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GLEN WELDON, HOST:
"Jurassic World: Dominion" is the sixth and reportedly final film in the "Jurassic" film franchise, in which genetically engineered dinosaurs run dependably amok in the modern world. This film brings together Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard with Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum and Laura Dern - the three leads of the film that started it all, 1993's "Jurassic Park." As for the plot, well, there's dinosaurs running amok, modern world. I'm Glen Weldon. And today we're talking about "Jurassic World: Dominion" on POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. Joining me today is Kristen Meinzer. She is the co-host of the podcast "Movie Therapy with Rafer & Kristin." She's also the co-author of "How To Be Fine." Welcome back, Kristin.
KRISTEN MEINZER: Nice to be back. Thanks.
WELDON: Also joining us is Ronald Young Jr. He's the host of the film and television review podcast "Leaving The Theater." Hello, Ronald.
RONALD YOUNG JR: Life finds a way, Glen.
WELDON: Life always does. And rounding out the panel is Jordan Morris. He's a podcaster and the co-writer of the double Eisner Award nominee graphic novel "Bubble." Welcome back, Jordan.
JORDAN MORRIS: Hi, Glenn. And hold onto your butts, everyone.
WELDON: All right. When last we left this franchise at the end of "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom," the dinosaurs of Isla Nublar had escaped into the wilds of America. Now, they're all over the damn world, including a new strain of prehistoric locusts, which is ravaging crops and imperiling the global food chain. It all seems linked to Biosyn, run by a squirrelly CEO played by Campbell Scott, who has recruited Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm as a consultant. Laura Dern's Ellie Sattler recruits Sam Neill's Alan Grant to investigate. Meanwhile, Chris Pratt's Owen Grady and Bryce Dallas Howard's Claire Dearing are living in seclusion to protect Maisie, played by Isabella Sermon. She's the teenage clone of a Jurassic Park scientist. Throw in some new characters, like a tough pilot played by DeWanda Wise and Biosyn's head of communications played by Mamoudou Athie, and add a healthy dollop of dinosaur-delivered death and destruction, and you got yourself a Jurassic movie - nominally, the final one. "Jurassic World: Dominion" was directed by Colin Trevorrow, who directed the first "Jurassic World" film. The script is by Trevorrow and Emily Carmichael. This film is in theaters now. Kristen, what'd you think?
MEINZER: Well, anybody who will listen to every word you just said, Glen, will know that this movie is nuts. It is bananas. They are trying to do a lot of things in this movie. Obviously, it's a dinosaur movie. In a way, it's kind of an Indiana Jones movie. In a way, it's a second chance at love for older people story. It's a reunion movie. It's a commentary on Monsanto.
MEINZER: It's a criticism of tech oligarchs like Elon Musk. It is so many different things. And I'm just going to say, I embraced it all. I was there for the ride. I cheered. I rolled my eyes. I clapped. I loved it. I thought this was so much fun. I just needed to let my heart go there. And if you're not going to let your heart go there, I don't know if you're going to feel the same way as me. But I let my heart go there.
WELDON: Awesome. Jordan, you're a dinosaur guy, or at least you were a dinosaur kid. Did your heart go there?
MORRIS: Yeah. Glen, you really nailed it. I was a dinosaur kid, and the first "Jurassic" movie came out when I was 11. So obviously, it imprinted on my brain in a way that makes it hard for me to judge the quality of the sequels just because when the music kicks in and when Goldblum starts Goldbluming (ph)...
WELDON: Yeah, yeah, yeah.
MORRIS: ...Something just takes over, and I am transported. As a dinosaur kid, I got to have that experience, and I'm glad that there's finally a movie out there for the locust kids.
MORRIS: For all those 9-year-olds obsessed with locusts, they finally have a movie. This movie is like a bad bar that has really good hot wings.
MORRIS: It's a real mess, but there were some kind of individual sequences and performances that I thought were really cool. And of course, I am the fan that is being serviced with the fan service. And...
MORRIS: ...You know, I'm not made of stone. Some of it worked on me.
WELDON: All right. Ronald, where's your heart? Where's the goodwill?
YOUNG: Well, to start off, I think this was the best "Jurassic World" movie I've ever seen.
YOUNG: That being said, the bar is incredibly low...
YOUNG: ...Because I hated the first two movies. The parts of this movie that I enjoyed were all of the parts that had to do with Monsanto, had to do with the tech giant. And every time I saw a face from the original "Jurassic Park," the plot was moving forward, and I thought it was really good. But the parts that I didn't like, which was the majority of the movie, was Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt searching for their daughter, which kind of proved to me the problems that I had with the first two movies was that these two characters really have no reason to be in this world whatsoever. So you bring back your three old characters in this movie, in "Jurassic Park: Dominion," and they have very much all utility in this world...
