The past and future of the Jurassic Park franchise exist alongside each other on the Louisiana soundstages that house the set of the upcoming film Jurassic World. In fact, they’re literally linked by an ordinary hallway: Just down the corridor from the soundstage that’s home to the high-tech control room for Jurassic World’s titular amusement park — where big-spending tourists come to gawk at genetically reborn dinosaurs — there’s another set that re-creates a key location from Steven Spielberg’s 1993 franchise-launching blockbuster, the original Visitor’s Center where Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his makeshift family faced down a gang of wily velociraptors before being saved by the arrival of a snarling T. rex. The center may be a weed-covered ruin now, with dinosaur bones strewn about and the “When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” banner still lying where it fell two decades ago. But seeing this particular Jurassic Park locale preserved in such loving detail can’t help but send a shiver of excitement through any visitors, just as its appearance in the new film will no doubt thrill audiences when Jurassic World opens its doors to the general public on June 12.
So it’s only appropriate that this is the place where Jurassic World’s director, Colin Trevorrow, is spending his lunch break one day in July of last year with a group of visiting reporters, including one from Yahoo Movies. And even though he’s been on this stage many times before — having directed a set piece that will unfold in this location about halfway through the film — like those of us sightseers, he seems galvanized to be standing in a place that’s hallowed ground to the millions of moviegoers who visited Jurassic Park over and over again back in the summer of 1993. Trevorrow would have been one of them; born in San Francisco in 1976, the filmmaker was a teenager when Park hit theaters. Now, two decades later, he’s shepherding the franchise’s rebirth after two disappointing sequels, 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park and 2001’s Jurassic Park III.
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It’s a task he didn’t take lightly when he was initially offered the job by Spielberg himself. Ultimately, it was his passion for Jurassic Park that made him want to be the one to continue its legacy. “I felt like I had a responsibility to do it,” he explains. “Mostly for Steven, in thanks for all he’s done for all of us and how much his movies meant to me in my childhood. But also, if one is asked to do this, it’s almost insulting to everyone else to say no. We’d all love this privilege — to be able to re-create a film that meant so much to us.”
Of course, Jurassic World isn’t a mere re-creation of Jurassic Park; it’s a direct sequel to the original, set some 20 years after the events of Spielberg’s film. (According to Trevorrow, the previous sequels aren’t being written out of continuity so much as placed to the side, as they both unfolded on a different island.) In that time, a functioning theme park has been constructed on Isla Nubar, overseen by operations manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) and employing hundreds of staffers, including velociraptor trainer Owen Grady (Chris Pratt).
And, of course, there are dinosaurs. Lots and lots of dinosaurs, all grown in labs via the same process that John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) developed — and Mr. DNA so helpfully explained — in the first movie. Industrial Light & Magic once again provides the digital magic that brings these creatures to life, using both traditional CGI imagery and, in a franchise first, motion capture for specific dinosaurs. And, just like their ancestors, these dinos turn on the human interlopers at a certain point, and the theme park becomes a feeding ground.
But on the sweltering day that we’re visiting the set — Day 67 of a 78-day shoot — the park is still unmolested by rampaging dinosaurs, all that chaos having been filmed earlier in the production. This Jurassic World is nothing short of a Disney World for dinosaur fans, a sprawling, teeming fantasyland (not to be confused with Fantasyland) encompassing enormous swaths of territory and overflowing with attractions and amenities. Over the next few hours, we’re shown only some of the many sights the park has to offer, including the arena where Grady studies his raptors; a new visitors’ center with a statue of Hammond welcoming parkgoers; the incubation room where the dinosaur eggs are “fertilized” and hatched; and a Sea World-like attraction where an aquatic mosasaurus performs for crowds of excited onlookers, as glimpsed in the film’s trailer. Even though some of these sets are in the process of being packed up as the shoot winds down, the scale of Jurassic World makes Hammond’s plans for Jurassic Park look puny by comparison.
