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Remixing John Williams: The story of Jurassic World Dominion’s trailer riff on ‘Jurassic Park’ theme

It's all about finding that sweet spot between emotional nostalgia and blockbuster thrills.

By Josh Weiss
(from left) A Giganotosaurus and T. Rex in Jurassic World Dominion.

When Universal initially put out the call for music to be featured in the first trailer for writer-director Colin Trevorrow's Jurassic World Dominion, Bryce Miller really wanted the job and as such, didn't want to take any chances.

The composer for Alloy Tracks (a studio that produces custom music and sound design for Hollywood trailers) spent the better part of a year pitching an estimated 12 different variations of John Williams' iconic Jurassic Park theme shot through the lenses of Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Like cloning dinosaurs, coming up with the perfect track required a great deal of trial and error.

"I did [it in the style] of how the first movie was advertised, which is family action/adventure — typical big, sweeping John Williams melodies. I pitched [it in the style of how] the second movie was advertised, which was scary terror/thriller ... and de-tuned scary dinosaur noises," Miller tells SYFY WIRE over Zoom. "Where we ended up settling was they really wanted to emphasize the nostalgia and emotion that the fans have for this series and really pull on the heartstrings for this final movie because it’s the climax of the saga. We ended up going for a re-harmonized version of the theme that’s slowed down and has big emotional chords and really gets the tears going."

It was a big win for Alloy founder/CEO Troy MacCubbin, who's been hoping to land a T. rex-sized role on a Jurassic project since Trevorrow brought the franchise back from extinction in 2015. "We've been submitting, I think, to all of them," he admits on the same Zoom call with Miller. "Over the years, we’ve got a lot of sound design, but this is probably the first time we’ve locked in a huge track."

The trailer below opens on a majestic note with voiceover dialogue from InGen founder and Jurassic Park mastermind, John Hammond (played by the late Richard Attenborough). Movie studios are a lot like InGen: fiercely protective of their intellectual property.

"They like to keep things under lock and key," Miller says, referring to the fact that composers like himself rarely, if ever, get to see what they're scoring to ahead of time. "Part of me kind of enjoys that we don’t see and hear everything from the trailer because for myself, as a fan, it preserves my first viewing of the trailer. I get to see these dinosaurs and [hear] this voiceover and these characters with my music for the first time and also have the fan experience as well as the behind-the-scenes [experience] of working on it."

Notice how the famous Jurassic Park motif doesn't show up until more than a minute into the trailer's nearly 3-minute runtime? Miller originally wanted to feature the classic theme from the get-go, but Trailer Park — the company that actually cut the footage together — reigned in that instinct, reserving those instantly recognizable notes for the perfect moment.

"The whole beginning of the trailer sets the atmosphere and tone of the movie and then everything drops down and you hear the single piano notes play the Jurassic Park melody as you’re seeing the original characters from the series," the composer says of the moment we're re-introduced to Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and Alan Grant (Sam Neill). "That just brings it all home. That’s for the fans. You hear the melody, you see your favorite characters back again, and then we launch into the second half of the trailer. That’s the tear moment."

Things start to ramp up from there, which allowed Miller to live up to his industry reputation as "the guy who does big orchestral versions of popular songs." He continues: "We had to hit a sweet spot between doing just the emotional nostalgia re-harmonization of the theme, while still making it [come across as] a big action movie. We ended up adding that whole second half of the trailer, where you just get into big drums and big blasting orchestra that goes underneath the scene of Chris Pratt being chased on his motorcycle. But they wanted to also sell the action and high-stakes of this movie in addition to getting the nostalgia for the original series."

"Jurassic Park was the first score I ever bought as a kid and the one that really made me fall in love with scores and realize their power," adds Bobby Gumm, VP of Music at Trailer Park, over email. "So, to get to work on these campaigns, and to work with composers to reinterpret those brilliant John Williams themes, has — without a doubt — been a career highlight."

Gumm, who worked closely with producer Kelly Adelman and editor Adam Finkelstein, reveals they first started down an avenue that "was a bit more whimsical" before realizing "the heavy themes and massive global stakes of the story were going to require something a bit more dramatic, so we shifted gears."

Co-written by Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael (Pacific Rim: Uprising), Dominion picks up four years after the events of 2018's Fallen Kingdom. Humanity has learned to live alongside dinosaurs, but the balance is quickly shifting and only one species can come out on top.

Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) and Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) spring into action when the daughter of Blue (the Velociraptor Owen raised from birth) gets captured by poachers. Meanwhile, the returning OG characters — Ellie, Alan, and Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) — investigate Biosyn, the shady bio-engineering company that has assumed control of dinosaurs captured by various world governments.

It's a cinematic epic three decades (and 65 million years) in the making. "I think what’s so enduring about this franchise is the music and the emotion that’s brought to these characters and the dinosaurs," Miller concludes. "It’s not just another big action [movie with] dinosaurs tearing everything apart — you feel for the beauty and majesty of the dinosaurs, and that’s thanks to John Williams."

"He’s a genius and I don’t care how man accolades he gets, he deserves even more," echoes Gumm while on the subject of the prolific film composer. "There’s always this innate sense of wonderment or magic to his scores and I think that’s a big part of why people go to movies in general — that wonder. And nobody does wonder better than him."

MacCubbin gets right to the heart of why this series has stuck around for so long: "Dinosaurs are always the coolest thing in the world."

Jurassic World Dominion opens on the big screen Friday, June 10 (tickets are now on sale). Click here to watch the latest trailer.