Jurassic World Dominion and the Dominion of the Soft Reboot

Movies Features Jurassic World
Jurassic World Dominion and the Dominion of the Soft Reboot

The trailer for Jurassic World Dominion, the third and final installment in the triptych of rebooted Jurassic Park films, was unveiled two weeks ago. The Jurassic World series is one of a handful of reanimated, undead blockbuster franchises (along with Star Wars, Ghostbusters, Star Trek and Terminator) which could be viewed as the poster children for the “soft reboot.” It’s a term used to denote restarted, beloved franchises or solo films which recycle the stories of the originals under the guise of something new, while calling back to familiar faces, iconography or straight-up recreated scenes to manipulate warm, gooey emotions in their audiences. This is meant to make up for the fact that these films lack creativity and are, instead, banking on your misty-eyed nostalgia to line the pockets of producers.

The Jurassic World films are particularly heinous, in part because they are utterly sterile, boring, devoid of life and play dress-up with the original text. They are unable or unwilling to accomplish the bare minimum. The characters are superficial and the dialogue is laughably atrocious. Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are not Sam Neill and Laura Dern; Owen Grady and Claire Dearing are not Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler. The former pair’s interactions are excruciating to bear witness to because they are positioned as the film’s romantic crux, yet lack any and all chemistry. Pratt in particular is barren of charisma—his winsome turn as Star-Lord in James Gunn’s Guardians of the Galaxy films has been mistakenly read by Hollywood as dramatic leading man material. The narrative is, of course, predictable. What else is gonna happen at a new Jurassic Park? Everything goes fine and people have a wonderful experience?

Ghostbusters (2016) at least attempted to be distinct, as did The Last Jedi (we see how that trilogy turned out). I would even go as far as to argue that the second Jurassic World film, Fallen Kingdom, at least tried something. A cabal of rich people converging to secretly bid on a black market dinosaur auction, some stuff about the ethics of human cloning, and the abilities of director J.A. Bayona eventually turns the installment into a haunted house movie with dinosaurs. But the hallmarks of the original Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World, are still felt everywhere. The goal is to ensure the remaining dinosaurs can live somewhere freely, while a rogue group attempts to exploit them for financial gain. Also, Jeff Goldblum is there, except this time he need not travel to Isla Sorna, only sit in a courtroom set and sporadically deliver his Ian Malcolm warnings to the world—most likely filmed in one go for a handsome paycheck. And, of course, a newer, scarier, genetically concocted dinosaur is introduced to draw people back. It’s a metatextual reference to the nature of the rebooted series. We’re just more park attendees wanting scarier dinosaurs with bigger teeth, as Jurassic Park original B.D. Wong conveys in the first Jurassic World—as if a film being aware of what it is and what it’s doing exonerates it.

And so, we arrive at Dominion. As per the conclusion of Fallen Kingdom, the dinosaurs have been released into the wild and are now freely running amok on earth, with the story taking place four years later and surrounding a continued struggle between humans and dinosaurs to coexist. Therefore, in a last-gasp effort to get butts into seats for this expectedly pithy send-off, the filmmakers behind Jurassic World are finally, finally giving the people what they want. That’s right, Jurassic Park’s original trio—Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum—will be reuniting in the most condescending, keys-jangling-in-front-of-wide-eyed-teething-toddlers move ever.

Except, things are a bit different now. Audiences aren’t dumb, and they have finally wised up to the way the industry is pandering to them—but not in the way that I’d hoped. When I watched the trailer for Dominion, I thought to myself, “Surely, this level of artistic cajoling will not be tolerated.” This is so undeserved, so contrived, so obviously a last-ditch effort to get people to see this franchise’s final film. I thought, surely fans of Jurassic Park and average moviegoers alike would be fed up by this point, unwilling to sanction such buffoonery in a series so unworthy of their time and money. They would be tired of these franchise reboots setting themselves up for failure—didn’t we all see what happened with The Rise of Skywalker? The success and ardent fanbase of Ghostbusters: Afterlife should have been an obvious warning sign to me, but there was something particularly cynical about the scene between Dern and Neill in the Dominion trailer. The two veteran actors muscling through “we’re getting the band back together” hack job dialogue; Neill presumably offered such an impressive mound of Benjamins that he was lured away from the peaceful pig farm he tends in his native New Zealand.

