Jurassic Park Movies: A Writer’s Perspective Part Deux

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!

Jurassic Park Movies: A Writer’s Perspective

There are already plenty of excellent ‘Jurassic Park list’ articles out there, from businessinsider.com to Chris Stuckmann’s YouTube reviews. Instead of reviewing the movies like everyone else, and seeing as this is a writer’s blog, I thought it would be cool and refreshing to explore the franchise from a writer’s perspective.

Here we’ll focus not so much on the bang for your buck blockbuster hoopla, as on the literary merits (and demerits) of the kids in each movie. Hopefully in the process we’ll grow our writing skills and learn to write with the immediate vivacity of a movie script.

The Children of Jurassic Park

Often overlooked in discussions of Jurassic movies is the presence and importance of the minors. Each of the five (so far) movies costar 1 or 2 children, and every author worth her weight in 20 pound paper knows this is vital to the effectiveness of Jurassic Park storytelling. In the movies the kids represent us, the audience. They enter the park or otherwise encounter the ‘big iguanas’ and respond the way we would respond, do as we would do. This involves in turns: staring in awe, asking a lot of questions, screaming (even though that’s a very bad idea), trying valiantly to survive, and wondering aloud how this could be happening to us.

That’s a very bad idea! What’s a bad idea? T-Rex: Roar!

In the first movie . . . hold on a tick; let’s rank them first, so you know where I stand on the movies, as a writer and fan. From my favorite to least favorite:

  1. Jurassic Park
  2. Jurassic Park: The Lost World
  3. Jurassic Park 3
  4. Jurassic 4
  5. Jurassic 5

See how neat and clean and chronological that list is? Yeah!

In JP we have Lex and Tim, typical 90’s kids. Admittedly they have the likability advantage over the kids in 4 and 5 simply because they don’t have the inherent technology to which they might glue their eyes and ears. This saves them from serious demerits automatically given to bloody annoying kids in newer movies. On first meeting Lex and Tim we feel their excitement at seeing Grandpa DNA again. They are giddy with anticipation on experiencing the first tour of Jurassic Park. (And so, we are also giddy with excitement.) They respect their elders to their faces and only ignore them when the adults sleep on the watch. (Here’s looking at you, Genarro.) Tim discusses dinosaurs and dinosaur theories with Dr. Grant, displaying an intelligent interest that makes his presence on the island doubly relevant. Lex plays with her pigtail and looks out for her little brother. Instantly we like them, because they are likable, relatable, and simply portrayed. So when they are attacked by the T-Rex in what is still one of the best scenes of tense visceral action in cinematic history, we care. Conclusion: 8 stars out of 10

In JP2 the kid co-star is Ian Malcolm’s daughter, Kelly. She is annoying, but not in the way snarky smart-phone babies are today. She is a complainer. The only traits or quirks the writers give her are gymnastics abilities, a liking of Sega, and a healthy vocab. The problem with her in this movie is that her presence is not relevant or justifiable from a literary standpoint. Kelly stowed away on the RV; as we have seen ad nauseum in movies, the preteen disobeys her parent, and complications ensue. She exists solely as impetus to Ian Malcolm’s character. Her presence enhances his character, by bringing out his paternal side. {Side Note: JP2 deserves literary street cred for its character of Roland, the most engaging and well-written hunter of all 5 films. He was brilliantly brought to life by the late great Pete Postlethwaite.} Conclusion: 4 plus 3 points for Roland.

JP3 boasts the most resourceful kid sidekick of any Jurassic film. Eric is a fully realized character, capable of existing on his own terms. His accomplishments and verve put him head and shoulders above the kids in JP 2, 4, and 5. He survived a pteranodon attack and the subsequent crash landing on the island. He then manages to do what no other character, child or adult, manages in 5 films: he survives alone on a dinosaur-infested island for 8 weeks! Poor Ajay in JP2 didn’t even survive two days, and he was an experienced hunter with an armed entourage. Eric shows cunning by hiding out in an overturned InGen truck. He reveals intelligence by the fact that he read Dr. Grant’s books and Ian Malcolm’s books, and displaying a keen literary grasp of their underlying teachings. He displays resourcefulness by discovering that T-Rex pee scares away smaller dinos. (How he procures this golden urine remains one of the Jurassic franchise mysteries.) He shows courage by using smoke grenades and camouflage to rescue the adults from a pack of velociraptors. His underlying fascination with dinosaurs—like Tim before him—and his familiarity with those most intimately associated with dino disasters, helped him survive. They also made him able to identify Alan Grant on sight. I know JP3 gets a lot of flak, but with a character as well-rounded and well written as Eric Kirby, I can’t help but feel it deserves some literary appreciation. Conclusion: 8

JP4 provides . . . less interesting kid characters. Maybe it’s just my disgust with modern kids and their overreliance on screens and tech bleeding through here. Zach and Gray are, like Kelly, irrelevant—or I should say, disconnected—from the main storyline. Unlike Lex and Tim, they have no connection to the park itself, except a thinly-veiled-inferior-relation working there in the form of disinterested auntie Claire. Zach, like every other modern movie teenager, is more interested in social media than in his present surroundings. Gray at least knows his dinosaurs and is thrilled to be at the park, excuse me, World. It’s Jurassic World because that’s bigger and better than a mere Park. (Yes, I know the ‘World’ part is also foreshadowing.) Here’s the real issue with them (mostly Zach). Unlike in JP where Lex and Tim are thrust into a horrific situation, Zach thrusts himself and his brother into trouble–like Kelly–by going outside the safe confines in a clear hamster ball among creatures with feet the size of German cars. It sounds cruel, but when movie people do such stupid things, they’re kind of asking for it. This is why their subsequent dire situation fails to elicit sympathy—unlike with Lex and Tim and Eric. Anyway, Gray’s dino enthusiasm and Zach’s miraculous repair of a familiar Jurassic Park Jeep earns JP4 a few brownie points, but overall there was no real wonder and awe provided by these kids. They exist—like the other Jurassic kids—as stand-ins for us. Unfortunately, unlike the other Jurassic kids, the writers of these two failed to infuse them with interesting personalities. Then again, I suppose the majority of today’s kids can relate to them . . . Conclusion: 4

JP5 introduces a new element to the Jurassic franchise (SPOILER ALERT!): a cloned child. I’m glad someone involved with the Jurassic movies finally acknowledged the real-world implications of genetic mastery. Unfortunately, the movie itself doesn’t seem to recognize this. Instead of focusing on the realistic ramifications of cloning (people would pay anything to have their dead loved ones brought back to life through cloning), it instead gives us a hackneyed plot of various governments (represented by Bondian villains) bidding on dinosaurs and dino genetics. Apparently they want to turn dinosaurs into soldiers . . . or something? I’m not really sure, and I’m even less sure how a flock of studio executives and writers thought this was a viable idea. My major issue with JP5 is that, unlike all the other JP’s, it does not stand alone. It is clearly a Hollywood Setup for a Sequel. They’re churning these things out like butter these days, and not the good fatty butter either, but the imitation I Can Believe it’s Not Butter butter. The MCU is guilty of this cinema sin, and so is everyone who tried to remake Robocop, Ocean’s, Overboard, and Terminator. Okay, the newer Planet of the Apes movies are an exception. Conclusion: 5

So from a writer’s perspective the Jurassic Park franchise teaches us to: put character first, imbue your young characters with personality and quirks, make them relatable but not bland, and to be careful to set up your finale. In the follow-up, I think we’ll explore the themes of Jurassic Park, and what writers can learn from the failures and successes of these themes in the movies.

Thanks for slogging through with us here. For some reason I’m hungry for lamb chops now . . .