[This story contains spoilers for Jurassic World Dominion.]
When Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World was first released in 2015, a portion of the audience balked at the idea that a new dinosaur theme park would be able to operate following the disastrous Isla Nublar incident in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park (1993). But then March 2020 happened, and the world at large witnessed blatant disregard for public health by a great many people, corporations and institutions. All of a sudden, Jurassic World went from what some would call implausible to prescient, and that very sentiment was expressed numerous times across social media.
Trevorrow’s concluding chapter, Jurassic World Dominion, started shooting shortly before the industry-wide shutdown in 2020, but the Bay Area native acknowledges that pandemic attitudes and behaviors made their way into the film once they resumed filming in July 2020.
“That was a natural result of the way we were feeling while we made the film,” Trevorrow tells The Hollywood Reporter. “[Jurassic World Dominion] is a movie that is absolutely about the need to figure out a way to coexist with the natural world and each other, or else we’re going to go extinct just like the dinosaurs. There are a lot of things that people say in this movie that can be applied to issues in our real world, and none of that is unintentional.”
It’s been well documented that Trevorrow was originally tasked with writing and directing Star Wars: Episode IX, the conclusion of the Skywalker saga, but he ultimately departed the project in 2017 over creative differences. Well, in 2020, his Episode IX script, titled Star Wars: Duel of the Fates, leaked online along with concept art, and the materials were met with considerable praise. Looking back on a difficult situation, Trevorrow is now admitting that the positive embrace of his work was a welcomed silver lining.
“Honestly, if any director tells you that they don’t care what the audience thinks, or even people who watch movies and write about them for a living, then I’m not sure if they’re being fully honest with themselves,” Trevorrow says. “I do make these movies for audiences, but I also make them for people who think about film all the time and watch movies the way that I do. Any time you do something that’s received well, it’s going to encourage you and hopefully assure you that not only was there a reason why you started doing this in the first place, but your imposter syndrome is only partially real and you’re not a complete fraud. And I think we all have those moments.”
In a recent spoiler conversation with THR, Trevorrow also discussed the return of an incredibly famous Jurassic Park prop and how its backstory may tie into season five of Netflix’s animated spinoff series, Jurassic World Camp Cretaceous.
Between your movie and Jordan Peele’s upcoming movie [Nope], it’s going to be a big summer for the word nope. Did Universal thank you for the unintentional synergy?
(Laughs.) Nope! But we shot this movie well before he did, and it’s said by DeWanda Wise’s character and Justice Smith’s character. So it just felt like a real natural reaction to the insanity that they were witnessing, which I guess is probably what Jordan was feeling as well.
So I’m sure the script evolved a lot over time, but what was the ultimate breakthrough that allowed everything else to click into place?
For me, it was understanding how the two stories that we were telling were going to collide, not just from a character level, but from a plot level. And understanding how what Maisie [Isabella Sermon] represents as a miracle of science was going to solve Dr. Henry Wu’s [BD Wong] problem and absolve him for his mistake, and ultimately protect the world from an ecological disaster. And for all of those things to actually link together, even as I say it out loud right now, feels like an impossibility. But ultimately, I do believe that we did it, and we did it by relying on real science just like Michael Crichton did. We talked to geneticists and figured out something that’s both plausible and grounded in the world that we know.
Over the course of the last couple years, there were a number of tweets that basically made the point that Jurassic World had become a lot more realistic due to the pandemic behavior of certain people, corporations, institutions, etc. In other words, you no longer have to suspend disbelief that another park would be opened after the Isla Nublar incident in 1993 and that people would actually go to it. So did pandemic behavior inspire any rewrites?
Well, that was a natural result of the way we were feeling while we made the film. And in a lot of ways, each of these movies is a product of how I was feeling and what I was thinking about when they were written. The first movie is very much about corporate overreach, the idea of sequelization and bringing something back to be bigger and larger with more teeth, without being absolutely positive whether it was necessary. The second film is about moving animals from one continent to another, out of their natural habitat and how dangerous that is. And this is a movie that is absolutely about the need to figure out a way to coexist with the natural world and each other, or else we’re going to go extinct just like the dinosaurs. And you could pretty much look back at my own personal history over the past nine years, as just a person in the world, and all of that was just my thought process over the course of that time. It’s all what I was afraid of at the time.
Whether it was human indifference or squandering time, Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) made several points that directly apply to multiple real-world issues right now.
