Jurassic Park is a franchise that holds a special place in my heart having almost grown up with it. The first film is held up as one of Spielberg’s best but its sequels however did not fare as well. The second and third instalments were both financial successes but didn’t hold a torch to the brilliance of the original film nor did they receive the same critical success from professionals and fans alike. But with such a good jumping point, how did the sequels miss the mark?
To get to the bottom of all this, we must head back to 1989. Where a novelist turned filmmaker was working on an idea about DNA and dinosaurs...
Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993)
During the 70s and 80s, Michael Crichton had a fascination about man taking technology into their own hands with a plan to benefit mankind – only to become destructive when used for all the wrong reasons. Crichton’s penned scripts to this effect included The Andromeda Strain, Coma and the Tom Selleck cult classic Runaway (1984) which he also directed.
Around this time, Crichton was working on a screenplay revolving around a single scientist recreating dinosaurs through their DNA. He sat on the idea for several years until 1989 when he made the decision that a film version of this script would be highly impractical and probably un-filmable. He realised the best way to keep this idea alive was to turn it into a novel – and Jurassic Park was born.
Spielberg came into the picture while the two were working on television series ER and Spielberg questioned him about his future projects. When Crichton brought up Jurassic Park, Spielberg’s interest was piqued. He demanded that he read the book as soon as it was finished.
Despite the bidding war for the movie rights between several studios, the winning bid went to Universal and within a week of the purchase, Spielberg was attached as director. Crichton himself originally penned a draft having been promised by producer Kathleen Kennedy that another writer would be brought in to punch up the dialogue. The writer in question was Hook scribe Marlia Scotch Marmo who turned in a draft that was vastly different to the final product, most notably the removal of Ian Malcolm – whose dialogue was merged with Alan Grant.
Spielberg wasn’t overly keen on the draft turned in and gave the rewrite job to screenwriter David Koepp (who had just finished Death Becomes Her – and would work with Spielberg again on War of the Worlds). Koepp would drastically rework the Marmo script – in fact the only things to remain from her script were the first T-Rex scene and the raptor attack in the kitchen. Koepp reinstated Dr. Malcolm, turned park owner Hammond into a more sympathetic character and, most importantly, made the children into something more than just superfluous characters – which was a problem with not only Marmo’s script, but Crichton’s novel. While the script was written in a mere 10 weeks, the pre-production team spent a whopping 25 months on the biggest element of the film (in more ways than one) – the dinosaurs.
Spielberg had brought on two different teams to work on the dinosaurs that would populate Jurassic Park. Stan Winston and his team worked on the giant animatronic dinosaurs for the onset and close up shots while Phil Tippet worked on the aging Go Motion technology for the far shots – a technique that George Lucas had used on Star Wars: Episode V - The Empire Strikes Back with the Tauntons. Tippet’s Go Motion was to be the staple of Jurassic Park and take up the majority of the effects, but their efforts for the film were to be short lived when Spielberg was unimpressed with what Tippet was turning out. It was a trip to see animators Mark Dippe and Steven Williams to see the animatics of the T-Rex that finally sealed Tippet’s fate. Spielberg told him,”you’re out of a job”, to which Tippet replied, “don’t you mean extinct?” – a line that Spielberg enjoyed so much he had it added to the script. It wasn’t all bad news for Tippet though, because of the extensive work he and his team had done on the dinosaur’s movement, he was kept on to supervise the animatics. His team were retrained to work on the animatics.
With everything finally in place, production of Jurassic Park began on August 24th 1992 and the film was finally completed on May 28th 1993. Spielberg and his team knew they had made something special, however I don’t think they could have guessed just how special it was or what impact it would have on the world.
Not only does Jurassic Park still rank highly on “top 10” and “top 100” lists, it inspired a lot of filmmakers due to the sheer scope of the movie. Ideas that before seemed impossible now appeared to be achievable dreams. It led George Lucas into putting the building blocks together for the Star Wars prequels and Brian Sibley stated in his book Peter Jackson: A Filmmaker's Journey that Jackson was so moved by the picture that he delved back into his childhood love of fantasy – a path that would lead him to make The Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong.
Jurassic Park is a masterpiece in filmmaking. Spielberg has such a great knowledge to turn any story, even one as farfetched as Jurassic Park, and make it seem believable. The characters are so beautifully well rounded and have superb character arches (Dr. Grant in particular). John Williams score captivates and tops off the wonderfully constructed set pieces – most notably the fist T-Rex attack and the first full shots of the dinosaurs walking across the plains. Filmmaker Werner Hertzog said that Jurassic Park showed that Spielberg is a “great storyteller and that he knows how to weave special effects into coherent stories.” To show how much of a great storyteller Spielberg is, you only have to look at the giant exposition scene:
The actual “science” behind Jurassic Park is quite complex. Crichton is known for his keen observations on the” hows and whys” of what he is writing and that had to come across on the big screen. This “science” is told through an animated “tour video” that tourists to Jurassic Park would view. This rather well made and entertaining animation gives us the full back story to the science and never once feels boring – despite the script detailing this section for around 4-5 pages. But because this scene never feels boring, we as an audience are more susceptible to actually take in the information being given to us – so have a better understanding of what is happening. A true testament to Spielberg’s extraordinary vision.
