Much like this film, my thoughts are scattered and I don’t know where to begin.
Here’s a list of things that happen in Fallen Kingdom. Or, stated another way, here is a list of things that actual Hollywood screenwriters wrote into an actual Hollywood script, which were then produced into actual scenes in a Hollywood movie.
SPOILER ALERT: The following list spoils of the film’s plot and over-inflated sense of fun.
A scrawny teen and a large raptor-type dinosaur engage in a tug-of-war over a chair.
A wealthy old man clones his daughter years after her death and convinces the young clone that she’s his granddaughter.
The aforementioned [grand?]-daughter inexplicably has a British accent.
A wealthy young man smothers the wealthy old man with a pillow! Oooff!
Bryce Dallas Howard mounts a tranquilized Tyrannosaurus Rex like a mechanical bull.
An intravenous blood transfusion takes place betwixt a dying velociraptor and the tranquilized Tyrannosaurus Rex.
During the transfusion, the raptor cries an actual tear because of the emotional gravity of the situation.
A different, more sinister raptor, dubbed the “Indo-Raptor,” is trained to attack people when the laser sight of a military grade rifle is pointed at them.
A Russian war lord bids “Tweenty meelions dollarz” on the weaponized Indo-Raptor.
The Indo-Raptor smiles mischievously while pretending to be unconscious in order to lure an unsuspecting victim to enter its cage.
After busting through walls of glass and tearing a metal staircase into shreds, the Indo-Raptor quietly opens a door by gently pushing the door handle down with a single talon.
A velociraptor uses a fossilized triceratops skull to impale and defeat the Indo-Raptor.
Chris Pratt asks the velociraptor to “come with me,” as if it were a stray dog in need of a good home.
- Oh, and Chris Pratt also orchestrates a prison escape by beckoning a dinosaur, through a series of whistles, to use its bone-plated-head as a battering ram to knock down brick walls and steel doors.
As I wrote that list, I found myself asking, “Did that actually happen?!” Yes. All of those things happened. And as of writing, humanity has spent over $1 billion to watch these things happen on the big screen.
At one point early in the story, Howard’s character tells Pratt’s that “he’s a better man than he thinks he is.” Pratt responds: “you should write fortune cookies.” Perhaps the writers of Fallen Kingdom should, too.
SIDEBAR: I walked into the theater with (what I thought were) the appropriate expectations. I didn’t go in expecting Schindler’s List. I didn’t expect to find myself in that theater. I didn’t pay $8.66 to see a film that upends everything I thought I knew about filmmaking and storytelling. Nope. I paid $8.66 to see a movie about dinosaurs. I expected explosions, harrowing escapes, close-calls, and bad guys getting eaten. I got all those things, but when I left the theater, I couldn’t help but think of what else I could’ve bought for $8.66. Two cups of coffee? A seed investment in a time traveling company I could hire to get me my two hours back? A ticket to see ANY OTHER MOVIE?!
I guess I should get around to writing about the film though.
Fallen Kingdom is actually two films. There’s the first hour, in which a top-notch crew of dino-experts are assembled to rescue as many species as possible from the impending volcano eruption on Isla Nublar and take them to a new and different island. And then there’s the second hour, in which the doing-it-for-the-right-reasons rescuers realize that the dinosaurs are only being taken off the island to be auctioned off to warlords and military heads from villainous countries around the world, and the do-gooders must re-rescue the dinosaurs.
I’m assuming that the first hour was intended to be the entire film until the producers realized you can’t make a full length film out of lava explosions and dinosaur stampedes. How they even managed an hour of that is beyond me.
During the film you get a sense that the writers found themselves asking how to recreate the success and widespread appeal of the first Jurassic World. Based on the final product, here’s how that conversation probably went:
“Ok, so what’s cooler than an island full of dinosaurs?”
“How about an exploding island full of dinosaurs?
“Yes. Love it. And what about the velociraptor training sequences?”
“How about more velociraptor training sequences?
“Perfect! And what about this whole genetically-creating-new-dinosaurs thing? How do we top the last sinister dinosaur we created?”
“How about we create an even more sinister dinosaur?”
In the film’s defense, however, it did try to be something outside of “Exploding Dino-Island,” it just failed miserably. Jeff Goldblum’s testimony at some sort of court hearing makes intermittent appearances throughout the film, and desperately tries to pull the story into a dialogue about responsible environmental stewardship, but falls way short of its target.
When faced with the choice of keeping the dinosaurs trapped in a building filling with nitrous oxide, or setting them free into Northern California, Howard’s character turns her back on the dinosaurs, knowing that releasing the unfettered dinosaurs into America would be a worse offense than letting them die. But just when you think the dinosaurs are doomed to re-extinction, The Queen’s-English-speaking clone girl presses the big red button conveniently labeled “BIG METAL DOORS TO OUTSIDE,” and the dinosaurs stampede into the American wilderness. Her reason: “They’re alive, and I’m alive.” It’s a call for the celebration and protection of all life, but it’s far too little, far too late to leave any lasting impact.
Political commentary also abounds in the film, like the overly tanned and small-handed billionaire with wispy blonde hair who colluded with Russian and North Korean military powers, or the pure-hearted young female messing up the bad guy’s plans who is in turn called a “nasty girl.” As well-intentioned as the references are, they don’t actually say anything of value.
I should probably say something about the acting too. I dunno, Chris Pratt does his whole comic relief thing pretty effectively, but if you wanna laugh at Chris Pratt, just go watch a few episodes of Parks and Recreation. You’ll find more poignant political commentary there as well.
In a film that employs all the expected troupes to get its audience to feel anything, the one moment that struck me was watching a cloud of ash and fire envelope a fear-stricken Brontosaurus. Our protagonists look back to the island from their ship, and realize this is the last free dinosaur they will see on Isla Nublar. As the lumbering creature’s silhouette falls to the ground and orchestral strings surge into a heart-wrenching crescendo, I got chills. Not because of the exploding dino-island though—I thought about something Malcolm Muggeridge once said about Western society:
Thus did Western Man decide to abolish himself, creating his own boredom out of his own affluence, his own vulnerability out of his own strength, … until at last, having educated himself into imbecility, and polluted and drugged himself into stupefaction, he keeled over— a weary, battered old Brontosaurus — and became extinct.
This re-extinction of the Brontosaurus is to me, the perfect image of where we find the Jurassic franchise after Fallen Kingdom. Once a towering, larger-than-life franchise that captured our imaginations and pushed the boundaries of how CGI and digital sound could be used to tell a story, it was exploited and has keeled over and died. In this way, one can’t help but realize how well “Fallen Kingdom” serves as this film’s subtitle—the dinosaurs aren’t extinct, but their kingdom has fallen.