What's Wrong with Grant's Intro from Jurassic World: Dominion?

Turns out Jurassic World: Dominion didn't make me that angry. Maybe because all the online reviewers had set the bar too low for me. Or maybe because the making is extremely good, despite the logical issues. It may be more of a theme park ride than cinema, but it's a good ride. I watched it on an OTT platform two days ago. I wish I had watched it in a theatre, preferably in IMAX. I've written why it didn't happen in the last blog post.

There are lengthy criticisms available for this movie online, some of which are really good. Almost all of the logical issues pointed out by them are real. But you notice such issues only if you think. There are other issues like cartoony actions, which you'll notice easily. However, for me, what felt really off was this once scene where they (re-)introduce Dr. Alan Grant. That's the only thing I want to write about.

Before starting, let me make it clear that I appreciate the hard work of hundreds or thousands people that went into making some aspects of this movie great (use of animatronics, good CGI, etc.).

The write-up will end with a comparison to Grant's intro from the original Jurassic Park. But don't worry, it's not another rant on the Jurassic Park sequels or a call to follow the steps of the first movie. Just some thoughts on why the scene from the first movie feels so great. I don't want to see it getting replicated at all.

The Awkward Scene

This is how it goes:

Twenty minutes into the film, we follow Dr. Alan Grant into a digging site, where half a dozen people are working and two young ladies are spending time on their phone. Then in a close-up shot, Grant turns with a smile and his face is revealed for the first time. So far so good.

Left: Grant comes to the digging site, right: close up of Grant's face
Dr. Alan Grant's entry and reveal

Next the visuals cut to a closup and then an overhead shot of people uncovering fossil remains, Grant nowhere to be seen. There comes this voiceover by Grant, with a deep and dramatic tone: "Why do we dig? Because Paleontology is science... Science is about the truth... And there is truth in these rocks..."

But halfway through the dialogue, when it feels like the visuals are going to cut to Grant talking at a conference or something, it cuts back to the same location, Grant standing and pointing to the rocks. And barely before he finishes, barely before we notice nobody is paying attention, somebody comes and informs Grant there is a visitor.

Left: overhead shot of people digging with Grant's speech in the background, right: Grant continues his speech; it's the same location
Grant's dramatic speech starts and ends

Even with all the logical issues, nothing felt this awkward in the whole movie. In fact, it just reminded how good the making was for other parts, some of which were worse in terms of common sense. Plotholes show up only when you think. But flaws in the making strike immediately. All it takes is just one shot with the wrong eyeline.

Why Awkward

So, what's really wrong with this scene? How could it have been saved?

There are multiple things that contribute to the awkwardness of the scene:

  1. The whole scene is too short to contain any speech-like dialogue
  2. Why is nobody paying attention, and why was Grant not bothered?
  3. Why did he start the speech in the first place?

Let's save the first point for the end, and get to the attention part. Can there be some justification? Maybe it was a scene about millenials not paying attention to what's happening around. I don't think so, because there were half a dozen people not on their phones, and none of them paid attention. Maybe he was talking to himself. Then why get so dramatic? Still, why is nobody confused? Or was he rehearsing for a tour presentation? No mention of that (I remember Dr. Ellie Sattler mentioning tourists later; that's why a thought like this).

Maybe an explanation was there and it was left out in the final cut. Assuming that's the case, will adding back those elements fix the scene?

Maybe that'll 'fix' it. But what about droping the speech altogether? The scene would now be Grant entering the dig site, just to get called by his assistant from above. An easier and better fix, especially if the movie is in a hurry. But art is not about fixing, right? This is where we get back to the original Jurassic Park.

How Jurassic Park Did It

There is a dig site scene in the beginning of Jurassic Park which is where we first meet Dr. Alan Grant. That part of the movie has a speech (or a lecture) too. It feels so great.

Let's leave all the discussion on things like Spielberg's mastery over direction aside and consider just two things: Why is the scene there? Why it works?

The lecture part comes after the basic intro for Grant and Sattler (which is also good). The scene serves some real purpose. It introduces us to Velociraptor, which would turn out to be one of the main villains later in the movie. Velociraptor discussions or attacks in those later scenes wouldn't have been this effective without the earlier explanation by Grant.

The scene also gives us some taste of Paleontology and computers, appealing to nerds. It shares some useful info like dinosaurs are more related to birds than lizards. Overall, it sets an initial point for our journey from fossil dinosaurs to living dinosaurs (reaching the destination without having started from somewhere would've been boring).

Left: Grant and his team turns hearing the kid's comment, right: Grant talks to the kid
"More like a six-foot turkey" scene from Jurassic Park

But why the scene works? It's the execution, Nothing goes uncalled for. Grant started talking about Velociraptors because the Sonar image had just become available on the monitor. He started talking about the hunting patterns of Velociraptors in a frightening way because a kid had just called them six foot turkeys (also because he hated kids).

Imagine how bad the scene would've been if it was done the Dominion way, even with all the information kept intact.

After Careful Consideration...

Don't include something unless it has a momentary purpose. Don't include something dramatic unless it has both momentary and long-term purposes. If the only purpose is to trigger nostalgia and goosebumps, better left out.

Read more from Nandakumar at nandakumar.org/blog/