if you loved that first movie – released exactly 25 years ago this summer.
For all its faults – and yes, as a story, ‘JP’ was often incoherent and a bit of mess – that first film worked. It worked because, to put it simply, the dinosaurs were awesome. Rule Number One with a dino-movie is that have awesome dinosaurs is really all that counts. To that end, the key factor that has made the ‘Jurassic Park’ films even slightly worth watching has been the dinosaurs themselves, Thankfully, the dinosaurs have been getting cooler and cooler with each new film, wile, sadly, the stories have became weaker and weaker.
Which brings us to the new film.
‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ takes place a few years after the last film. In that one, dinosaurs busted out of a new-and-improved amusement park on the island of Isla Nublar, frightened some children, and ate a whole lot of people, with an uncanny taste for the most unlikeable characters. In this new one, Isla Nublar’s previously unmentioned volcano is getting ready to blow its top, and the last movie’s two main non-adolescent survivors – Owen the dino-trainer (Christ Platt) and Claire the dino-park administrator (Bryce Dallas Howard) – are convinced to return to the island to help capture some dinosaurs, so they can be moved to a secret dino sanctuary.
Of course, we know a double-cross is afoot when our heroes are met on the island by a hunter looking guy played by Ted Levine, the actor who played Buffalo Bill (“It puts the lotion in the basket”) in “Silence of the Lambs.”
Turns out it’s not an animal rescue that Owen and Claire have been lured into, but something a little weirder, a lot sillier, and – if you recognize the purpose of the “plot” as merely a way to serve up lots of bad people to lots of hungry, politically affronted dinosaurs – a lot more entertaining than the last few ‘Jurassic’ movies.
Is it kind of dumb? Sure.
But this is a dinosaurmovie.
And dinosaur movies – like zombie movies and Godzilla movies and romantic comedies (and anything where people shrink and then get big again) – are ALLOWED to be kind of dumb.
What’s more, this is the fifth in a seriesof dinosaur movies. At this point, we’re more-or-less where the original ‘Planet of the Apes’ series was by the time it reached ‘Conquest of the Planet of the Apes’ in 1972. Yes, the stories are illogical, the acting is more-or-less fine but almost entirely beside-the-point, and the overall thrust of the storyline is escalating swiftly toward the same sci-fi-adventure end-point – the extinction of humanity.
And that is just what this series should be doing.
There is no doubt that the execution of ‘Fallen Kingdom’ is occasionally clunky, relies too much on misdirection instead of logic, and cares more about finding neat things for its monsters to do than it cares about creating identifiable human characters to root for. But for me, the adult version of the kid who first fell in love with dinosaurs at the age of five, that’s actually okay.
After all, we are not in the realm of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ here, or ‘Blade Runner’ or ‘Alien’ We are in the realm of ‘Them,’ ‘The Beginning of the End,’ and … ahem … ‘The Lost World’ – where the dinosaurs wore plastic horns and were stillthe best thing ever.
But since things like artistry and invention do matter, I would argue that ‘Fallen Kingsdom’ – despite a few fuzzy ideas and a tendency to change the scale of the dinosaurs to fit the needs of the moment – has a much stronger, weirder, and flat-out ballsier storyline than the last film. It is a J.A. Barona film, after all, and that means that shit is bound to get weird now and then. In his hands, this is a decidedly more stylish and crazily entertaining film than any of the other sequels.
And though some have criticized the final third of ‘Fallen Kingdom’ for taking place, not on a remote island, but inside an enormous and slightly spooky mansion, I would further argue that a change of pace, and a change of scenery, is exactly what this franchise has been needing.
We’ve seen dinosaurs crashing through jungles.
We’ve seen dinosaurs creeping around amusement parks.
We’ve even seen dinosaurs rampaging through San Diego (in the first ‘Jurassic Park’ sequel, affectionately subtitled ‘The Lost World,’ by the way).
I think it’s time to see dinosaurs break out and show us the damage they can do without being quite so neatly contained. Clearly the filmmakers have some cool dinosaur mayhem planned for the next ‘Jurassic World’ movie, already in development and set for release in 21.
Bring it on.
Because in the end, the only thing that really matters in a dinosaur movie is the coolness-factor of the dinosaurs. If you are looking for searing realism and emotional power, if you are looking for credibility and maturity, then I suggest you go watch “Sophie’s Choice” again – and leave the epic dino-films to those of us who still remember how to have a good time watching awesome monsters eat ugly people on the big screen.