The film that created the American fascination with monster movies and dinosaurs was 1925’s The Lost World. A silent movie adapted from an Arthur Conan Doyle novel of the same name, it was a pioneer in stop-motion cinema (Willis O’Brien would later hone his skills in 1933’s King Kong). Much like the Jurassic Park franchise has been resurrecting dinosaurs since Steven Spielberg’s 1993 film, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom revisits most everything audiences saw in that historic 1925 film, from a volcano eruption that triggers a stampede of the island’s inhabitants to the lone figure we see at the edge of the chaos: a helpless Brontosaurus.
In The Lost World, that Brontosaurus is captured and brought to London as proof of the explorers’ adventure. The dinosaur naturally runs amok before it crashes through a bridge and escapes its captors’ clutches in the River Thames. Nearly a century later, director J.A. Bayona summons the ghost of that Brontosaurus for his take on American cinema’s most beloved dinosaur franchise. Hailing from Barcelona, Bayona is a horror craftsman best known for 2007’s The Orphanage and 2016’s A Monster Calls.
Initially, the sturm und drang of a franchise film that rehashes The Lost World: Jurassic Park has no uses for Bayona’s craft. Bryce Dallas Howard is lured back to Isla Nublar under the guise of rescuing dinosaurs before a volcano can erupt and wipe them out. In a useless cameo, Jeff Goldblum appears for five minutes to argue that nature should run its course. Howard disagrees and attempts to rescue the dinosaurs with the help of Chris Pratt… until it turns out they’ve been duped by a dinosaur smuggling ring.
Bayona’s skills as a director aren’t even necessary until ninety minutes into its run time, when Fallen Kingdom delivers a chilling image of a Brontosaurus engulfed in smoke, wailing for mercy as a volcano demolishes Isla Nublar and all of its dinosaur inhabitants. It’s at that moment Fallen Kingdom becomes a ghost story, transporting you from an island populated with creatures meant to sell children’s toys across the globe to a mansion that serves up the type of chills Vincent Price perfected when he breathed new life into the horror genre in the ‘50s.
Price’s low-budget yet hauntingly ornate horror films reinvigorated the genre beginning with 1953’s House of Wax. A twisted take on Pygmalion, the 3-D horror film depicts a disfigured sculptor who repopulates his destroyed wax museum by murdering people and using their wax-coated corpses as displays. The film came after a dry spell for the horror genre in the ‘40s, which aside from early entries like The Wolf Man and Cat People, delivered uninspired films or comedic takes on horror, like Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein.
For Universal, Bayona might have seemed that savior. The last Jurassic World film grossed a massive $1.67 billion worldwide but was critically panned, with much of the conversation revolving around why Howard’s heroine spent the entire film running from dinosaurs in heels (in a hilariously petty “fuck you” to critics, our first shot of Howard in Fallen Kingdom delivers a close-up of her heels and, when she arrives on the island, a close-up of her wearing appropriate boots).
Unfortunately Bayona’s skills are no match for the aggressively mediocre writing of Colin Trevorrow, who was infamously fired from the ninth Star Wars installment and will be directing Jurassic World 3. Trevorrow is a franchise workhorse for sure, if the intent is to generate as much money as possible without the slightest air of originality. Under the pressure of a derivative script, all Bayona is able to do is turn out the lights in the final mansion set piece and deliver a send-up of Price-esque horror flicks.
But Price was never saddled with a ludicrous plot involving selling dinosaurs on the black market underneath a mansion that he is forced to keep cutting back to. Discussing his intentions for Jurassic World 3, Trevorrow intimated he wishes to make it a science-thriller. As he told Entertainment Weekly, “If I could contextualize each film, I would say Jurassic World was an action-adventure, Fallen Kingdom is kind of a horror-suspense film, and Jurassic World 3 will be a science-thriller in the same way that Jurassic Park was.”
Well that explains the final-act twist involving something that has nothing to do with fucking dinosaurs. At my screening, it elicited a mix of laughter and confusion. Maybe the third film should be a comedy.