I was struck by an amusing thought while watching Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the latest Jurassic Park movie and, by extension, the latest Hollywood movie to vigorously mix together dinosaurs and the modern world. What should have been a passing, novel thought lodged itself firmly in my craw and refused to leave. And the longer it stayed there to fester, the more that the thought ultimately bothered me.
Why is Jurassic Park the only Hollywood franchise interested in dinosaurs?
You’d think that this would be an almost monster-of-the-week formula at the movies. You have a whole host of terrifying, real-life monsters to choose from. They are all, essentially, public domain figures: not just free-to-use, but comes with its own built-in fanbase of literally everybody who was ever a child. They’re visually interesting, terrifyingly constructed and lend themselves to any number of compelling stories (even modern-day ones).
The first Jurassic Park came out in 1993, and by mixing together animatronics and CGI, they were able to make jaw-dropping, photorealistic dinosaurs that still hold up with the public today. And, since then, special effects have only gotten more sophisticated, convincing and economical for filmmakers to utilize (with or without the backing of a major, cash-flush studio). The public is still obviously interested in the premise – they’re on their fifth Jurassic Park now, with more evidently in the pipeline – and despite their monstrous costs, they keep making money hand over fist.
Obviously, some of that comes with the brand. They’re fundamentally based on a novel by best-selling author Michael Crichton. The first movie was made by none other than Stephen Spielberg, our greatest living director (who, incidentally, released both Jurassic Park and Schindler’s List in the exact same year). The latest movie features everybody from fan favorite actors Jeff Goldblum and BD Wong to box office powerhouses Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard to esteemed character actors James Cromwell and Toby Jones. And while anybody can throw together enough convincing special effects to bring dinosaurs to life, the movie employs legions of special effect artists with tens of millions of dollars at their disposal to make the best-looking monsters that money can buy.
And, of course, there’s the issue of modern science debunking the generational assumptions of how dinosaurs would actually look: in truth, far more avian than reptilian (awesome enough in its own right, but decidedly less scary). But even then, that’s easy enough to work around. The “old look” is now so baked into our collective psyche that it’s the iconic standard by which everything else must first be compared (even the more biologically accurate feathered versions). And even then, all Jurassic World needed was to throw out an unassuming line of dialog pointing out the obvious – that the dinosaurs of the franchise are genetic hybrids that combined amphibian DNA (along with God knows how many other contemporaneous animals) that would naturally give them their traditional appearance despite what we know about how they should look.
So why is it that only this one franchise being made by this one studio based on this one set of novels from this one author seem to hold a de facto monopoly on big screen dinosaurs? Why is nobody else stepping up to the plate to give us Raptors and T-Rexes and inter-species hybrids between Universal’s major releases? It’s not like there’s not enough room for everybody, nor that other franchises can’t pick up different gimmicks.
Personally, I’d love to see supposedly accurate feathered dinosaurs. I’d love to see period dinosaur movies set in the far-flung past (or one of those movies where ancient dinosaurs intermingle with early cavemen). I’d love to see dinosaurs surviving in a Hollow Earth or resurrected by mad scientists in the present day. There’s a lot of different angles to take, but everybody evidently agreed that there should be only one game in town when it comes to dinosaurs, so that’s that.
But I say bring on the dinosaurs: all of them. There’s plenty of different angles to take up and plenty of interest in the “brand.” And barring a proper Hollywood competitor to the Universal juggernaut, than at least switch some of those Asylum / SyFy shark movies to dinosaur movies, especially now that the Sharknado series is evidently winding down.