The track record of screenwriters assigned to pen new installments of beloved franchises can often let fans know which way the wind is blowing in their favorite fictional universes. In the case of the J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot, the choice of Orci, Kurtzman, and Lindeloff gave savvy moviegoers the impression that the script would favor style over substance, which, while not unsatisfying, ended up being true.
Last week, news emerged that Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver—screenwriters of the surprisingly decent and intelligent Rise of the Planet of the Apes—are writing the fourth Jurassic Park film. As a fan of Jurassic Park and the new Apes movie, this is very good news! Now, I just have five pieces of advice for them and everyone else involved on how not to screw it up.
5.) Have Jurassic Park 4 take place in Jurassic Park
In terms of narrative back peddling, the Jurassic Park sequels are in a tricky spot. Though destroyed in the novel, the actual park is simply abandoned at the end of the movie. Sure, there are dinosaur tracks somewhere, and the secret shaving-cream can containing dino DNA is not recovered, but by and large most of Jurassic Park itself is totally over because everyone runs away and all the dinos will supposedly die fairly quickly due to their built-in lysine deficiency. Notably, neither of the two sequels actually returns to Isla Nublar, but instead take place on Isla Sorna or “Site B.” I guess this was to avoid having to worry too much about continuity from the first film, but ultimately Jurassic Park 2 and Jurassic Park 3 do not take place in Jurassic Park! This is a bummer; mostly on an emotional level. I think a basic foundational error of the sequels was a desire to not mess up the continuity of Isla Nublar, but in doing so, they made movies which were less satisfying.
A sequel should go back to Jurassic Park proper, because we want to know what happened to the place depicted in the first film! If you change a few things, we’re not going to care. Just show us that big gate again.
4.) Don’t Reboot It
Lately when screenwriters take on these kind of established-continuity projects some kind of sideways reboot, “companion piece,” relaunch, or reimagining occurs. But they’re all squeakquels to me, because in a sense, a reboot/reimaging feels like a cop-out. Put it this way: The Wrath of Khan is a direct sequel to the Trek episode “Space Seed.” In the movie Khan remembers Chekov (who was not even in the original episode) and he owns a movie-era Starfleet insignia, which he shouldn’t have been able to have. None of the people on Ceti Alpha V look at all like the folks from the classic episode. But no one in the audience cares. It all works, because the script is extremely confident in these decisions and reimagines the source material to make it work with the sequel. The only people pointing out these details are super-nerds like me, and I still LOVE the movie.
Right now the zeitgeist is lousy with reboots, meaning it would actually be a little innovative and fresh to do a seemingly straightforward sequel. Jurassic Park 4 should just be Jurassic Park 4. But they should write it like it’s a sequel to the first film. Have it set in present day (or the future!), bring in new characters, have cameos from the old characters, whatever you have to do, but make it a true sequel. In other words, think of it as Jurassic Park 4: The Wrath of the Raptors. (Or maybe The Return of Nedry.)
3.) Do Something Different With the Dinosaurs Other Than Having People Run Away from Them
A strength of all of the Jurassic Park movies is the joy of watching dinosaurs (things we all love) attack human beings (thing we are.) Most monster movies create a great dichotomy of confusing the audience as to who they should root for. In the Jurassic Park world, the biggest conflicts usually involve the dinosaurs coming after us or causing lots and lots of problems. But, it doesn’t always need to be like this. It may sound ridiculous, but what if our main characters teame-up with the dinosaurs? It’s one thing to see those kids running with the Gallimimus; it would be something else entirely to see them RIDING them.
I’m not saying you would want to develop super-intelligent dinos or anything like that, and certainly not advocating a dinosaurs-as-weapons-of-war-created-by the government. But some kind of interaction between the humans and the dinosaurs which wasn’t simply humans running away from dinos, might be awesome. Take the Brachiosaurus sneezing scene from the first movie, only make it more active.
2.) Bring in a Really, Really Big Name Actor (With Genre Credibility)
If Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum, and Laura Dern all agree to come back, then you’re totally fine and this really doesn’t matter. Just make the movie about them. But, assuming you can’t get all of them for some reason, then the film needs some kind of big draw. This isn’t to say Robert Pattinson should play a hot paleontologist or Blake Lively should be a raptor-tamer, instead, it would need a big, probably older actor who has some pull with genre fans and non-genre fans alike. Sigourney Weaver is the first person who springs to mind here, though Michelle Pfeiffer could work, too. Also, for whatever reason, I really feel strongly about Ewan McGregor being in a movie with dinosaurs. I feel like riding that fake lizard in Star Wars: Episode III wasn’t quite enough. I think Ewan should get to ride a real dinosaur.
The reason having some kind of big star with nerd appeal in the movie is important is because the sequels have all been really, really bad, and it’s mostly because it seemed like no one could get excited about them. It isn’t fair or right, but everyone would get excited about Ewan McGregor or Sigourney Weaver. What I’m saying is, dinosaurs aren’t enough. Rise of the Planet of the Apes did well party because of James Franco, but the John Lithgow thing really sealed the deal for me in terms of nerd appeal combined with an awesome actor. Jurassic Park 4 needs to find its John Lithgow. Naturally, Jaffa and Silver don’t have anything to do with this, but it’s still imporant.
1.) Avoid Too Much Rumination on the Ethics of Cloning
Science fiction, for whatever reason, has some kind of weird duty to actually talk about the crazy issues it depicts. This is partly why some people hate science fiction; it gets preachy to a nerdy choir. The original Jurassic Park is teaming with ruminations on life and our ability to create it. Should we bring back these creations that were wiped off the face of the Earth? Are we being punished by our creations? Have we upset the natural order of things?
Sure, these notions are a normal part of the conversation, but they don’t have to be the only conversation. The notion of something being a usurper to the natural order of things, and then having that usurper suppressed and restoring the natural balance is older than Shakespeare. Do we have to keep doing that? Must characters who create dinosaurs be punished?
The more important questions about the cloning of dinosaurs for me have little to with the ethics of the ability to create life or not, but instead the motivations as to why we’d want to do it in the first place. In the Crichton books this is explored a little better, but even in the existing films it seems like there are three basic reasons to clone dinos: 1. Entertainment, 2. Sinister Profit, 3. Scientific Research. (The last one is best and most interesting option.)
Now, the folks who wrote Rise of the Planet of the Apes seem to be able to do a big Hollywood movie, which does focus on science-type stuff. Yes, James Franco’s character was an unethical scientist, but we wasn’t a bad person. This could be done with paleontologists, too. What I mean is the movie wouldn’t need to have a big corporation or human hubris be the antagonist of the movie. Instead, maybe it’s just something we didn’t expect. Maybe a new science thing happens with the dinosaurs, and that’s the conflict. (Mutations, hybrids, something cool.)
But for those ideas, I’ll leave it to the big Hollywood screenwriters. Imagination-on!
Your move Jaffa and Silver.
Ryan Britt is the staff writer for Tor.com. The new Jurassic Park movie better have stegosauruses all over the place.