A Lot of Pieces: Colin Trevorrow on the Influences of ‘Jurassic World’
Colin Trevorrow directed a heck of a lot of movie with Jurassic World, a summer blockbuster so jam-packed full of ideas, characters and action sequences that audiences are probably going to have a little trouble taking it all in. Fortunately, the filmmaker is more than willing to explain where he’s coming from, why the film turned out exactly the way it did and even admit to some of the unexpected influences on the film’s characters and storyline.
We spoke to Colin Trevorrow on the phone to learn more about how Jurassic World came to be such an enormous motion picture, and how he feels about the controversy over the film’s first released scene, which generated criticism for its depiction of Bryce Dallas Howard’s character.
Spoilers lie ahead about the nature of Jurassic World’s climactic set piece, and the death of a supporting character.
CraveOnline: So you had an opportunity to make a Jurassic Park movie, and after watching it, it seems like you used that opportunity to make every Jurassic Park movie possible.
Colin Trevorrow: I definitely gave it all of the dinosaur I have. It is everything I ever wanted to see in a Jurassic Park movie. That’s for sure.
It’s so stuffed with ideas and incident, and I’m curious, was that a mission statement or did it come about in a different way?
I think it was a natural product of genuinely wanting to make something great that could stand alongside one of the most thrilling movies ever made. That is a tall order, and in order to do it…
You know, I think you could also be describing Jurassic Park. It’s packed full of ideas and incidents. So in the process of designing it we worked for a long time. We had to rush it at first and then Steven Spielberg, my boss, had the foresight and the wisdom to push the movie and not make us have to barrel towards a release date as so many films often have to do now. And I think the result of that is it allows the movie to address things and have through lines that sometimes get lost or compromised when you’re rushing.
There’s so many through lines going on at the same time. You’ve got genetic manipulation, you’ve got corporatization… honestly, if there was another film that was running through my head as I was watching that world, it was Gremlins 2: The New Batch.
Whoa! I haven’t heard that one yet. I’ll take it. That’s a good movie! [Laughs.]
What was in your head? You had so many different plots and action sequences, what were your influences for this? I see the DNA of various different genres and films.
You know, I don’t know how many of them were conscious. I think that due to the era that I grew up in there are a set of influences that are just inherent in the way that I think. So I’m guessing people will, much like [you] seeing Gremlins 2: The New Batch, I’m sure people will see shades of all kinds of movies that we grew up loving. If I was going to identify one I might say Romancing the Stone? You know?
But there is a lot going on in this movie and I focused on making every choice be natural and organic to the story we were telling and what was going on with the characters, because I knew that all the influences were going to make their way to the surface very naturally. If anything I was pushing back against all of them and making sure I didn’t do something that was derivative or some kind of fan film.
It’s interesting you say Romancing the Stone. I can see what you’re getting at in the romance between Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard’s characters.
Yeah. Which is just an element. Obviously there’s a lot of pieces here. You know, with the boys, a little bit of Stand By Me?
Yeah, I can see that…
That’s another one. But you know, I tried to have all of these references and these influences be handled lightly and to be echoes, and certainly not be layered on or ladled on too heavily.
As I’m sure you’re aware, when the first scene premiered on line, some people thought their relationship seemed very “retro.” Did that sort of reaction surprise you?
It did. It did just in that I had only seen that scene in the context of the whole movie, and I think all of us, because we knew the movie, didn’t necessarily take a moment to sit and look at subjectively as a piece unto itself. And so the opinion that, out of context, that scene may have been interpreted that way or perceived that way, I wasn’t surprised by. And yet it gave me a hunger for people to see the whole film because… and now that you’ve seen it, you see what the design is.
I do see the design. Although I must say is that I think some people whose ideas are very set are going to say, here is a woman who is very work-focused and learns to be less so. Are you concerned at all, given the incredibly social conscious critical environment in which we currently find ourselves, that that’s still going to be an issue?
It may be. I mean, whatever “being an issue” means, we’ll find out. It is a piece of entertainment. I saw her, certainly the intention was that she is someone who is very corporatized and someone who has lost a bit of her humanity because of the way she sees these living creatures, these animals, as assets and a source for profit, and as she goes through the film she becomes one with not just her humanity but the animal within her. That was what was intended.
Do you find it ironic that you’re making a film either satirizes or criticizes that corporate mindset that is nevertheless going to be merchandized out the ying-yang?
Yes. [Laughs.] But I revel in that irony.
The product placement within the film – the “Verizon Wireless Presents The Indominus Rex” joke – makes me wonder… is Verizon Wireless going to get sued for all these deaths on Jurassic World?
Are you saying are they responsible…?
I think it could be argued that Verizon Wireless is responsible for all of these deaths. I should cancel my subscription to Verizon.
No, no, no. Keep your subscription. I think that that was something that we did in order to create a believable world and a believable theme park, and in this day and age, just based on the theme parks we went to and based on the reality we all live in, the corporate culture has permeated every aspect of our lives, and it is very, very present wherever you take your family. And it’s part of what the movie is about.
That’s why I hope that people see that correlation, especially between the character of Claire and what we’re doing with the movie on a whole. The Indominus Rex to me certainly represents the dehumanizing nature of that search for profit, that constant thirst for profit that exists in order to please shareholders but is also kind of a steamroller. Or if you want to be dinosaur-specific, a monster that can leave a lot of bodies in its wake.
That element of corporate criticism in a sci-fi film also reminded me a little bit of Aliens, except in this film, it’s like Chris Pratt is Ripley and Bryce Dallas Howard is Paul Reiser and they manage to make it work.
[Laughs.] I swear I hadn’t made that reference either.
That’s the way my brain works.
