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Franchise Formula: ‘Jurassic Park’

Most film franchises have a list of standard ingredients that, when combined properly, create a sequel or prequel that fits in right along with the other entries. We as fans expect a level of continuity and attention to detail that will make franchises feel whole and seamless, and we expect the people who are making these movies to know what we love about these films, and (more importantly) why.

That’s not to say that franchises can’t tinker with the formula (or throw it out) to deliver innovative and diverse entries. We, as fans, should encourage that, but we all know that sequels are popular because we always want more of the things we like.

Let’s say you wanted to make another movie in the Jurassic Park franchise. To make something that feels true to what’s come before, here are the ingredients you’ll need:

JW-dinos

1. Dinosaurs, Old and New

The heart of the JP franchise has always been, and always will be, the dinosaurs. And with each new film in the franchise, fans will expect the old favorites, namely T. rex and Velociraptor, to get their due. Rex has taken a back seat in the last two films, but still got to fight for its title. It may have lost the battle in Jurassic Park III, but it won the war in Jurassic World. The raptors, being the most intelligent and dangerous species in the franchise, are a staple. They are evergreen, and always deserve a good spot in one of these films. The franchise also has to bring in new dino blood with each film, and Jurassic World did the right thing by adding the formidable Mosasaurus into the mix. Hodgepodge creatures like the Indominus rex simply don’t compare to seeing the dinosaurs we learned about in books making spectacular appearances on the big screen.

jurassic-park-animatronic

2. Practical Creatures

If future entries are to stay true to the roots of the franchise, practical creatures are an absolute must. Stan Winston Studios‘ animatronics are one of the many reasons that Jurassic Park was such a wonder to behold. Replacing them with all-digital creations doesn’t match the look and feel of an actor being in the frame with an actual animatronic creature. Jurassic World only featured one articulated animatronic (the dying brachiosaur), and that’s not a step in the right direction. Fans and critics loved the commitment to the practical in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Universal would be wise to play that angle with their next JP film.

jurassic-park-vehicles

3. Cool Custom Vehicles

The only film in the franchise to not feature cool custom vehicles was Jurassic Park III. Need I say more?

4. A Remote Location

All four Jurassic Park films have taken place primarily on two islands: Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna. The Lost World‘s brief deviation to San Diego is, shall we say, one of the more divisive sequences in the entire franchise. While all signs point to seeing hordes of dinosaurs wreaking havoc on the mainland, it’s a scenario that proves troublesome. Okay, let’s say we have a movie where a bunch of dinosaurs get loose in a city. Where would they get these dinosaurs? How would anyone prevent them from just running away? Sure, you’d get your big mayhem sequence where a bunch of unfortunate folks get mauled, but ultimately, there would be a villain who wants them all dead and a protagonist (likely Owen Grady, who’s supposed to return in the next film) who wants them all captured alive. I’m not particularly interested in seeing either outcome. Jurassic Park films are, at their core, wilderness survival stories. Remote locations work to their benefit. If they can successfully take the dinosaurs out of the wilderness and into large scale urban disaster, I’ll be very surprised.

john-hammond-jurassic-park

5. Misguided Capitalist(s)

Novelist Michael Crichton wrote Jurassic Park as a cautionary tale, a story science wielded dangerously by a capitalist who didn’t respect the laws of nature. John Hammond, though obviously a visionary, created a place that should not exist, and in the novel he paid the price. In the films, Hammond was lucky not to have died in the mouth of a dinosaur, and he lived long enough to be idolized. Peter Ludlow, however, died gruesomely in the jaws of a juvenile T. rex. Masrani, the aloof billionaire who thought himself an adventurer, met a messy end when his helicopter was attacked by pteranodons. This series has an obvious grudge against the greedy who would exploit science and nature for capital, and I suspect that will continue in future entries.

6. Relationship Troubles

In Jurassic Park, Lex and Tim are visiting the park while their parents are in the midst of a divorce. The same is true of Gray and Zach in Jurassic World. In The Lost World, Malcolm must protect his daughter, Kelly, likely a child of divorce (“I’m always on the lookout for a future ex-Mrs. Malcolm.”). He’s also motivated to go to Isla Sorna to rescue his current girlfriend, Sarah Harding. In Jurassic Park III, Alan must visit Ellie, who is now married with a young son. Divorced couple Paul and Amanda Kirby must reunite to save their son, Eric. The specter of the nuclear family hangs over this series, and that will likely continue.

jurassic-park-zach-gray

7. Kids

This is probably the most controversial element on the list. Let’s face it — kids can be annoying when they’re shoehorned into action blockbusters. But these films know that, and make sure we know that the adults in the story are annoyed with them. Like it or not, kids are a crucial element in the JP formula, because it’s imperative that kids watching the films have a character that they can readily identify with. These films don’t belong to just you and me — they have to belong to the widest audience possible. In 1993, Jurassic Park hooked me for life. Without the inclusion of Lex and Tim, I doubt the film would’ve had the same impact on kids like me.

So with the elements defined, where does Jurassic Park go from here? Juan Antonio Bayona (The Impossible) was recently confirmed to direct the next film in the franchise, but there has been no indication of what the film’s premise might be. It’ll likely be the biggest Jurassic film yet, but is bigger better? I’m not so sure. I encourage the executives at Universal, the screenwriters, Juan Antonio Bayona, and the army of people helping them to break the formula and redefine it, but we all know that straying too far from the formula could distance the loyal (and enormous) JP fandom.


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