So I was somewhat dismayed, though not necessarily surprised, at a handful of online reactions to this trailer. The sentiments amounted to, “Yeah, I know what they’re doing. I know that I’m a sucker. So what? Why not embrace it?” This is the new mindset du jour, one which ensures the continued success of the soft reboot. Moviegoers know that they’re being emotionally jerked around, hip to the tricks of the floundering industry, and they don’t care. Who wouldn’t want to see the original Jurassic Park trio reunited? (I mean, I don’t know, maybe just watch Jurassic Park again if you want to keep seeing them?) But it makes sense. It’s the same kind of “wink, wink” self-awareness that the Jurassic World filmmakers believe absolves them of contributing to the soft reboot industrial complex. They know what they’re doing is lazy and cynical, but if they acknowledge it, then that makes them better than those other guys, right? Following that logic, if we the audience are aware of what these films are doing to get us to go see them, it’s better than simply being mindless sheeple, right? At least we have the dignity to know that we’re being conned, as opposed to the poor saps still living with the wool pulled over their eyes, right? Right?? Hello???

I wonder to myself if this ever ends. I felt fairly confident that Dominion would be the final straw, that others would watch the trailer—would see what was being done and how it’s been done before—and feel similarly, insultingly condescended to. The middling-though-largely-positive critical and audience response to Jurassic World saw a steep drop-off with Fallen Kingdom, as both groups of moviegoers settled in at a ~40% consensus on Rotten Tomatoes. It seemed obvious that audience faith in this franchise would have faltered enough to keep everyone far away. “Oh, come on!” I figured people would exclaim in unison at the trailer, as Laura Dern looks back at Sam Neill one last time during their interaction, artificial wind blowing her hair just so. Clearly my expectations were far too high. The suits in Hollywood are banking on us continuing to show up, regardless of how “smart” we are now. Audiences are aware of what’s being done and that the reaction is to continue to encourage it, because the processed pink goop has been shaped into a chicken nugget.

“Let people enjoy things,” you might be muttering to yourself as you peruse my little screed, while audiences become less curious and the industry follows suit. “Why bother putting money behind something new when something old has proven to make more?” I’m sure there are those reading this article thinking that the industry shouldn’t bother, that they’re happy to devour the slop so long as it tastes good and makes them feel even better. Meanwhile, I’m over here typing at my keyboard, brow furrowed, vein pulsing out of my forehead—the bitter, angry film critic who just doesn’t understand what audiences want. Call me crazy, but I don’t actually think there is anything wrong with wishing the current blockbuster output made an effort to go forwards instead of backwards.

There is a moment in the newest Matrix—a film that is outwardly a self-aware soft reboot that quite openly denounces the genre, while being a genuinely emotional, romantic and exciting installment—where Neo and Trinity acknowledge that they can’t go back, despite the fact that they already have. The film is not solely metatextual, but operates as if it is sentient, tormented that it’s been brought back to life against its will. It’s an inhumane sort of anti-art, constructed on the lie of safety and sentimentality while offering only the illusion of it. Perhaps, we as audience members are so inclined to the comforts of nostalgia because we fear the future. But there is nothing for us if we linger in the past. These films are only the reanimated corpses of ones that have already been made. Soft reboots are like Frankenstein’s monster: A patchwork husk without a beating heart.

Brianna Zigler is an entertainment writer based in middle-of-nowhere Massachusetts. Her work has appeared at Little White Lies, Film School Rejects, Thrillist, Bright Wall/Dark Room and more, and she writes a bi-monthly newsletter called That’s Weird. You can follow her on Twitter, where she likes to engage in stimulating discussions on films like Movie 43, Clifford, and Watchmen.

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