Traumatized. Jaw-Dropping. Unsure. Emotional. Concerned. Words can barely describe the feelings I felt leaving the theater after seeing Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom for the first time. It was an odd experience. What is usually a joyous celebration once the credits roll, left me feeling void of a response to everything I witnessed. Sounds bad, right? My answer to that question is not so simple.
There was a special feeling seeing the first footage revealed from Universal's marketing campaign, when Chris Pratt's character, Owen Grady, pet a baby raptor named "Blue". It was the first time we - as an audience - saw a dinosaur in this film's cycle. Things were simpler then. Months later we found ourselves in the midst of one of the biggest marketing campaigns ever created for a film, touting Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom as a film with potentially the most dinosaurs in a "Jurassic" film. I had my assumptions, but after seeing Fallen Kingdom - it was confirmed. We had seen most of the film via trailers, tv spots and other promo material. I was surely bummed at that notion.
Sitting in the theater, waiting to see a film for the first time is always an interesting experience. It's been three years of conjecture, theories and debunking on the podcast, but none of that really matched up to the direction this film headed. I kept saying - "we'll be in a new place", but I didn't expect how new it would be. "Jurassic" films have a "feel". Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom felt the least "Jurassic" to me. THAT IS NOT A BAD THING. It's different. It's new. After seeing this film, no one can really say that it's The Lost World: Jurassic Park or that it's re-hashing the past. Writers Colin Trevorrow and Derek Connolly, along with Director J.A. Bayona seriously took this franchise in a BOLD new direction. This movie is more of an action film than ever before. It's more dramatic than any previous film. The horror is amped to new levels. None of that even includes the new plot element that is the catalyst for an entirely different discussion. This series is forever changed.
J.A. Bayona and Cinematographer Oscar Faura are the reason why this film feels the most stark in comparison to the previous four films. Of course we all know that Director Steven Spielberg is a master of light, but what was a casual observance in previous films, really comes to the forefront in Fallen Kingdom. There is so much visual mastery happening in this film, that it's hard to single out my favorite aspects. Whether it's a silhouette against the moon or a brief glimpse of a skulking monster, Bayona and Faura deserve immense accolades for making this unabashedly the most breathtaking film in the franchise.
Today, films are dictated by the incredibly wild set pieces on display, and Fallen Kingdom is no different. We can argue all day about today's films being all action and no substance, but within that genre, I think Fallen Kingdom blends action and substance really well. We have the visually impressive volcano escape, the moments of reflection from the characters in motion and of course the Gothic horror elements inside Lockwood's Estate. The set pieces certainly take front and center, but I wouldn't say they define the film. It really does feel like a great character piece, building off what we knew about these people and dinosaurs from Jurassic World and giving them more layers. When you look back on Jurassic World and even Jurassic Park, you will see things through a different lens. I think that is the mark of a good film - changing your perception to make you think differently about the past. It's not just an island on fire and jump scares, there is substance.
I've had to remind myself many times after seeing the film - I laughed a lot... this film brought me to tears... my jaw hung open, completely enthralled - but I still felt unsure. I couldn't put a finger on it, because I had seemingly enjoyed everything on the screen. Yes, there are a few cringe-worthy moments, i.e. one of which involving Owen Grady and the impending lava - but what was it that truly haunted me? Maybe it was the destruction of all we've know and loved for the past 25 years or maybe it was my expectations being denied - I don't know. So much of this film was technically better than Jurassic World, back in 2015, but I left the theater after that film feeling much more fulfilled.
Looking at the players involved, Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt held the reins, with Daniella Pineda, Justice Smith, Rafe Spall, Isabella Sermon and James Cromwell to a name a few, becoming stellar additions to the "Jurassic" franchise. Bryce Dallas Howard put on a clinic in this film, using facial expressions to convey so much emotion - she was incredibly believable. Daniella Pineda ignited a spark in this franchise with secondary players that hasn't been lit since The Lost World. Newcomer Isabella Sermon continued the through-line of child actors being a major part of "Jurassic" films, and potentially elevated that role beyond that of Jurassic Park. Rafe Spall's character Eli Mills is certainly modeled after many of the traits found in the previous film's characters, but he performs it effortlessly better than his predecessors. This cast as a whole, even the ones unmentioned, combine for an extremely memorable ensemble performance. Of course Mr. Jeff Goldblum, the one and only, shines in his time on screen.
