Jurassic World: Dominion | Modern films and their need to give everyone stuff to do

Jurassic World Dominion
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As casts in major films like Jurassic World: Dominion have gotten bigger, writers have seemingly struggled to find useful stuff for all the stars to do. A few thoughts on a modern phenomenon:

By now, most of us know all too well what inflation is: it’s the economic phenomenon that means the flat white that once cost us £3 is now edging over a fiver. But there also seems to be a different kind of inflation going on in expensive, mainstream movies: mainline casts are becoming bigger. As a result, it seems, filmmakers are trying harder and harder to think of things for all these characters to do.

If none of the above made sense, here’s an example. Over the weekend, your humble writer caught up with Jurassic World: Dominion (now showing on Netflix if you were also busy when it emerged in cinemas). In it, the stars of the two previous films in the Jurassic World trilogy, Bryce Dallas Howard’s Claire Deering and Chris Pratt’s Generic Leading Man, embark on a new adventure when their surrogate daughter, Maisie (Isabella Sermon) is kidnapped by the shadowy Biosyn Genetics.

That alone, you might think, is the solid basis for an entertaining summer action thriller, especially once you’ve thrown in a load of dinosaurs and a vaguely Apple CEO-esque villain. Unfortunately, director Colin Trevorrow and his collaborators disagreed, and decided to rope in the mainline cast of the original Jurassic Park for maximum nostalgia appeal.

As a result, Jurassic World: Dominion spends time reintroducing Sam Neill’s Alan Grant and Laura Dern’s Ellie Satler, sets up a romantic subplot for them, then has to add a scene or two to explain why smouldering mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is now a speaker-in-residence at Biosyn’s top security HQ in the Dolomite mountains.

Ensemble casts are nothing new, but what feels particularly 21st century is the way that Jurassic World: Dominion tries to give more-or-less equal weight to every character. Each must be given their own set-piece or moment to shine, and each has to be given something incredibly useful to do in the final reel.

Jurassic World: Dominion is far from alone in this regard. Our own Simon Brew rightly pointed out that there are so many characters in this year’s Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire that, in one of those post-Avengers style shots of the new and old heroes at the end, the poor cinematographer struggles to fit them into the frame.

That sound you can hear is the cinematographer sobbing. Credit: Sony Corporation.

The same feeling of bloatedness extends to an almost beguilingly awkward scene in the Ghostbusters’ basement, in which all of the legacy cast – Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd, Ernie Hudson, Annie Potts, and so on – are all given the task of pulling an extremely important lever at the same time.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly when this phenomenon began, partly because my memory is appalling. One instance that immediately springs to mind, though, is 2008’s Indiana Jones And The Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, whose cast is as unnecessarily overstuffed as its title is long.

Not content with bringing back Harrison Ford as Indy and Karen Allen as Marion Ravenwood (moves that sounded quite exciting at the time), Crystal Skull also introduced Mutt, Jones’ estranged son, played by Shia LaBeouf. Fair enough. We can work with that. But then writer David Koepp added John Hurt as a forgetful sidekick and Ray Winstone as an old friend of Indy’s who switches allegiance so many times that we eventually gave up trying to work out whether we were meant to like him or not.

Like Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, Crystal Skull also tried its damndest to cram everyone into one hero shot – though compared to the new Ghostbusters, having five lead characters sounds positively restrained in retrospect.

So what’s going on? What’s behind the character-flation phenomenon, as we’ll awkwardly dub it for now?

The answer, perhaps, is that the franchises described so far are exceedingly old. Even Jurassic Park, the newest of the ones mentioned so far, began in 1993. As a result, there’s been a growing desire to mix the old with new in order to appeal to the broadest possible audience; and, as we’ve seen with Spider-Man: No Way Home, the approach can potentially sell a lot of cinema tickets. That film, you’ll probably recall, brought back three incarnations of Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and current incumbent Tom Holland), and made almost $2bn in the process.

The problem with this crowd-pleasing approach to filmmaking, though, is that it’s the kind of idea that generally emerges in meetings with executives rather than the mind of a writer. Jurassic World: Dominion, in particular, smacks of a decision made by producers – “the casts of Jurassic Park and Jurassic World, together at last” – which its writers have then had to dutifully incorporate into their script, logic or pacing be damned.

This overstuffed, IP-first approach sometimes means that otherwise solid story ideas become lost in all the noise. A quite touching teenage love story, which might once have formed the core of Ghostbusters: Frozen Empire, was reduced to a subplot. Jurassic World: Dominion, which might have been just fine had it simply been a “rescue the kid from the corporate villains” adventure, instead took in dozens of locations and enough characters to fill a phone directory.

In decades past, films used to pay homage to their lineage with the odd cameo or two. Martin Scorsese’s Cape Fear remake from 1991, for example, saw Gregory Peck, Martin Balsam and Robert Mitchum pop up in small roles that served as playful nods to the 1962 original.

If Cape Fear were made in 2024, it’d be three hours long and have a budget of $250m. It would have Robert De Niro, Nick Nolte and Juliette Lewis given equal billing alongside a new generation of actors (Chris Evans, Zendaya, whoever), and would end with them all packed into one shot, pulling an extremely important lever.

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