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The Jurassic Franchise

I saw a post that floated around the Instagram story-sphere last week that broke down why people with anxiety like binging the same shows over and over again. The idea is that when you suffer from anxiety, which can commonly manifest itself in the fear of the unknown, you find comfort in the familiar story lines, you know what’s going to happen and you feel safe when you re-watch your favorite show.

I don’t know about you guys, but that resonated with me. I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve watched Gilmore Girls, How I Met Your Mother, and Parks and Rec. In my darkest times, when faced with the idea of starting a new show that I’m told is “absolutely incredible!” I often find myself scrolling through “Watch It Again” on Netflix. When I saw the post validating my habitual binging, I was thrilled. Finally, a reason behind the madness.

Recently, my partner was making dinner and I was fulfilling my duties of “finding what to watch” while we ate and wound down for the night. Low and behold, what’s on Netflix but all three of the original Jurassic Park movies. Until that night I had only seen the first Jurassic Park (about a million times, most recently during the snowpocalypse my town experienced last March) and Jurassic World (one time, in the theater). We decided that night to embark on the journey of watching The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2.

Even though I had never seen this movie before, I was instantly taken back to the feelings of watching the original. I was enveloped in the warm cozy feeling of familiarity. I knew, even though this was a sequel, I was going to watch dinosaurs eat people and in the end all my favorite characters were going to escape with a newfound respect for ancient life. This started me on a journey: to watch all the Jurassic Parks to satiate my anxiety needing to experience a familiar storyline. It also brought up an interesting question: how should we experience our favorite franchises when we give them a good re-watch?

A glorious thing happened, almost by accident, when I made the decision to start at the sequel rather than start at the beginning. There are a lot of good sequels out there: Be Cool, Kingsman The Golden Circle, Frozen 2. While these movies can stand on their own, no sequel no matter how well it’s done can compare to the OG. If you start at the sequel, you’ll be filled with love for the story but no unrealistic expectations for a movie that only exists because the first one made some money.

So my recommendation when you embark on this experience is to start at the almost beginning. Start at the second film. We see Jeff Goldblum and we are filled with the same “hate to love this guy so much” feelings that we had in the first movie. Your craving for his cynical attitude is instantly satiated while you simultaneously appreciate and respect the humility he’s acquired after his first encounter with the island. The significant drop in quality of the dinosaur puppets isn’t as big of a blow as long as you’ve followed my advice and NOT watched the original in awhile. The storyline remains relatively the same, except this time around no one is thinking “how cool would it be to have a park for dinosaurs” though the “how cool would it be to study dinosaurs” vibe is still alive and well. It touches just enough on the themes from the first movie that it’s reminiscent, but the movie could also in theory stand alone if you needed it to.

Then on to Jurassic Park 3, which interestingly doesn’t give us any of the answers we truly want to the questions we have after the first and second installments of the franchise. Apparently Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) broke up? I assume it was because they couldn’t agree on having kids, but it seems as if big tough scientist manly man has some regrets about that. I spent the entire movie wondering if the kid who was lost on the island would see his dad die and then Dr. Alan and his mom would get close in a near death experience, and all the sudden Dr. Grant can say “Look I have a family too!” to make Ellie jealous, which would result in the main storyline of Jurassic Park 4 being that Alan and Ellie run off together with their multitudes of children. (Spoiler Alert: this doesn’t happen)

Not only does that wishful thinking never come to fruition, but there is no Jurassic Park 4. Pterodactyls fly off across the ocean and we never know where they land. Are they just gone now? Who knows, because we as the audience are left hanging for fourteen years. Fourteen years where everything fades from our minds, and Jurassic Park becomes a fond memory while viewings for the second and third reprisals tank because who wants to watch the sequels?

Enter: Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, portraying a trope of a couple that just couldn’t make it work because of their differences, but somehow making it believable. Owen (Pratt) and Claire (Howard) bring a chemistry to the screen that’s as familiar as the storyline itself. We want to see how these two crazy kids come together and find their common ground as they battle the insurmountable challenges placed in front of them. I find it comforting to watch this trope play out in a familiar yet entertaining way. Claire manages to run away from dinosaurs while wearing stiletto heels and Pratt often finds himself in awe of her courage. Props to Jurassic World for making the female character the surprise bad ass while the male character has little development.

