Over this past Super Bowl weekend, we saw the premiere of a number of trailers. From Infinity War to Solo to Mission Impossible, the game wasn’t the only thrilling spectacle of the afternoon. I was most drawn to the new trailer for the second installment of the Jurassic reboot trilogy.
Opening in a little girl’s bedroom with a cotton candy pink tinted night light circling the space and bubblegum blue curtains billowing beside the bed—the stuff of dreams—the trailer immediately drops us off into our worst nightmare. And as a scaly, reptilian figure with yellowing teeth and massive claws approaches the girl’s bed to the tune of the classic theme in lullaby form, there is no question that this fifth entry to the alternate reality where scientific advancement and capitalist excess bring dinosaurs back to life is anything but a dream.
Cut to the Universal and Legendary logos and then we’re transported to a much more idyllic moment set against the same tune. Chris Pratt—sorry Owen something-or-other—pets an adorable little baby velociraptor (Blue!!) at some point in the past before the mayhem of Jurassic World we witnessed in the previous film ensued.
Do you remember the first time you saw a dinosaur?
The endearing scene of Pratt’s character bonding with the fledgling beast of prey that would save his life at the end of the first Jurassic World film is juxtaposed with an alarming scene of explosion and rescue efforts of the island’s creatures. Still, these scenes of catastrophe are imbued with a sense of wonder, which is reflected in the way each character gazes upon these awe inspiring creatures even in a situation of apparent turmoil.
It’s that renewed sense of wonder that prefaces each installment of the Jurassic franchise. Somehow, five movies later the rich and powerful of this fictional world choose once again to cash in on the novelty of these animals, certain that human intellect and industrious spirit can overpower the will of nature and the law of the jungle.
And although the last trailer for Fallen Kingdom emphasized the rescue operation that would bring Owen and Claire back to the island they were disastrously forced to evacuate indefinitely, this trailer makes it clear that the effects of human greed would wreak havoc once again.
By the thirtieth second of the trailer the lullaby concludes to be replaced by the foreboding beeping of a machine alerting the approach of one of these creatures. The use of technology to track the dinosaur that will terrorize these two humans provides a small analogy for the futility of using modern innovation to control these animals. No amount of advancement will stop this ferocious creature from preying upon these unarmed humans.
And as the new series’ core characters and a couple wide-eyed additions run from stampeding dinosaurs and scenes of rescue efforts are offered, we are introduced to sinister looking businessmen fitted in suits presumably entering the scene to attempt to prove yet again how genetically modified alpha predators are the capitalist mastermind’s dream—or nightmare.
The filmmakers behind Jurassic franchise have clearly arrived at a formula, and it is a formula that works spectacularly well. Jurassic World peaked as the third highest grossing film—before settling at fourth for now—of all time making a reported $1.5 billion worldwide. It’s predecessor, the original Jurassic Park still sits comfortably within the top 50, pulling in a little over a billion dollars worldwide.
Live Dinosaurs + Idealistic Heroes + Greedy Capitalist Opportunists = Box Office Gold
How does it work?
There is truly no parallel to seeing a full sized Tyrannosaurus Rex on the big screen. Even I can admit that. It’s a cinematic marvel, and with the introduction of genetically modified varieties, the studio has not only brought a present day issue into the mix but also the element of surprise. (Check out minute 1:06 where Claire looks on in disgust at some sort of exhibition event and asks “What is that thing?” referring to some unseen hybrid animal.) With these new creations, it’s no longer possible to merely open up Google and search what the alpha monster might look like, and in the age of the internet, this is a huge advantage.
The last installment points to this phenomena as well when Claire insists that children are no longer interested in the traditional nightmarish predators. They’re just not scary enough. With access to all sorts of terrifying visuals on smart phones and tablets, the element of the unknown is lost. And just like being in the dark, the imagination of what could be there is most often scarier than what actually is.
The new installments are actually refreshingly self aware in this way. They perhaps even revel in their own formulaic composition. The same cannot be said for more grounded films focusing on individual experiences and stories, where diversity and particularity are much needed and rightfully lauded, but a blockbuster like Fallen Kingdom is founded inherently on nostalgia. After that, they need a gimmick to hold audiences like better CGI along with bigger and toothier creatures.
We cannot forgive Fallen Kingdom for perpetuating the trend of uninventive reboots and sequels serving as the staple crops of many a major Hollywood studio, but we can identify what this new film, like the Jurassic films that came before, will perhaps inadvertently do right: That is deconstruct the very capitalist mechanics that allows it flourish.
In much the same way that the draw of greed produces catastrophe where human hubris is ultimately thwarted by the forces of nature that have persisted for millions of years, the reboot/sequel model also proves to be unsustainable. Driven by bottom lines and profit but without a new story to tell or a twist to offer, each franchise eventually dies out as box office sales decline with each succeeding installment. Studios admit defeat moving on to the next profitable multi-film project and likewise the businessman of the Jurassic universe—at least those that come out alive—relent and shut down their ill conceived theme parks.
The two profitable ventures fade away. That is until our short collective memory has gone long enough to forget the reasons we let these things fade into obscurity and only recall the nostalgia and the novelty. Then, once again, someone will unearth the project to give the franchise another go, hopefully with some sort of well timed twist.
The narrative of each film of the franchise traces the process it and many other blockbuster franchises that have gotten the reboot treatment have to go through in order to find there way back onto the big screen.
Fallen Kingdom is sure to be a thrill to watch, and I hope—as an avid Jurassic fan—offers a little more than just a recycled formula fitted with bigger, badder monsters backed by marketing campaign fueled by hype and nostalgia.
In case you wanted to watch it again, here is the recently released trailer: