The following contains spoilers for Jurassic World.
For Universal, the success of Jurassic World is the $500m pay-off to a story which began well over a decade ago. Work on a third Jurassic Park sequel originally began after the release of Joe Johnston’s coolly-received Jurassic Park III way back in 2001, yet the film languished in a pre-production quagmire as writer after writer seemingly struggled to crack the story.
William Monahan (The Departed, Kingdom Of Heaven) was the first screenwriter to step up to the plate, announced at a time when Keira Knightley was reportedly in the running for a major role. Around that time, Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough were also thought to be returning to their respective roles of Ian Malcom and John Hammond. Yet as the 2000s wore on, Jurassic Park IV, as it was then widely dubbed, refused to budge. Directors were attached and detached – Dark City‘s Alex Proyas and The Crazies‘ Breck Eisner were among the names – while John Sayles was brought in to rework Monahan’s earlier script.
Sayles certainly seemed like a logical choice to write a Jurassic Park screenplay; he had form as a writer of creature features with a playful edge, with the likes of Joe Dante’s cult favourite Piranha (1978) and Alligator (1980) among his early work. He’d also written the horror film The Howling for Dante, and even collaborated with Steven Spielberg in the early 80s – Sayles wrote a screenplay called Night Skies, an abandoned project which tangentially inspired E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial.
When Sayles clambered aboard in mid-2004, it was reported that Jurassic Park IV was being optimistically scheduled for release in the winter of the following year. As we now know all too well, the film didn’t make that particular deadline – apparently because the various drafts of the script being turned in around that time weren’t passing muster with Spielberg. Special effects genius Stan Winston confirmed as much in April 2005, when he told IGN:
“He felt neither of [the drafts] balanced the science and adventure elements effectively. It’s a tough compromise to reach, as too much science will make the movie too talky, but too much adventure will make it seem hollow.”
It was later announced that Sayles’ screenplay had been scrapped, and that Joe Johnston was instead teaming with dinosaur expert Jack Horner to write an entirely new script. And so continued a decade-long churn of writers and directors, which persisted right up until 2013, when the franchise received an unlikely savior – former indie director Colin Trevorrow. Together with his writing partner Derek Connelly (who’d penned Trevorrow’s sci-fi comedy debut, Safety Not Guaranteed), he set about rewriting the most recent draft of the Jurassic World screenplay, this one written by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes).
While we may never know what ideas were proposed and then dropped during Jurassic World’s path to the big screen, one of the John Sayles drafts for what was once called Jurassic Park IV has long since filtered onto the Internet. And although that draft contains very different characters and situations from the blockbuster now in cinemas, it’s interesting to note that some of its ideas exist there in embryonic form.
A Rugged Ex-Military Hero
In Jurassic World, one of the main characters among its human ensemble is, of course, Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady – the rugged, unreconstructed velociraptor trainer who’d previously served in the U.S. Navy. In the Jurassic Park IV script, Pratt’s hero appears to have his origins in Nick Harris, a “currently unemployed soldier of fortune” and ex-Navy SEAL. When we first meet Nick, he’s being hired for a top-secret job by one John Hammond – the deposed creator of Jurassic Park and now “the most sued person in the history of the world.”
Having long since lost control of Jurassic Park and his company InGen, Hammond currently owns a less impressive venture – an aviary full of large birds. But otherwise, he’s still the same jovial old gent he always was. Jurassic Park, meanwhile, has been taken over by the Grendel Corporation, a Swiss company which claims to have cleansed the island of its pesky dinosaurs. But that hasn’t stopped several smaller creatures – including pterosaurs and the petulant compsognathus – from escaping to the outside world and wrecking havoc.
Hammond, therefore, has a plan: create a new breed of “highly aggressive but reproductively neutered individuals” to wipe out the last remaining dinosaurs. There’s only one problem: the genetic material Hammond wants for this project is still on Isla Nublar – it’s the canister of shaving cream left in the mud by the ill-fated Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) back in 1993. Nick’s task is to head to Isla Nublar, whisk the canister out from under Grendel’s nose and bring it back to Hammond. Naturally, things don’t quite go according to plan.
The first half of Sayles’ screenplay unfolds as a briskly entertaining game of hide-and-seek. Nick uses his military training to sneak onto Isla Nublar – heavily guarded by Grendel’s security team – and manages to track down the missing canister. He even manages to avoid the attention of a few angry dinosaurs, thus disproving the reports that all the island’s toothsome wildlife had been wiped out. But his plane to freedom’s chomped into oblivion by a huge sea creature – a kronosaurus – Nick’s captured by the Grendel Corporation, and the story takes an abrupt and quite strange detour.
After a brief chase, in which Nick manages to hide the precious canister, Nick’s knocked out and wakes up in an unexpected place: a medieval castle in the Swiss Alps. Beneath it, Grendel’s maniac CEO Baron Von Drax is breeding and training a new species of dinosaur – one based largely on the bipedal deinonychus, but with strands of canine and human DNA thrown in for good measure.
