The trailer for Jurassic World Dominion (no colon) has come out with the intention of creating buzz, but it's more like a reiteration of the series’ shortcomings. It’s not a climax – it’s a cruel distillation. Jurassic Park was an enjoyable conjuring act by a master technician, but even the first film set the series up for confusion. Spielberg advised the screenwriter David Koepp to blanch the intellect out of Michael Crichton’s first draft of the screenplay, adding sentimentality, blockbuster emotion, and paint-by-numbers personalities in the place of Crichton's studied, but terminal, character arcs and trickier cultural lessons (of the book, Koepp remarked, "whenever they started talking about their personal lives, you couldn't care less"). The result was a good time, once, but Spielberg's decision-making has trickled down the river of the series to Dominion, which seems to be as much the ugly result of turning intellect into marketing as a reflection of the industry that made that decision profitable to begin with. This movie, much like the entire industry, is the chaos theory of Spielberg’s style.
The trailer begins with Richard Attenborough as John Hammond reading lines from the original film out of context. It recalls the trailer for Ghostbusters: Afterlife, which body-snatched Bill Murray’s snarky satire to turn it into nostalgia cream to stuff into a new twinkie. Jurassic World Dominion reads lines for their face value rather than their meaning. “I wanted to show them something that wasn’t an illusion,” an electronic chord thrums as snow fades in, dinosaurs riding in the distance beside men on horseback with the rumbling self-importance of a Budweiser Christmas ad, “Something that was real. Something that they could … see. And touch. Creation … is an act of sheer will.” Dominion has taken a cautionary tale and repurposed it as a marketing campaign. It is now taking what Hammond said he wanted (and failed) to create out of context and acting like we should be impressed, even grateful, to see it finally finished. No greater misunderstanding of the first story's message is possible, even the version reduced by Spielberg and Koepp for the screen.
The casting of Richard Attenborough was always a calculated risk in comparison to the book since Hammond should probably not be as Santa Claus-charming as Attenborough is by default (in the McBride book, Steven Spielberg, Spielberg talked about how the change in Hammond was a result of how he related personally to the character's love of showmanship, which seems to have made him hard to kill but also hard to disagree with). But even if Spielberg saw too much of himself in Hammond to fully critique him, in the context of the first Jurassic Park, these lines are still not appropriate for this trailer. Hammond was wrong. This is something that the series seems to have forgotten. He failed in his ambition to create something real because his genetic aberrations were not real dinosaurs – they were modern technology, spurned by ambition and arrogance, thrown down the stairs of an unknown genetic lineage that we had no control over. They were still a flea circus. The “sheer will” he was talking about was the will to disregard ethics to achieve a scientific goal. Even in the film, Dr. Satler’s (Laura Dern) retort in the scene in which those lines were originally spoken makes it clear that Hammond’s words are only justifying an illusion. He created the image of dinosaurs to sell a dream; he could not make them real.
It took no time at all for Spielberg to become Hammond in the reality of the film’s release. The original Jurassic Park flipped immediately into a funhouse mirror reflection of its message. The film was a brontosaurus-sized success at the box office, spurning toy companies, game developers, sequel writers, and rip-off artists (see Carnosaur) to get on board the dinosaur train. Any message about ecological responsibility or mathematical uncertainty was buried under a pile of plastic lunchboxes, to use Dr. Malcolm’s example. The story’s intent clashed with its response, in light of which the audience could be forgiven for not seeing much of a cautionary tale at all, at this point (Koepp and Spielberg even softened the original ending by removing the nuclear bomb, intending to manipulate the conclusion into sequel material without knowing that Crichton had sequel logic built-in).