There are a lot of things that people say in this movie that can be applied to issues in our real world, and none of that is unintentional. And yet, I think that over time, hopefully, I’ve grown more adept at making these movies a Trojan horse for ideas. And I don’t think they’re political ideas. They’re ideas that we all, if we don’t, should agree are of real concern. But it’s done without sacrificing the fact that this is a really fun ride and it’s a family movie about dinosaurs. So the balance in this movie is my favorite balance of the three.
Shifting gears, what’s the philosophy behind building animatronics? Do you mainly build them for when actors physically interact with them?
Yes. We build them for when they don’t have to do something like run or fight. That’s basically it. So they can be of all different sizes. We built the Giganotosaurus, which was stalking our characters slowly. That was a kind of sequence I really wanted to get back to that I’d done in the first film and that Jurassic Park had done well. And there are several sequences like that where you’re just listening to characters breathe and there’s an animatronic coming for them. We build them especially for a scene like the one with Laura [Dern] and the baby Nasutoceratops, which we also saw in Bryce Dallas Howard’s first scene. Animatronics give them the ability to interact with it as if it’s another actor because there’s another performer behind it. It really is a human and a human communicating via a puppet, which is a beautiful kind of art.
Did the legacy actors find their way back into their roles almost immediately?
I think they knew how to play them, but it took a while for us to really nail down how those characters felt about this new world that we had created. And they were able to dig in to how they feel about the world we’re in now and the feelings weren’t that different. (Laughs.) Jeff Goldblum’s character is very alarmed in this movie, and he feels like a lot of the things that he would’ve called his worst fears in Jurassic Park have come true. So now he’s in a position where he realizes he has to do more than just make predictions. He has to get in the fight. Laura Dern’s character, as well, had to get Sam Neil’s character out and away from his dig to come with her and basically be a corporate whistleblower for something that she knows is going to be an ecological disaster. So they also had to get in the fight. DeWanda Wise’s character realizes she can’t just look the other way. There is a recurring theme of: If you have real fear about the direction that this world is going in, then try to find a way to do something about it. Don’t just watch.
Sam Neill recaptured that twinkle in Grant’s eye, so it felt like no time was lost, especially in his scenes with Laura.
Yeah, they’re incredible actors, and we did a lot of old-school acting exercises. It was sort of 101, freshman year kind of stuff. (Laughs.) “Tell me why you love him. Tell me why you loved her and maybe still do.” They would also speak to me in character, and they would speak to each other in character. So just going back to the very basics of how actors are taught to connect with each other and with themselves in the context of these iconic characters was really helpful for me, and I appreciated that they were willing to do it.
Did Covid protocols prevent [executive producer] Steven [Spielberg] from visiting set and having a reunion of sorts with his Jurassic Park actors?
I would say yes. He’s actually been very respectful of the distance that he keeps from a filmmaker that he’s producing. He’s always very involved in the script stage, and then in post, he’ll watch the cut. But aside from a couple of moments on the first one where he just had cool ideas that he wanted to see, he keeps a bit of a distance when I’m actually shooting. This time, yeah, we were in a situation where even I couldn’t see my own family for four months.
You’ve probably had many conversations with him over the years about making Jurassic movies. Is there a nugget of wisdom that you glommed on to the most?
Well, his advice often seems almost obvious, but then as you go through the film and remember what he said, you realize that he’s actually given you the key. And in this film, specifically, it was, “Remember the characters. Don’t forget that these are humans. These are real people, scientists, parents going through something spectacular, something fantastic.” So that’s what he’s so good at. Real people in the real world, such as E.T. Indiana Jones is a professor who makes mistakes and sometimes fails and gets hurt. He established a hero that was different from what had been done up to that point when he started introducing us to these real people in real worlds. So [Dominion] isn’t a superhero film, and however much I enjoy them, this is a movie about our world with one thing different.
Jurassic World really got me when Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins’ characters discovered the Russian nesting doll of the park within the park and took us through the remnants of the original Jurassic Park. What did you learn about nostalgia on that film that you carried over into this film?
I’ve tried to be really balanced and reserved with nostalgia in all of the films. In the first one, it was being done to very clearly tell the audience that we are in the same world, these things did happen, those characters are out there, which, now that you’ve seen Dominion, was important to establish. It is all very delicate because we care so deeply about these films. In a lot of cases, the movies we watched when we were children are our belief systems now. Movies matter to us in ways that I’m not sure they were able to matter to people throughout our history. There’s something about the movies made in the ‘70s and ‘80s that have created great, great passion from those who loved them.
