Last week saw the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, the second film in the Jurassic Park sequel trilogy being overseen by director/producer Colin Trevorrow. The Jurassic World films have impressed many and disappointed others, but what some Jurassic fans might not be aware of is that the very first “sequels” to Spielberg’s modern classic were actually in the form of several comic book series published by the now-defunct Topps Comics between 1993-1997. Featuring acclaimed and iconic comic talent from the likes of Steve Englehart, Michael Golden, Adam Hughes, John Byrne, George Pérez, and more, these comic books took the story in many unexpected directions. These stories from the world of Jurassic Park are an untapped resource for adaptation to other mediums, and below are the top five lessons the new films could learn from these forgotten ancestors of the franchise.
The dinosaurs need to become part of the cast.
Jurassic World should be given credit where credit is due, and the character of the “trained” Velociraptor known as Blue and her relationship with raptor trainer Owen Grady (actor Chris Pratt) was the best element added to the franchise by Trevorrow’s reboot. Some fans have taken issue with the concept of a trained Velociraptor, given their vicious reputations in the previous Jurassic Park films, but this is easily the most believable plot point that Jurassic World asks its audience to swallow. The dinosaurs in the Jurassic Park franchise, even the much feared and deadly raptors, have been intentionally depicted as animals, not monsters, and most animals, especially intelligent ones, can be trained. It’s a struggle to come up with a deadly land animal that humankind hasn’t trained or domesticated at least once. Lions, tigers, leopards, wolves, bears, and even Chimpanzees – which, like raptors, are both very intelligent and incredibly vicious – have formed bonds with human trainers and companions. There’s really no legitimate argument supporting the idea that any dinosaur would be too vicious to train, especially if raised from birth by those who take care of it.
Furthermore, the dinosaurs are the “characters” that the audience is truly interested in. Don’t get me wrong: The Jurassic franchise has survived because of its great cast of characters, but sooner or later, the fans’ hunger for dinosaurs would have compelled the writers to include a dino or two among the cast. Given their high intelligence and importance to the series, a Velociraptor easily makes the most sense… and the Topps comics knew this. Englehart’s scripts for the original movie’s comic book sequel focused on the pursuit of three young raptors (Alf, Betty, and Celia) who had escaped Isla Nublar and, through various events, forge a bond with Ellie Sattler that eventually saves the paleobotanist’s life.
While the Jurassic World films get points for making Blue and Owen’s relationship a central plot of the story, it’s something that really could be leaned into harder, with a deeper exploration of the effects of captivity and exploitation of a highly intelligent wild animal, as well as the empathy and understanding Owen has for her. Given the big-budget nature of these films, little time was left for this kind of character development between the rampaging I-Rex and the Tyrannosaur and Kronosaurus teaming up to save the day.
Which brings us to the next lesson to be learned…
Bigger isn’t always better.
For years, Topps’ Jurassic Park comics showed real restraint, avoiding a return to the park and focusing on smaller, more character-driven stories that both enriched and expanded the Jurassic Park mythology. Through his Raptor Attack and Raptor Hijack miniseries, Englehart imagined the results of an infamous drug lord coming into possession of a pair of trained raptors, as well as the healing and trust that could develop when those same mistreated animals encounter an animal biologist who unlocks their “body language” and gains the ability to communicate with them. Jurassic Park Annual #1 saw a pack of Dilophosaurus invade a Costa Rican town and end up tangling with a local motorcycle gang that comes to their community’s defense. There’s even a story in Jurassic Park #0 that depicts an enthusiastic John Hammond dragging an incredibly unimpressed Donald Gennaro on a trip to witness the birth of the park’s Tyrannosaurus Rex… the very beast the gobbles up the lawyer years later.
Plain and simply, while the Jurassic franchise will never be the next MCU or Star Wars, there’s more potential in this brand than just one single line of films. There’s no reason why there shouldn’t be a series of interconnected films, a TV series or two, multiple comic series, video games, and more. As counterproductive as it might sound to a studio executive, the Jurassic Park brand could really benefit from smaller films with less dinos. In order to have a cinematic universe, the franchise needs small, more varied films that exist in the same world as the bigger, theme park-focused blockbusters. If both audiences and filmmakers could give up on chasing the nostalgia of the first film, the franchise might be able break some truly new ground and release a few films that may lack the spectacle of a T-Rex attack but will redefine what a Jurassic Park story can be.
