When I was growing up, I was pretty much the textbook definition of what you’d call a “dinosaur kid.” I was obsessed. I’m pretty sure there’s some old home movies floating around of me, as a small toddler, just casually rattling off Latin names for the extinct beasts, surely much to the chagrin of my poor parents. I was convinced, for the first several years of my life, that I was going to be a paleontologist when I grew up. That obviously didn’t happen (I hate both the sun and dirt), but I loved dinosaurs then, and I still very much do now.
Which makes it such a shame that there’s been such a noticeable lack in quality dinosaur media in the wake of the first Jurassic Park. Sure, some of the sequels are fun (I’m a notoriously staunch defender of Jurassic Park 3, talking raptors and all), but none have quite managed to live up to the sheer perfection of Spielberg’s first foray into the prehistoric. Dinosaurs seem to be trapped in the same unending vacuum as sharks: They got one movie that absolutely nailed the concept, and then became utterly doomed to suffer through a sea of pale imitations in the decades following that one success. Seriously, try and think of another shark movie as good as Jaws, I dare you.
And please don’t say The Meg.
But, miraculously, we’ve recently been gifted with some fantastic, magical new dinosaur content that has renewed my love for the subject. Something that finally lives up to the legacy of the original Jurassic Park, that successfully recreates the sense of wonder and joy that I felt all those years ago the first time I saw a T-Rex on screen. Something that made me feel like that same obsessed kid again, for the first time in decades.
I’m talking, of course, about David Attenborough’s Prehistoric Planet on Apple TV.
Not since 1993 have dinosaurs been treated with such reverence and respect. Like animals, majestic and mysterious elements of the natural world, rather than monsters. Every night during the program’s week-long run, I found myself completely enraptured by the sights and sounds presented in each segment, by the incredible CGI used to bring the creatures to life, and by the compelling nature of Attenborough’s storytelling. It’s actually fitting that he himself would tackle this particular subject matter, considering his brother, Richard, played John Hammond in the first two Jurassic Park films. His presence grants the topic a degree of prestige and gravitas that it has not had in quite some time, and much like Hammond himself, Attenborough breathes new life into these long-dead wonders.
I suppose it’s some kind of karmic justice then that we would see the release of something so amazing and so engrossing right on the eve of something that is, in every conceivable way, the polar opposite: Jurassic World: Dominion.
After pretty much despising the previous film, Fallen Kingdom, I had very little hope for the final film (hopefully) in the Jurassic World trilogy. Especially after critic opinions started trickling out. (For a fun game, Google “Jurassic World Dominion Reviews” and take a shot every time you see some variation of the headline “It’s Time For This Franchise to Go Extinct.” You’ll die of alcohol poisoning before you ever actually have to see this steaming pile of dino dung.) The only small ray of expectation that I may have had lay solely in the return of the original film’s trio of protagonists, doctors Grant, Sadler, and Malcolm, all played by their respective original actors. Seeing Laura Dern, Sam Neil, and Jeff Goldblum onscreen together again, running from carnivorous beasts, and chewing scenery surely would be worth some entertainment value, right.
No, actually. Not even a little.
I’ll give this to Fallen Kingdom: It at least had dinosaurs in it. Sure, the plot was ridiculous and the characters were all morons. But it delivered on the central premise of all the Jurassic films by offering up a sizable serving of dinosaur mayhem. Dominion fails at even this, the bare minimum of what these films should be. I think there’s maybe a good five to ten minutes of actual dinosaur screentime in this film, and that’s probably being generous. The rest of the movie follows, I kid you not, a conspiracy surrounding giant locusts that are eating crops.
Giant bugs. Not dinosaurs. And not even, you know, monstrous or scary bugs. Essentially just big grasshoppers.
At nearly two and a half hours long, as you can imagine, the lack of dinosaur action in this film makes it ooze by at a snail’s pace. The cardinal sin any film can commit, good or bad, is to be boring. Dominion might be the most boring thing I’ve ever paid money to see. Reader, I got fairly hammered before entering the theater to see this movie, and even that didn’t help. Scene after miserable scene of characters discussing crop failure, corporate structures, genetic law, and a plethora of other non-dinosaur topics make this feel like a Jurassic film in name only.
