What happens after a filmmaker’s modestly budgeted debut feature earns awards and rave reviews, and attracts the attention of Steven Spielberg, who then hands him the keys to a blockbuster franchise? In the case of "Jurassic World" director Colin Trevorrow, he tried his best to avoid making the world's biggest fan film and instead bring a good bit of his own game to the table.
On the strength of his 2012 critical darling "Safety Not Guaranteed," a comedy made for less than $1 million, Trevorrow was tapped by Spielberg himself to take the reins of the dormant "Jurassic Park" series, which had been the subject of frequent false starts. Reteaming with writing partner Derek Connolly, Trevorrow reworked the story and screenplay, which revives the ethically questionable -- but now fully functional -- dinosaur theme park some two decades later, without a continuity reboot. It also introduces new dinosaurs, including Indomninus rex, a marauding, genetically engineered powerhouse more menacing than the previous films' fearsome T. rex and just as cunning as the vicious Velociraptors.
The result, as Trevorrow explains to Spinoff Online, was something true to the spirit of the franchise envisioned by author Michael Crichton and brought to life by Spielberg, but also full of the kinds of character quirks, sly humor and subversive sensibility that made his breakout film so appealing.
Spinoff Online: What I enjoyed about this movie is how in tune with the original it is, and yet it's its own film as well. Tell me about how you immersed yourself enough in the franchise but then were able to express yourself in some fresh new ways.
Colin Trevorrow: It was kind of a very organic thing that happened in that I was brought in to sort of resurrect a franchise that was considered dormant, and in doing so make something that was new and had its own identity. And so I was constantly pushing against whatever instincts existed in me to make a fan film, to make something that was, in any way, derivative, and that's why my relationship with "Jurassic Park" in the context of this movie is a nuanced one.
And I think you can see me, not necessarily struggling with it, but definitely thinking about it all the way through. And if I do something that's an homage, I try to then immediately subvert it to something else and at least allow the audience to know that I know, and that I recognize it and that we're thinking about it the same way.
At the same time, my ultimate goal with the movie was to take people like myself, who watch movies the way that I do and often kind of deconstruct it while you're watching and take them and pull them so deep into a story and a narrative and an adventure that they shed that way of watching movies and start watching it the way we did when we were kids, where it just washes over you and you're on the adventure, and to kind of melt that cynicism out of us. And I tried to do the same thing on my first film as well. I'll need to do something different next, but it became a very worthy mission.
Tell me about making that transition of scale of filmmaking of your debut to this one and adapting to the freedom – and the limitations – that came with along with that opportunity.
Well, the freedom of a movie of this size is that your imagination can be unlimited, and there are no boundaries placed on it. And that can be a curse as well, and it can lead – there could have been a three-hour-long version of this movie that costs $300 million. And maybe that would have been awesome but, but I found that the most important thing was restraint because I don't know if that would have been a "Jurassic Park" movie.
I'm not sure if it would have felt the way that that movie did, because that movie was about the characters and about story and about people who you grew to care about over a good hour of not seeing any dinosaurs at all. And I already knew going in that we were going to integrate dinosaurs into the movie earlier, in a different way than that movie did.
And so if anything, literally, the transition, obviously, from a small film to a big film, ultimately boils down to the independent film you are. No matter what you think of, you're told that it's unaffordable. [Laughs] And a film like this, it's anything you want, but there are great dangers in going to an all-you-can-eat buffet. And you can eat too much, and you can throw up. And so I had to watch out for that at every turn.
What are your memories of the very first time you saw "Jurassic Park"?
I was 16 and so I wasn't a kid. I wasn't a little kid, and I was already watching movies in that way that I mentioned, kind of thinking about how they were done and how they were designed. And so that was the lesson of that movie is, by the time I got to the end of it, I was an 8-year-old kid, and I wasn't thinking that it was even a movie. I was in it. I was in that story. And that experience informed this mission here, which is: Is there a way in 2015 that I can take a bunch of pretty jaded and highly intelligent movie goers and regress them backwards to being children, as a group?