YOUNG: ...All of them. They have knowledge. They have expertise. They have all reasons to be there. Chris Pratt is there because he is a raptor whisperer, which is a job that they just made up without really explaining in the first "Jurassic World." And I think all of this building that they've done in the first two movies - for me and Dominion, all of those parts of "Jurassic World" began to collapse. All of the parts of "Jurassic Park," for me, still stood up firm. And for me, that made the entire movie very unbalanced because, again, the kid in me, much like Jordan, is watching this being like, I love this; "Jurassic Park," I'm here for it. But the adult in me that has just watched the three movies of "Jurassic World" and rewatched them to get ready to watch "Dominion" is a - very disappointed in this. I think there were parts of this, again, that were very good. If you think about the part where Bryce Dallas Howard is escaping a dinosaur and tension is ratcheting up, and I'm sitting there - I'm like, yes, this is what I want. I want dinosaurs going after people. I want them in real danger. I want terror and tension. And they gave me very, very little of that, and I wasn't that much of a fan.
WELDON: Ronald, you hit on something that I think confused me about this film. Now, I don't have much of an emotional investment in this franchise, particularly in its lesser, Pratt-y incarnation.
WELDON: I was way too much of an insufferable cineaste in 1993 when this film came out to bother with something so commercial, which means I missed out on a pretty great film. 1993 was also the year of "The Fugitive." I was missing things left and right. That was a great film.
MORRIS: What were you watching, Glen?
WELDON: I was watching "Letter To Brezhnev," which is a British film.
WELDON: Never mind, it's not worth it. So there is definitely some bait and switch going on here. This is not the film that the end of the previous film promised me. I felt like we were set up to believe that this film would be about how the world would change if dinosaurs were all over the damn place.
YOUNG: Yes, Glen.
WELDON: Now, Ronald, we do get, like, news reports telling us that in the few months since the end of the last film, the dinosaurs have...
WELDON: ...Somehow crossed oceans and found their way to every corner of the globe, which kind of gets hand-waved away. But I'm OK with that because if you don't do that, you don't have a movie.
MORRIS: (Laughter) Yeah, the map that they show is pretty goofy, and I'm like, well, I guess that makes sense for the flying ones and the swimming ones - most of them don't.
WELDON: The scene in the beginning when Maisie helps some loggers negotiate this encounter with - are they brontosauruses, Jordan?
MORRIS: That is an apatosaurus.
WELDON: I was waiting for it. It's not exactly pulse-pounding excitement, but it's - you know, it's fun to watch.
WELDON: But that film, if they kept to that, that would be man versus nature. That would be a disaster film, which would lack a central villain to hiss. And in this franchise, you need the overreaching scientist who gets their comeuppance. I mean, the central theme of this franchise is man mustn't play God. But let's be honest, I mean, the franchise wouldn't have any of the fun or the wonder it has if it really stuck to that theme. So it's like, don't play God, unless it's cool. And then...
WELDON: ...There's a lot of simultaneous cake-eating and cake-having here. But this film is in such a hurry to get us to yet another central location...
WELDON: ...With a facility that has a power grid that needs to be overridden or rebooted or uploaded or purged or whatever.
WELDON: There's this locust thing. Every time the locust stuff come up, I felt we were getting farther and farther away from the primal appeal, which is holy crap, dinosaurs - not holy crap, corporate malfeasance. You know what I mean?
WELDON: And just a little service journalism here - if you haven't seen "Fallen Kingdom" in a while and you don't really remember the clone girl, the clone girl's a big thing.
WELDON: I had forgotten about clone girl completely. There's a lot of clone girl here.
MORRIS: And I think the actor that plays clone girl is quite good. They give her - she's kind of a petulant teenager in this. I think that she has some kind of fun moments. And I'll just say that I think these movies get a lot of criticism for presenting and holding up a very, like, heteronormative idea of family. You know, it's that kind of corny, Spielberg nuclear family.
MORRIS: And I think this movie dares to present us with two unmarried adults caring for a clone. And I think that's kind of beautiful, right?
MEINZER: With dinosaur friends, yes.
MEINZER: I just want to say, I agree with Ronald. This is the best of the series. And I'm going to say something potentially controversial. This might be the best of the entire franchise.
WELDON: All right.
MEINZER: I know. I know. People are ready to fight now. I know, but...
MORRIS: I love it.
MEINZER: ...What it did is it resuscitated this terrible "Jurassic World" franchise. The first two movies are just terrible in this franchise.
