The dinosaurs of Jurassic Park are many things. They are special-effects wonders. They are unruly houseguests. And they are some of the biggest, most foot-stomping metaphors around.
Since Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original, the dinos of Jurassic Park — many of them not light on their feet to be begin with — have been weighed down with meanings that sometimes shift movie to movie. If they look a touch tired in the latest Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it could be from all the allegorical baggage they’ve been carrying.
Twenty-five years ago, the dinosaurs — wondrous and horrifying creations at once — stood for the magical but fearsome power of genetic engineering. In 2015’s Jurassic World, they were focus group-approved theme park attractions that doubled for Hollywood blockbusters themselves.
Now, in Fallen Kingdom, the scaly ones — again threatened with extinction — are pursued by poachers and others who wish to capture and capitalize on an endangered if dangerous species. The theme appealed to Colin Trevorrow, the director of 2015’s Jurassic World, now serving as co-writer with Derek Connolly, and as executive producer, alongside Steven Spielberg.
“We have a relationship with animals on this planet that is tenuous and is strained. They suffer from abuse and trafficking and the consequences of our environmental choices,” said Trevorrow. “To find a way to build essentially a children’s franchise about how we have a responsibility to the creatures that we share the planet with felt like a worthwhile thing to do.”
If the previous Jurassic World was fashioned as a meta-blockbuster, it made good on its intent. Jurassic World blew away expectations, setting a new opening-weekend record and stomping its way to nearly $1.7 billion worldwide. Fallen Kingdom, with J.A. Bayona taking over as director, has already taken in $370 million overseas (including $112 million in China) before opening in North America on Thursday night.
That takes some of the pressure off Fallen Kingdom, which was made for about $170 million by Universal Pictures and Amblin Entertainment. But expectations remain high for a 25-year-old franchise that has grossed $4 billion in ticket sales. And the animal-rights gambit of Fallen Kingdom — in which the dinosaurs leave the island in cages — has found a mixed critical reaction. Variety called it “a liberal pulp message movie” and “the first cautionary dinosaur-trafficking movie.”
“We looked at real animal trafficking in the world and what that process is,” says Trevorrow, who’s writing and directing the third Jurassic World film. “First there’s capture and then there’s going to be an auction of some kind, a sale. We were following something that felt grounded in the reality that we know. It’s a rule that we have that we don’t want the dinosaurs to do anything that real animals wouldn’t or couldn’t do.”
The action takes place three years after the melee of Jurassic World. A soon-to-erupt volcano on Isla Nublar has sparked public debate, complete with Congressional hearings: Should the dinosaurs be saved? An aid to John Hammond, the Jurassic Park founder, has convinced Dallas Bryce Howard’s Claire Dearing (now a dino-rights activist) and Chris Pratt’s former raptor wrangler Owen Grady to help get the dinosaurs off the island.
The more cloistered second half of the tale most interested Bayona, the Spanish filmmaker known for The Orphanage and A Monster Calls.
“The first time Colin told me about the story, he told me that the second half was going to be a haunted house story,” says Bayona. “I thought that was going to be a lot of fun.”
For anyone who recalls the frightful kitchen scene of Jurassic Park, Fallen Kingdom doubles down on the suspense of dinosaurs in tight, domestic quarters, while channeling the franchise’s contemplation of science into animal rights. Bayona traces the dinosaurs of Jurassic World to the kaiju of movies like Godzilla.
“There’s one line that I love at the beginning of the film when Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) refers to nuclear power. Nuclear power is the moment when man makes a pivotal change in history,” says Bayona. “For the first time, man is over nature. That idea, which means crossing a red line, provokes monsters. The image of the atomic mushroom is very similar to the T-Rex.”
Fallen Kingdom also had more human issues to tackle. The high heels that Claire traipses through the jungle within Jurassic World sparked criticism from many who derided the film for playing with outdated gender tropes. Trevorrow emphasized that that reaction was not worldwide.
“All that stuff was very domestic but that didn’t make it something that didn’t deserve to be listened to,” says Trevorrow. “So we thought about it. We thought about how that imagery and iconography was affecting certain people and where those responses were coming from. And we definitely applied that when we thought about the next movie.”
Trevorrow had numerous conversations with Bayona and his producers about the issue. Now prepared for the jungle, Claire wears more appropriate footwear in Fallen Kingdom, though Bayona playfully re-introduces her with a shot that opens on her heels.
“There’s some irony in the way we introduce Claire because there was such a big controversy with the heels that I just wanted to start with a shot of the heels,” says Bayona. “It was trying not to take the whole controversy too seriously.”
But the real-world connections that most motivated the filmmakers had more to do with stories like that of the northern white rhino. The last male of the species died in March, a victim of poachers seeking its horns. Debate has followed over whether a Jurassic Park-like revival of the rhinos should be carried out.
“It has rendered a species extinct and it’s horrifying. And it’s our fault as mankind. We did that,” says Trevorrow. “It brings up a similar question that the movie brings up. If we did have this technology, if we could bring back the white rhinoceros, do we have a responsibility to do it? I don’t personally know the answer to that.”