HomeMoviesJurassic World Dominion is a Flawed but Fun Ride

Jurassic World Dominion is a Flawed but Fun Ride

Photo Courtesy Universal Pictures

Like Colin Trevorrow’s first Jurassic film, Jurassic World Dominion is a legacy sequel that emphasizes nostalgia. With dinosaurs once again roaming the Earth, director and co-writer (with Emily Carmichael) Colin Trevorrow puts his heroes on a globe-trotting adventure, in the vein of a James Bond or Indiana Jones. It’s a compelling exercise, and one the movie mostly makes good on. Alas, it is also Colin Trevorrow script, so there are issues with execution.

Dominion’s dialogue isn’t great⁠—especially in the first 20 minutes. There’s lots of table setting and lots of exposition thinly disguised by generic “personality.” Blockbusters will try to harmonize moving the story and themes forward, with personality. It’s something the first Jurassic Park did extraordinarily well, with Alan’s (Sam Neill) confrontation with the kid at the dig site. That scene marvelously and invisibly establishes his contempt for children, expertise in dinosaurs, and throws in a little setup for the velociraptors for good measure.

But there’s personality, and there’s “personality.” Dominion has the latter. It often falls back on a lazy trope, where writers try to justify character A saying something Character B already knows, by having Character A appear frustrated. This happens at least twice in a scene between Maisie (Isabella Sermon) and Claire (Bryce Dallas Howard). Claire’s worried Maisie left their property, so an annoyed Maisie says “I know, there are people out there who would do anything to find me.” Rather than appropriately conveying Maisie’s pent-up frustration, it feels like a half-assed deception, trying and failing to convince us she has a reason to say this that isn’t just exposition. 

The actors do their best with the material, and with this film’s cast, that’s often enough, but Trevorrow’s sense of pacing and dramatic timing only hurt the already thin dramatic investment. In a chase scene in Malta, Owen (Chris Pratt) and Claire are split up after infiltrating an underground dinosaur ring. As they pursue their separate foes, the film cross-cuts between Claire’s foot chase and Owen’s motorcycle escape. Certain dramatic moments, like when Owen has his target trapped, don’t land as significantly as they should, as they’re shot in such a throwaway manner with a slapped on dramatic music cue.

Similarly, it’s not the characters doing stupid things to progress the plot (a staple for this franchise) that’s a problem in this movie. That’s fine, characters are allowed to make dumb decisions if it shows a side of themselves. It’s characters doing unnecessary things to set up a dramatic/funny moment that grates. Take a scene where Owen and the Han Solo-ish newcomer Kayla (DeWanda Wise) escape a feathered carnivore on an icy pond. Owen falls under the ice, and the carnivore joins him, showing an incredible ability to swim. Kayla pulls Owen out just in time, and the two sit, on the ice, like the conflict is over, as if the carnivore that just went from land-to-water can, somehow, not go from water-to-land. This is done so there can be a moment of quiet/relaxation that is then subverted by the jump scare of the carnivore jumping out of the water.  

Visually, the film is a mixed bag. Trevorrow wants to be a proponent of film stock, having shot Jurassic World and now Dominion on a mixture of 35mm and 65mm (with some digital work peppered in). It’s nice that he’s supporting film stock financially, but what good is shooting on film if your movie has the same digital-sitcom look of certain Marvel movies?

On a similar note, the actual framing and composition of the shots can range. Sometimes, it feels like Trevorrow is biting off more than he can chew from a formal perspective, as a lot of his formal ambitions don’t mesh quite as well as they should, but it does shine in the action. That previously mentioned chase scene is sometimes a testament to this: itty bitty long takes permeate the scene, with a particular standout taking place in an apartment while Claire tries to escape a dinosaur. It’s not revolutionary, but the itty bitty long take here does add a sense of claustrophobia and energy. The ensuing chase also leads to an organic tension, fitting within the globe-trotting action-adventure vibe. Some problems arise during some of the early cross-cutting, as well as the ineffective “drama bombs”, but in the end, it makes for a fun time. At the end of this chase, when the music cuts out and the cross-cutting feels less jarring, the film is able to cut to the purity of the chase.

The highlight of the filmmaking has to be the dino-sanctuary that’s the setting for the film’s climax. Claire crash lands on her own and must escape an enormous, blind carnivore. Crawling into a nearby pond, the camera stays focused on Claire, with the blind carnivore slowly becoming aware of her presence. When she takes a breath and dives underwater, the carnivore’s snout hovers above the unimpeachable surface. It eventually roars, leading to a slight but significant shift in the composition, showing us Claire beneath that previously unimpeachable surface.

In terms of the cast, it feels like I’m playing into the studio’s hand when saying how nice it is to see the original cast together again, but that pleasure can’t be denied. They have their fun⁠—especially in conjunction with the newer stars. When they all come together in the climax, Trevorrow and cinematographer John Schwartzman use no end of wide shots, making sure we get to see all the new guys and the old guys in the same shot together. It has the same feeling as a crossover cartoon, something like Scooby Doo Meets Courage The Cowardly Dog, and that is not an insult.

In the end, Jurassic World Dominion isn’t great, and I can’t imagine my estimation of it will grow after this initial viewing. Indeed, this initial viewing is probably what Universal was hoping would happen, as I saw it with my Mom, who took me at 4.5 months to see the first Jurassic back in 1993 (I apparently didn’t cry and stared at the screen for the duration). This was undoubtedly a nicer memory than the film itself, but the film itself is, at least, a deeply flawed but fun theme park ride. 

Jurassic World Dominion is now playing in theaters.


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