I was impressed with the world-building in the film, from the springboard of the original concept.
There was a mission there to create a world that kids would insist that they be taken to by their parents because they were convinced that it was real and it extended outside of the movie. We have a website that is extremely in depth that presents it as a real place.
And I think even for adults, there's a wish fulfillment there that is pretty deep and pretty special, and I wanted it to feel real, all the way down to the corporate ownership of everything and the product placement and everything and the global nature of the park and the guy who works at the Gyrosphere – just bored and probably high, and then, "Enjoy the ride."
All of those elements of are part of our experience, our relationships with theme parks, and I think by putting them into this, in the context of dinosaurs, it allows a place to feel tangible, that you can reach out and touch them.
Tell me about the influence of Steven Spielberg, both on you and your technique as a filmmaker before you ever met him.
Well, I would say that much of the influence that he had on me in this film did happen before I walked in the door. And I think his filmmaking is extraordinary, but the thing that has always stood out to me the most and has made me look forward to his films more than any other is his ability as a storyteller and his way of drawing you into a narrative and making you care so deeply about everything that's happening on the screen.
And then, just from a pure technique standpoint, I love the way that he shoots his movies, and I can see his influences in a way I know people can see mine. I can see David Lean and I can see John Ford and I can see Alfred Hitchcock. And I know when you watch my film, you'll definitely see Steven, but I hope you see other filmmakers that I really love: I love Truffaut and I love Woody Allen; and I love Peter Weir and I love Richard Donner; I love Robert Zemeckis. And these are all the filmmakers that inform what I do, and yet, I hope that there is, in the combination of all of those things – we're all combinations of our influences – I hope it actually creates something that is new.
And to me, probably what is new about what I do is really more about the way that things happen, the way characters interact. I hope there are moments in the movie where people say, "I can't believe this is happening right now and that we're watching this in a dinosaur movie – and a guy's getting rejected by a girl." That's the kind of stuff that is what I do.
Hollywood is in a franchise-driven era now, and should this film succeeds in the way everyone hopes, you'll have an opportunity to do whatever kind of franchise you want to do – another "Jurassic" film or any other property. Is that what you think you might want to do next? Or are you leaning toward something original – perhaps even trying to launch a brand-new franchise?
I know what I'm going to do next, which is direct a script that I just love that I was going to do before this. And now, I have the opportunity to do it, I'm going to grab it. And there's a movie that Derek [Connolly] and I wrote that I'm going to do after that that is sort of a medium-sized, ideally like a new Amblin film – something that can define what an Amblin movie can be today. This is an Amblin film, as well one that I'm doing with Steven and Frank [Marshall] called "The Intelligent Life."
And but beyond that, I don't know what I'm going to do after that. I do want to, at some point, take on that challenge of trying to create something new. And at this day and age – and I don't mean just a new, original movies: they're both original movies, the ones I'm talking about – but like a big, new franchise. And in this day and age, it's a pretty ballsy thing to do. I've seen great filmmakers recently attempt it and not have great fortune with it. And I don't know if the circumstances are going to change. We live in a global economy, and we have a product that we manufacture in a country that doesn't really have a lot of manufacturing anymore, and that's movies. And we spread them all over the world, and they do very well for us as a nation and as an economy. And I think the content of these films is going to be dictated more by the needs of the consumer around the world who are just eating these movies up. They eat them for breakfast. And I certainly feel that has to be part of what I attempt.
I'm young. I'm 38 years old. I've got some time, but at some point – and I may be involved in some other established franchise as well. There are great ones out there. But I hope that, in looking back, whatever it is that I do, my top priority is that I can be one of those filmmakers that people say, I'm interested in what he's thinking about this year. And his last one, I didn't like it so much, but you know, I still am going to go. I still want to know what this year – it's the way I feel about Woody Allen. Sometimes they're extraordinary – "Blue Jasmine" was incredible. And sometimes they're just, "Ah, this was an off year, but I'm going every year." You get one a year with him.
A lot of other actors you've worked with, you've encouraged them to fill up their characters with their own comic twists. But with Chris Pratt, this was a full-on, badass action hero and very different from Star-Lord in "Guardians of the Galaxy." So tell me about caging him into that very precise take, because he's so creative a comic talent.
He is, and he brought a lot of nuance to it that hopefully, just disappears into the character. I wanted everybody to have a moment, certainly comedically, and he does. And I think when he hits it, when he hits the big laugh, it's a big, real laugh. And Derek and I, we have a rule in our writing: if it's not hilarious, then just make it honest and real. Like, no little jokes, and so when the humor hits, it hits.
And otherwise, I feel like he's a guy dealing with a serious situation. People are dying all around him. And this movie actually does a little bit less of the comedic quips once we have plunged into terror. And I think that that's something that the first movie did in a way that remains impressive to me, that, as people, were dying, you can get a great line like "the Pirates [of the Caribbean] never ate the tourists."
But in this one, we did, we took it a little more seriously as it moved along. And by the time you get to the end, shit's going down, and it gets real. And you need a real hero, and you get to do both of them. You get Bryce Dallas Howard, who I consider the hero of the movie.
Uber-movie nerd question: During the Pteranodon attack on the park's food court, for a split second we see man who grabs two margaritas and gets them to safety: Was that Jimmy Buffett?
Yes. That's a Jimmy Buffett nerd question!
Was that a case of an old Frank Marshall friend showing up for some fun?
Yeah, he and Frank are buddies, and we had Margaritaville right there. And he came to visit the set, and we were trying to figure out, "Oh, let's figure out a way for you to do something here." And he ended up – he was just there in that scene. And we had a camera set up to capture that particular angle. And he just did it. It was his instinct, like, "I'm going to have to save those margaritas!" [laughs]. And I had to put it in because it was like, to get something that's so true. I was like, "That's going in!"
Tell me the fun about the little touches like that, like Jimmy Fallon as the virtual tour guide just like at the real-life tram tour at the Universal Studios park, Brad Bird as the monorail announcer, yourself as the voice of Mr. DNA.
Well, the Jimmy Fallon thing was, really … that's me being a nerd! I'm such a comedy nerd. And I love improv, and I love "SNL" and I love “The Tonight Show" and the history of "The Tonight Show." And I engineered a way for me to direct the host of "The Tonight Show" on the "SNL" stage in New York, and that was a wish-fulfillment thing for me. And so I just engineered a way for that to make sense.
And Brad: We were all up at Skywalker Ranch together, and he had finished mixing "Tomorrowland," and he's become a great mentor and friend. And because he was available, I asked him if he would throw himself in the mix and be that voice.
And the Mr. DNA thing was kind of a fluke. Because we were doing a temp mix for the studio, because I was going to show them the movie to [Universal chair] Donna [Langley] and Universal. And we needed that voice for that moment, so I just jumped into the booth and did Mr. DNA. And everyone was like, "Well, we could EQ this a little bit, and this is going to sound pretty spot-on." And so we just did it. We kept it in.
Thank you for reminding us how great Bryce Dallas Howard can be. What did she bring to the film at first – and once you saw her in character, you're like, "This is really going to work?"
Well, whether I knew it or not, she brought a bravery to the role that I knew she was game because she's played roles that are not necessarily flattering. Her character in "The Help" is despicable. Her character in "50/50" is pretty nasty. And which to me, sent a message that she's willing to be unlikable, even for a moment, and most actors are not willing to do that, and for her to play a role that changes as much as it does, and for her to start being borderline unlikable, and evolve all the way to the point of us loving her and cheering her on in her victory, that is a very brave thing for an actor to do. And I know she'll be rewarded for it over time as people recognize her as one of our very good actresses that should be in many movies.
"Jurassic World" opens Friday nationwide.