If you’re like most of world, you will find your butt in a movie theater sometime over the next couple weeks reliving the heyday of early 90’s blockbuster cinema. This Friday will see the revival of a former Hollywood powerhouse franchise and what was for many of us a seminal moment in our childhood. Whether or not Jurassic World is any good, we will see it. Why? Because Jurassic Park is. It encapsulated a generation, bringing unprecedented visual wonder, classic characters and Spielberg’s singular stamp of sustained awe and sheer terror to the screen in a single film. Not since Star Wars had a movie so captured my imagination. Not even a pair of less-than-stellar sequels could sully my memory of finally seeing what I’d only pretended with my plastic dino toys beforehand. If you also sat slack-jawed as Sam Neill stood side-by-side with a brachiosaurus, then you’ve made plans to see Chris Pratt and his team of trained raptors take on the Frankenstein’s nightmare that is the Indominus Rex.
But perhaps no one is more excited about than Steven Ray Morris, author of the new book Molding a Jurassic Universe, an anthology tackling the culture touchstone that is Jurassic Park. Chronicling everything from the themes of the movie, to its sequels and speculation about the upcoming Jurassic World, Morris says what we’ve all been thinking for the past 22 years. Yes, he wastes no time in telling us how awesome Jurassic Park is (I’m of the same school of thought), but he also dives into the minutia. What cautionary tales are replicated throughout the series? How does the story mimic and find itself at odds with Michael Crichton’s source material? Why exactly are the sequels so inferior to the original film? And why don’t the dinosaurs have feathers this time around (the question on everyone’s mind)?
Casual and die hard fans alike will find much to enjoy in this very brisk and stimulating read, especially with the release of Jurassic World looming on the very near horizon. And luckily for me, I got a chance to sit down with Morris to discuss his book and all things Jurassic Park. Check out our conversation below to learn our predictions for the new movie, the dangers of scientific hubris and why exactly you love the original movie so gosh darn much.
How long have you been a fan of Jurassic Park?
Pretty much all my life. I saw it when I was six-years-old in the theaters and it scared me, but also made me appreciate its cinematic beauty. It made me feel two things at the same time: terror and wonder. I guess you could call it a very seminal moment in my life. I started making little movies with a DV camera that my dad bought me.
It’s only been in the last five or six years though that I really got back into it, appreciating it as an adult that graduated from film school.
We seem to be part of a generation (children of the late 80s and early 90s) that latched on to Jurassic Park in a way that was unprecedented for film franchises before its release. Why do you think that is?
I think with Jurassic Park specifically, the dinosaur aspect helps, especially when talking about young children who make believe dinosaurs all day. But it also came at the end of a dinosaur renaissance of the 80’s where scientists had begun to overturn many preconceived notions about dinosaurs. A lot of that stuff ended up in Michael Crichton’s novel – dinosaurs being warm-blooded, some had feathers, and so on. Then the movie came along and sort of capitalized on all of it at this perfect time when
dinosaurs were hot. I remember already being really into dinosaurs before Jurassic Park came out and I think a lot of the fans who were my age (now mid- to late-20’s) did too. It was kind of a national condition.
Then you have to factor in that Steven Spielberg was at the top of his game at 1993, so it was a great film on its own. And I mention this in my book a lot, but Jurassic Park stands out from other franchises because it’s sort of singular. It’s really easy for us to latch on to even if its sequels aren’t that interesting and the mileage decreases with each subsequent entry in the series. Having that one strong property really works unlike say Star Wars, Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter where there have been lesser works that have diluted those legacies a little bit. I think for a lot of people Jurassic Park is kind of one entity and no one really thinks about the rest of it. So it’s sort of stood the test of time better than other series before and after it.
You seem to have nothing but good things to say about the original film in your book, but don’t have the kindest words for The Lost World or Jurassic Park 3. What is it about these films that makes them lesser works?
I think the problem with the sequels – and screenwriter David Koepp who wrote the first two movies said it best – you always have to find an excuse to get the main characters into the action again. You have to think why would this rational person who experienced this event – and in the case of Jurassic Park it’s something as traumatic as watching people get eaten by dinosaurs and almost being eaten themself –decide to return? I think the main problem with Jurassic Park’s sequels is that the reasons aren’t very compelling. And on top of that, you are putting the audience at odds with the Hero’s Journey in those movies wherein these people don’t want to be there and they don’t like dinosaurs anymore, while the viewers clearly like dinosaurs (because why else would they be in the theater). So you’re already pitting your audience against the plot. And when you get down to it, those movies aren’t even that good to begin with, so the filmmakers are fighting a losing battle.
You also mention that the dinosaurs themselves are treated differently in the sequels.