Tying us to the elements of the past is a MAJOR theme in Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Jurassic World certainly had it's call-backs, but Fallen Kingdom takes it few steps farther and uses that nostalgic feeling wisely. I had my complaints about the use of the Visitors Center in Jurassic World, but this film widens the universe with nostalgia in some of the best ways possible. There are layers of connections to the past that will leave you contemplating how it all fits together. The film weaves in stories you never knew existed and builds the past in ways you didn't expect, but I'm trilled to have these details to sift through. I'm still emotional thinking about all the ways this film shook us. They used nostalgia as a blade and stabbed me through the heart in several different ways. This film also attempts to copy the ideals of The Last Jedi by killing the past. From here on out, the franchise will be different. We see death, we see destruction and we see the birth of new threads that could potentially take us into complex new territory. I'm both excited and scared to contemplate those paths on the podcast.
Time and time again, the one aspect that has been somewhat steadfast is the scores of the Jurassic Park franchise. This film is no different, but I find myself wondering how this score will compare after hundreds of spins. "Jurassic" music has become iconic to even those less obsessed than myself. It's timeless, it's epic and it's filled with wonder - but what about now? All the talk about how things will change from here on out and how visually this is a different film, what does that mean for the music? It's dark - maybe even darker than the film displays, but that wind of change has captured the score as well. As usual, the score contains hints of old, but mostly new and composer Michael Giacchino finds ways to blend three films worth of scores together perfectly. The masterful track "Volcano to Death" breaks my heart each and every time. I audibly gasp when I realized Giacchino pulled the rug out from under me on that track. It still hurts.
The score does have some pitfalls in my opinion. I absolutely love all the new motifs - they are epic, bombastic and brutally subtle at times, but I feel it is lacking in diversity. One new theme that I've been calling the "dinosaur theme" is pretty constant throughout the score. It shows up in the film from beginning to end and seems to be only directly tied to dinosaurs. That's fine, but it comes off as a bit repetitious while listening to the score. The only theme we've ever associated with dinosaurs before would just be the main Jurassic Park theme from John Williams. I also cannot find a hint of a theme for the main dinosaur villain of this film, the Indoraptor. The Indominus Rex theme from Jurassic World was peppered throughout that score and remains one of the most notable themes from that film. I was hoping for something similar with the Indoraptor, but unless I missed something, it doesn't seem to be here. As a musical work, the score as a whole is phenomenal - but as a thematic work in a film, I think it slightly misses the mark. Maybe I'll eat my words there, but that's how it comes off after the initial twenty listens or so.
In some ways, the third act of this film mirrors what we see in Jurassic World. A few select moments felt like on-the-nose recreations or at least contained similar outcomes. I find myself asking much of the same questions that I had at the end of Jurassic World. Throughout the film, we are littered with the consequences of saving the dinosaurs, but I cannot help but wonder if these consequences are THAT dire. Certain threats lend themselves to greater consequences, but I feel like most of those were left on the back burner in the film's culmination. I look forward to debating the secondary consequences the most. The funny thing about this film is that at the end of the day, it's a magic trick. You think you "Set A" of consequences are the more concerning, but the whole time it was actually "Set B" that you didn't expect.
Where do we go from here? - That is the main question this film poses. It makes us continue to question our relationship to dinosaurs, to humanity and our morals as a society. The film leaves us hanging on a cliff, wondering how things will be resolved on June 11th 2021, when the third installment of Jurassic World arrives. I am traumatized. This film is a big departure from what we are used to - but in the end, I think we will be better off for it.
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