And so when dealing with that issue, I just completely push back against nostalgia and homage at every turn because I know that it’s going to happen naturally. I know it’s in my DNA. It’s going to end up on screen, and so whatever does end up on screen will be the most natural, organic and unforced part of it. But as you can see with this movie, I really just wanted to send the characters on a brand new adventure, put them in brand new danger and not have them repeat lines from the first film, which is an easy instinct to have.
Since we’re on the subject of nostalgia, were Lex (Ariana Richards) and Tim (Joseph Mazzello) ever seriously in the mix to return?
Every one of these characters takes up so much oxygen in every room they step into that we really needed to be careful and thoughtful. I’ve always tried to keep a good sense of when it would start to feel like a Love Boat episode or something. (Laughs.) Where it’s just like, “Who’s the special guest in this scene?” And we have five characters [counting Lewis Dodgson] from Jurassic Park. BD Wong has been in all three of these movies, and he’s a major character in this film. And so when you’re looking at a movie like Jurassic Park, which probably had a total of eight characters and five of them are in this movie, that actually is a lot.
I really appreciated what you did with BD’s Dr. Henry Wu in this film. His character has certainly done villainous things in the past, but it seems like you always resisted the urge to turn him into a full-fledged supervillain. What stopped you?
Honestly, I didn’t find it as interesting as a scientist who’s reaching for something. We don’t really understand what he’s reaching for, and yet he makes these choices that suggest that there is an endgame to it and that there’s something that will satisfy him. In the first two movies, we suggest that it’s just recognition and that he’s someone who feels like he invented all of this, but nobody ever talks about him or gives him any credit for it. At the end of this film, he does something extraordinary, and he actually gives credit to somebody else, a woman who died long ago. He was able to finally get what he was after, and then based on his experience, he had the empathy and the humanity within him to acknowledge that it wasn’t him who achieved it. So I found that to be a very powerful ending for the character.
This might come as a surprise to you, but my favorite scene is actually Ramsay’s (Mamoudou Athie) silent judgment of a character.
His arc is my favorite in the movie. It’s one that I find very relevant to a certain part of our audience. It’s about young people who are heading out into the world, and they’re aware that they’re all going to have bosses who are probably going to give them a lot of opportunity but in exchange for not rocking the boat too much. And as a character who’s a whistleblower, he really is a major factor in what happens in this film. So having that culmination between two generations, that thread is one that hopefully will speak to a generation just coming out of college, one that’s trying to figure out how they’re going to create the change that they so desperately want in the context of a world that is still run by an older generation.
So what’s the story behind this running list of ideas that Bryce shared with you?
Well, I don’t think I ever saw the actual list. She probably wouldn’t show me the list. (Laughs.) We would just talk about it. And we talked so much about her character over the course of making these three movies that I just became more and more familiar with what she really felt she needed out of it as a creative person and now as a director herself. And those two visions were absolutely aligned. Claire is a character who I feel has evolved more over these three movies than most lead characters in blockbuster trilogies are able to evolve. She’s certainly evolved emotionally when it comes to her personal values and the way that she’s living her life, the way she’s recognizing that she was on the wrong side of history and is now trying to put herself on the right side of history. That desperation to change oneself and be the best version of oneself is something that she and I share in a lot of ways. We’re all trying to be the best versions of ourselves, and I love that we were able to put that in a movie like this.
At a certain point, Malcolm says, “Jurassic World? Not a fan,” and I keep thinking about the many implications of that line. Of course, it mainly applies to the defunct theme park in the story, but were you also trying to create a fun rivalry between trilogies?
It is, in fact, very literal as they’re talking about a theme park. But as you’re watching the film, you do get the idea that the older generation is, I guess, not a fan of the new movies. So I understand the implication of it, but in the moment, he’s just saying, “Yeah, everything I said that they shouldn’t do at Jurassic Park, they went and did.” And these two young people [Owen and Claire] were the ones who were involved.
What was really important to us about that scene is that we understood what each character knew about the other and how they felt about each other’s participation in this real yet insane world. I sensed a certain amount of forgiveness from Ellie Sattler when she mentioned that Claire Dearing was at Jurassic World. Maybe there’s some admiration. Maybe she’s been following Claire’s evolution over this time, but it just seemed like Ian Malcolm would be like, “Nah, not a fan.”
What was your impression of the first interactions between the Park and World actors?
