Jurassic World Dominion and the evolution of a cinematic saga.

09 Jun 2022 BY Joe Ursell in Film Features

7 mins

The release of Jurassic World Dominion is being positioned as the culmination of not one but two major Hollywood franchises; the original Jurassic Park trilogy, and the two Jurassic World films that followed in recent years. Taken together, these five films have formed the basis of one of the most significant sagas in mainstream film history, enthralling generations with the timeless appeal of dinosaurs.

Upon its release in the summer of 1993, Jurassic Park changed the film industry forever, swiftly becoming the most commercially successful release of all time. The combination of life-sized animatronic models with ground-breaking computer-generated-imagery (CGI), brought these dinosaurs to life in ways that audiences had never experienced, capturing the imagination of people, particularly children, across the globe.

Spielberg's film did not just look great, it was smart as well. Understanding that in terms of screen time, less was more for the dinosaurs, the creatures were only on screen for 15 of the film's 127 minutes running time. In a similar manner to an earlier Spielberg blockbuster, Jaws, this allowed more time to focus on characters and story. Eschewing the additional pull of big movie stars, Jurassic Park instead centres around a trio of character actors playing scientists; equal parts awestruck and horrified, engaging in a series of ethical debates about the morality and danger of such scientific leaps with the park's billionaire founder, John Hammond. These types of conversations have recurred in subsequent films, and account for much of their enduring appeal, as well as sparking the intellectual curiosity of the primary target audience: children.

Young people are central to the appeal of all the Jurassic films off-screen and on; it is often through their eyes that the audience experiences the action: the exhilaration of seeing a real-life T-Rex (now one of cinema's great anti-heroes) turning to terror when said creature sees you. Even the recent prologue to Jurassic World Dominion includes a young boy encountering a T-Rex at his local drive-in movie theatre, and much of the new film centres around the complex story arc of its teenage character, Maisie Lockwood - like many teenagers struggling with feeling like an outsider, and wanting to go off and explore the world, but facing unique challenges to prevent her doing so.

Business Studies students may also want to look at the franchise, and particularly the original film, as a case study in marketing to children. A savvy creative decision made by the filmmakers was to have the park's logo the same as that of the film's. That provided unique scope for free marketing in the film itself the now legendary logo is everywhere onscreen, from car doors to lunch boxes, to such a degree that the film even contains a scene discussing its own merchandise! The canny ploy clearly worked,the logo is now seen on t-shirts, pyjamas and bed-spreads across the world, and the trick was repeated in subsequent films, most notably in 2015's Jurassic World.  

Throughout all the sequels, right through to Jurassic World Dominion there has been an evolution in the look of the dinosaurs themselves. As palaeontology has developed, scientists have learned more about what dinosaurs really looked and sounded like, for example that many of them would have had feathers. These discoveries are subtly incorporated into the look of the creatures in the films, striking a balance between this and not wanting to lose sight of what made the creatures in Spielberg's original film so charismatic on screen. Students may choose to reflect on this should these films present an accurate scientific representation of what dinosaurs were really like, or is there room for artistic licence? Does it matter if velociraptors were actually much smaller, or the T-Rex roar was unlikely to be that fearsome, or that many of the terrifying features of dilophosaurus (making a welcome return in Dominion) were invented by Spielberg himself?

After Jurassic Park 3, the saga was dormant but not extinct. No further sequel plans ever got beyond the development stage until an idea was hatched to evolve the story in a fresh way that would draw on nostalgia felt for the original films as well as enticing the young audiences of today. Jurassic World and its sequel, Fallen Kingdom, took the story to the next step by conceiving of environments where the world has become used to dinosaurs once again being on if not yet ruling the Earth. They have continued to engage with many of the themes of the original films, as well as developing more of their own, such as genetic manipulation or cloning, to "create" a new species of dinosaur, or even a human being.

Which leads us, finally, to Jurassic World Dominion. Following the events of Fallen Kingdom, the new film is finally able to fully engage with the often hinted at prospect of dinosaurs co-existing with humans across the globe, rather than being contained to a single location. This setup has already been touched upon in the film's 2001 influenced prologue, released in cinemas last year and available on Info Film+, to whet audience's appetites for a Jurassic film like no other. 

However, despite the silliness (and the new film is very silly at times), there remains much for young audiences to get their teeth into and apply to moral situations in today's world. For example, it is soon established that there is an established black-market trading of dinosaurs, illegal breeding, and farms where the creatures are kept in cruel, inhumane conditions. The film also goes down surprising avenues, taking in themes such as climate change and global food supplies, as well as long established themes of the franchise. It is not a film designed to be taken seriously, but that does not mean that it cannot be used as a stimulus for serious conversations with young people after they have left the multiplex.

Whether or not this is truly the end for the Jurassic saga remains to be seen, the film's conclusion offers little definitive statement either way. But so long as audiences continue to be drawn in by the spectacle of  increasingly life like dinosaurs on enormous cinema screens it seems fair to assume that the franchise will continue to evolve. Life, after all, always finds a way.  

Portrait picture of Joe Ursell

Joe Ursell, Curation Manager

Joe has a BA in Film & American Studies from the University of East Anglia and an MA in Contemporary Cinema Cultures from King's College London. He has been with Into Film (and beforehand FILMCLUB) since 2012. 

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