Jurassic Park is a 1990 novel by Michael Crichton and a 1993 film directed by Steven Spielberg. The Lost World: Jurassic Park novel was published in 1995, and the 1997 film, also directed by Steven Spielberg, is loosely based on that novel. Lastly, Jurassic Park III is a 2001 movie only, this time directed by Joe Johnston. Michael Crichton did not write a third book in the Jurassic Park series and won’t be writing any more books, because, unfortunately, he passed away after a battle with cancer in 2008. But the big question is this: what makes the first movie such a fan favorite and the other two so lackluster? Furthermore, does the upcoming fourth movie have any promise?
Firstly, the writing really does make or break a movie, even more than special effects. Look to Star Wars for the evidence: the special effects were so much better for the prequels, but the story was much stronger for the originals, which are the obvious fan favorites. Because the first two movies were based on Michael Crichton’s novels—the real creator of Jurassic Park—they made for much stronger stories. You can also clearly see a shift in storytelling just by looking at each movie’s tagline (you know, the thing they put on the poster):
- Jurassic Park: An adventure 65 million years in the making.
- The Lost World: Something has survived.
- Jurassic Park III: Something unexpected has evolved.
I think that, for many people, their first foray into a franchise is often their favorite—their most memorable or nostalgic. You can tell by that first tagline that this movie is something new, something different, something that you need to see. When you first see Dr. Alan Grant see the dinosaurs for the first time, that moment is the most magical of all three movies—when Hammond says “Welcome to Jurassic Park”. Truly awesome. I feel the same way about Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring. While some later movies are honestly much better movies, those first two from each franchise will hold a very special place in my heart.
The other two taglines? Something (obviously, the dinosaurs) has survived, and then evolved. The Lost World does an excellent job at explaining how the dinosaurs survived—the herbivores eat anything that is lysine-rich to overcome their genetically-engineered lysine deficiency, and obviously, the carnivores eat the herbivores. What isn’t explained is how the dinosaurs managed to evolve over the course of four or five years without the help of direct genetic mutation by laboratory scientists. Evolution of a species happens over millions of years, not half a decade. What am I talking about, you ask? The dinosaurs look different in this movie. Some of them look as though they’ve been splattered by red paint for no rhyme or reason whatsoever. It’s arbitrary, it’s unnecessary, and it directly depletes the nostalgia factor.
The first movie also has such an attention to detail that the other two movies don’t have. I love John Hammond’s use of the line “spared no expense” throughout the movie—the last time he says it is so poignant. I also love how Nedry’s laugh in the beginning sounds exactly like a velociraptor. Furthermore, I felt that each Jurassic Park movie became less and less about the dinosaurs and more and more about the people on the islands. Allow me to illustrate my point.
First movie: Rich guy hires scientists to create a theme park/zoo for dinosaurs. Then, rich guy uses more money to tempt even more scientists onto the island to approve his theme park/zoo for dinosaurs. Dinosaurs get out, because rich guy doesn’t give money to one scientist he doesn’t like for some reason (hey, I don’t like him either), so he shuts down the park using fancy computer hackery (except that the computers are ancient by our standards), and the island has to evacuate, because, you know, dinosaurs are dangerous (and not because dinosaurs are evil monsters—a point that Alan Grant so eloquently makes in the movie when he says they’re “like big cows”). In all, it’s about the dinosaurs.
Second movie: Rich guy goes from capitalist to conservationist as his nephew takes over the company and tries to move the theme park/zoo for dinosaurs stateside. We see more dinosaurs outside cages, as if we’re on a safari in Africa, but as the movie goes on, there’s a much stronger (and important) message about the ethical treatment of animals (even when those animals are extinct) as debate rises between the two groups on the island. Eventually, the “capitalist” group manages to get two dinosaurs stateside, but one gets loose, and guess what? It becomes more a movie about an evil Godzilla-monster wreaking havoc than about these awesome creatures that were once extinct and are now alive.
Third movie: Boy gets stranded on island. Divorced parents are forced to come together to rescue boy from island. Some new dinosaurs, but even so, it’s no longer the “these creatures are fascinating” vibe from the first movie. Instead, again, you get a very strong “this evil monster is going to eat me” vibe. I mean, I get that these movies are supposed to be thrilling, but I love the first movie because it awakens that kid in me that used to be so intrigued by dinosaurs. The kid that memorized the names of every type of dinosaur and eons they lived in (which I don’t remember now). The kid that would have given anything to go to the Jurassic Park that was portrayed in the first movie, but not the other two.
The big difference between the first movie and the second two is that the first movie was set on Isla Nublar and the next two were set on Isla Sorna—Site B. Site A is set up as the theme park/zoo (complete with fences and cages) that awakens the fascination for these awesome animals, whereas Site B is a mere “testing facility”. Not nearly as exciting. Thrilling, perhaps, because there are fewer fences and cages to separate the people from the dinosaurs, but still.
The first movie featured a perfect storm of people: Steven Spielberg as director, John Williams as the uncomparable composer, Laura Dern (one of my favorite actresses), Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Samuel L. Jackson, and so many others. The second movie, you see Attenborough for a scene or two, but for the remainder of the movie, Goldblum is the only carryover from the first movie, so people are left to familiarize themselves with new characters/actors, who are awesome, don’t get me wrong. We have Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore, as well as my favorite from seeing every episode of The West Wing, Richard Schiff. For the third movie, Sam Neill is the only carryover from the first movie, though we do see Laura Dern for one or two scenes again.
My point is this: it’s far easier for an audience to go back to a story that they love when there’s some semblance to the original story, without being the same story. With so many new actors and new stories, it can get distracting.
One of my favorite things about each movie, though, is this: You may not have noticed this, but in each movie, there’s a scene where a group of characters is all talking at once. In the first movie, it’s during their first visit to the Velociraptor Paddock. In the second movie, it’s after Kelly has started a fire. I love these scenes, because they imitate real life. You don’t get to hear every word from every conversation, just like when everyone is talking at once in our daily lives. At least, these scenes feel real until you scrutinize and examine them for what they are and what they’re trying to do, and then, of course, they feel less real than the rest of the scenes, if that even makes sense.
Which movie is your favorite and why? Share in the comments below!