(Shout-out to our waiter at The Cheesecake Factory who told us that “This is the best Jurassic Park since the original.” I regret tipping you as well as I did.)
The premise established at the end of the previous film, stupid as it may have been, was at least an interesting one: Dinosaurs are now out there in the world, existing alongside mankind. What are the ramifications of this? Can they cohabitate the planet together, or will it end in disaster?
Well, it would be really great if we ever got to explore that, but unfortunately, it doesn’t happen. The best we get is that occasionally a brontosaurus will wander into a construction site, and mosasaurs will sometimes crash episodes of Deadliest Catch. That’s about it. The dinosaurs only seem to cameo in their own movie here. Maybe they just don’t want to be in these terrible movies anymore, and I honestly don’t blame them.
The cast clearly doesn’t want to be here either. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard’s characters have lost any and all distinct personality they had going for them in previous films, leaving them completely devoid of emotion or humor. They react to things that happen around them with a glassy-eyed, half-interested stare, no doubt busy wondering when their paychecks would clear. The little clone girl from Fallen Kingdom also returns, although much like last time, she’s less of a character and more of a plot device. Her DNA is important to stop the mutant bugs or something, I don’t know. I honestly stopped actively registering the dialogue about halfway through the movie.
And speaking of the dialogue, oh man. The returning legacy characters only speak in lazy, half-assed callbacks to the original film. That’s it. That’s their entire characterization: “We were in the first movie. Remember?” Goldblum plays Goldblum, not much to say there. Sam Neil can’t seem to remember what his Alan Grant accent sounded like, so he awkwardly shuffles between his natural Kiwi lilt and some weird approximation of a midwestern drawl. And poor Laura Dern. She actually tries in this movie, more than anyone else, but it’s entirely wasted on the abysmal material she has to work with. There’s absolutely no reason for any of these characters to be returning here. They know it, we know it, the movie knows it, and yet it still tries to limp along as if it was some genius narrative device.
It’s cheap nostalgia bait at best. At worst, it’s an actual insult to the legacy of the original film. It’s “Somehow, Palpatine returned,” only somehow more egregious.
Both casts, the old and the new, are kept segregated on their own little storylines until the third act, where the movie suddenly seems to remember that it has to end at some point. To say that it feels like two movies sewn together would imply that there was enough material for even one coherent plot at work here, so I’ll just say that it gives Frankenstein’s monster a run for its money on stitchwork. Throw in a random, compulsory dinosaur brawl to close out the final act, and you’ve got the film equivalent of a D student’s final essay paragraph rather than a blockbuster finale.
The film, much like its predecessors, also has something resembling a main villain as well, some dorky tech mogul who I think is meant to be the industrial saboteur that gives Dennis Nedry the Barbasol shaving cream can in the original? The film never really offers to elaborate on that, and frankly, I don’t care. His only relevance to the plot is to wear glasses and get eaten at the end. Also, there’s the obligatory “big bad” dinosaur, much like the Spinosaurus and Indominous Rex before it, in the Giganotosaurus. But he shows up with about 20 minutes left on the film’s runtime, does basically nothing, and the gets killed unceremoniously in the aforementioned climactic brawl, so to call it the antagonist seems a smidge disingenuous, despite director Colin Trevorrow’s claims that it’s “Like the Joker.”
Whatever the hell that means.
If there’s any good to come from Jurassic World: Dominion, it’s that, in a weird, twisted kind of way, these films have become a better metaphor for their thematic throughline than anything that actually happens within them: We keep bringing this franchise back from the dead, playing God, despite knowing damn well that it can only end in disaster.
“Your scientists were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, they didn’t stop to think if they should.” Yep.
I adore dinosaurs, and I hate that I dislike these movies. I want to love them. I want to look up at the screen with a smile on my face as a watch a raptor eat some poor unnamed extra, or a pterodactyl divebomb a cargo plane. That kind of thing should feel tailor-made to my interests. And yet, these films are so soulless, so uninspired, and so dull, that they’ve somehow managed to make dinosaurs uninteresting. That should not be possible. And yet, I sat through the entirety of Jurassic World: Dominion praying for the end credits. I envy the dinosaurs of our own reality, because at least they have the privilege of being dead long before this monument to greed and mediocrity ever hit the screens.
Only go see this movie if you actually hate yourself. It’s effective self-flagellation, and that’s about it.