Jurassic World: Dominion's Colin Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael on those T-Rex-sized expectations

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Director Colin Trevorrow on the set of Jurassic World: Dominion.
Director Colin Trevorrow on the set of Jurassic World: Dominion.

Leveling up to a blockbuster franchise after making a promising independent film has become a common trajectory in an industry that’s increasingly focused on established properties, expansive mythologies, and the biggest possible scale of filmmaking. Even so, Colin Trevorrow represents one of biggest such jumps: after winning hearts with his charming 2012 film Safety Not Guaranteed, Trevorrow was recruited by Steven Spielberg—at the recommendation of Incredibles director Brad Bird, no less—to direct Jurassic World, a revival of the box office-busting Jurassic Park franchise. Since then he’s co-written two sequels, come and gone from Star Wars: The Rise Of Skywalker, and pursued a critically savaged original project (The Book Of Henry). Jurassic World: Dominion, which Trevorrow co-wrote with screenwriter Emily Carmichael (Pacific Rim: Uprising), marks the conclusion to both his own trilogy and the entire series.

Ahead of the release of Dominion, Trevorrow and Carmichael sat down with The A.V. Club for a meaty discussion about this final film and its relationship to the Jurassic Park franchise. The pair revealed their thoughts about the essential elements required by every Jurassic film, the changes implemented for each installment in reaction to previous films, and reflected on the many masters they serve as storytellers and shepherds for one of Hollywood’s biggest mythologies.

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The A.V. Club: Looking back, how different were the stories in this trilogy from the stories you originally wanted to tell?

Colin Trevorrow: Well, on the first film, we honestly just didn’t have the arrogance to assume they would let us make two other movies. We were trying to succeed desperately. And then when we did, we had the opportunity to talk about two other films, and we really had an end point. We knew a world that we wanted to land in, and some key places along the way. But it’s been such an evolution from even Derek [Connolly] and I’s first conversation about it, to this movie with Emily, and then with all of our actors and everybody during a pandemic. There were just so many things that happened to land where we’re at that I kind of attribute it to everybody. There’s a real sense of shared ownership on this movie that I think is rare.

Emily Carmichael: What I think is really interesting about what happened between the first three Jurassic movies and the second three Jurassic movies is that in that space of time, culturally, we figured out how to make these amazing trilogies. So the Jurassic World movies hang together. They start in one place. There’s this transitional movie where the world was changing in Fallen Kingdom. And now it’s like, welcome to the new world.

Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and screenwriter Emily Carmichael in a cameo (left of Goldblum) in Jurassic World: Dominion.
Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and screenwriter Emily Carmichael in a cameo (left of Goldblum) in Jurassic World: Dominion.

AVC: Audiences have wanted to see dinosaurs roaming the planet since The Lost World. How did you deliver on that expectation? And was it harder than you expected?

EC: Well, definitely it began with, where do we want to see dinosaurs that we’ve never seen dinosaurs before? And I feel like the obvious thing that came up with was snow and cities. So those set pieces I feel like arose early, particularly from the desire to be like, oh, this is what I’ve been longing to see that I haven’t seen yet.

CT: Also, we set rules for ourselves in knowing that we’re not Godzilla. We’re not Pacific Rim. And those movies are great, but what we do is try to say that no dinosaur is going to do anything that an animal wouldn’t do. We’re connecting them to the animals that we live with in the natural world. And so I think that relationship, which started with “Battle of Big Rock,” which we wrote, that’s where we really establish the tone of how we were going to do it. And we tried not to deviate too far, even though the big movies can get a little more bombastic, I guess.

AVC: What were your goals in bringing back the original stars of Jurassic Park? And what requests did they make to guarantee that they had enough to do?

EC: Well, we solicited that from them. I mean, Colin, I think, has an amazing relationship with all of the actors. And there was a point where Colin was like, “Laura [Dern] has been talking to me about Dr. Sattler, we need get on the phone with her.” And she was just like, “Look, here’s where I think she is in her life.” So for a lot of the characters, the actors really came in with an idea of where they thought the characters were and what they’ve been up to since we last saw them. And I think we just really grabbed that and rolled with it because we trust them to know those characters that they’ve been living with for decades.