Jurassic Park first debuted on June 9th 1993 and would go on to have one of the most successful film releases of the time – beating out Spielberg’s own E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial in the takings game with a staggering $81.7 million on its first week alone. Since its release, Jurassic Park has grossed over $914 million dollars worldwide. So it was no surprise that Universal, and Spielberg, wanted a sequel.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1997)
When Jurassic Park was first released as a novel, Crichton was inundated with requests from fans to write another book. However, Crichton had never written a sequel before and was reluctant to break tradition. But after the release of one of the most successful movies ever made and a personal request from Steven Spielberg himself, Crichton got back behind the typrewriter and began to pen a book that would eventually become The Lost World.
The book was published in September 1995 and the film adaptation began production exactly one year later.
The film takes place several years after the events of the first film. Dr. Malcolm is called in for a meeting with Hammond about a mission to Site B – a place where the dinosaurs were bred before being moved to the main park. This means that there are now no fences to keep them contained. Although Malcolm at first says no, the revelation that is girlfriend Sarah is already on Site B on her own convinces him to head over and rescue her. Among all this, is a backdrop of Hammond’s nephew Ludlow taking control of InGen so that he can build a new Jurassic Park in San Diego. So now there are two teams on Site B, one team monitoring and observing the creatures and one team to capture and transport them Essentially making this the peace loving good guys against the pig-headed corporation bad guys – which is really at the core of my biggest gripe against The Lost World.
The Good hippies vs. Bad corporate idiots is handled quite poorly by Spielberg and all the characters are quite badly written. Gone are the brilliant conventions of “man playing God” that Jurassic Park had in doses; The Lost World is more concerned about protecting the elements that the one man playing God created. Despite bringing back the highly underutilised Ian Malcolm from the first film to the forefront of the stage, he doesn’t feel like the same Dr. Malcolm that we loved in Jurassic Park. This isn’t helped by a poor supporting cast and boring dialogue clichés.
What I will say though is that the action sequences are where The Lost World really shines. One of the things that David Koepp did was to import elements from the first novel into the new script that he had left out of the first film. These included the opening sequence with the little girl being attacked by the Compys, the waterfall T-Rex sequence and Dieter’s death – which was originally Hammond in the original novel. Dieter’s death in particular is quite a gruelling scene and certainly one of the highlights. The true highlight for me however is the frantic run across the Raptor’s nest through the long grass – a scene that alone makes the film worth watching.
The biggest action sequence comes in the real final act of the film where the transported T-Rex escapes capture and runs amok through San Diego – a scene that Spielberg added in once production had started instead of the proposed longer ‘long grass Raptor attack’ ending the script called for. While I always felt this was a rather weak ending to the film, Mark Bernadin of Entertainment Weekly wrote in 2008 that this scene solidified the T-Rex as a true giant monster stating, “Unless your giant monster is causing massive property damage, can you really call it a giant monster?” While I sort of agree with the statement, Spielberg didn’t need to bring the Rex into a human environment to solidify him as a true threat or “giant monster”. He had done a good enough job of the in the first film. On a side note, Ian Freer theorises in The Complete Spielberg that he made the decision for this ending to one up the upcoming American reboot of Godzilla. Besides, I always felt the true magic of the Jurassic Park series was seeing how a small band of humans reacted in an environment they had no control over – not the other way round.
Overall, The Lost World just didn’t capture the imagination of Jurassic Park. It goes against the grain the first one had set up and became a run of the mill by the numbers action affair. The characters aren’t as engaging, the plot wasn’t as intriguing and the overall presentation feels bland, lifeless and dull. Commercially though, The Lost World: Jurassic Park was a success – breaking many box office records. However, critically, it didn’t fare so well. Almar Haflidason of the BBC said that, “some nice set pieces, although they offer nothing new and feel very much like leftovers [from the first film]”, a sentiment agreed with by Roger Ebert who wrote in 2000, “Where is the awe? Where is the sense that if dinosaurs really walked the earth, a film about them would be more than a monster movie? Where are the ooohs and ahhhs?”
But you can’t argue with the films commercial success – taking a mind blowing $92.6 million on its 4 day memorial weekend opening. And with money takings that good, Universal would have been silly to just let another opportunity slide.
Jurassic Park III (Johnston, 2001)
Upon completion of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Steven Spielberg said that he was “done” with the franchise from a directing standpoint. Luckily for him, relatively new director Joe Johnston had shown an interest in directing the second instalment and was promised by Spielberg that if a third film should come to fruition, then he would get to take the helm.
However, unlike the first two films, this would be a completely fresh idea that didn’t have a source material to base the script upon. When Johnston first signed on in 1999, the script was being based off a story by Steven Spielberg that feature the return of Alan Grant, who had taken up a new home up a tree on one of the islands to monitor the dinosaurs behaviour.
