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Plotting out ‘Jurassic Park 5’

The first Jurassic Park movie should never have spawned a sequel, let alone four. The films have steadily declined in quality, and if the rumors hold true (raptors as WMDs?), the already-greenlit fifth film won’t reverse that trend.

But I know what direction the franchise should take. I even have a title: Jurassic Parks. Here’s a synopsis:

Soon after the events of Jurassic World, dinos escape from InGen’s research facility in the remote American West. Within a few years, the multiplying dinosaurs have completely overrun every wilderness area in the continental U.S. The government has abandoned its National Park system; America’s crown jewels—Yosemite, Yellowstone, Glacier—are overgrown and infested. Hundreds of tourists have been savagely killed by the unchecked dinosaurs (we’d get a flashback montage of dinosaur mayhem in iconic settings). The public now refers to these no-man lands as the “Jurassic Parks.”

After laying this groundwork, Jurassic Parks would follow a crack dino-hunter team, tasked with reclaiming the frontier for the public. They infiltrate Yellowstone, America’s first national park, as a symbolic beachhead. Havoc inevitably ensues, and, in a twist ending, the mission completely fails. For the first time since the Wild West era, America cedes its wilderness to other species.

Here’s why this approach could work:

  1. It sidesteps the “Why not just nuke the island?” question. After two horrific disasters (and two films) centered on Isla Nublar, it would make no sense to return there again. After all, Jurassic Park itself would likely be firebombed. But the U.S. government couldn’t justify destroying the beloved National Parks.
  2. At its best, the Jurassic franchise celebrated the park more than the dinosaurs themselves. The first film’s most memorable scenes captured the Disneyesque wonder of a primeval fantasy world. But that card has long since been played; there are only so many new dino-rides we’re interested in seeing on film. But by transplanting the creatures to iconic wilderness locations, the fifth film can recapture this touristy magic. Imagine raptors, swarming across the prairie and hunting down a thundering bison herd. Or picture a T-Rex, emerging from behind Old Faithful with a bellow. Maybe the Yellowstonian supervolcano would pick just the wrong time to erupt and add a dash of chaos to the mix.
  3. This Jurassic Parks concept ditches the fourth film’s silliest plot line: the dino WMDs. Dinosaurs are interesting because they can’t be controlled or tamed. Training velociraptors flirts dangerously close to parody; think “sharks with frickin’ laser beams mounted to their heads.”
  4. This plot makes room for Chris Pratt, now apparently a fan favorite, to reappear. Pratt’s character, Owen Grady, understands raptor behavior, and he’s already battled the beasties. So it makes sense that the dino hunter team would recruit Grady as a consultant.
  5. Finally, done right, Jurassic Parks would have something to say. If Jurassic World critiqued our thirst for spectacle, Parks would explore the theme of our relationship to the wild.

In recent years, efforts to repopulate the wilderness with apex predators like mountain lions and wolves have stirred controversy. On the one hand, we want to restore the ecosystem to balance; on the other, we struggle to relate to a natural world in which we can’t exercise absolute control. Jurassic Parks might make the case that our attempts to micro-manage nature are futile. That we’re better off approaching the dark wilderness with humility and fear.

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Redeeming Indiana Jones (and Harrison Ford)

It’s hard to say goodbye to our favorite fictional characters. They become dear friends, and we’re loathe to give them up. And when these beloved companions don’t receive the send-off they deserve, saying goodbye gets even tougher.

That’s why a part of me still hopes there’ll be a fifth Indiana Jones movie. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull wasn’t a great film.[1] The character deserves a sequel done right—something to redeem his fictional legacy.

It’s not unusual for a later sequel to course-correct for earlier, failed outings. Think of Balboa, the sixth (!) Rocky movie, far more watchable than the disastrous Rocky V. Or take The Undiscovered Country, the respectable sixth Star Trek film. Its predecessor, The Final Frontier, nearly killed the franchise. Or, heck, remember Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, a far more satisfying sequel than the subpar Temple of Doom.

And it’s not just the Indiana Jones mythology that begs for redemption. A long string of bad movies threatens Harrison Ford’s legacy, too. Ford’s career has sputtered ever since Air Force One. In fact, I challenge you to name a single worthwhile film that Ford has made in the past twenty years.[2]

Given his recent filmography, it’s not hard to believe the rumor that Ford has been lobbying for another Jones installment. One last swashbuckle[3] could erase two decades of mediocre releases from fans’ minds.

