This article contains spoilers for Jurassic World, Alien: Resurrection, Jurassic Park: The Lost World, and Jurassic Park III.
The second biggest opening weekend in US box office history (ahead of Avengers: Age Of Ultron), very positive reviews and another big hit for Universal in what’s set to be the studio’s best ever summer: it would be fair to say that all concerned won their gamble to resurrect Jurassic Park.
Jurassic World – aka Jurassic Park 4 – has come along 14 years after the fun but weightless Jurassic Park III, and, while staying within the boundaries of what made the first film work so well (just with less interesting characters, in truth), it feels different from the current summer fare. There’s no angst, there are few moments where human beings can’t be seen amidst the CG, and there’s a director at the helm who’s two out of two now as far as I’m concerned (Colin Trevorrow’s debut, Safety Not Guaranteed, remains an absolute delight).
Jurassic World has proven to be the second big Universal movie of 2015 to significantly exceed expectations as well. Fast & Furious 7 was the first. $900m would have been a major box office milestone for the film, and an ambitious one at the time the movie was greenlit. Yet the film’s take currently stands at $1.5bn and counting, the fourth biggest film in movie history (by non-inflation adjusted box office numbers).
What’s more, it’s a film that Universal has no problems following up. Already, Fast & Furious 8 has been announced, and been given a release date. Vin Diesel and Jason Statham are leading the returnees, and once a director is locked down (Fast & Furious 7‘s James Wan is committed to other projects), pre-production will get going. Fast & Furious 8 is due in summer 2017.
Universal, too, is bound to press for a fairly quick follow-up to Jurassic World. But here, there are problems. All four Jurassic Park movies to date have been about humans versus science to a point, and all four have used some degree of the theme park environment. Jurassic World in particular went back to the basics of the first film here, and unsurprisingly, found the most successful approach of all the sequels. The joy of Michael Crichton’s original novel, and of Steven Spielberg’s first film, was the pretty much literal theme park ride we got, as humans were pitted against scientifically-recreated animals, all while being sold cuddly toys and soft drinks. The theme park also contained the setting, which – just as it was with Michael Crichton’s Westworld – proved a pivotal ingredient.
Jurassic World, unlike any of the films to date, has already left Universal with a clear path it can follow for another film. But by taking said path – that’s laid out in the film itself – it’s going to move the Jurassic Park movies away from the central grounding concept. It would be fair to say this could be the making or breaking of how far the franchise will stretch.
The main leftover narrative thread left behind in the film is the moment where B D Wong’s Dr Wu escapes Isla Nublar with a bunch of embryos, presumably heading to a secret InGen facility. Vincent D’Onofrio’s Hoskins may be dead, but the idea of weaponising the dinosaurs – one of the ideas that Jurassic World shares with Aliens – is surely the most potent next step for the films.
That makes for a very different film though, and a riskier one for Universal. But I’d argue it’s the step it has to take. There’s a moment in Jurassic World where Hoskins talks about making the dinosaurs small, so they can get into difficult places and do their damage. In part, Michael Crichton explored the miniature work in his final novel, Micro. It also, on paper, sounds to me like a cracking idea for a further film. But does that meet the demands of a big blockbuster movie (Universal’s eyes may be on Ant-Man, there)?
Jurassic World was quite open about the challenge that Universal in part faced. Dinosaurs, it told us, were old news. Visitors expected something bigger, something they’d never seen before. They needed new spectacles. There’s a clear reflection of cinema audiences in the modern blockbuster era there, and that’s why we ended up with the D-Rex. It’d be a bold move for Jurassic Park 4 to suddenly put the emphasis on going tiny. But it could make for one hell of an effective adventure if it did go the other way. That’s a heavy risk, of course.
The other obvious path would be to follow the explored idea of The Lost World, Michael Crichton’s follow-up novel. Steven Spielberg filmed this, of course, although he himself admitted he was losing interest in the film even while making it. It’d be fair to say The Lost World – in spite of its merits – is not Spielberg gold.
But the idea still could be. The central conceit at the heart of Jurassic Park 2 was that of Site B, the second island where the dinosaurs were developed in the first place. Sure, it raises shipping questions and such like, but there was a chance to go into the murky world of InGen’s less successful creations. Turns out, Site B was just full of pretty much the same dinosaurs we saw in the first film. Mutated, unsuccessful versions of the original Jurassic Park dinosaurs were not in evidence, and maybe Jurassic World 2 could do something with that. All we’ve seen, after all, are the ‘successful’ (a relative term) attempts to make new dinosaurs. What about the many who didn’t work out as well? Heck, Jurassic World 2 could go all Alien: Resurrection on us here.
Which, er, may not be a good thing.
The option I dearly hope Universal resists is to open a new theme park – EuroJurassic? – and just run through a similar set-up again. The prolonged gap since the last film gave Colin Trevorrow the option to do that, and subvert things slightly. He also picked up the thread of the military vs dinosaurs that was hinted at but ultimately abandoned come the ending of Jurassic Park III. Opening another theme park, or even taking a D-Rex or T-Rex onto the mainland, has been done. In fact, just mentioning letting a dinosaur loose on the mainland brings back not happy memories of The Lost World‘s ending. Plus: it’s not a Jurassic Park movie then. Lose the element of containment, and you lose one of the key facets of the series to date.
The one other obvious option, giving the T-Rex on the loose in Jurassic World at the end of the film, is to send in some people to clean Isla Nublar out, or to round up the many loose dinos (both airborne and ground-based, assuming InGen’s DNA restrictions no longer work). That’d make story sense, but clearly runs the risk of being the same sort of film again.
Arguably, things have to change, especially if the studio – somewhat inevitably – wants to map out more sequels (which presumably Steven Spielberg would have to sign off on somewhere along the line). Universal, surely, is having a meeting somewhere about a Jurassic Park movie universe, or at the very least setting up a collection of films, a la Star Wars. In fact, it was quite telling when Trevorrow confirmed he wouldn’t be back to direct the next movie that he likened the Jurassic Park series to Star Wars, arguing each person should come along and do their own thing. The Marvel cinematic universe this is not.
Trevorrow did add, incidentally, that he’s still keen to stay involved somewhere along the line. The fact that Chris Pratt is signed up for sequels suggests that it’s his character, somewhere alone the line, that we’ll be following.
Still, right now, Universal gets to enjoy the fruits of a very successful project, and it’s a sporting bet that Jurassic World will soon break the $1bn box office barrier, making it the second Universal film to do so. We’re not wagering against Minions coming along in a couple of weeks and repeating the trick. Howevever, Universal is likely to want to move quickly on Jurassic World 2/Jurassic Park 5, and I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a new film by the summer of 2018, more than likely sooner.
If the pressure wasn’t on before, though, it really is now: get the next one right as well, and a whole host of Jurassic movies are likely to follow, rather than regular sequels. Alan Grant: Origins, anyone?