Jurassic World’s huge Indominus Rex seems to have its origins here; like that (very angry) creature, Von Drax’s manipulated deinonychus also has the ability to camouflage itself, chameleon style. And like the ‘tamed’ velociraptors in Jurassic World, the dinosaurs in Sayles’ Jurassic Park IV script are in the process of being trained for a very familiar purpose…
The Velociraptor Whisperer
So Von Drax’s scientists have found a way to control the dinosaurs – or so they think. By sending radio signals to a box secured to the side of the dinosaurs’ heads, the scientists can control the chemicals flowing around the creatures’ brains – thus making the critters docile or angry depending on what their masters want them to do.
Nick’s cajoled into becoming a kind of drill sergeant to the dinosaurs, which he quickly names after various characters from classical stories – Spartacus, Hector, Pollux, and so on. It’s not an entirely convincing chain of events, nor is it helped by the rather goofy way Nick chats to his scaly recruits. “Excellent work, Spartacus!” he says to one dinosaur, before saying to one of the scientists, “Shoot him some love, Sherman!”
An Ex-Military Villain
The thinking behind all this dinosaur mood manipulation will be familiar to anyone who’s just seen Jurassic World: Von Drax and his scientists plan to turn the beasts into controllable war machines. It’s a goal that has its echoes in Vic Hoskins, the character played by Vincent D’Onofrio in Jurassic World. You’ll remember that Hoskins, in the employ of InGen, wants to transform Chris Pratt’s trained velociraptors into the scaly equivalent of military drones.
In fact, Hoskins has his analogue in the Jurassic Park IV script; there, we find a character called Adrien Joyce, an ex-gunrunner who Nick ran into back in his military days. Now working for Grendel, Joyce acts as Von Drax’s floor manager, keeping an eye on the dinosaur training while his boss is upstairs shooting priceless vases with a crossbow (no, we’re not making this up). At one point, Joyce says, “When Cortes conquered Mexico he unleashed ferocious dogs on the terrified Aztecs.”
The next part of the Jurassic Park IV script shows us something only briefly discussed in Jurassic World: what a war fought using battle-hardened dinosaurs might look like. Having put his squad through their paces, Nick’s given the task of using the dinosaurs to rescue a 10-year-old girl kidnapped by a group of terrorists in Tangier.
What follows is a bit like The Expendables but with a prehistoric twist; from a van parked a few yards away, Nick despatches orders to his dinosaurs (now clad in bullet-proof armour) as they converge on the warehouse where the hostage is being held. The results are as chaotic as you’d expect. The bad guys are all killed, leaving the entire warehouse spattered with blood, and the kid hiding under a blanket, terrified but thankfully unharmed.
A second mission follows at the lair of a drug lord, who’s luxuriating in his jacuzzi when the dinosaurs strike. This time, Nick has a pair of chlymidosaurus sputori (remember the spitters that killed Dennis Nedry in Jurassic Park? Those.) and a raging ankylosaurus at his disposal. Needless to say, the dinosaurs make short work of the drug lord and his goons.
But just when Von Drax and Joyce are congratulating themselves on a job well done, the dinosaurs decide to turn on their warm-blooded masters…
A Breed Apart
As we’ve already seen, the Jurassic Park IV script has plenty of similarities to Jurassic World, faint though some may be: the idea of militarised, bipedal dinosaurs; the gene splicing, and the dinosaurs capable of camouflaging themselves; the ex-military hero who becomes a trainer. Yet the Sayles script is clearly its own beast, too. The appearance of John Hammond and Isla Nublar aside, it doesn’t really feel like a Jurassic Park story – more an action B-picture that happens to have dinosaurs in it.
It’s perhaps a reminder that dinosaurs are really only a part of what makes Jurassic Park the phenomenon it is; the confines of the island, and the glitz of the theme park are just as important. One of the key themes in the original Jurassic Park was the attempt to tame the untameable – to turn a once-extinct creature into a sideshow attraction, and what happens when that attraction decides it doesn’t want to be cooped up any longer. That theme is in the Jurassic Park IV script, but shorn of the sense of scale and wonder present in the earlier films’ best moments. Jurassic World, wisely, put the focus back on the theme park concept, and back on the Spielbergian scale as well as horror.
To be fair to this earlier screenplay, it’s clearly still a work in progress. Its structure is awkward, with the pace sagging in the middle and the climax skipped through in just a few short pages. Nick may be an early ancestor of Chris Pratt’s Owen Grady, but he spends much of the story’s second half with little to do in the way of actively pushing things forward.
But it’s fascinating to compare and contrast the ideas present in this now 10-year-old script and the blockbuster currently thundering about in cinemas. Some of those ideas have evolved and made it into Jurassic World, while others – like the secret science facility hidden under a Swiss castle – have wisely been excised.
The lingering question is, will some of the other unused ideas in this screenplay make it into Jurassic World’s sequel? At the end of this summer’s film, we saw geneticist Dr Henry Wu (BD Wong) head off in a helicopter with a cache of dinosaur embryos. Will he continue the work Hoskins planned – that is, the army of militarised velociraptors? If he does, there’s the tiniest chance that we might see a platoon of gene-spliced raptors parachuting into the middle of a warzone over the next couple of years or so.