There’s a scene midway through the original “Jurassic Park,” in which no dinosaurs appear, but it’s easily the best in the movie. John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) sits in the park’s eerily silent cafeteria with Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) drowning their sorrows in melting ice cream under backup lighting. Sattler’s beau and Hammond’s grandchildren are lost in the park where dinosaurs roam free.
To break the tension, a shaken Hammond describes the first attraction he ever built: a flea circus called “Petticoat Lane.” John Williams’ eerie glockenspiel score plays, as Hammond recalls the “wee trapeze” seesaw, and carousel that moved on their own, and how children would swear they could see the fleas. But with Jurassic Park, he wanted to show them “something that wasn’t an illusion — something that was real — something that they could see and touch.”
Of course, there is lots of “seeing and touching,” both before and after this exchange, and most of it is fatal. What’s so powerful about this scene is the way we empathize with Hammond. We too are caught up in his madness, despite the prescient jeremiads of chaotician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) against his theme park full of cloned dinosaurs.
It’s precisely because of this dynamic that Spielberg’s lesson about scientific hubris — a favorite theme of Jurassic Park’s real creator, author Michael Crichton — hits us with such force. It is our hubris being rebuked. We cheered inwardly at the thought of bringing dinosaurs back with science. We got goosebumps at the sight of a resurrected Brachiosaurus. Despite knowing how the movie must end, we thought if only for a moment, “Wouldn’t it be amazing if …” After all, every kid (and kid-at-heart) would love to see a living dinosaur.
The way Hammond’s vision of reversing extinction resonates with us is what makes “Jurassic Park” one of the best science fiction films of all time. Of course, the groundbreaking effects, snappy and hilarious dialogue, great acting, rich plot, and legendary score don’t hurt. But ultimately it’s the not-so-far-fetched premise about the power of science and how head-over-heels we fall for it (especially the dinosaur nuts among us) that make this movie immortal and thought-provoking.
“Jurassic Park” has spun off a succession of sequels, and by most lights, none of them are very good. At 50 percent on the Tomatometer, 2018’s “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” doesn’t seem likely to break that trend.
Set shortly after the events of 2015’s “Jurassic World,” “Fallen Kingdom” begins with a very familiar cast of players: the animal rights activists hoping to save the cloned dinosaurs, the international political turmoil about the fate of the moldering park, the reluctant hero who’s done with this whole dinosaur thing, and the commando group bristling with tranquilizer darts and cages, looking to relocate the surviving animals (as it turns out, not surprisingly, for profit).
Its similarities to 1997’s “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” don’t stop there. The capture effort is backed by a corporate hotshot Eli Mills (Rafe Spall) who doesn’t care two figs for the dinosaurs’ wellbeing, wants to recover his investors’ losses after a public disaster, and is willing to exploit “Jurassic Park” for all it’s worth (you know, like the people who keep making these movies). He does so behind the back of Benjamin Lockwood (James Cromwell), Hammond’s convalescent former business partner, who thinks he is bankrolling an effort to relocate the endangered dinosaurs to an offshore sanctuary.
In reality, the terrible lizards are going to auction, where the highest bidder will cart each de-extincted beast off for its military applications (what could go wrong?).
Unbeknownst to Lockwood or world governments, Mill and Dr. Henry Wu (B. D. Wong), the lead engineer from the original park), have salvaged DNA from the dead “Indominus rex” mutant and created a new genetic aberration called “Badassicus maximus.” Just kidding. It’s called the “Indoraptor,” and it’s smaller, nastier, more raptor-y and designed specifically for combat. It (obviously) escapes, and Pandemonium (obviously) ensues. Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Owen (Chris Pratt) seem to be in the movie mostly to run from things. I can’t recall a compelling line from either of them, and as in the last entry in the franchise, the intended chemistry just isn’t there.
One of the most frustrating things about “Fallen Kingdom” might be the plot holes. For example, the story is premised on a volcanic eruption that threatens to wipe out the surviving dinosaurs on Isla Nublar (a callback to Crichton’s novel, in which the military firebombs the park after it is evacuated). But if you happen to have watched the second and third “Jurassic Park” sequels, it’s no secret that another island (Isla Sorna) is packed with dinosaurs, many of which (such as the Velociraptors) are declared “nearly extinct” in this movie. What happened to that island? Was “Jurassic Park 3” so terrible that all future movies set on Isla Sorna were preemptively banned from canon? We may never know.
Speaking of “Jurassic Park 3,” perhaps the only well-written line in its script summarizes why the original “Jurassic Park” was such a compelling film, and why most of its sequels, including “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” are so forgettable. Sam Neill’s character growls at another character who has just stolen a velociraptor egg that, “Some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best of intentions.”
He’s right. If anything, good intentions make an act of evil or hubris all the more horrifying. A person who knows he is doing something shady (Like Wayne Knight’s character stealing dinosaur embryos in the original, or like the villains in “Fallen Kingdom” genetically engineering dinosaurs as military weapons) will usually persevere only as long as he stands to make a quick buck. The mercenary motive will only take you so far. Good intentions are different. A man armed with good intentions “crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously.” Like life itself, he finds a way to accomplish his goal, spared no expense.
Armed with modern science, which now falls scarcely short of what “Jurassic Park” portrays, we can clone people, create “designer babies,” and even bring to life animal-human hybrids. It’s the stuff of science-fiction classics like “Gattaca,” and “The Island of Dr. Moreau.” And scientists with the best of intentions are already making it reality. We have the power to do more than thrill the public with cloned dinosaurs. We are on the cusp of eliminating genetic defects, producing perfect offspring, and curing some of our worst diseases. And no price will be too high to pay for those who, in the words of Ian Malcolm, are so preoccupied with whether they can, that they don’t stop to think whether they should.
“Jurassic Park,” with its grandfatherly creator whose dream of giving children something real to see and touch was so appealing, portrays the peril of good intentions well. And that’s why we will remember it long after we forget its many blockbuster sequels, including “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.” Because bad guys who want to genetically engineer hybrid velociraptors for the military? They’re a dime a dozen. A jolly grandpa willing to cross any bioethical boundary to entertain kids? Now that’s scary.