Jurassic World draws deep connections from the original Jurassic Park, turning the familiar theme song into a plinky nostalgic tune that plays as we see the old Jeeps. There’s a brief nod to the fourteen-year gap between franchise installments, when Claire says with an eye roll “No one wants to see just a dinosaur anymore.” The new John Hammond, Simon Masrani (Irrfan Khan) reminds us so strongly of Hammond’s naïve belief that he can alter the course of evolution and bring wonder to the world in a safe way. The similarities between these two characters are so brilliantly obvious that we can’t help but smile and wonder when Masrani will echo the familiar words “Spared no expense”. Tragically, they kill him off pretty quickly into the action, letting us know that the old story is dead and they’re moving in a new direction now. I’ve been ensconced in the world I used to pretend I lived in as a kid, playing Jurassic Park in the backyard with my friends, but when they send Masrani’s helicopter spiraling into the Pterodactyl cage (still wondering where all the ones that flew away fourteen years ago ended up!) the storytellers are letting us know that it’s time to make a change. I love when I’m subtly manipulated by media and I don’t have to think about it too much. I’m out of my anxiety shell, and I’m ready to embark on a new adventure.

Jurassic World: The Fallen Kingdom is a departure from our familiar storyline, but at this point I can’t be mad or anxious about it, because I’m sucked in. I want to know what happens. I care about Claire and Owen and I want to see those two crazy kids make it. I push play on the movie and think “I swear to god if they pull an Ellie/Alan I’m going to break this television.” Luckily they didn’t, mostly because I was watching it on a friend’s TV and she probably would have been upset at me.

The most recent episode of the beloved franchise takes on a new idea: should we let the dinosaurs be eradicated again? A cataclysmic natural event is occurring where they live, and we could just let them be wiped out by nature a second time and correct the mistakes that we made back in 1993. The recurring theme in all of these movies is – should we mess with nature just because we can? Goldblum’s Malcom makes another appearance to tell the world that we have been in over our heads ever since these animals were brought back to life and we need to let nature take its course or risk getting eradicated ourselves. Spoiler alert: greed wins over sensibility.

I’ve watched all four of the reprises now, I’ve been comforted, I’ve been entertained, I got the satisfaction of watching the dummies get eaten quickly and got to cathartically cry when some of the good guys didn’t make it because they sacrificed themselves for the team. I’m ready now to play the OG and see how everything holds up in comparison.

Every shot, every transition in the 1993 Jurassic Park is made with care, like they knew they were making a movie that would change the world. The writers, one of which is the author of the book, Michael Chrichton, weave together multiple storylines of greed, playing God, love, and emotional growth to form one tale that you can’t help but get sucked in to. The acting is phenomenal, not a one of the actors is phoning it in, they are entirely committed to their roles and it shows. Every character from Samuel L. Jackson playing Ray to Joseph Mazzello as Little Timmy is believable and pulls on every one of your heart strings. The way that they use the psychological fear to start your heart pounding before you even see the T-Rex is absolutely brilliant. The suspense is unparalleled, with the famous kids in the kitchen scene showing the writing, directing, and editing teams working together in perfect harmony.

I watched Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom before I watched this film, so I can’t help but make connections between the most recent movie and the original. There seems to be so much foreshadowing of the world to come, like the creators of the film back in 1993 always intended for the franchise to take the post-apocalyptic turn that it has in recent years. Jeff Goldblum’s character Malcom says it in the first twenty minutes of the movie – “What you call discovery I call the rape of the natural world.” The science got ahead of them, and everyone could have seen where their theme park would go but almost all of them refused to acknowledge it. BD Wong’s Dr. Henry Woo wants to be seen as the best scientist in the world, the most powerful, but as we see the storyline progress we know that no one will be congratulating him on his achievements.

This project achieved the goal I set out with – to watch a familiar story in order to quell my ever present anxiety (and let’s be real – who isn’t anxious right now?) and it gave me so much more. I was taken on a wild ride through my childhood and catapulted into an oncoming post-apocalyptic world where dinosaurs and humans finally get to duke it out for who wins the planet. If anyone else needs to kill some quarantine hours, I highly recommend giving all of these a watch, the first three are on Netflix and you can rent the newest movies on YouTube for $3.99 each. It’s well worth your time and it will do wonders for your mind.

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