By Michael Marano
Jurassic World: Dominion feels like Universal pureed every spec script for a Jurassic Park sequel ever sent to it by first-year film students. It’s narrative slurry. Like the pink slime used as filler in cheap burgers.
Let’s get something straight.
I’m writing these words because of dinosaurs.
You’re reading these words because of dinosaurs.
I love movies, cinema, storytelling itself, because of dinosaurs.
I became a critic because of dinosaurs.
From toddlerhood, I was dino-obsessed. I still have the plastic dinosaurs I had when I was three. When I was five, I saw my first Godzilla movie on Channel 29 on Buffalo’s Friday Night Creature Features, and I am not exaggerating when I say that was a transformational moment in my life. My love of dinosaurs translated to a love of movies. At that very moment. I am not lying when I say that every time I see a movie, I’m talking Bergman, Kurosawa, Kubrick, Keaton, Harold Lloyd, Eisenstein, part of me is trying to recapture the rapturous bloom of neurons and endorphins that happened in my brain when my dinosaur love became a love of movies.
I mention this so you have a context for my stating that Jurassic World: Dominion is one of the worst cinematic regurgitations I’ve ever seen. I’ll sit through anything with dinosaurs in it. Dinosaurus! Beast of Hollow Mountain. The Land Unknown. Stinkers, each and every one, yet that I adore unapologetically and that I would happily sit through again in a marathon viewing this moment, if I had the chance.
At the 1 hour mark of Jurassic World: Dominion, I had to force myself to not walk out.
Jurassic World: Dominion is a failed work of cultural paleontology. Each emotional beat and most of its narrative beats, from the repurposing of John Williams’ original score to the reintroduction of the original Jurassic “crew” of Sam Neil, Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum, is excavated from 1993’s Jurassic Park. And despite tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars in computing power, these fossils just can’t be resurrected in the incompetent, oblivious, and kielbasa-fingered hands of director and co-writer Colin Trevorrow.
I’d go into the plot if there was one. Which isn’t to say there’s no story. There’s lots and lots and lots of story. But none of it is constructed into anything with a forward thrust. There’s no escalation. There’s no climax (unless you count the moment the Jurassic Park and Jurassic World leads come together in the third act, which fails to have any emotional narrative weight in and of itself… because it’s not a moment of storytelling, it’s a moment of marketing, designed above all else for the movie’s poster).
Truthfully, any one of the myriad nuggets of story in Jurassic World: Dominion might have made a nifty movie. Be it the exploitation of dino DNA for pharmaceuticals, the rise of an illegal trade in poached dinosaurs for use in underground prehistoric fight clubs, velociraptors being trained for use in high-end assassinations, or the exploitation of Cretaceous genetic material by a Monsanto-like company to monopolize the world’s food supply. But none of that gels in this tale told by an idiot. Jurassic World: Dominion feels like Universal pureed every spec script for a Jurassic Park sequel ever sent to it by first-year film students. It’s narrative slurry. Like the pink slime used as filler in cheap burgers.
Floating in that slurry like peanuts in a turd is some of the most God-awful exposition and dialogue you will ever encounter. There are scenes in which characters explain their actions to the people they are doing the actions with while they are doing those actions. Info-dumps come in the form of tedious news reports. And there’s an utterly useless scene at the CIA in which a techie explains what is at stake globally regarding just one of the film’s plots, over which the CIA would have no jurisdiction, to a character who would never in a million years have gotten CIA security clearance.
And while there is no plot, totally illogical and absurd occurrences just happen because the simulacra of plot necessitates it. A mercenary, soldier of fortune pilot becomes an ally to the good guys, risking her life for people she has just met (nominally for the welfare of a child, but the soldier of fortune lives in a world in which she should trust nobody, especially people who claim to be working in the kid’s best interest). A deceased scientist who documented everything she did for the sake of explaining things to the film’s audience didn’t leave any notes regarding her most important scientific breakthrough, because doing so would have deprived the film of a needed McGuffin. The aforementioned scientific breakthrough cures the disease to which the scientist succumbed, and she didn’t think to treat herself with her discovery, even though it worked on someone with whom she had exact genetic parity (a clone of herself). By definition, bio-hazard burn rooms can’t have external venting that allows egress of the bio-hazard. But guess what the burn-room in the film’s supposedly state-of-the-art bio-lab has, so yet-another threat can be thrown into the finale, because apparently rampaging dinosaurs aren’t threatening enough? A place with scary surveillance gear in every corner doesn’t send a single security guard when a big cargo vessel crashes into it.
The overall effect of Jurassic World: Dominion, in terms of being unfocused and boring and quietly infuriating, is like your least favorite cousin talking endlessly about their most snooze-inducing obsessions while you’re imprisoned at the kids’ table during Thanksgiving, watching the gravy and mashed potatoes grow cold and congeal.
And the raison d’etre of the film itself, which is to see dinosaurs, is as outdated as… well… dinosaurs. Each week, there are hundreds of hours of great dino footage on the Discovery Channel, the BBC, Walking with Dinosaurs, etc. The one thing Jurassic World: Dominion could have used to compete with all those outstanding dinos you can see for free would have been an actual plot, with characters that made sense. The one thing. The producers were so preoccupied with whether they could make and market this abomination, they didn’t stop to think if they should.
Novelist and critic Michael Marano‘s favorite cinematic dinosaurs are Godzilla, the T-Rex from King Kong, and Ray Harryhausen’s Gwangi from The Valley of Gwangi.