Jurassic World Dominion Is a Sad, Desperate Nostalgia Trip
Let's settle this debate right now: There is no greater summer movie than the original Jurassic Park.
When I say summer movie, I'm not just talking about any movie released between May and August. I'm talking about big-budget, high-concept, special effects–driven, almost ridelike movie experiences. In 1993, Steven Spielberg's dino-terror adventure set the standard for all past and present warm-weather popcorn blockbusters. And while there have been more than a few top-notch entries in the summer movie canon since, Jurassic Park has never been surpassed.
In part, that's due to the era in which it was released. Spielberg, then in his mid-40s, was at a pivot point in his career, transitioning from populist entertainer to Hollywood eminence. Moviemaking technology, too, was changing: Jurassic Park is justifiably celebrated for its groundbreaking digital effects, but a majority of the dinosaur shots in the film were created using old-school physical effects—props and puppets rather than pixels. Spielberg used those effects not just to generate awe at the movie's special effects, but at the idea that dinosaurs could walk the earth.
But it's also a result of flawless execution. The cast is appealing, and the characters are just distinct enough. The script is a simple but effective clockwork that winds up the tension for an hour, setting elaborate traps for its characters, and then unleashes theme park hell. It's perfectly paced at just over two hours long, and there's a heart-stopping mid-movie Tyrannosaurus rex attack with a slew of seared-on-your-eyelids images moviegoers still recognize today.
Jurassic Park is, at this point, practically the definitional summer movie. When someone talks about wanting to go see a summer popcorn movie, what they are really talking about is wanting to go see Jurassic Park. And when studios release big summer tentpoles, there is almost always a sense in which what they are really hoping to do is release another Jurassic Park.
And so, in the ensuing three decades, Hollywood has given viewers multiple additional opportunities to see Jurassic Park. First there was The Lost World, Spielberg's more mean-spirited, blackly comic immediate sequel, and then there was the inevitable whiff of a follow-up in Joe Johnston's Jurassic Park III. Starting in 2015, the series returned with Jurassic World, a competent if gratingly manipulative nostalgia play, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, an odd if often effective detour into more overt monster movie territory.
None of these sequels came anywhere close to capturing the thrills of the original, but there was always something enjoyable about them, no matter how perfunctory they seemed. Sadly, the same cannot be said for the latest installment, Jurassic World Dominion. It's a desultory slog, overlong and underdeveloped, with a convoluted, deeply stupid story that renders old characters dull and does nothing for the new characters it introduces.
There are some potentially interesting ideas here about the expansion of dinosaur technology into the ordinary world—dinos in the wild, black markets for illegal dinosaur sales, even trained laser-guided attack dinosaurs (really)—but none of them come together. The story vaguely gestures at geopolitical relevance with go-nowhere plot points about animal liberation and genetically engineered crops; this is apparently a world with dinosaurs, but without Golden Rice.
Billed as a capstone to the franchise, in which all the franchise's threads finally come together, Dominion instead spends most of its nearly two-and-a-half-hour running time in search of a reason to exist. It never finds one.
And so it falls back on desperate, empty nostalgia instead, with returning cast members, including Laura Dern and Sam Neill as the scientist heroes of the original film, plus myriad shots and sequences that play less like nods to the original than like tired remakes. There's a late-film T. rex attack that all but replicates the iconic encounter from the original, all but begging audiences to cheer for moments calibrated to remind them of the far superior source material.
Notably, Dominion's nostalgia trips point almost exclusively to the first film in the franchise. It has no identity of its own, no reason for existing, so it settles for reminding viewers that Jurassic Park existed. On that point, at least, I find myself nodding along. Jurassic Park does exist, and it's a much better movie. With summer upon us, your best bet is to just watch the original instead.
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