The franchise needs a “Big Bad.”
Corporate greed and lack of respect for the natural world have always been the true “bad guys” of the Jurassic films, but now that we’ll soon be five films into the franchise, it’d be nice to have a recurring, ominous “big bad” to carry over into the various films. The Jurassic World films seem to be attempting to use Dr. Henry Wu as the franchise’s antagonist, but his cartoonish “mad scientist” turn in the new trilogy is sustainable only so far (as are his Frankenstein-ish i-dinosaur creations). For a truly impactful villain, the Jurassic Park films should take a page from the Alien franchise and use the soulless corporation as its ultimate baddie.
This was clearly apparent to the creators behind Topps’ licensed comics, which latched onto Ingen’s rival, BioSyn (the corporation behind the disgruntled Dennis Nedry’s attempt to steal frozen dino embryo’s in Spielberg’s first film) as a natural antagonist. Much like the Nazis in the Indiana Jones series or Weyland-Yutani in the Alien films, Biosyn provided a constant, ominous, and believable threat to our heroes and a physical representation of mankind’s greed and hubris. In addition, during Raptor Hijack, Englehart introduced Bill Steingart, Biosyn’s CEO and an old acquaintance of Jurassic Park creator John Hammond. In addition, through Steingart’s and Hammond’s strategic chess game, much was revealed about the grey moral areas of both characters, whether through the resentful attendance of an honorary dinner celebrating their rival or straight-up corporate espionage… complete with a body count.
Bring back legacy characters and give us drama.
One thing that was fantastic about the Topps’ comics was how they recognized the allure of Jurassic Park’s charismatic cast of characters and their relationships. While the comics were never afraid to introduce new characters, Raptor Attack, Raptor Hijack, and Return to Jurassic Park built on the interactions and character development present in the first film. While the series started off with only Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler as the leads, Ian Malcom was quickly thrown back into the mix, and the love triangle between the three former park guests was reignited. Game Warden Robert Muldoon was revealed to have survived his encounter with the raptors on Jurassic Park and a conflict emerged between the hunter and Grant regarding whether the fugitive raptors should be killed or captured. The wedge between Muldoon and Grant widens when the paleontologist is forced to kill one of the young raptors in order to save Ellie’s life.
The point is, as much as dinosaurs are the heroes of the film, Spielberg’s film (and Michael Crichton’s original novel for that matter) work because of the rich, relatable, enjoyable characters. Much like Spielberg’s other masterpiece, Jaws, they’re the heart of the series and we need to care about their lives, interactions, wants, needs, and fears, or we won’t care what happens when things with sharp teeth start trying to eat them. Jurassic World makes a decent attempt to give the Owen and Claire love/hate relationship a certain charm, but the trailers for Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom seem to indicate we’re back at square one with the two characters once again split up and probably flirting/bickering throughout the film until the inevitable smooch. Given the success of cinematic reboots like Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Creed, and others, perhaps the new cast would benefit from a little more of the old guard being included.
Find another way to go back to the park.
This doesn’t mean what you may think at first. When it comes to the Topps comics continuing the story after the feature film, Grant and Sattler returned to Isla Nublar and left in the first issue. They didn’t return to the park before several other miniseries were completed, but the comics found the occasional way to return to the fun of Hammond’s theme park through various prequels and side stories, including the mad scientist saga taking place the same stormy night as the events of the film, a one shot depicting the Rex escaping from his pen during the early days of the park, and more. Again, looking to Star Wars as an example, there’s no reason the Jurassic franchise can’t have the equivalent of a Rogue One or Solo: A Star Wars Story. Whether on film or television, telling standalone stories taking place before, between, or even parallel to Jurassic Park, The Lost World, or other films in the series would allow the franchise to return to the classic, nostalgic feeling of the original movie without constantly retreading the beloved plot points of the previous films.