While the box office has been kind to the latest Jurassic flicks, in terms of literary profits they have been works of diminishing returns. Some say each successive one, going back to The Lost World, has suffered in this regard. But while they are all enjoyable, I believe it would benefit our writing careers to explore this phenomenon.
From a storytelling PoV, the Jurassic franchise rises and falls on its adherence to its main theme, as Ian Malcolm once so eloquently put it:
Life finds a way
A book’s theme is the meaning that whispers beneath the events. Your theme is what your book is all about, it’s why it exists.
In Cormac McCarthy’s Pulitzer prize winning novel The Road, the theme is survival, and, oddly enough, hope. Moby Dick boasts themes of ‘inevitability’ and ‘man’s inability to comprehend certain things.’
So we see that the theme in the Jurassic franchise should help to root it in a solid foundation, giving it meaning and infusing it with the ability to say something about us and about the world at large.
Like so many sequels and remakes these days, Jurassic World (and to a greater extent, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom), tries to echo its predecessors while simultaneously disregarding them.
It boasts little homage’s to the original, like the girl trying to close the small stubborn overhead door while a dinosaur races her way.
But then it makes bold statements declaring its supposed superiority. In no uncertain terms, blowing up Isla Nublar is JP5’s way of saying, I am bigger and badder than my ancestors.
It brings back Ian Malcolm, but then tells him to go sit in a corner for the majority of the movie while everyone disregards his warnings (again).
They provide callbacks to John Hammond but then retcon his character by telling us he had a partner way back when. This not only diminishes a beloved movie icon, by suggesting he was not alone in his foresight and unique ambition, but it also shows us that the writers of the Jurassic franchise are pleased to employ cheap modes of storytelling, thereby disrespecting its audience.
Every writer knows: YOU NEVER DISRESPECT THE INTELLIGENCE OF YOUR AUDIENCE
Another homage that JP5 turned into another slap-in-the-face was Hammond’s amber-topped cane. This relic from the original was shown in Lockwood’s gnarly hands. And then it was smashed to bits. How’s that for destroying your past? Thank’s for the homage, Hollywood.
Much as I enjoy every movie to some extent, it has become clear from a narrative standpoint that the franchise which had once made us reflect on natural history and man’s role in it, has been usurped by the Blockbuster Moneymakers thought process. It’s as if Hollywood now shuns creative and cohesive storytelling in favor of the Michael Bay School of Pyrotechnics.
Story has been replaced by spectacle.
Clearly this works for Hollywood, because children comprise the vast majority of its consumers. And we all know today’s children excel at one thing: getting whatever they want from their pushover parents.
- Hollywood will never do it, but when it comes to making such movies, I would like the writers to consider Ian Malcolm’s posit: ‘You were so preoccupied with whether you could, you didn’t stop to ask if you should.’
- Characterizations. We used to have engaging villains like Dennis Nedry (‘Dodgeson, we’ve got Dodgeson here. See? Nobody cares. Nice hat by the way’), and Roland. Now we have token international guy Masrani and less-interesting Kingpin
- Instead of characters gazing in awestruck wonder at dinosaurs, we have people manipulating them for monetary profit and rigging them for military use (which makes about as much sense as the Dark Tower movie.
Finally, coming full circle, the main theme of the Jurassic franchise: Life will find a way.
This vital element is disregarded in the final scenes of JP5. In Jurassic Park 5, life does not find a way. Instead, a human finds a way for them (dinosaurs and everyone else); a little clone girl pushes a button, deciding the fate of the world . . . excuse me, the Jurassic World, resulting in a fallen kingdom.
What will it take to get people to heed Ian Malcolm’s warnings? Do we have to erase from memory another island? If they weren’t trying so hard to ignore Isla Sorna, I might have to worry about it suddenly sprouting a volcano.
- Another theme I’ve noticed is that all the children in all 5 movies have divorced parents.
Is this intentional? Does it have a deeper meaning? Is it a metaphor of broken human relationships, a not-so-subtle prophecy that we as a species, divorced from our unity, deserve to be overrun by an ancient monstrous breed of big iguanas?
Setting: By placing the second half of the movie setting in the basement of a house, JP5 strips away the majestic views and appropriately natural environments of the previous films. This move threatens to leave viewers feeling divorced from the flick. A basement is not a natural setting for dinosaurs. It is not their natural habitat, and so seeing them there, locked up and unable to run and hunt, strips them of their natural intimidation. In doing this, the writers of JP5 had to focus more on its human characters, but without bothering to infuse them with personality. I don’t really know these people, so I don’t care what happens to them. I found myself rooting for the dinosaurs. Maybe that was what they wanted?
That is an issue every writer must work to overcome in every piece she writes. Your characters must be infused with personality and realistic flaws for your audience to connect with them.
We connected with Lex and Tim, with Kelly and Eric. I’m not sure how they expected us to connect with Maisie Lockwood. She’s a sweet curious girl, and I like her more than the tech boys of JP4, but I don’t know what makes her tick. How could I? She wasn’t introduced as a clone; her person and nature were not explained until too late in the game.
Her decision at the end is not fully understood because her nature is not fully revealed. Does she have implanted memories? Is she lysine-dependent? Does she have dino-DNA?
And so 5 ends where 2 threatened to end, only not because life so eloquently found a way, but because a little clone girl pressed a button, threatening God knows how many lives in a movie act that was both unearned and foreshadowed far in advance.
One thing I love about the original is the respect for the actors. The writers and producers understood that actors can produce more convincing responses when they are faced with more convincing monsters. Well-built animatronics can terrify actors, whereas green screens and tennis balls just don’t cut it for some. That’s why, when Lex and Tim are being attacked in the SUV, they look genuinely terrified—because they are! That was a real dinosaur bearing down on them . . . kind of.
I enjoy learning the art of writing by picking apart movies, and I trust we’ve learned a thing or two here, about the vital importance of taking time to infuse your characters with flaws and quirks which an audience can relate to, about finding the right setting, and most of all, the need to respect your audience.
Thank you, and God bless you in your writing endeavors!