THB #168: Jurassic World: Dominion
When there is a lot to say, sometimes it is best to start at the beginning.
Michael Giacchino, a truly great composer, told me many years ago that when a movie is scored wall-to-wall, it is almost always because the movie is not good.
Cut To: The first 5 minutes of Jurassic World: Dominion, scored to within an inch of its life. (Score by Giacchino… which is good… except that his scoring is relentlessly overused in the film.)
I’m not really interested in getting into the nitty gritty of the film, spoilers included. But I am going to write about the broad structural flaws, so if you are hyper-spoiler-sensitive, put this aside until after you’ve seen the film.
From the very start of the film, it is a mess.
All I’ll say is… fishermen understand how baits works… right?
They use fake news footage as the Basil Exposition, setting up the realities of dinos becoming part of life in the world in which we all live. In this footage is the movie they hinted that Jurassic World Dominion would be. City life. Dinos behaving badly. Some laughs.
But that doesn’t last long. There are two stories being told. One of Claire and one of Owen. They seem to be on separate tracks. But here’s the thing… both of them are set in rural locations. And eventually, they come together and we find our couple from the last films in the middle of nowhere. It’s snowy mountain areas, not a tropical forest island, but it’s a way to have the dino action separate from the promoted idea that dinos are living amongst us.
The story turns on an evil corporation wanting to find Maisie Lockwood, the spawn of the messily cloning story from the last forgettable movie. Why? It’s not really clear. There is a lot of talk about it. But even when it comes down to an outright purely expositional speech by the great B.D. Wong, it’s still blurrier than the last guy at the bar on St. Patrick’s Day… so much so that he has to repeat this expositional story a second time. And it’s still iffy.
This is not really a spoiler… but look to the next graph if you must… he explains that by investigating Maisie’s DNA, he can figure out how to add new DNA to an out-of-control fast-reproducing giant locust species that could starve the planet in short order. And that what he theoretically thinks might work to eliminate the dino-locust threat in a generation - which according to every other take in the film could starve the planet before another generation of locusts is born - doesn’t address the damage of the current locusts, who can’t be re-DNA’ed.
None of this makes sense. I just wrote it and it makes no sense to me. And if you can twist yourself into an intellectual pretzel to make it make sense, God bless you, but you are in a 5-hour discussion around the Dungeons & Dragons table, not watching a movie meant to entertain.
But let’s move on to the other couple in the film, Ellie and Alan. She needs help - but it’s not clear to do what, exactly - and she goes to Alan, who is still single and digging for bones in a world with real live dinosaurs. She is a widow with 2 kids. The film leaves the impression that she was waiting for a crisis so she can finally start having sex with her crush from 30 years ago, back when the the 20 year age difference was too icky to indulge.
But now, again… what movie are we there to watch? We know that the original non-couple couple is in the film. We know that the World couple is in the film. So we want to see them together… using each of their unique powers to succeed… like Spider-Man.
Let’s keep them on separate tracks for the first 2 acts of the film, because when that moment when the audience applauds them coming together had better be late in the film because once they are a group, the writers have nothing smart to say about the 4 of them. Add to that the irresistible Ian Malcolm character being reduced to being a fun time watching Jeff Goldblum be Jeff Goldblum.
I am not going to roll out ideas of what they should have done with this 5some and the 14-year-old along for the ride. There are hundreds of possibilities. And somehow, stubbornly, these screenwriters opted for None of the Above. By the time they are thrown together, they are all just running, running, running for their lives in a variety of ways.
The one real breath of fresh air in this ensemble, DeWanda Wise, is wonderful to watch… she is like adding a female Indiana Jones to the mix. But even her story is painfully unclear. At one point, another character asks her directly why she is helping the good guys… and her answer, emoted as well as any actor could, amounts to little more than a shrug.
Also new to the game and great to watch is Mamoudou Athie. I don’t want to spoil his character at all. But as charming as he is here, he is really a character built only on function.
The kid, Isabella Sermon, is a good actor and a pretty face. It will be nice to see her on whatever Netflix or Amazon teen series in which she ends up being the lead.
