Jurassic Park Didn't Need Any Sequels
Jurassic World: Dominion promises to conclude the franchise, but Jurassic Park never needed to be a franchise in the first place.
Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park is the ultimate crowd-pleasing blockbuster. It has suspense-filled set pieces, compelling characters, and a large-scale story with intimate stakes. At one point, it was the highest-grossing movie ever made, and its revolutionary visual effects made it one of the most groundbreaking and influential movies of all time. Naturally, a studio with $1 billion more in their pockets turned this masterpiece into a franchise.
Spielberg returned to helm the first sequel, The Lost World, which was followed by Jurassic Park III, Jurassic World, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, with Jurassic World: Dominion on the way for a summer 2022 release. That one promises to conclude the series, but Universal executives will probably be lining up around this dead horse with baseball bats at the ready in a couple of years. Every sequel to Jurassic Park has failed to justify its existence, because Jurassic Park is a movie that didn’t need any sequels. While movies like Star Wars intentionally open themselves up to endless sequels exploring their vast fictional universe, Jurassic Park told its story in its entirety and explored the themes perfectly in the first movie.
Thematically, Jurassic Park is a Frankenstein story. It’s a science thriller about the dangers of hubris and playing God. Much like Victor Frankenstein, John Hammond is a deranged genius who feeds his ego by creating a monster. Ian Malcolm’s famous quote, “Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should,” could just as easily be applied to Dr. Frankenstein’s work in reanimation. The sequels have ignored these overtones and presented a more general “humanity bad” message.
After the first movie closed the door on its own premise with Hammond realizing the error of his ways and pledging to shut down the park, most of the sequels have meandered around the island full of dinosaur clones, throwing random story ideas at the wall and seeing what sticks. The closest that any of the Jurassic sequels has come to matching the greatness of the original is 2015’s Jurassic World, which finally offered a fresh twist on the premise. It explores a functioning dinosaur park filled with tourists, which raises the tension when the dinosaurs escape because a lot more lives are at stake. But that movie is let down by weak, one-dimensional characters and a lot of stretches in logic (would people really get bored of seeing live dinosaurs after just a couple of years?).
Plus, Jurassic World paved the way for the worst of the bunch, Fallen Kingdom. After starting out with the familiar Jurassic sequel setup of military guys tricking scientists into taking them to the island to brutalize the dinosaurs (which they should see coming by now), Fallen Kingdom stumbles from one inane plot point to the next. It reveals that the island has been an active volcano this whole time (making John Hammond retroactively moronic for building a theme park there), then follows “the floor is made of lava” rules in depicting the eruption, then becomes a tepid haunted house movie in its second half as the surviving dinosaurs are taken to a giant country manor to be auctioned off for $4 million a pop. This movie is stitched together like the filmmakers had two half-baked story ideas they couldn’t quite flesh out into full movies and just crammed them both into the same script.
Spielberg made the original Jurassic Park film as a monster movie, as he’d previously done with Jaws. The T. rex is framed in the same way Godzilla or King Kong are framed, and it’s arguably become just as iconic within the movie monster canon. In the first sequel, The Lost World, Spielberg leaned way too heavily into this angle with a random trip to San Diego for some Godzilla references. After that, the Jurassic sequels have all avoided being straightforward monster movies and instead aspire to Avengers-level blockbuster-dom, which betrays the spirit of the original story.
The original Jurassic Park movie is the perfect blockbuster. Its set pieces, from the T. rex’s initial escape to the raptors’ attack in the kitchen, have much more suspense and excitement and emotional engagement than anything in the average modern-day superhero movie. In a world with more and more uninspired movies that don’t demand to be seen on the big screen, Jurassic Park still plays to huge crowds in its rereleases three decades later, because it’s truly a spectacle to behold.
In the original movie’s final showdown, the survivors are being chased by the raptors and get saved by the T. rex, who takes on the raptors in a vicious fight as the “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” banner falls through the frame. This finale posits that nature is bigger than humanity and when humanity arrogantly tries to tweak nature, nature will take care of things. This is proving to be untrue in the age of climate change, but the sentiment closes the book on Jurassic Park’s themes and messages.
One of the downsides of Jurassic stories is that they require a lot of exposition to set up the action, which can really drag a movie down if it’s not done well. In the first movie, Spielberg uses exposition masterfully. For starters, he gets through most of it with a goofy cartoon starring Mr. DNA – all the later movies have long, drawn-out, on-the-nose information dumps. In Jurassic Park, the exposition works because it enhances the action instead of hindering it. The design of the velociraptors is terrifying on its own, but their screen presence wouldn’t be nearly as effective if Grant hadn’t explained in gruesome detail how raptors eat people alive in an early scene.
The final scene in Jurassic Park provides enough emotional closure to conclude the story for good. Having warmed to the kids and genuinely changed over the course of the movie, Dr. Grant looks out the window of the helicopter and watches birds (technically dinosaurs) flying in a flock. This was the perfect ending for the story. It’s simple, but it wraps everything up in a neat bow. The tightly structured Jurassic Park script, credited to David Koepp and original author Michael Crichton, ties up all the loose ends, so there’s no room for a sequel. But Universal wasn’t going to let anything – not even three-quarters of the original cast refusing to return – stop them from making a sequel to the highest-grossing movie of all time.
Jurassic World: Dominion, originally set to release in 2021 but delayed to 2022 by the COVID-19 pandemic, promises to be an Endgame/Rise of Skywalker-style finale to the entire Jurassic saga, but it’ll be difficult to conclude a series that never should’ve been a series in the first place. Bringing back the original trio of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum (in more than a glorified cameo appearance this time) is a nice touch, but the movie will struggle to prove to audiences that it needs to exist, because it simply doesn’t.