A cinematic legacy now 30 years in the making, Jurassic World Dominion seeks to bring Hollywood’s favorite dinosaurs to their epic conclusion… for now at least. Finality in blockbuster filmmaking is all but extinct these days, however, it’s something that filmmaker Colin Trevorrow still had to strive for when bringing his Jurassic World trilogy to an end. Having had the largest creative role in this new series as both director and writer, with godfather Steven Spielberg always at his side, the pressure to deliver a satisfying finale to decades worth of storytelling couldn’t have been higher, especially after he previously lost the chance to do the exact same thing with Star Wars. Trevorrow knew that he needed a special kind of helping hand to then get Jurassic World Dominion on the right track, and he found that support in fellow screenwriter Emily Carmichael.
Colin Trevorrow has said many times that he always knew the layout for the Jurassic World trilogy and where the story would ultimately end from the very early days. His answer to making sure each entry still felt distinct despite following a narrative guide was by bringing new voices into the mix. Love or hate this series, but it’s hard to deny that Fallen Kingdom totally feels like a J.A. Bayona film. Emily Carmichael, known for her indie film background and Pacific Rim: Uprising, first broke into the Jurassic franchise with Trevorrow’s short Battle at Big Rock, and has since become a new favorite of Spielberg himself as the legend is currently still set to produce her next project, Powerhouse. In Jurassic World Dominion, Carmichael gets the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to help introduce audiences to the biggest dinosaurs the franchise has ever seen.
In sitting down with the creative duo, we were able to excavate some unique tidbits behind these new epic dinosaurs and how a major one, in particular, even changed during the writing process. We also cover how Trevorrow was inspired by J.A. Bayona’s work in Fallen Kingdom to what he and Carmichael wanted to avoid the most when writing the legacy trio of characters. Finally, if you’re curious about what changed in the script due to shooting in the pandemic and what Trevorrow really meant when he first compared the film’s new dino villain, the Giganotosaurus, to the Joker a few months back, then you’ll definitely want to read below.
To start us off on a more technical note Colin, can you talk about shooting on film and going back to the 2.00:1 aspect ratio for Jurassic World Dominion? The franchise now has quite a bit of history with changing its filming styles after J.A. Bayona’s unique decisions for Fallen Kingdom, so I’m curious how you chose to follow that up?
Colin Trevorrow: I love that aspect ratio, I think it’s really balanced. Vittorio Storaro was the first to do it [with Univisium] but it never really caught on. Especially with the height of the dinosaurs and the need for a sense of epic scope, I think it’s great. But I shot my third film that way as well. Being that we watch so many of our films on various tablets and monitors in our lives now, it’s the best aspect ratio for the life of a film down the line. And I shoot on film because it’s the highest level of quality in every way. J.A. made a different decision with Fallen Kingdom and I really wanted to support him as a filmmaker and his vision for that movie. When you watch them, you can tell it’s two different directors and I think that’s kind of cool.
Emily Carmichael: Why don’t you tell us the aspect ratios you guys are talking about?
Colin Trevorrow: Oh, 2:1 is what I shoot in and J.A. shot in 2.35:1 which is widescreen. And then 1.85:1 for those at home is taller. So like Back to the Future [and the original Jurassic Park trilogy] is 1.85:1.
So legacy sequels have now fallen into the formula of putting classic characters in the backseat while pushing newer faces to the forefront. But I was very surprised to see that Jurassic World Dominion is very much equally shared between the older characters of the first trilogy and the newer ones. How important was it for you both to not have the legacy characters sidelined or perhaps even pushed back a little?
Emily Carmichael: There was absolutely never a question of these particular legacy characters being sidelined in a way that I find really thrilling and really vital. I will never forget the moment when Bryce Dallas Howard was standing next to me on set and we were watching the monitor as Laura Dern was doing something difficult and athletic – she was actually I think saving Chris Pratt by pulling him up from a ledge – so Bryce nudges me and says, “Let’s normalize seeing that, let’s make that something we see.” We want to see people, who are not 25 anymore, still doing really cool and interesting things! And it helps once you become older than 25, it’s very reassuring to see that on-screen and to know that there’s a life for you.
Colin Trevorrow: It was important to me but I also felt like we had to earn it over two movies to really make it work. If you’re going to bring in legacy characters who we all loved as kids, they suck up all the oxygen in the frame the minute they enter. All you want to do is look at them. And if you don’t know the new characters yet, it becomes really challenging to mix them together. So the tendency [in legacy sequels] would be to give somebody a back seat.
In this case, we had two movies where we really got to know Owen [Pratt] and Claire [Howard], we know who they are for this generation. The icons for an older generation, it’s Laura Dern, Sam Neill, and Jeff Goldblum. So to be able to bring them back in and just know that when we put them all in the same frame, there’s going to be a balance, that I’m going to be looking at all these icons that I love, was the goal.
I have to ask when and how you decided to bring in the Giganotosaurus of all dinosaurs? You obviously needed some sort of new big bad and Colin, you previously likened it to the Joker as something that “just wants to watch the world burn”…
Emily Carmichael: My memory is that Giganotosaurus was in there from the start and I think of Giga as kind of like Colin’s baby. The one scene that I didn’t touch before it went to screen was the big Giganotosaurus confrontation at the outpost. That was the one where Colin’s like, “Just press ENTER, put in some page breaks, and I’ll write that scene.” (laughs)
Colin Trevorrow: We always knew it had to be a real dinosaur and I wanted to make sure that we only used dinosaurs that are in the record. Once we designed it, that was the point where the Joker thing came up. It was really just in the discussion I was having with the artist who actually paints the colors on the hide. We already had a skeleton, we had already built the muscle structure, we made a clay model, we did all the things that we do and then it’s a question of like, “Well, how do you want this thing to feel?” And then the Joker was my reference. I think [the initial comment] turned into a narrative as if it’s like literally the Joker, that was not my intention! Melting face makeup was the note I gave.
I know you’ve gotten endless requests over the years Colin, but I was glad to see scarier dinosaurs like the Quetzalcoatlus and Therizinosaurus finally make the cut this time around.
Emily Carmichael: The big moment with Therizinosaurus, Colin was visually and directorially very excited about the design for that dinosaur. It looks really unique and it also has these Freddy Krueger-like claws. Then there was this moment in the development process when Colin sat down and was like, “It’s actually a vegetarian… well, what do we do now?” And the rest of us were like, “It might still have its territory threatened. It might still be formidable and dangerous. Just because it’s vegetarian doesn’t mean it’s a pushover!”
Colin Trevorrow: That’s right. That was one of those moments where you’re like, “Argh, scientific advisors! Why would you tell me that? This was awesome!” (laughs) What we ended up doing, the scene itself, what it’s built around is the idea that something else is eating its berries, and so it takes it out. So, you know, the reality of the dinosaur still informed the scene.
I want to ask about flexibility because you were trailblazers as one of the first major films to go back into production during the pandemic. But because of restrictions, it was said that you had to rewrite certain sequences such as the dino chase in Malta. Jake Johnson also said that he couldn’t appear in the film due to schedule changes. Can you talk about adapting with rewrites and what probably didn’t make the cut?
Emily Carmichael: The way that I experienced it with the pandemic was that I didn’t get to be there for as much of the shoot as I wanted, although I still got to be there which felt very meaningful. Immediately upon arriving at the shoot, I had to quarantine for 10 days in the hotel with the actors. I then went to set for two days, and then we all had to quarantine for another 10 days in the hotel. So I had this experience of high quarantine on all these group calls with all of the actors, trying to get to know them and talk about their characters, which was all I wanted to do.
But the set-piece I really wanted to be there for was the Malta sequence, which ended up being shot with the main cast on the Pinewood stages with additional photography on location in Malta. I actually got to see the sets, I don’t know if Colin knows this, but I wandered around and found the Malta sets as they were. And, to me, it looks seamless. I mean, do you Colin watch the Malta sequence and think that anything could or would have been different if you had gotten to be on location like you had planned?
Colin Trevorrow: You know, I actually prefer it in a lot of ways. There were pivots that we had to make. Jake [Johnson] is a very good friend, and I was hoping that he would be able to make it. But when it didn’t work out, we were still able to easily figure it out. If you notice, there’s a little moment where he has a quick cameo though. Also, Daniella [Pineda] was meant to be in another scene later but she got stuck in New Zealand for COVID. And so we hired another actor for that same part, Varada Sethu who’s great. So these things just work themselves out. I feel like that’s part of filmmaking, things go wrong all the time. You just constantly have to figure out ways to move forward.
Emily Carmichael: But there was nothing major. Nothing changed in the script like, “Oh, these characters were related and now they’re not.”
I can’t end this without talking about the film’s new baby raptor Beta because she’s just so adorable. A lot of that charm comes from the fact that you can actually tell she’s a practical effect at times. The animatronic Giganotasuraus you used also deserves a good shout-out. So with this being such an epic conclusion to the franchise, how important was it to incorporate as many animatronics and other practical effects as possible?
Colin Trevorrow: It’s part of the legacy. I feel like a Jurassic movie without animatronics would cease to be a Jurassic movie. We made sure that we had as many as we could afford in each movie, meaning one in Jurassic World, and then we had five or six in Fallen kingdom, including the beautiful Blue animatronic and the giant T. Rex that J.A. made. So he really pushed it forward. In this one, we really got to open it up. There’s more than the other two movies combined.
I think of Beta specifically because you really need to have an emotional connection with her to care. So being able to have those close-ups and have it be real, there’s still a person, in that case, multiple people behind that. So you’re actually looking at a living thing; it’s like a Muppet you know, it has something between the person and the audience but you’re really watching a performance.
Emily Carmichael: For me, as the writer on set, it was all the more thrilling because you can actually meet the dinosaurs. I’ve seen the Dilophosaurus in real life. I’ve seen the Giganotosaurus, which the animatronic for is terrifying. It actually makes you respect the danger of these predators in a new way because it’s so big and it’s way too fast for something that large. It’s really thrilling!