I love Campbell Scott. But he is really just a variation on Amanda Seyfreid as Elizabeth Holmes in The Dropout. He’s not a great Bond villain, which is what his role calls for. Not his fault at all. It’s just not on the page.
But I haven’t fully called out the greatest sin of this very, very expensive film.
The greatest sin is that they promised a movie in which dinos came to civilization… and outside of a brief encounter with controlled dinos in an ancient European city (don’t remember if we know where, exactly… know we have no reason to care), the film is basically set in 2 variations of Jurassic Parks Past… but with even less of a threat.
First, we are in the snowy mountains of the middle of nowhere and then, we are in what feels like a island, isolated from everyone that isn’t part of The Company. So not only do we not get dinos directly threatening civilization, we don’t even get the threat to innocent tourists from the first Jurassic World.
Yes! We get multiple events of dino-on-dino super violence. But unlike the silly, but emotionally connected, idea of the old T-Rex fighting for turf with the new super-dino, these are just creations that are given a name and attack each other in relatively dark spaces. Bad news… more dinos fighting is not the answer to more thrills.
As a director, Colin Trevorrow is a disaster here. The majority of the movie is a series of close-ups and very wide establishing shots. There is no way to follow the action. The film rarely takes the time to establish space before characters (human and dino) engage.
But what really made me crazy, over and over and over again, was that sequences seemed to be approached like cartoons or bad stunt-focused movies. Here is the set-up, how can we pump up the volume?
One contained sequence - a specialty of the first Jurassic Park - involves going into a “glass” box where many dino-locusts are contained. Why? To get a sample from any one of the locusts.
Again… won’t spoiler it. But the sequence just avoids every logical question. What are the locusts capable of doing to humans, aside from freaking them out? Movie doesn’t tell us. Why would 2 people go into the room? Fumbled. If they knew there was an 99% likely result, why aren’t they prepared for this? Because it’s a movie.
It’s creepy… to the point where I bet they toned it down in post because it was too uncomfortable for insect-discomforted audiences. Great. Right up my alley. But what made me uncomfortable is that an interesting idea is executed in a way that simply makes no sense.
There’s another sequence… we’ve been told all these years not to move when a T-Rex is looking for you. So why does one character crawl? Why do more characters run?
When a group needs to get into a building in the forest… how are they going to get in? What are the challenges… besides just a dino in the area?
It’s like the entire film is the opposite of Hitchcock… never let your audience anticipate/play along for more than 30 seconds… or they might realize this makes no sense. Thing is… there are answers to these questions that do make sense. This is classic filmmaking.
But this film seems to feel compelled to make everything more complicated than the audience can easily make sense of and anticipate enough to get real surprises. The one real surprise in the entire film for me was a jump-scare at one point. Ha ha.
The film is also - as the moment would have it - the opposite of Top Gun Maverick. That movie is one long look in the mirror by Cruise’s Maverick. This one seems to want to look anywhere but into the things people love about the original.
I was trying to get back on this train, over and over. I like the genre. Even in movies in the series that I didn’t love, there was stuff to love. Not so much here.
And the ending salvo… I mean… cheese from the Velveeta catalogue. Won’t spoil it… but come on… please… don’t insult me.
My instinct is that Colin Treverrow was trying so hard to be the best Jurassic filmmaker that he became the least successful one. Just entertaining the audience wasn’t enough for him. And as a matter of craft, it was a bit beyond his reach. Overall, it was like he was trying to shove every idea he had over a decade’s involvement with the series into this film. Too much. And not enough.
There are enough cases of “no one would actually do that” in this movie to choke a dinosaur. And the film knows it. It is constantly excusing itself for not making sense.
There is actually a cut where a character is in one exchange with a particular character and then, in the next shot, is actively engaged with a completely different group. WTF? Can he teleport at will now?
I was really rooting for this one… and I kept trying to get back on board. I’m okay with turning off my brain for a movie. But the illogic needs to be fun or exciting to keep me from thinking. For this one, I would have needed a lobotomy.