CT: Yeah, we both agree that actors are the authority on their characters. We’re thinking about a lot of things all day, but an actor is just thinking about that one character. And so to talk to them, to listen to them, just to recognize that they’re going to lead us on the path as far as where has Ellie Sattler been during this time? How has her life changed personally, professionally? Sam Neill’s character actually hasn’t changed. He’s a little bit stuck. He’s back where he always was. And these were all instincts that, yes, we all agreed on them, but they did originate from the actors.

AVC: At Cinemacon this year, Jeff Goldblum pointed out that the characters in this world keep ignoring their better judgment to create chaos. How do you come up with good reasons for characters to make bad decisions?

EC: Well, our characters are smart. Our characters are real people, they’re not superheroes. But they are tough and smart and quick thinking. So our heroes, I think, make pretty good calls when they are staring dinosaurs in the face. The people who keep turning world upside down are the villains. And they’re motivated by profit. They’re motivated by something very real, something that is not easy to wipe away. It’s easy for us to say “Don’t make another frickin’ dinosaur park, stop experimenting on dinosaurs.” But we all sort of felt that if we had an opportunity like that as a society, people would be exploiting it.

CT: They would. I like to also consider ‘decisions under duress.’ I think that when you’re in a situation that is an unknown, such as dinosaurs trying to kill you, you’ll make the best decisions you possibly can. But I think there’s a human factor. Some people are amazing at that, quick thinking and avoiding danger, and others will just follow instincts that may lead them down a path of more trouble.

AVC: Colin, you’ve obviously been with this since Jurassic World. How much, if at all, has each installment responded to the public reaction of the previous one?

CT: I have an interesting relationship with it, because I think that you could put that in the context of what a certain group of Americans think is right versus a global franchise with children and families all over the world who need different things out of these movies. And I think when it comes to the decisions of what’s right and wrong in a movie, we tend to approach that from a somewhat similar perspective here in our world where we make those decisions. But I have to think of a kid in China, a kid in Nigeria, a grandmother in Italy. They’re all going to this movie. And so I think we kind of have to find a balance of intentions.

AVC: What to you are the essential components of a Jurassic Park movie?

CT: I’ll say really quickly that I think “Battle at Big Rock” was a really good encapsulation of what I believe Jurassic Park is at its absolute core. And that’s one of the reasons why we did it. Just the steps that it takes, a feeling of absolute safety, of wonder, of curiosity turning into fear, turning into trauma, and then ending with respect for the natural world.

EC: That is perfect. Did you say awe, to fear, to trauma, to respect?

CT: Pretty much.

EC: I think that’s perfect. I think that tone of wonder for the animals and respect for the animals, and understanding that they are beautiful, dignified beings that deserve to exist in their own way. But that doesn’t mean that they’re safe.

Director Colin Trevorrow on the set of Jurassic World: Dominion.
Director Colin Trevorrow on the set of Jurassic World: Dominion.

AVC: There’s this idea that dinosaurs are very dangerous, and yet I don’t think audiences just want to see them killed. How difficult is it to create scenarios where you have characters trying to escape dinosaurs, to recognize their danger, and yet not just kill off these creatures?

EC: Well, Colin talks a lot about “the situation.” So we’re doing this movie and the goal of this movie is to experience a world full of dinosaurs and experience a really big canvas, and then drill down and get us into “the situation.” And the situation is a place where it’s you and some dinosaurs and there’s no air support. There’s no anti-artillery cannons. And in that situation, dinosaurs are very dangerous. So we need to bring them back to that place, which feels like pure Jurassic, people being stalked around a facility, stalked through the woods, stalked into small rooms. That’s central to Jurassic. So having that space to play and then pulling it back into this laser point where our characters are trapped.

