Why The Jurassic World Series Can't Capture The Spielbergian Magic Of Jurassic Park

A prologue for the upcoming "Jurassic Park Dominion" arrived this week, and it wasn't half-bad. The first part of the prologue takes us back 65 million years to when dinosaurs ruled the earth, giving us a human-free world where dinos were large and in charge. It then cuts to the current timeline in the "Jurassic World" series where we see a T.rex terrorize a drive-in movie theater. All of this is fine, and I was particularly keen on the drive-in sequence, which feels genuinely Spielbergian. 

Until it doesn't. 

Director Colin Trevorrow is no Steven Spielberg, but there are moments in the drive-in sequence that recalled the type of visual fun Spielberg likes to have – specifically a shot of two lovers smooching in their car, completely oblivious to the giant dinosaur right outside. These moments reminded me of a never-shot scene from "Jaws" that Steven Spielberg has mentioned in the past. When the filmmaker was planning the scenes for the film that would make him a force to be reckoned with, he planned to introduce the shark not by having it eat a nude swimmer. Instead, we would see the Amity harbor master in his little shack on the docks, late at night. The harbormaster would be watching TV, oblivious. Through the window behind him, we would see boats in the harbor rising up and down, indicating the huge size of the shark swimming underneath them. 

Of course, Spielberg never shot the scene, but the scenario in the "Jurassic World" prologue feels appropriately similar. Of course, the moment is almost immediately ruined by having wise-cracking characters in a helicopter then go after the T.rex. The minute characters open their mouths, the magic is gone. Because try as it might, the "Jurassic World" series just can't rekindle the fires of that original "Jurassic Park." 

They're Just Animals

To be fair, no one has really ever been able to recapture the magic of the first "Jurassic Park," not even Steven Spielberg. When he went from the Oscar-winning "Schindler's List" to "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," the results were a tad underwhelming. Sure, there are some great sequences in "The Lost World" – the scene with the camper hanging over a cliff, with Julianne Moore watching in horror as the glass window she's perched on slowly cracks beneath her, is phenomenal, as is a moment when raptors track humans through tall grass. But you often get the sense that Spielberg's heart wasn't in it. He even let screenwriter David Koepp direct some scenes, uncredited. By all accounts, Spielberg only helmed the sequel because he had such bad memories of other directors taking over the "Jaws" sequels. But after "The Lost World," Spielberg stepped aside. Joe Johnston directed the enjoyable "Jurassic Park III," and then the series went dormant – but not extinct.

The franchise was revived with 2015's "Jurassic World," a film that was both a gigantic success and a major disappointment. I thought "Jurassic World" was fine – sure, it had an awful Chris Pratt performance, but it was ultimately a watchable monster that, at the very least, never bored or offended me. Then came "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," an abomination that I don't even want to talk about (I wrote a spoiler review of that film here if you're really interested). Now, the trilogy will conclude with "Dominion," and I don't have much hope. I'll see it, of course. And I will give the film a chance. But this new trilogy continues to misunderstand what really made that first film so damn special.

It wasn't just the special effects, although, yes, they were groundbreaking. No, what makes "Jurassic Park" such a gem is how it treats its dinosaurs. Because in the hands of Steven Spielberg, the dinosaurs that roam "Jurassic Park" aren't monsters. Spielberg loves his dinosaurs, even the scary ones. He loves that he's been able to raise them from the dead and give them life again. And he loves their majesty. This is perfectly summed up in a scene in that first film.

After surviving a scary T.rex attack, Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and kids Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello) take refuge in a tree. Suddenly, a herd of Brachiosauruses pokes their giraffe-like necks up through the treeline. Lex is, understandably, afraid to see more dinosaurs after almost being eaten by one. But Grant tries to calm her, stating: "They're not monsters, Lex. They're just animals." And therein lies the secret to "Jurassic Park." Unfortunately, every sequel – even the one directed by Spielberg – forgets this line of dialogue. Instead, the dinosaurs become full-fledged monsters ready to tear everyone apart. 

Bring Back the Wonder

There's nothing wrong with monster movies, of course. And I'll admit that I think the idea behind "Jurassic World Dominion" – dinosaurs are once again living among humans, and not on a remote island somewhere – is promising. But I feel like I'll forever be chasing the high of that original film. That feeling I got when I saw "Jurassic Park" on the big screen in 1993, specifically during the moment where we first see a Brachiosaurus gnawing on tree limbs. Spielberg gives us a scary scene at the opening involving a raptor, but we never really get a good look at the creature. Instead, he's saving the money shot for this Brachiosaur moment. And what a moment it is.

The John Williams music swells and the camera cuts from the stunned faces of Grant and the other human characters to the long-necked dino peacefully grazing. It's an overwhelmingly beautiful bit of cinema. Sure, we're watching actors react to something that's not even there – it's a digital creation. But the awe and majesty shine through, creating a bit of magic. "How'd you do this?" Grant asks, stunned. This is a simple question, but it's also one of wonder. 

That wonder has never returned. It no longer matters that digital artists can whip up an entire world of dinosaurs. It feels rote; blasé, even. Perhaps it's just nostalgia clouding my aging brain, but I want that wonder back. I want to look up at the screen and see something special again. Instead, I think we're just going to get yet another monster movie that doesn't understand that deep down, these aren't monsters. They're just animals.