That’s another thing Koepp and Spielberg touch on. Part of the miracle of Jurassic Park was just getting them on screen and they got a lot of mileage out of the audience realizing “Wow! They’re real!” But once you get to the second and third installments, they had to decide what to do with them. Approaching a sequel that way is sort of reductive. Every time the heroes stumbled across a new dinosaur in the original film it was almost a procedure. What is this dinosaur? What is it doing? What does it mean for us? In The Lost World however, they’re treated like obstacles in a video game (“Oh, a bad guy!”). It’s too linear and not very compelling.
Do you think we’ll get a better sequel in the form of Jurassic World?
I have been thinking about that a lot during the roll-out for this film and if I’m being frank, I’m optimistic, but I think the marketing has been a bit lackluster selling the “serial killer” dinosaur angle. The trailers appear to be presenting it as more of a genre film than it will be. Considering all I’ve seen in interviews with the movie’s director Colin Trevorrow and from behind the scenes and promotional material, it seems like Jurassic World will be much more in line with the tone of the original than the previous sequels.
I think I’m going to end up liking the film either way, but whether it’s just a nostalgia trip or inspires us to want to see new adventures in this world is yet to be seen. I would hope as a fan of these movies and a creative individual myself that it’s more the latter than the movie equivalent of an Instagram throwback Thursday.
In Chapter 5 of your book, you say that The Lost World and Jurassic Park 3 are just “schlocky monster movie[s] at [their] core.” Are you afraid this will happen again with the Indominus Rex “serial killer” dinosaur angle of Jurassic World?
That keys into what I was saying about the marketing material being misleading. Interviews with the filmmakers, plot details and just reading between the lines suggests that the point of the Indominus Rex is that it’s a bad idea. It’s approached in sort of an ironic way. Here’s this bigger, fiercer, cooler dinosaur that the audience will love. Now watch it destroy everything and no one’s happy with the outcome.
That was one of the key problems with Jurassic Park 3 and the creation of the Spinosaurus. This was the thing that killed the T-Rex – your favorite dinosaur from the original. Here’s this awesome, badass thing that is going to kill the original thing and they didn’t realize that we don’t necessarily want something bigger and badder. We just want a better movie.
Coming back to the marketing for Jurassic World, it seems like they’re embracing the idea of wanting more, but the film itself will show us that’s a bad thing.
So the movie will show us that if we go outside of the box and create a monster, this is what would happen.
And that’s perfectly in line with the tradition of Crichton. For all of his inspiring people to get into science and creating these realistic science fiction worlds, he was very skeptical of science and the act of creation. I think this movie is going to be the same. These people think they’re going to make this awesome, terrible monster out of cynicism (since we know from plot details that it’s lack of ticket sales that drives them to make the Indominus Rex), but doing so destroys the world they’ve toiled so long to build. If there wasn’t that turnaround, then what is the movie saying? We should all embrace artificial technology? But it’s not being presented as the cool new thing. It’s a horrific mistake.
And even the way the characters tackle the problem of this rampaging monster seems to be riddled with bad ideas.
Sending raptors after it might not be the best course of action, but I guess we’ll find out when we see the movie.
And you wrote most of Molding a Jurassic Universe before we heard much about Jurassic World, right?
A big portion of the book was conceived last year before Comic Con and before we really got a peek at what Universal had in mind for Jurassic World. I tidied up a bit of it as the film rolled out, but most of it is the same. Everything we’ve just discussed has done a lot to confirm .
What do you want readers to take away from reading your book?
Many people that I talk to and who have read my work notice that I can be very critical of certain things I like. And Simon Pegg talked about this a bit recently in an interview. I think it helps to look at the things you like with a closer eye and realize that it’s a thing you like, it’s not who you are. What I like about the book and what I hope people will get from it is that it’s a way to engage with media and specifically Jurassic Park, with the geek culture and nostalgia culture we live in now and recognize that there are good things and bad things about it. But ultimately these are things we enjoy and we have fun and I hope it can add another layer to the discussions we have about these movies whether or not you like Jurassic Park.
I have a lot of film industry friends and a lot of non-film industry friends and the best part about a movie is after you get out of the theater and you have a couple beers, you break it down and talk about it. I hope that’s what my book is for some people — a way to dive into the meat of these stories and what they mean. So I hope Molding a Jurassic Universe is the equivalent of grabbing a couple beers with your friends and hashing out Jurassic Park.
Pick up your own copy of Molding a Jurassic Universe at Amazon and don’t forget to see Jurassic World in theaters this weekend. But most importantly, grab a couple beers afterwards and let us know what you think of both.
Tags : 2015, Book club, books, buzzworthy, featured, Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park 3, Jurassic World, Michael Crichton, Molding a Jurassic Universe, movies, Steven Ray Morris, The Lost World, The Scene, Thought Catalog, up for debate