The prehistoric creatures are thriving, but sixth instalment in Jurassic series feels tired
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I remember seeing the first Jurassic Park movie when it came out in 1993. It was still early in the computer-generated effects revolution, and I recall feeling the same goofy awe as the main characters when the dinosaurs finally rumbled onto the screen.
More than 30 years later, the realistic dino effects are even better, but paradoxically they mean much less. Just because you can do anything doesn’t mean you should, especially when you barely have a working script.
The latest instalment in the Jurassic saga kicks off with a news feature that comes close to feeling like a YouTube parody. As we see, first in this “Dinosaurs Among Us” clip and later in the action that plays out in the overstocked, overlong story, dinosaurs have been let loose in the larger world and are now a collection of invasive species, their ubiquitous presence balanced — with a kind of unintentional hilarity — between bite-your-head-off terror and garden-variety nuisance.
Yes, we’ve all been living through a global pandemic and now realize we can get used to things that once seemed impossible. And yes, humans need to co-exist with animals, as the film didactically informs us at various points.
But this goes beyond Canada geese on the golf course. Allosauruses rampaging through Malta, velociraptors running through the Sierras, mosasaurs pulling down Alaska crabbing boats, apatosauruses disrupting construction sites, pterosaurs nesting in Los Angeles? Would we be so blasé? Does no one remember the other five movies?
In what could be seen as a wrap-up of the franchise — though extinction no longer means forever, as Jurassic fans must realize — this sixth movie brings the gang back together, or rather the two gangs.
We have the OG crew of Drs. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum). Alan is having a hard time as a paleontologist. Why dig up dinosaur bones when live ones are walking around above ground? Ellie is working on environmentalist agriculture issues and, not surprisingly, is alarmed that genetically modified prehistoric locusts — they’re the size of crows — are decimating the world’s food supply. (“Nobody said there’d be bugs,” as one character laments at a particularly icky juncture.)
Ian is still wearing shiny black leather jackets and making wonderfully weird choices on word emphasis. He’s taken a gig as the “in-house philosopher” at Biosyn, a sinister corporation run by Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott), a preternaturally serene but clearly unhinged biotech guru. Dodgson vows to use dinosaur genetic material responsibly, but where have we heard that before?
From the second round of films, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) is still doing his raptor-whisperer act, and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) is a kickass animal-rights activist who liberates triceratops from factory breeding farms. (Possibly the franchise feels bad about having her run through the jungle in blush-coloured pumps in Jurassic World, and this is its way of apologizing.) Together with Maisie Underwood (Isabelle Sermon), a human clone from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom who has become a moody teen, Owen and Claire have formed a little family.
The characters are flimsy and flat, Alan and Ellie bringing some residual charm but Owen and Claire continuing to be duds. There are new characters, played by Omar Sy, Dichen Lachman and Mamadou Athie, but except for DeWanda Wise as Kayla Watts, a Han Solo-type pilot who initially wants to go her own way but gets pressed into do-gooding, nobody gets enough screentime to register.
There are also new dinosaurs, including an absolutely wild thing that looks a bit like the Babadook but is evidently a Therizinosaurus.
Director Colin Trevorrow (Jurassic World), who co-scripted with Emily Carmichael from a story by Derek Connolly, delivers a movie that is overstuffed but underwritten, frantic with subplots that go nowhere.
There are some callbacks to earlier Jurassic outings: vehicles teetering on cliffs; someone having to make a risky journey to turn power on (or off); a big toothy dino menacing our protagonists before being distracted by an even bigger, toothier dino. But these sequences are shot in such a pedestrian way — rushed and crowded but oddly dull — that they mostly remind us, by contrast, of the visual storytelling gifts of Steven Spielberg, who directed the first two movies.
And for a dinosaur movie, Dominion seems strangely hesitant to focus on dinosaurs, preferring to riff, in a generic action-movie way, on Indiana Jones, Star Wars, the Bourne franchise and the Bond movies.
Having taken some trouble to establish that dinos are everywhere — no failing theme parks or forbidden islands here! — the protagonists still end up in another closed system, the dino-packed Biosyn campus in the Dolomite mountains.
And how does the movie feel about these dinosaurs? Are they pets or meat? Scary or cute? Victors or victims? It’s just not sure.
Partly, that’s because the series’ attitudes have shifted over its three decades: Just consider Ian’s face when he finds out Owen gives velociraptors names. But the one thing that should have stayed constant is that feeling of awe, and it’s almost entirely absent here.
At one point, Ian attacks Dodgson as a cynical manipulator who’s using dinosaurs to hide his agenda from his audience. “He’s exploiting your enchantment with these,” Ian cries, pointing to an image of a dinosaur.
Unfortunately, that indictment also sums up this movie.
Studying at the University of Winnipeg and later Toronto’s York University, Alison Gillmor planned to become an art historian. She ended up catching the journalism bug when she started as visual arts reviewer at the Winnipeg Free Press in 1992.