A fourth Jurassic Park movie has been in the works almost since Jurassic Park III came out in 2001, but for 14 years no one, not even Steven Spielberg -- who directed the first two films and still oversees the franchise as executive producer -- could figure out a way to move the story and the franchise forward. Enter Colin Trevorrow. Spielberg saw the first film from the San Francisco-born director -- a tiny, slightly sci-fi and impressive indie called Safety Not Guaranteed -- and sensed that Trevorrow could be the one to get the park up and running again.
This Friday (June 12), we'll see if Spielberg was right. Working with his writing partner, Derek Connolly, Trevorrow rewrote an existing script (by Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver) and jumped behind the camera for just his second feature and his first major studio tentpole. Jurassic World takes place 22 years after the original movie, with the park now a fully functional tourist attraction -- except that the public has begun to get bored with dinosaurs and wants something bigger, faster, meaner and scarier. The corporate suits behind Jurassic World, led by Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), are happy to oblige despite the misgivings of ex-military man and velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).
Strangely, while not skimping on the dino action, Jurassic World ends up being a very "meta" movie: It's actually a comment on itself, or rather the state of blockbuster filmmaking today. That's one of the topics that was addressed when Blastr got on the phone recently with Trevorrow for this interview.
You came aboard a project that was stalled for years in development hell. What made it click for you and for everyone involved when you got involved?
Colin Trevorrow: I think there was a 12-year-old kid in me who just was able to say, with that childhood confidence, “I know how to do this.” I applied everything that I could muster creatively to this mission to find a way to create a new Jurassic Park movie for a new generation. I did the absolute best I possibly could, and now we have the result.
When you approach something like this where your inner 12-year-old reveres the original film, do you, at the same time, step outside yourself and not let yourself get consumed with worry about screwing it up and disappointing that kid?
Yeah, absolutely. I was actually a little older when I saw Jurassic Park. So, it was not specifically this movie. It’s more that, I think, as you get older and all kinds of realities set in, you start to think about all the reasons why you can’t. And then the 12-year-old kid is more about just believing that I could, because I know this. I know these kinds of movies. These movies are in my blood. I felt like there is a way that I could cook something that would make everybody feel like they were back at home in their childhood.
I understand that the main elements you kept from the original idea were the character having the relationship with the raptors, the park being open and functional, and having a new kind of giant dinosaur running amok.
Right. But those are all Steven’s ideas. They were very good ones. He had given those to several writers. His ability to hone in on exactly really core ideas that you can build from is kind of unparalleled. So yeah, that was his contribution, and it was a pretty big one.
How were you able to marry those elements to ideas or themes that you wanted to express in the movie?
It was more that I took them and drew the themes that were inherent in them already. When you say you have a guy who is a raptor trainer, to me there are themes, and they are about our relationship with animals on the planet right now and how we cage them, and we put them in zoos, and we use them in medicine, and agricultural, and, in certain cases, use them in a war. I think we were able to find a through line and a plot that allowed us to create a villain that would enable us to look at that.
I think, if you were to say to me, “Hey, here’s an idea for a genetically modified dinosaur that is going to break loose and try and kill everyone in the park,” that, to me, suggests the thirst for profits are causing us to make our mistakes again, and again, and again. And that’s something we’ve seen in the 22 years since this movie first came out.
And, you know, the existence of the park itself; that is certainly the stakes being remade in the name of money. Those were ideas and themes that I certainly found compelling enough to be worth telling a new Jurassic Park story.
What I actually found interesting was this idea that people are not impressed by dinosaurs anymore, so they have to keep coming up with bigger ones, scarier ones, faster ones. It almost seems like a comment on the actual state of moviemaking these days.
A little bit. Hopefully not in a way that is heavy-handed at all. But that wasn’t necessarily intended. It was a natural product of the situation we were in when we wrote the movie. We wrote what we knew. And what we knew at the time was this movie is getting made one way or another, and it’s going to meet the release date that may or may not be good for it. And it’s going to need to be bigger, and badder, and better than any Jurassic Park movie anyone has ever seen before. I’m sure you can see the connections to all the themes I’ve been talking about in that [laughs].
On a practical level, for you, what was the common element between shooting a tiny indie like Safety Not Guaranteed, and then, for your next film, walking into something like this?
Well, two things. I mean literally the common element is ... in the end, it’s just a couple people in the center of a much larger operation -- a couple actors, and a director, and a screenplay, and a cinematographer making something feel real. That’s going to exist no matter what level you’re at. I know that’s a somewhat simplified way to look at it, but it is true. Once you step outside and see the level of concentric circles surrounding that small group of people on a big movie like this, it is clearly vast. But it makes it a little bit easier, because not only are you surrounded by great technicians and craftspeople, but you have the financial freedom to realize whatever wacky dreams you might want to put on screen.
What did you learn about yourself as a filmmaker taking that step upwards?
I didn’t think about it as much in that context. I learned a bit about what kind of films I want to make and what I think I can bring to the table. And there is a consistency between my first two movies regardless of their difference in size, and that is that they both are hard to define in any terms of genre. And they combine multiple tones. This is a movie that is at once, I think, an adventure, and it is scary, and it is romantic, and it is funny, and it is warm, it’s emotional. And these are all things that can describe a single movie. And I would argue that Safety Not Guaranteed has many different tones operating all at once as well. So it defined the challenge that I want to continue to take on and something that I think could be specific to the films that I do in a very clear kind of way, at least to me.
