Spencer’s Soapbox: The Trouble with the Jurassic Park Sequels

(Author’s note: Spencer’s Soapbox is a weekly column here on SHH where yours truly tries to spur a conversation on specific topics. Dive in to the latest installment below and check out the previous ones by clicking here.)

Full disclosure, Jurassic Park is perhaps my most favorite film franchise. The first movie melted my brain when it came out and I knelt at the altar of it’s chaos through the sequels. While many cite Star Wars as the movie that inspired them to pursue something, it was always Jurassic Park for me. Spielberg’s first film is a totally perfect exercise in filmmaking too, an awe-inspiring spectacle with horror, humor, and a neatly tied-up message. Then there’s the next two movies, which part of me still loves, warts and all, but in the grand scheme of the franchise they’re poorly planned.

Jurassic Park’s plotting is flawless. The characters are brought to the island for a very specific and important reason, and by the end when “dinosaurs rule the earth” once again, they leave without looking back for good reason. Of course, once this movie was a blockbuster smash, they needed a sequel, but here’s the problem with the Jurassic Park sequels: There is no good reason to go back to the island. Ever. In fact, both movies trick the returning characters into going back as the other present parties have hidden motives for wanting to venture to the islands.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park sees Jeff Goldblum’s immaculate Dr. Ian Malcolm being swindled onto the island to “rescue” his girlfriend, where it’s later revealed that InGen had their own motives for traveling there. It’s exactly the same with Sam Neil’s Dr. Alan Grant in Jurassic Park III, tricked into going back to his worst nightmare for reasons unaware to him. Which is another huge factor into the problem with these movies, the suspense is gone. After we’ve experienced the first movie through the eyes of these characters, we know exactly what is waiting for them when they go out there, and that suspense vanishes when they return, not only for the audience but the characters. Both before and while Dr. Grant and Dr. Malcolm are on the island, they cannot say enough times how bad of an idea it is to go/be there. Due to this and our viewpoint as an audience being these familiar characters, we just wait for the inevitable to happen since the doom-sayers are going to be right.

Malcolm and Grant’s presence on the island for the film are also an anomaly after what they went through in the first movie, which makes their participation in the sequels so baffling. Not only are there huge character and plotting issues at the core of these movies, but narratively their focus is wrong. Think back to Jurassic Park, once things go bad, the film is more focused on reuniting the characters and attempting to regain control. There is so much going on in the first movie that they don’t even have time to focus on actually leaving the island until literally the closing minutes of the film. In the sequels, though, the entire focus is “get off the island.” The dispersed characters are reunited quickly and escape becomes the prime motive, and from a storytelling perspective it becomes dull even faster.

All of this is to say that I still enjoy both sequels, even though I recognize that the last twenty minutes of “Lost World” and Jurassic Park 3 are not good, and it’s why I’m so interested in Jurassic World. My fanboy love for the franchise meant I’m going to see the movie anyway, but the entire thing has been shaped against the archetypes set by the other sequels. Jurassic World‘s focus is on new characters, allowing the audience fresh eyes and a brand-new setting with the fully open, operational, and successful park. It wouldn’t be a Jurassic Park movie without everything going bad though, that’s just storytelling folks, and that there are new dangers unlike the previous movies gives it a hard left turn from the other sequels. The movie being a blockbuster, and a Jurassic Park movie, means that no doubt there will be dino-mayhem and likely a happy climax, but the direction of the film has me hoping it can break the curse of the sequel’s slumps.

What about the sequel to Jurassic World though? We know they’re planning more as a director Colin Trevvorrow has previously said the topic came up alot and that he won’t take on the next, but where does it go? In a world where Jurassic World was torn apart by its own attractions, where attendees and employees alike died, what’s next? The park can’t remain open, because no one will want to go. Do they let it descend into a man-free ecosystem like Isla Sorna? Will they try once again to open the park? I don’t know, but I can only hope that instead of taking the familiar path they take a hard right into new territory and explore new aspects. I hope they, like life, find a way.