Or… it could kill off Indy once and for all—and cement Ford’s reputation as a has-been.

  1. But it wasn’t awful, either.  ↩

  2. No, Six Days Seven Nights does not qualify as “worthwhile”.  ↩

  3. Along with another smirky stint as Han Solo in J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars sequel.  ↩

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Lord of the Re-hash

I did begin a story placed about 100 years after the Downfall [of Sauron], but it proved both sinister and depressing. … I could have written a ‘thriller’ about the plot [to overthrow Gondor] and its discovery and overthrow—but it would have been just that. Not worth doing.

J.R.R. Tolkien, describing “The New Shadow”, a potential sequel to The Lord of the Rings.

Authors often fall victim to their own success. They create something beautiful: a world that stands on its own. A work that neatly wraps up its loose ends. A satisfying ending to a fantastic story. But once this imaginary world grows popular, the “imagineer” faces pressure from all sides. Agents lick their lips. Filmmakers chomp at the bit. Fans froth at the mouth. They all want more, artistic integrity be damned

Many fine writers can’t resist. They revisit (and dilute) their masterworks. For example, after the mammoth success of her Harry Potter franchise, J.K. Rowling (admirably) resisted the clamor for further sequels for years. Eventually, though, she gave in—then gave in again.

Let’s be glad that Tolkien had better sense.

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Bill and Ted 3: potential and pitfalls

According to persistent rumors, a third Bill and Ted movie is in the works. The 90s franchise followed the eponymous characters on an adventure through time, space and the afterlife. The quest? Fulfill their destiny and become a rock band so good that it saves the world.

I loved these films as a kid, but I have serious doubts about a second sequel. We’ve already seen beloved franchises get shipwrecked by nostalgic throw-backs: Star Wars. Indiana Jones. Blues Brothers. The Godfather. And there are a lot of factors working against Bill and Ted 3‘s potential success:

  • First, you’d be building on a damaged foundation; the second film, Bogus Journey wasn’t very good. Rotten Tomatoes lists it at 57%, just below the “rotten” threshold.

  • Second problem? A key actor has passed away; George Carlin played Rufus, Bill and Ted’s rock mentor from the future. With Carlin gone, you’d hate to see the screenwriters force a “Rufus’s brother Doofus” on the audience. There’s simply no good way to explain Rufus’ absence—-especially in a franchise built around time travel.

  • Third, there’s the problem of scale. Like so many sequels, Bogus Journey amped up the scale, adding aliens, evil clones, robots, and visits to both heaven and hell. It substitutes epic scale for good storytelling (and suffers mightily for it). If they’re smart, the third film’s writers won’t even try to broaden Bogus Journey‘s scope.

    (Instead, they should dial things down and write a small-scale story. After all, the (universally beloved) first film revolved around two high-schoolers’ year-end history project. Make the third film cover some similarly modest challenge. Keanu Reeves (Ted himself) offers a hint: “Bill and Ted were supposed to have written the song that would save the world, and it hasn’t happened.” That feels just about right; go with that.

  • The last potential problem with a third Bill and Ted? Continuity. The second film, Bill and Ted’s Bogus Journey, wraps up the pair’s story. Two good-for-nothing teens have transformed into nothing-but-good guitarists. The movie’s closing scenes interleave the Wyld Stallyns’ triumphant first concert with shots of people all around the world, rocking out. As the credits run, newspaper headlines highlight the band’s larger-than-life exploits (e.g. “Stallyns tour Midwest; Crop Increase 30%”, “Wild Stallyns to play Grand Canyon (Second Show Added!)”, “Bill & Ted Tour Mideast; Peace Achieved”).

    So… what’s left to tell? How do you reintroduce conflict, when you’ve already said “happily ever after”? My recommendation? Ignore that hyperbolic finale from Bogus Journey. After all, it was already tongue-in-cheek (do Bill and Ted really play a concert on Mars?). You could even let the third film pop that fantasy bubble. Open with a dream sequence along similar lines (e.g. the Wyld Stallyns accepting the Nobel peace prize), then cut to reality: Ted is forty-seven years old, overweight, and still living in his dad’s basement.

Should it ever escape development hell, Bill and Ted 3 could either redeem an already-tarnished franchise or bankrupt it altogether. Will the Wyld Stallyns’ final adventure be excellent or bogus?