Well, what was unique about our film was that we all lived together for four months, and so those actors had been spending a significant amount of time together, both rehearsing and working with me, and then just casually hanging out and having meals and getting to know each other and their families. And so it wasn’t a bunch of strangers. That actually made the moment at the end a little bit more difficult to discover because they did know each other so well, and we needed to make sure that it seemed like these characters didn’t know each other at all. But luckily, we have amazing actors, and they found a really good balance that hopefully doesn’t make you feel like it’s some kind of memory farming exercise. (Laughs.) We didn’t want you to think that we’re just there to remind you of the things that you know, and therefore you’ll like it. We really tried to have it be as new as possible at every step.
What did you learn about your film in the editing room that wasn’t apparent during writing and filming?
The movie had a very patient opening act, and so there’s about 14 minutes of this movie that aren’t in the theatrical version. And a good chunk of it is actually in the first 30 minutes. So finding a way to make sure that these two stories that were beginning simultaneously and going on parallel tracks only to collide later with elements from each of them crossing over into each other, it’s a pretty complex black diamond run of screenwriting. And then it became that same kind of black diamond run of editing. Ultimately, I think we landed at something that moves at a pace that feels right for a summer movie, especially right now. It really cooks.
A very famous Jurassic Park prop returns in this film. Did you chart out the process of retrieval? If so, will we see it someday?
If you happen to watch our animated show, Camp Cretaceous, there may be an answer to that in season five, which is coming in July. There may or may not be [an answer]. We’ll see. (Laughs.)
As far as the look and feel of the film, what choices did you make in relation to the first two films?
It probably looks more like the first film than the second. [DP] John [Schwartzman] and I shoot on film, so we leaned even more into the natural beauty of film on this. We did much less of a DI [Digital Intermediate] grade. The first one we graded a little bluer, a little cooler because it was a corporate theme park, and it got warmer over the course of it. J.A.’s movie is beautiful to look at, but it really has this almost Victorian candlelit beauty to it. It was also in widescreen, it was 2.35, it was shot digitally. It really has a different look.
So this film, I went back 2:1, we shot 35mm and 65mm, and I just wanted to lean into the beauty of film. Last night, I went to my favorite bar in New York, and I looked up at the TV and saw an ad for our movie. And it looked so different than everything else that was on TV. It wasn’t perfect. It was full of imperfections and flaws in the most beautiful way, and that’s what film does. It was just amazing to look at.
Decades from now, when you reminisce about Dominion, what day will likely come to mind first?
Oh man, probably the last day, honestly. We wrapped everyone on the same night, and it was four in the morning. It was November during Covid, and we’d shot the whole summer. And the last thing we did was shoot everyone together in a helicopter. We packed everyone in this tiny helicopter, and it looked like E.T.’s closet with all of these faces. And seeing all of them together, that was actually the moment where I realized what we’d done. DeWanda was to my right, flying the helicopter, and I really felt it then. It was very emotional. It was extremely special and powerful for me to be looking at people who were not just actors I was working with, but friends and people who I believe I’ll have a relationship with that is maybe a little deeper than the average, “Hey, we made a movie together for a couple of months and then we all went on our way,” kind of actor and director thing.
When I saw that helicopter shot, my first thought was, “Man, the blocking must’ve taken forever.”
Yeah, it’s funny because I remember I said to Steven, “In the last act of the movie, it was really hard having to block six, seven, sometimes eight people into a frame and always do it differently every time.” And after I complained about it to Steven, he said, “Well, I did 15 in West Side Story.” And I was like, “Damnit, Steven! Of course you did.” (Laughs.)
Lastly, I have to venture into tricky territory in order to compliment you, but I really enjoyed a certain script of yours that got out there [Star Wars: Episode IX – Duel of the Fates]. Overall, it garnered a very warm reception online. After everything that happened, did that response give you a spring in your step? Do those little victories make a difference?
Honestly, if any director tells you that they don’t care what the audience thinks, or even people who watch movies and write about them for a living, then I’m not sure if they’re being fully honest with themselves. I do make these movies for audiences, but I also make them for people who think about film all the time and watch movies the way that I do. So yeah, absolutely. Any time you do something that’s received well, it’s going to encourage you and hopefully assure you that not only was there a reason why you started doing this in the first place, but your imposter syndrome is only partially real and you’re not a complete fraud. (Laughs.) And I think we all have those moments.
Also, Battle at Big Rock, the short that we made, was received in a way that actually really, really made me feel good because I felt like it was me demonstrating what I love most about Jurassic Park, the essence of it for me, in a very pure, simple and straightforward way. So I really loved the reaction to that. That’s actually the thing that gave me the way forward.
Jurassic World Dominion is now in theaters. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.