Regardless of the series' past, it's a new low to repurpose Hammond’s self-impressed rant about the accomplishments of his geneticists in the face of ecological disaster as a warm-hearted speech about ecology. This is a whole new realm of delusion. They’re now taking for granted the audience’s emotional reaction to the sounds of his words, not even the meaning, and replaying them over vaguely appealing images to get people back in the seats for one more superficial set-piece. What they are doing to the meaning of Jurassic Park is as ludicrous as trying to convince someone that the dinosaurs in the first film are “real,” rather than special effects. That is the same jump in ridiculousness as trying to pass off Hammond’s creator’s angst as a wise old yarn (a similar demeanor in The Lost World was at least created from new lines, not quite to justify Hammond's actions but as a kind of character arc for a personality who accidentally became the film's most innocent by association with its director).
Spielberg was a wizard-technician, to use Pauline Kael’s word, by which she meant that he could take technique and turn it into a feeling of immense scale and wonderment that no director had. It’s hard to remember what it was like for that to be new, now that the technology runs the show. Some of these Disney Marvel movies are being animated before they’ve been written in the ever-lengthening “previs” process. So the giant animated dinosaur of technique that Spielberg brought into the world is now loose. It’s eaten the family dog and left a poop the size of a Lamborghini in the front lawn. The Dominion marketing campaign is the clearest example of this takeover that I've seen.
The disregard for any comprehensible purpose in the Jurassic Park/World series is a symptom of all this amazing tech-wizardry running amok without a captain like Spielberg in control (or at least in damage control). The references, including the weary return of the dream team from the first film (Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Laura Dern), are bite-sized emblems of the intended reaction, not narrative climaxes that the series has been leading up to. Dinosaurs are reanimated (comparatively badly) in their old poses, not to scare or excite but to elicit a reaction of vague familiarity. Dominion wants your mental juices to trick you into recreating the “Jurassic Park” feeling. Rather than write a compelling concept for a new film, the strategy seems to have been to try and initiate the feeling through deja vu, in a similar way to the pre-shows at theme park rides where a star from the related film stands on a green screen background and tells you to buckle up (“Hello, I’m Steven Spielberg. Welcome to Universal’s E.T.”). They’re playing Pavlov with their movie brands and we’re the drooling dogs. The problem is that we’re not really that hungry.
These movies come out all the time now, too often even to be disappointing. Arnold returning as the Terminator is no news at all. Harold Ramis making a cameo in a Ghostbusters film is a point of contention, not joy. Bruce Willis stepping back into the role of John McClane is sigh-inducing. This stuff is not valued anymore by its creators, who are taking the audience’s overvaluation of it for granted. Jurassic Park has followed the Star Wars progression model from a technological achievement to a theme park ride, with its big stars making bank on thankless cameos, the patron saints of the old emotions re-reading their weary lines with no hint of self-awareness. Even the films that aren’t technically remakes, wish they could be.
But as a brand, Jurassic Park is a unique miniature of the industry in a way that Star Wars is not, being a cautionary tale of ecological responsibility now done with Coke and Mercedes ads in the films. It spoke out against plastic lunchboxes – now it is one. Maybe it always was, after Koepp and Spielberg bent Crichton’s wisdom around the desire to be more ambiguously likable than thought-provoking. Crichton dispelled dinosaurs and all Spielberg wanted to do was exalt them. But part of the moviemaking process, an unspoken part, was giving the audience the courtesy of hiding the fact that it’s all prepackaged feeling, animated and marketed to push our brain buttons and produce the desired (profitable) emotions. Spielberg was the master at making this manipulation feel magical. Jurassic World Dominion does not seem to be different technically than any other blockbuster now, or even any Jurassic Park film. But just from this trailer, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one with less of this courtesy.
"Experience the epic conclusion of the Jurassic era," the trailer reads. This didn't make me feel excited at the possibilities or sad at the passing of a beloved brand. It made me weary, not just because I'm preparing myself for a film that must believe it is climactic and beloved by default while being in every way by design as uncreative an artistic proposition as instant oatmeal elevated by dinosaur-shaped marshmallows. The really tiring part is that all I can think of feeling from that statement is that we'll be getting a "Cretaceous Park" announcement in a few months.
Image is a screenshot from the trailer: ©Universal Pictures/Amblin Entertainment