Jurassic Park IV: three options for box office success
Forget that the science behind DNA recovery and dinosaur cloning has been put to bed as wholly implausible, the Velociraptors portrayed were probably Deinonychus, the tropical climate didn't suit many of the species of dinosaur that roamed the island, or the dozen or more scientific inaccuracies that paleontologists could highlight...
Jurassic Park is still an incredible, beautiful, whimsical example of sci-fi adventure in cinema at its best.
Even over twenty years later, Jurassic Park holds up not only narratively, science aside, but the incredible practical and digital effects work of Stan Winston's studio continues to maintain its luster. The fantastic thing about Jurassic Park, for me, is that it still makes me feel like a kid. No matter how old most of us get, there is that latent adolescent buried under the weight of adulthood that is still in love with the idea of seeing a Triceratops in real life, or watching (from a safe distance, of course) the mighty Tyrannosaurus doing mighty Tyrannosaurus things.
Nevermind that they were probably scavengers in reality. Don't hate me.
Steven Spielberg's adaptation of the late Michael Crichton's fantastic novel is one of my favorite film experiences, and while 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park was not unforgivably horrible, it was lightyears away from what made the original film so much fun. Jurassic Park was about discovery, the wonders of scientific advancement, and the potential to abuse them, good intentions or otherwise. In spite of the spectacle, it was a very character-driven film, as much about the personal growth of the main characters as it was about Brachiosaurus herds. The Lost World pretended to have heart, but in the end it felt like wringing the juice out of a good idea that had already made its intended impact. Joe Johnston's Jurassic Park III was, frankly, a cheap, gimmicky movie that sold out the premise, assaulted the eye with CGI, and tried to do with Sam Neill's Alan Grant what the second film attempted (and mostly failed at) with Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm.
Nostalgia doesn't always get the job done.
With the news that Jurassic World is still on the docket, sans Kathleen Kennedy, one wonders how the magic of the first film could be recaptured; how that sense of discovery and awe that Alan, Ian, and Dr. Ellie Sattler experience when John Hammond first uttered, "....welcome, to Jurassic Park," can be once again felt by audiences familiar with the franchise.
There are options, some fairly traditional, some all sorts of left-field. Here are my favorite, in list form, because lists are good times.
1. Forget sticking to the premise, go freakin' nuts
Geek Tyrant ran a piece a few months ago about William Monahan and John Sayles' script that called for a very, very different Jurassic Park. The DNA testing of InGen got five varieties of crazy, and the result was a series of bizarre, horrifying human-dinosaur hybrids that were intelligent enough to shoot you in the face, and appeared generally pissed off enough to be okay with that.
The first film, when you think about it, deals with some very dark themes. Hammond may appear to be a jolly, grandfatherly billionaire with a desire to make the dreams of children and adults alike come true; to provide something wholly unique and beautiful to the masses. In reality, he's a megalomaniac with the funds to push dangerous and poorly tested science through any sort of peer review, and is so intensely sure of his delusions that he's willing to put the lives of his own grandchildren in danger.
Greed to the point of criminal negligence, corporate espionage and theft, people dying horrible deaths. It's intense.
That noted, if you really want to reinvent the JP wheel, look no further than turning a science fiction adventure flick into what is basically sci-fi horror. Throw a bunch of botanists, anthropologists, or whatever ists or gists suit you onto a many decades forgotten island filled with the ravenous remnants of scientific advancement gone wrong, and straight up keep them running for their lives for an hour and a half. Absolutely give it a strong narrative arc, a message, and genuinely high stakes (boats, mainland, more people to eat...oh shit), but keep it keenly horrifying. Not just scary. Much like zombies are freaky because they're a reflection of ourselves, stripped down to the most base, emotionless instincts, these reptimalia mixes (new, awesome word) would be us, but functioning within no universally accepted moral conscience, doing anything to survive, and obsessively so. The cold reptilian brain that's buried beneath all of the nuance that makes humans hurt, love, and empathize, front and center...chasing you, in the form of a dinosaur-person. Maybe with a gun.
It could be an abject failure, or a thrilling, just crazy enough to work way of putting the old franchise firmly in the past. If it succeeded, which admittedly would be enormously shocking, this Jurassic Park 4 would be one of the wildest departures from source material ever put to screen.