Were you presented with the option of using performance capture and some animatronics for the dinsaurs, or was that something you said you wanted to do when you signed on?
That was something where I said, “Hey, can we do this when it comes to the animatronics?” And I think the first instinct was “We don’t need those anymore.” And I felt very differently. When it comes to the motion capture, that was Glenn McIntosh and Glenn Alexander and everyone at ILM, and them experimenting with this idea of humans playing bipedal dinosaurs. So I went in very early in the process and looked at what they were doing. And it was very exciting, so we decided to move forward with just the raptors.
We actually did some tests with a human playing the Indominus [Rex, the bigger, faster, more vicious hybrid dinosaur]. It didn’t work as well. There was something about -- it only seemed to work with the animals that were somewhat human size. And there was an issue with just the physics of it all once it turned into a larger animal. But it was very exciting to see the result of that. I love what we ended up being able to do.
The original movie was somewhat lauded for its relative scientific accuracy. Is that something that you were thinking about making this?
Well, it was something I was very concerned about, and yet I wanted to be consistent with what Michael Crichton created, and what he built was a world of genetically altered theme-park dinosaurs. So we have a scene in this movie where we make it very clear that if these genomes were pure, many of them would look quite different. But that’s not what this corporation is looking for. They want these things to have more teeth and be exciting and very much the dinosaurs that -- they want them to look the way they think the audience wants them to look. If that ends up being a little bit of what the movie is up against as well, that may be true.
These movies have always been pretty straight down the line PG-13 films, but they also can be pretty scary. A woman asked me if she should take her 5-year-old son to see it, and I honestly wasn’t sure. Where was the line for you of how far to take things?
I might be the wrong one to ask, because I’m very pro-scaring children. I think they need it. I think we’ve got to shake them out of their safe little lives sometimes and remind them that there’s horrors in the world. So you shouldn’t listen to me, is what I’m saying [laughs]. But I didn’t want to make a gory film. I think that is what can be disturbing for kids. I think intensity is one thing and gore is another. I don’t find it to be a gory film. It’s kind of scary fun. But it’s definitely an intense ride.
Going back to inner kid we were talking about earlier, were there moments during this process where you were talking with Steven or collaborating with Steven and that kid was saying, “Wow. I am actually working on a movie with Steven Spielberg”?
Yes [laughs] is the short answer. I think that I always had to keep both a level of focus and professionalism, because I was the director of this movie and I couldn’t be giggling too much. But I was always conscious of it. It was always present whether he was there or not that not only was I -- I never felt like I was standing in his shadow. I felt like, honestly, and this is a reference to the first movie, I was standing on his shoulders. This is someone who has accomplished extraordinary things that cannot be matched and never will be as far as what someone has contributed to film. For me to be able to stand and reach ideally high with this film was a great gift. And I was very conscious of it the whole time.
You did a recent interview overseas where you said that you didn’t see yourself doing a Jurassic World 2 or a Jurassic Park 5 or whatever it would be called. Is that the case? Was that quote translated accurately? [Note: It was from an Italian site.]
It is accurate. It’s something that Steven and I had talked about quite a while ago and have agreed on for some time. He knew coming in, and something I made very clear, that I felt that it was important that I make original films, make different kinds of films, and be able to define who I am as a filmmaker. That was one reason, is that I didn’t solely just want to make one little movie and then just make Jurassic Park movies for a decade. And I don’t mean to say that in any way that that would not be a privilege, because it would be.
But I also believe very sincerely as one of the people responsible for making sure that this franchise stays vital and new that this is a franchise that I think would really benefit from the approach they’ve taken with Mission: Impossible and now with Star Wars, where they are bringing in new directors with new ideas and new visions each time out. These movies are in danger of diminishing creative returns, just because they are so difficult to franchise. It’s just not an easy movie to make a sequel to, as we saw with earlier versions. That’s just a very sincere opinion of mine that I think the best thing for the franchise is for us to have it constantly change and to evolve.
It's interesting that you mention Star Wars, because your name has come up a few times as a candidate to direct one of the spinoff films. Would that be something you would have to consider, or are you leery of jumping from one franchise to another?
I don’t know. I know that I definitely want to make something original next. I’ve never heard my name associated with that movie, and it shouldn’t be, because it’s not me. But I’m sure whoever they find will be as talented as all the other filmmakers they’ve found. I think it’s pretty exciting what’s going on over there right now.
Is genre something that you feel naturally drawn to? Safety Not Guaranteed touches on the sci-fi genre, and this certainly does. Is that a field you feel comfortable in and would want to return to?
Well, it is, but in the same way that these films have just touched it. I like very human stories that venture into sci-fi or the supernatural or areas that I think occupy a lot of space in our collective memory for the films that we loved as children. But not only that, a film that I’m looking to next, and hopefully will make, is none of those things. It is a family tragic comedy; I don’t know how else to put it. But it has also elements of suspense and comedy -- all of the things that may or may not work together. But that’s what I look forward to experimenting in.
That’s Book of Henry, right?
And then another project you're working on, Intelligent Life, sort of goes back to sci-fi, correct?
Yeah. Intelligent Life is kind of a companion piece to Safety Not Guaranteed. Internally, it’s a sci-fi romantic thriller. It’s something I really like. Derek and I are working on it right now. But it’s very much an Amblin movie. And what defines an Amblin movie is something I’m very interested in continuing to explore.
Jurassic World is out in theaters Friday (June 12).