The sprawling “Jurassic Park” film franchise never flinched at bringing back the beloved legacy characters that made Steven Spielberg’s 1993 smash hit such an unexpectedly human story (in addition, of course, to all those damn dinosaurs). Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough notably returned for “The Lost World” in 1997, while Sam Neill was back on the case in 2001’s “Jurassic Park III” (with a quick appearance from Laura Dern). And while the “Jurassic World” series spent nearly two entire films — save for one key Goldblum cameo at the end of “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” — focusing on new characters, the core group that started the dino-tastic adventure has always loomed large.
In Colin Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World: Dominion,” they finally take center stage thanks to a grand reunion that sees Trevorrow’s “Jurassic World” stars (including Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard) thrown into a complex new story that requires the assistance of no less than Dr. Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), Dr. Alan Grant (Neill), and Dr. Ellie Sattler (Dern).
But for Trevorrow, who returns to both write and direct this supposed final chapter in the “Jurassic World” franchise (J.A. Bayona helmed the second film, “Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom,” from a script by Trevorrow and Derek Connolly), it’s really Dern who is the heart of this story. As the director told IndieWire, placing Ellie at its center was essential, mostly because the beloved character never had the chance to really drive her own film after the first one.
“I think that the roles they play in this film are a sign of great respect from me, and specifically to Laura Dern, because Laura was never the engine of one of the stories,” Trevorrow said. “Sam Neill had ‘Jurassic Park III,’ where he was the engine, and Jeff Goldblum had ‘The Lost World.’ I wanted this to be Ellie Sattler’s story.”
While some fans might’ve worried that Dern, Neill, and Goldblum were returning for nothing more than cameos, each star gets plenty of screen time in the feature. And Ellie, who has turned away from dinosaurs to dedicate her time and expertise to issues plaguing the world’s crops, is front and center. In fact, it was Ellie’s own job — and the ways in which it’s taken her away from dinosaurs — that helped Trevorrow and co-writer Emily Carmichael cook up the film’s plot.
“She’s a paleobotanist, which is a very specific job, someone who studies ancient plants and how our knowledge of ecological history can help protect us from extinction,” he said. “[This story] gave us a chance to honor her expertise. That came from just a lot of conversations with her. Emily Carmichael and I sat down with Laura on many occasions and just listened to how she felt Ellie would’ve changed and evolved over the past couple decades. It really helped drive the story.”
So, what was it like for Trevorrow to have the franchise’s original trio on set with Pratt, Howard, returning star Isabella Sermon, and newbie DeWanda Wise? Wild, but not in the ways you might expect. The film started shooting in February 2020 but was temporarily shut down a month later due to the pandemic. Filming resumed in July 2020 but hinged on tight protocols and an extended quarantine period for the cast and crew. That helped bond the newbies and old-timers.
“It was interesting because you’d think that I would be a little speechless and I guess I was, but also we had been living together in this hotel for weeks and we knew each other pretty well,” Trevorrow said. “It was a unique scenario where we were very prepared. We’d actually done a lot of work on the scenes together in rehearsing them and building them as a team. So once we got to set, we really did have to be prepared.”
But, yes, there was a moment when even Trevorrow was astounded to see his entire cast together, thanks to a final act sequence that brings all of them together, with Dern, Neill, and Goldblum reunited alongside the rest of the cast.
“Because of the [COVID] protocols and the situation we were in, there was a moment where I finally felt what I think that you’re imagining one would feel when everybody was all together,” he said. “There’s this moment at the end where suddenly there’s this lineup, everybody slams into the frame all of a sudden. They all were running, and they all kind of stopped on a mark and suddenly they all line up. That was stunning to me because it made me feel like maybe we’ve actually made a movie that honors each of these characters and respects each of them the way they need to be, which was probably, with nine main characters, the biggest challenge.”
A Universal Pictures release, “Jurassic World: Dominion” hits theaters on Friday, June 10.