Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and the Hollywood B-Movie Mash-up

Sci-fi, gothic horror, island adventure--Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom follows a modern tradition of Hollywood genre mash-ups.

This article comes from Den of Geek UK.

This article contatins Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom spoilers.

At some point during the pre-production of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, its screenwriters must have sat and written something like this: “The velociraptor strode across the ballroom floor.” Or, “The Indoraptor’s head crashed through the mullioned window.”

Yes, the fifth film in the Jurassic Park franchise comes across not so much as another riff on a theme by the late Michael Crichton as an unholy splicing of Arthur Conan Doyle, Henry James, and Dan Brown. There’s much that’s predictable, clunky, and cliché about Fallen Kingdom, but one thing we can definitely say in its favor: it’s really, really strange. And we rather like strange films.

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In essence, Fallen Kingdom falls cleanly into two parts. The first is the one must of us got wind of in all those trailers: a Lost Worldstyle adventure where our heroes travel to Isla Nublar (again), this time to rescue as many dinosaurs as they can from an erupting volcano. The second is completely, wildly different: it’s a gothic horror mystery with wood-panelled rooms, a gaunt, stern governess, Rafe Spall as a wicked uncle (well, sort of), locked doors, and dreadful family secrets.

It just so happens that there are also dinosaurs in the basement.

Director J.A. Bayona has displayed a varied array of talents before now, including the sumptuous fantasy of A Monster Calls and the widescreen survival drama of The Impossible. With Fallen Kingdom, Bayona gets to stretch his legs still further with a huge summer blockbuster budget, though we can’t help thinking he’s less interested in all the Isla Nubla stuff than revisiting the haunted house atmospherics of his debut, The Orphanage.

Let’s face it, Fallen Kingdom gives the exploding volcano short shrift, and while there are some decent set-pieces on the island (a claustrophobic sequence shot inside a submerged perspex sphere was a technical conjuring trick in itself), we’d suggest it was in the Lockwood mansion where the movie really found its stride.

Not everything was perfect even here, admittedly, but the shadowy horror sections were where we sensed a greater sense of relish in Bayona’s direction. There’s a certain batty charm in seeing skinny dinosaurs running across the rooftops of a 19th century country estate, or a saucer-eyed kid (Isabella Sermon) being tapped on the shoulder by a gigantic claw in a dank basement. The scene where a lip-smackingly hammy Toby Jones auctions off a menagerie of giant reptiles to the highest bidder has the off-kilter satirical air of a Purge movie–and does a good job of providing a new spin on the kind of anything-for-a-buck capitalism Crichton critiqued in the original Jurassic Park.

There are plenty of times in Fallen Kingdom where the screenplay drags things down; characters have a tendency to just point blank describe their back stories or character traits to one another’s faces (“Don’t you plug in cables for a living?” or “we are not compatible”). All the same, Fallen Kingdom reliably entertains as a B-movie with an A-picture budget. Indeed, it’s fascinating to see how, despite all the millions of dollars that have gone into the Jurassic World sequel, its makers use so many of the same tactics that low-budget filmmakers like Roger Corman, William Castle, or Larry Cohen used a generation or so ago. (Even the whole notion of getting Jeff Goldblum in to do two measly scenes, and then giving him a prominent billing in Fallen Kingdoms marketing and trailers, feels like the kind of thing a B-movie mogul would have done back in the 1950s.)

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In the second half of the 20th century, small independent studios simply couldn’t afford to attract the biggest stars and producers, much less scrape together the budget to make a religious epic or glitzy musical. But what they could do was pull together gaudy, sensationalistic plots guaranteed to thrill audiences at low-rent cinemas and drive-ins. It was from this end of the movie business that we got economically priced classics like The Fall of the House Of Usher, House on Haunted Hill or Fiend Without A Face–movies that made up for their low budgets with shocks, gore, or sheer storytelling brio.

Roger Corman once complained that, with the advent of the pioneering Jaws in 1975 and Alien in 1979, Hollywood started moving in on B-movie concepts and making them with studio-level budgets. He certainly had a point, and it’s also worth noting how, as filmmakers were forced to cast their creative nets ever wider to come up with sequel ideas, the more those sequels began to look and sound like tacky B-movies.

Whereas Steven Spielberg’s Jaws was served up with real class and some terrifically inventive filmmaking (not to mention some great acting from its leads), the sequels became more outlandish with each passing iteration. By 1987’s Jaws: The Revenge, we’d gone from a relatively plausible man-versus-nature story to a bizarre plot involving a vengeful, seemingly telepathic shark that roared like a lion. (The tie-in novel went one step further, and had the shark controlled by a voodoo-wielding witch doctor.)

The Alien franchise plumbed similarly deep B-movie depths. Ridley Scott’s 1979 original was an exercise in atmosphere and style; James Cameron’s 1986 sequel was a break-neck sci-fi action thriller. But by the time 1997’s Alien: Resurrection rolled around though, the series was already descending into self-parody; the 2007 spin-off Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem was tackier still, with xenomorphs slithering about in Colorado sewers and, in one particularly tasteless scene, erupting from the stomachs of multiple pregnant women.

Even the Alien prequels, directed by a returning Ridley Scott, can’t help but feel like posh-looking B-movies at times; Prometheus contained exploding heads and other scenes curiously reminiscent of Roger Corman’s ultra low-budget Galaxy of Terror while Alien: Covenant contained a shower sex scene-turned-murder that wouldn’t have looked out of place in a Friday The 13th movie. 

The thread that connects all these later sequels together is that their makers are willing to throw just about anything into the mix, irrespective of whether it’s logical or in strictly good taste. The same could also be said about Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom; by now, the franchise has long since lost the simplicity, clarity, and surety of pace that made the original Jurassic Park such a classic. But as long-running franchises go, it’s surprising how consistently fun the JP movies have been. Not even Spielberg’s first sequel, 1997’s The Lost World, matched the original in terms of exhilaration or wonder, but at the same time, none of the movies that have emerged in the past 25 years have been aggressively bad either.

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Fallen Kingdom certainly benefits from having a director with as sharp an eye as J.A. Bayona. A doomed sauropod bellowing plaintively through a cloud of smoke and fire; a velociraptor standing on a mansion roof, roaring at the moon. Fallen Kingdom is an awkward, sometimes ungainly genre mash-up, but Bayona elevates its better moments far above a so-bad-it’s-good sequel like Jaws: The Revenge.

Besides maybe it’s only appropriate that the sequel should slam together so many ideas from other books and films. Jurassic Park is about using disparate chunks of DNA to bring back the dinosaurs; perhaps it’s only fitting that Fallen Kingdom is itself something of a Frankenstein’s monster.