And yet, each new Jurassic World set contains both obvious and subtle references to Spielberg’s film. In the background of a laboratory, for example, there’s a set of pipes that were part of a Jurassic Park set and taken out of storage for the new film. And then there’s the reappearance of a few familiar faces: one that’s already been revealed — as the trailers have indicated, B.D. Wong is reprising his role as geneticist Dr. Henry Wu — and another that’ll have to remain a secret (for now). Park’s shadow is felt even in World’s control room; one of the scenes being filmed today features a sarcastic ops guy (played by New Girl’s Jake Johnson who also appeared in Safety Not Guaranteed) sporting a vintage “Jurassic Park” T-shirt that he boasts of having acquired on eBay for an exorbitant sum. His choice of outfit is a point of contention with his boss, Claire, who doesn’t like being reminded of the bad old days on Isla Nubar, before Jurassic World stabilized things.
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This scene and all the other Jurassic Park references are part of Trevorrow’s grand design to provide audiences with plenty of echoes of a film they remember and love while not simply repeating what came before. “It’s the difference between going back to your old elementary school and walking the halls versus going back and seeing your teacher, who is now 20 years older. I think the more sentimental feeling is when you’re alone walking the halls and having memories. That was what I wanted to bring back.”
Trevorrow may be the head of this new Jurassic class, but as his leading lady points out, he’s surrounded himself with people for whom the original film was a similarly seminal moviegoing experience. “For most of us in the cast, we’re all in our 30s, so this is the group on whom Jurassic Park really made an impact,” Howard tells us between takes while shooting her control-room scene with Johnson. “And so it does feel like we’re just so giddy, you know? We all feel a sense of responsibility, but also out-of-our-minds giddy about the opportunity to be in this world. I mean, we’re constantly [walking around] humming the theme song. We’re just so stoked! It’ll be super-weird when we see the movie and we’re like, ‘Oh, it’s actually a Jurassic movie!’ It’s like we’ve been playing in our backyards this whole time.”
Perhaps to give these “kids” the freedom to play, Spielberg himself has avoided visiting the Jurassic World set, although Trevorrow says that the director was closely involving in honing the script and suggesting beats for specific sequences. But an authority figure is present in the form of producer Frank Marshall, Spielberg’s regular collaborator since Raiders of the Lost Ark and a director in his own right. (His filmmaking credits include Arachnophobia and Eight Below.)
Marshall and his wife, producer Kathleen Kennedy — who’s currently overseeing the relaunch of the Star Wars franchise — were the first to consider putting Trevorrow in the Jurassic World director’s chair after viewing Safety Not Guaranteed, which debuted to rave reviews at Sundance in 2012. A time-travel story that’s as small and intimate as Jurassic World is giant and action packed, Safety captured the attention of both Marshall and Spielberg because of the way it mixed a variety of tones and genres — something that also defines the Jurassic series. As Trevorrow puts it, “Jurassic Park doesn’t have a genre. It’s a sci-fi family adventure thriller.” Marshall became even more convinced that Trevorrow was their guy after meeting with him and hearing his conceit to relaunch the franchise by incorporating the park’s history rather than starting over from scratch. “It was Colin’s pitch that we needed to go back to what we did in the first movie and enter the [Jurassic Park] park in wonderment and joy and happiness, delivering what [Hammond’s] original dream was. And then it can go wrong.”
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Back on set, Trevorrow is wrapping up lunch and preparing to walk back down that hallway connecting Jurassic’s past to its future. When the shoot concludes in 11 days’ time, he’ll be making the move to Los Angeles, where he’ll spend the next year assembling Jurassic World — editing the film, integrating the effects, and timing them with the score. (Oscar-winning composer Michael Giacchino is taking over that particular task from John Williams.)
“We’ve been saying that I’ve now shot four Safety Not Guaranteeds since I’ve been here,” he says with a laugh. “The last 10 percent [of Jurassic World] will be the hardest, and to me the last 10 percent is actually the last 90 in a lot of ways. I’ll be really getting it to work on all of the levels, and that part I look forward to the most.” And like any kid, he’s hoping that all his hard work will earn him the admiration of Jurassic’s father. “I know this franchise means a lot to Steven; it’s very personal to him. He really wanted to know, what did we see [in the first movie]? What do we want to see [in a new one]? And I think the reason it took so long [to continue the series] is no one really knew the answer of how to do this.”