Friday, August 12, 2022

Jurassic World Dominion: The Real Dinosaurs were the Friends We Made along the Way

I like dinosaurs. The Land Before Time was one of my favorite movies growing up. My wife, though, absolutely loves Jurassic Park. She also loves all the subsequent sequels. I do too, but I’m not the afficionado that she is. She has seen every movie, multiple times with the original three, and so I’ve been able to piggyback on her appreciation for these great movies. The Jurassic World trilogy has its problems, though its not without its great moments either. I hope to address all of those in this review. Some spoilers ahead.

Jurassic World: Dominion is the third movie in a Jurassic World trilogy, centered around Bryce Dallas Howard’s character Claire Dearing, and Chris Pratt’s character Owen Grady. There are some characters from the trilogy that reappear, but there are a lot of new characters in this film, as well as a lot of returning characters from the original Jurassic Park films, especially Dr. Ellie Sattler and Dr. Alan Grant (played by Laura Dern and Sam Niell), Dr. Malcom (Jeff Goldblum), Dr. Wu (BD Wong), and Dr. Lewis Dodgson, the Tim Cook-esque now CEO of the new genetics company Biosyn, who was also the same character that hired Dennis Nedry in the first film to steal embryos from the park (Dr. Dodgson is now played by Campbell Scott instead of Cameron Thor).

This movie is extremely ambitious. It tries to wrap up plotlines from not only the previous two films, but from the original three also. Fallen Kingdom in particular introduced a very large amount of retconned backstory where we are introduced to the “other founder” of Jurassic Park, Benjamin Lockwood, and his granddaughter, a clone of her mother, Maisie Lockwood (played by Isabella Sermon). Maisie has a lot of angst about her being a clone, which is addressed in
Jurassic World: Dominion. We also witness the ramifications of the end of Fallen Kingdom, where we see the consequences of letting dinosaurs roam free across the earth. Finally, it introduces new plotlines involving the dinosaur black market, greenpeace-esque initiatives to free dinosaurs from captivity, whether dinosaurs and humans can coexist, and also introduces us to the problem of a locust horde that is eating all the world’s food. There is a lot to wrap up, but the plot itself is a little convoluted to summarize adequately. This movie was extremely ambitious, and its effort both succeeded and fell flat.

For the good, this movie has some really powerful moments that recall the awe and the terror and the thrills of the first Jurassic Park film. Early on in Dominion we have a moment with an Apatosaurus, which brought a more intimate take on the first time we see Brachiosaurus in the first movie. That was a special moment for me. When dinosaurs are let loose from the black market in Malta, the terror of being chased by trained Atrociraptors and the gruesome scenes of people being eaten (in particular, the scooter guy being eaten by Allosaurus) was a thrilling part of the movie. Later, there was an absolutely chilling part of the film where, after a plane crash, Claire has to try to escape quietly from a Therizinosaurus, an extremely large, territorial, and dangerous herbivore that can kill in one swipe of its giant claws. She has to crawl on her belly as quietly as possible while the beast trails behind her, and she has to crawl into a pond and hold her breath until the dinosaur loses interest. This moment was so tense. Later, we have to deal with a Giganotosaurus, which evokes some of the most terrifying moments of being hunted by the Tyrannosaurus Rex in the first film. Lastly, the showdown between the T-Rex, the Giga, and the Theri at the very end of the film, was a fantastic showdown. Even some of the backstory of the Lockwoods, and Maisie understanding her origin, helps tie down things that were left unclear or hanging. There is a lot of character background that is developed, but there are also a lot of dinosaurs in this movie, and a lot of callbacks to what has been done before.

That said, that ambition, that potentially massive premise, and some of that fan service for the old films, all of which showed so much promise for this final Jurassic World film, actually made it eat itself a little. The plot is never able to rest on points for long. The locust swarm seems more of a contrivance than a real threat, even if we’re told about it and we see one small part of it in Texas in one scene. We don’t get very much of how the rest of the world is handling dinosaurs outside of the black market in Malta, because we have so many storylines from the main characters to deal with. We don’t even get that much time to develop each character’s story, since they must be in peril for most of the film, and explaining backstory or plot for the rest. The screen time of the dinosaurs also suffers for this, but only because of where the focus of the plot is centered. It was a joy to be able to relive moments with old characters, and for them to interact with the new ones, but those moments didn’t last long enough.

Which is my main critique of this film: what was good, we didn’t have enough of, and we spent too much time having to set up multiple things for them to have an adequate payoff and still fit inside a two and a half hour movie. I’ll say it again: this is a two and a half hour long movie, and it still didn’t have time to fulfill everything properly. In my mind, the Biosyn facility would have been an amazing place to have to hide from raptors or other small predators. Seeing dinosaurs in the snow was cool, but fleeting. The three-way fight between the giant territorial dinosaurs was so cool, but so short that it felt underwhelming. The stakes felt low, because the main characters never really lost anything. This movie had so much potential, and it came so close to living up to it.

All in all, would I recommend Jurassic World: Dominion? You know, even after all that fell short, and some of the forced, preachy moments about dinosaurs living in harmony with people, which seemed contradicted by three quarters of the movie, I still am brought back to those special moments. The baby Nasutoceratops, the Apatosaurus, the relationship with the two Velociraptors Blue and Beta, the terrifying moments with T-rex, Giganotosaurus, Therizinosaurus, seeing the old cast with the new: even with all the ambition tying it down, it still manages to capture the magic. Like an animal in captivity, we see some of the magnificence of the creature, but never its full potential. Which, ironically, is the opposite of what the movie should have been about: letting the dinosaurs live freely, finally. Still, I’d come back to see it again, even if I have to look past some things. It still has some of the magic, which is why audiences received it better than the critics. If you love Jurassic Park, this is something you have to see. If not, well, I think you’ll at least find a few things you’ll really like. 

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