Certainly good sci-fi holds up a mirror to whatever is going on with us as humans at the moment, and that was certainly what we were hoping to do here as well. It’s hard to call yourself a sci-fi film if you don’t at least try to make a little bit about ourselves.
It seems like practically every action sequence and set piece in this movie is trying to one-up the one that preceded it. Is there a particular one that you were particularly enthusiastic about, or is your personal favorite?
I love how the movie builds. The movie is designed differently than Jurassic Park, which had its crescendo in the middle. That’s something that Steven [Spielberg]’s done in several films. He does it in Minority Report as well, and it’s very effective.
In this film, I structured this movie’s action sequences and their build based a little bit more on “A Day in the Life,” the Beatles song. [Laughs.] This thing builds up to an absolute cacophonous noise, but hopefully not in a way that feels like an assault on the senses.
I feel like the last 20 minutes of this movie are something that I’m very proud of and ideally what has happened, if you are an audience member, by that point is the movie has allowed you to shed that sense of detachment that so many of us have while watching a movie and the way that we deconstruct it or think about what it means or why it’s doing what it’s doing, and you get to just go on a ride with a group of people.
I feel like your film continues in interesting ways after the middle, but in some ways it does hit a crescendo because in the middle of the film we get that fantastic pteranodon strike on thousands of park patrons. I feel like that’s the moment that…
That’s not quite the middle. The middle is actually the gyrosphere sequence with the boys. Literally.
It feels like it from a narrative perspective, though.
But I admired the chaos.
That’s the end of the second act of the movie, as we head into night, into the darkness. That is certainly a peak and it gets pretty crazy, but it is a little bit… it’s not as character driven a sequence as the ending is. Certainly from the animals’ perspective. Those birds are a mass of nameless, faceless creatures whereas at the end we’re dealing with characters we know.
I’m talking about the animals as well as the people. That for me was the biggest goal, to build towards something where we were as invested in the outcome as we would be if they were humans fighting. That ending is based on Rocky.
I can definitely see that element. I want to talk about the ending in a second, but while we’re on the birds, they really give Katie McGrath hell.
Oh they do, don’t they?
Her last scene is almost brutal how crazy it is. Can you tell me about that exact scene, and why that character gets that particular ending?
Well, you know, we talked about it a lot, and we thought that one thing we could do to subvert the audience’s expectations in a movie like this is kill someone who doesn’t deserve to die, who hasn’t necessarily earned it, and to send a message that no one is safe. There’s two deaths right around that part of the movie that send that message very clearly.
So much of this movie was trying to not necessarily stay one step ahead of the audience, but recognizing… you know, I consider the audience for this movie and any movie to be highly intelligent and to be multiple steps ahead of any story development at all times. That’s an assumption that I make. So if that’s what’s happening, we try to use the fact that they are intelligent and always ahead of us to our advantage and subvert those expectations at every turn. That was one of them.
One of the other ways you did it – and tell me how intentional this was – is in the climax between the velociraptors and the Indominus Rex and Owen. It’s like you cut all their stares together like it’s a dialogue sequence. I kept expecting to see subtitles.
Like, “Hey, Owen! Whatcha doing! We’re following the Indominus Rex now!” And he’s like, “Naw, man, I’m still the Alpha.” “Oh shit, you are?!”
Oh yeah, that’s the scene! But I felt we could do that with looks. Suddenly we become a foreign film with dinosaurs. It’s all with glances. Serious glances. [Laughs.]
I know you said that you’re not going to come back for another Jurassic World, which I feel like has got to be partly because you did everything you possibly could.
Honestly that’s a big part of it. But what I do want to make sure is clear is, it’s not for lack of any love for this franchise or for the experience I just had. Personally, I just had the absolute most positive experience making a movie I could imagine. It’s very special to me and very personal, this movie.
Then I also believe very sincerely that this is a franchise that, like Mission: Impossible, will benefit from a different voice every time out, and it will help it from not having diminishing returns creatively, keep it fresh and interesting. I can think of… I won’t name them, but I can think of several men and women who would make pretty kick-ass Jurassic Park movies that would be totally different than mine, and I think you would want to see those too.
My question for you then is, you started off with smaller independent film and then you made one of the biggest movies. Is there any going back now? Are you looking at other giant projects like Jurassic World, or do you plan for your next film to be a break, and something smaller?
You know, I don’t want to think of it as going back. I want to think of it as going forward because I think I can make a movie that costs less and is smaller in scope, but that still takes a certain number of creative risks that, to me, constitutes forward movement as a filmmaker.
So I believe very strongly that people who love big blockbuster movies love them because they love movies. I think if I build an audience that’s interested in the kind of stories I’m telling, I hope that they’ll come with me if I try to make some other kinds of movies that may not necessarily have dinosaurs in them, but I think could be compelling in their own way.
So wait a minute… “They may not necessarily have dinosaurs in the them?” There may be some non-Jurassic Park related dinosaur movie you could do in the future?
No, I think that was misinterpreted. [Laughs.] No, the next movie I’m going to do is called Book of Henry. It’s just a great script that I love that I’ve wanted to make for several years, and I was going to make before I did this. And then after that I’m going to do a movie called Intelligent Life, that I’m doing with Steven [Spielberg] and Frank [Marshall].
Movies are, even in the position that I’m in, which is a good one, movies are difficult to put together, and may go, but I think we’re going to be able to do these and do them somewhat back-to-back. It’s something that Steven has done many times in his career, and something that he encouraged me to try and do, which is to do two movies somewhat close together. He feels it helps him be subjective and makes each one better.
So if I emulate anything about him it’s going to be attempting to do something like that, and if I fail, I will certainly do it in a very public way and we can all observe it together. [Laughs.]