2. Since we're rebooting stuff...
I'm still weirded out that a new Spider-Man franchise is already a film deep, and we're only a year and a half away from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. While I'll admit that Sam Raimi battered my delicate superhero sensibilities with a dancing Peter Parker and a supremely milquetoast Venom, I wasn't ready to move on. That said, reboots and re-imaginings have been the norm since the spec script market fell on its face with the combined writer's strike/economic collapse of '08. Basically, unique, original scripts by hungry new screenwriters aren't getting snatched up the way they were less than a decade ago. Now? Studios want a built-in fanbase (hello, Twilight, Kick-Ass, The Hunger Games, and ), old franchises that have just enough staying power to get asses in theater seats (A Good Day to Die Hard), or films folks loved from back in the day that can be mined for nostalgia.
I dislike the above immensely, but fine. Let's do this.
It's been almost fifteen years since the last film, and there is enough of a generational gap at this point that many folks have no reference point for the first. If you were born in '93 when Jurassic Park was released, you'll be drinking age next year. My reference point for Jeff Goldblum is The Fly and Earth Girls Are Easy, yours might be The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and a weird cameo in Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie.
I am old.
While I feel like the original Jurassic Park just has to be a cinematic phenomenon that transcends generations and will be passed down to new batches of wide-eyed, enthralled kiddos like classic Disney flicks, I could be totally wrong. So, reboot.
Recast Grant, Saddler, Malcolm, kick Richard Attenborough to the curb (made my heart hurt to write that), recast the kids, and give everyone a Dennis Nedry that's never been Newman. Even switch up the narrative a bit, preferably to something slightly more reflective of the novel.
I mean, I might pay to see Hammond meet his novelized fate (Procompsognathus buffet), Malcolm get more facetime, and badass Muldoon getting way more opportunities to do badass things (and live).
As long as the sense of wonder and those beautiful, big reveals from the first film are replicated, treated with reverence, not beaten to death with CGI, and the heart of the film is character-based in spite of the spectacle, I could potentially get behind starting over. Why bother with a fourth installment that would be narratively difficult to move forward with in a fresh way, when the best story can simply be retold again? The film lover in me feels kind of gross about it, but it could be a viable, even excellent option.
3. Teach an old dinosaur flick some new tricks
If we're actually taking one amazing film, a pretty poopy but marginally entertaining sequel (gymnast dinosaur-kicks are still dumb), and an unspeakably bad third effort into account for story-arc, there are options. Weak ones, but still. The last scene in JP III sees the escaped Pteranodons departing the island, which in reality would have freaked Alan Grant the f@#k out, but I digress. Dinosaurs have left Isla Sorna (Site B), and as the theme was once again though clumsily driven home, life finds a way. It's pretty standard thinking that unless some government nukes that island into oblivion, dinosaurs will eventually end up spreading to the mainland. Also, who is to say there weren't any Ichthyosaurs or Dakosaurus in those rivers and around the island?
Imagine taking a page out of Jaws and The Abyss and terrorizing an underwater research team in a sealab with enormous, aggressive, ocean-dwelling dinosaurs.
The pygmy mammoth of the Channel Islands off the coast of Santa Barbara were a result of normal mammoths swimming four miles across open water to said islands, and adapting over 47,000 years to less space and food. Reverse the swim, and you have a prospective hook. If the screenwriters can find a way to narratively justify a non-nuked Isla Sorna, and a very long wait for dinosaurs to get to the mainland and ninja-vanish like Sasquatch long enough to adapt and eventually kick our asses, there might be an interesting story to tell.
Or, you know...they could simply throw a team of scientists and explores back on the island ten years later and we can get a bummer of a fourth installment that'll move tickets because nostalgia is a powerful thing. Boo.
It's going to be difficult not to simply put slightly new tread on an old tire. Whether it ultimately ends up being Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver (both co-penning Dawn of the Planet of the Apes), or someone else, the screenwriters have their work cut out for them. It's complicated catching lightning in a bottle twice, much less after a twenty year break.
Time, per the usual, will tell. I'm tentatively excited about revisiting a world that I genuinely love, and Spielberg's return to the franchise as a producer is heartening. I can only hope he, the writers, and whomever ultimately ends up directing will have enough reverence for the source material to handle the next Jurassic Park outing with care.
Either that, or just go crazy and give me the spiritual equivalent of a Dino-Riders movie, and I'll show up drunk and throw my money at Hollywood regardless.
I have my price, and it's a Dimetrodon that shoots lasers.