CT: I think it’s a great question. I think that it also dials into another one of the rules that we focused on, which is to me, everything you just said about dinosaurs applies to lions and bears and tigers. They’re beautiful, they’re wondrous. They can be loving and soft and kind, and they will also murder you where you stand. And I think if you just accept that animals exist on this planet who have all of those attributes right now, and try to put our humans in a situation that we would put any of them in. I mean, lions don’t just walk into the city and eat somebody out of a Starbucks. And that’s the reason why we didn’t do it. We wanted it to feel like, what if dinosaurs actually were in our world?

EC: Like, on a tactical level, what we’re doing with the Malta set piece is we’re putting humans up against dinosaurs, and we’re taking away from humans the things that would help them, because we established the city as one that was lawless. And we also really juiced the numbers on the dinosaurs. So we’ve got some people and there’s like 10,000 dinosaurs in that city.

CT: 10,000 dinosaurs? That’s not canon.

EC: But it’s like, we’ve got to handicap the fight the right way, so that the dinosaurs have a chance of creating real mayhem.

AVC: There seems to be a thread of Spielberg homages in the film. For instance, Alan Grant reaching for his hat definitely felt like an Indiana Jones moment. There are no greater shoulders to stand on than Spielberg’s. How do you reference him in a way that serves the story and also exercises your own creativity?

CT: Well, it’s not like this isn’t an Amblin movie or it isn’t within the Jurassic Park franchise. And I think if it wasn’t, there would be be less call for any of that. I actually pushed against it always. I was so anti-nostalgia in this movie, and so anti-homage because I knew it was going to happen naturally and there’s nothing we could do to control it, because we are children of that era. It’s just within us. And so the ones that came to the fore, I think, had to earn their way in a way that I was pretty judicious when it came to that stuff.

EC: I have very fond memories of the climactic moment where we’re in the underground climate system and we’ve got Owen and we’ve got Grant and we’ve got Maisie facing off against the velociraptor. And we see that moment where it’s the triangle of dinosaur tamers, which is a beautiful way to bring in the characters from the old and new franchises, and also build off of a moment, which is your creation from Jurassic World. The idea that a brave, thoughtful, well-trained human could face off against a dinosaur and [hold them at bay with their hand] and something would happen other than that human’s hand being immediately removed from their body, that’s from Jurassic World.

CT: Well, I like a callback more than an homage. And in that case, that’s three humans triangulating a raptor. And I think the fans will recognize that. And yet I think also, if a kid born today is going to watch all six of these movies in a row, which will inevitably happen, hopefully that will really feel like more of a design, even if we’ve done it a bit retroactively here. That’s the goal.

AVC: How much has this trilogy been a trial by fire for you with big-budget filmmaking? And does this process prepare you better than if you’d slowly leveled up through Hollywood?

CT: Well, as you know, I’m a big proponent of slowly leveling up, and I think there’s honestly some movies we miss out on with filmmakers when that doesn’t happen. But this is what happened with me. It’s what’s happened with a lot of directors since. And so I think that in the context of that, what I found to be the most helpful is to recognize that most of the people around me, pretty much all of them, have done this far more often than I have, and were professionals and deeply knowledgeable about what they do. So I ask a lot of questions and I listen and I form that ability to process what I was hearing and then form that skill immediately after hearing somebody else tell me what the hell I was doing. And I think I still do to this day. I don’t know when that stopped. I listen to everybody because we’ve got a lot of amazing people in this business.

AVC: Between the first film and this one, you worked on Star Wars and also did an original project. What kind of films do you want to make going forward?

CT: Well, I think both of us feel like making original stories is a responsibility of filmmakers now, if you can possibly earn that opportunity. It’s very difficult to get a studio to finance something original, but it’s possible. And so that’s definitely my goal. You won’t see me hopping this year to some other franchise. I spent nine years in expectations-based moviemaking, and it’s been incredibly rewarding. And I’ve met extraordinary people and I’m really proud of all the work that we’ve done. And yet now my hope is to hopefully mentor more filmmakers and help other people have the opportunities that I was given and be the same kind of guide for them, putting cones around the potholes that I had.