This story was quickly changed when a new writing team was brought on including future Che screenwriter Peter Buchman and the team of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor who had just finished writing and directing the excellent Election. This new story featured Alan Grant and a team of scientists and military personnel who are monitoring Pteranodon that have escaped from Site B. This story and script went as far as costumes, props and set design before Johnston closed the script down five weeks before production was to start. Instead, he wanted to develop a “rescue mission” idea that he had been given by original screenwriter David Koepp. It was this idea that would become the film we know today. However, with only 35 days before Jurassic Park III went into production, Buchman, Payne and Taylor didn’t have enough time to finish a script - so Jurassic Park III began filming on August 30th 2000 with an unfinished screenplay.
Set several years after the events of The Lost World, Jurassic Park III tells the story of parents Paul and Amanda Kirby whose son Erik has went missing while sight-seeing over Site B. Desperate to rescue him, they trick Dr. Grant into thinking that they are themselves tourists who want to see the wondrous Site B with the promise that they will fund his next dig. Before they know it, Dr. Grant, his partner Billy and the parents are now stuck in the middle of Site B with no sign of escape.
With regards to the aforementioned unfinished script, I believe this is where the main problem with Jurassic Park III lies. The film feels incredibly unfinished, the plot is weak and the characters – including Grant – are under developed. Despite the boring plot and script, they pale in comparison to the horrendous ending. In subsequent interviews and articles, Johnston has claimed that the ending to Jurassic Park III was going to be much more elaborate and action packed, but because Universal cut the budget back to save money, he was forced to shoot the lame cop out ending that we all know. However, I would argue that beginning the production with an unfinished script was the real reason that the film just ends with no build or crescendo.
The other big thing to mention (in more ways than one) is the introduction of the Spinosaurus. Completely ignoring all the hard work that Spielberg and the marketing campaigns Universal had done to build up the T-Rex as the most vicious of the all the dinosaurs on either island, Johnston made the decision to introduce a new predator to replace him. It boggles the mind that he could make such a decision that not only undoes all of said hard work, but it completely undermines it too. Because of this choice, I never engaged as much emotion into the film because I didn’t buy into the Spinosaurus as much as I did the T-Rex.
It also goes to show how little investment Johnston had in building Jurassic Park III as a continuation of the first two films. Site B in Jurassic Park III doesn’t resemble the same place Dr. Malcolm and his team escaped from in The Lost World, Dr. Grant doesn’t feel like the same character that first entered our world in 1993 and neither does the cameoing Ellie Sadler. It comes off as more of a stand alone movie or a reboot that an ending to a trilogy. Which I actually believe was Johnston’s intentions, but if that were the case I don’t know why he decided to include Grant, Sadler and other elements of the Jurassic Park cannon.
But much like The Lost World, its success cannot be argued having grossed over $368 million worldwide - while not a patch on the success of the first film, it’s still an impressive number. With a number that large it’s a wonder why Universal never tried to capitalise on the franchise's popularity with a fourth instalment.
Jurassic Park IV and beyond
Ever since the release of Jurassic Park III, Johnston and Spielberg have talked very publicly about the possibility of a fourth entry in the Jurassic Park franchise. In 2002, future The Departed screenwriter William Monahan was brought in to write up a first draft that was completed in 2003 and slated for a 2005 release. The Howling writer John Sayles was then brought into work on re-writes which ended up going nowhere. Despite various actors including Sam Neil, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum and even Richard Attenborough all stating that they’ve either been contacted for or confirmed they will be in the film in some shape or form, nothing as ever come to fruition. However, in more recent interviews, Johnston has stated that once he has finished with Captain America: The First Avenger, he will be returning to the franchise to start a new trilogy that is, “nothing like anything you have seen before”. Which suggests to me that he will carry on down the route he took with Jurassic Park III by ignoring a lot of the already set standards of the series in order to create new adventures.
But, like any trilogy, do we really need a fourth entry? Kathleen Kennedy, producer of all three films, stated in best when she said on comingsoon.net, “You know, when Michael Crichton passed away, I sorta felt maybe that's it. Maybe that's a sign that we don't mess with it." One of the problems that Jurassic Park III had was that it didn’t have that guidance from Crichton’s work. I know that The Lost World was very loosely based off the novel, but the main plot and certain sections of the film came from Crichton’s work. David Koepp needed that backbone structure to get a strong plot in place – something that the Jurassic Park III writing team didn’t have.
But back to the original trilogy. I rate Jurassic Park very highly as one Spielberg’s best films. I would almost go as far as to say it is his best work – but it’s hard to make that point when the man has made Raiders of the Lost Ark, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., Jaws etc. It is one of my earliest cinema memories and it very rarely left my VHS player when it was released for the home audience. However, both The Lost World and Jurassic Park III never captured the same magic of the first film. They both have their moments (the former rather than the latter), but they don’t hold a candle to the genius and magic of the first instalment.
"I'll tell you the problem with the scientific power that you're using here: it didn't require any discipline to attain it. You read what others had done and you took the next step. You didn't earn the knowledge for yourselves, so you don't take any responsibility for it. You stood on the shoulders of geniuses to accomplish something as fast as you could and before you even knew what you had you patented it and packaged it and slapped it on a plastic lunchbox, and now you're selling it, you want to sell it!" - Dr. Ian Malcolm, Jurassic Park (1993)Luke Owen