MEINZER: And it made me excited about it again. It brought back those old characters. You know, let's be real, those scenes were fantastic. There was a chase scene in Malta that is out of this world.
MEINZER: At that point, I really felt like, yes, I am watching a cross between "Indiana Jones" and "Jurassic Park." I am here for a motorcycle versus a dinosaur versus an airplane all at once while people are running across the tops of buildings. I am here for this. So yes, I obviously would have loved more of that. But once we get to the island, I want to see what happens with dinosaurs who live under ice breaking through with people who are now on - yes, I know we all hate this - the electrical grid.
MEINZER: We want to see what's going to happen with - you know, with the oligarch. Is the oligarch going to get killed by being eaten by a dinosaur or by being, you know - I was there for it. I'm like, I'm just going to ride this ride wherever it goes, even if where it's going is just bananas sometimes.
YOUNG: When you think about it in terms of it being the dino take over - because I think that's one thing that I really missed - when we were seeing the raptors run around in the city, and they were genetically engineered raptors, I felt like they opened that box only to kind of smooth over what they had done to these raptors over the last three movies because in the first "Jurassic World" film they weaponize the raptors. In the second "Jurassic World" film, they domesticated the raptors, and that domestication continues into this third film, in which we're now interacting with these genetically engineered raptors that are doing exactly what the raptors used to do in the original movies, which is hunt, murder and kill, which is - that's all we really want raptors to do.
YOUNG: So this movie created an obstacle for itself, and then it kind of, like, moves that obstacle to the side by creating something that's way more implausible, which is genetically engineered raptors that respond to lasers - laser raptors.
WELDON: Yeah. Did you guys get enough of the OG leads - of Goldblum, Dern and Neill?
YOUNG: When Laura Dern showed up on screen, I was so happy to see her. And it was good to - when I saw her with Alan Grant, there was something about the chemistry between those two. I sat there and started to have the thought - if this had been the first "Jurassic World" movie instead of doing the first two, I mean, this would have set the world ablaze because just watching them and seeing the way they interacted and then shipping them pretty quickly got me pretty excited about the movie itself. So I liked it. What I didn't like was what they did with Dr. Ian Malcolm because if you watch "Jurassic Park: Lost World" (ph), I really appreciated that movie because Dr. Ian Malcolm is basically like, stay away from the dinosaurs. I'm never going back to that island. This is crazy.
YOUNG: Like, he actually had an experience that changed him, whereas they made him this kind of smarmy, partially unlikable - not completely but kind of unlikable. He got funnier as the movie went on. But it was in a way where they didn't allow him to be changed by the events that happened in "Jurassic Park," which was kind of surprising to me that they made that choice. But I still enjoyed seeing him.
MEINZER: I was OK with that because I'm like, this dude is smarmy. He's going to make a lot of proclamations and then go back on them 'cause that was, to me, what his character was in the original "Jurassic Park" universe. So I'm like, of course Jeff Goldblum is still...
MEINZER: ...Jeff Goldblum. I'm fine with that. But, Ron, to get to what you were saying about that chemistry between Laura Dern and Sam Neill, which is such a delight to see...
MORRIS: It's great.
MEINZER: ...Those characters also were given a lot more room to have character development...
MEINZER: ...In the original movies.
MEINZER: And I think one reason it's so delightful to see is also because in contrast to Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt - who have zero chemistry - it's just nice to see people who seem to like each other.
MEINZER: I always saw Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard as not even characters. These are just archetypes, and they can't even decide what the archetypes are. Mostly, we just want to see them being chased around by dinosaurs.
MEINZER: I don't care that Chris Pratt is holding up his hands all the time, and somehow he holds up his hands and all the dinosaurs stop in front of him.
WELDON: They would just chomp that hand off. They would just chomp that hand off.
MEINZER: I don't understand Bryce Dallas Howard's inconsistent character. Sometimes Bryce Dallas Howard is jumping across buildings, and other times she doesn't know how to put on a seatbelt.
YOUNG: Yes, Kristen.
MEINZER: I just don't think they know what they're doing with those characters. So - and again, I accept it. This is just, like, a silly dinosaur movie. But it was - I agree with you, Ron - such a delight to see Laura Dern and all the old crew together again.
MORRIS: Yeah. There was definitely a pop in my theater every time one of the old faves came on screen, including B.D. Wong, I guess we should say.
MORRIS: Huge round of applause for B.D. Wong, who's...
MORRIS: ...Had a really funny journey in these from good-guy scientist to heel to back again. Anyway, I think when I was watching this one, I really noticed kind of the difference in filmmaking between the '90s and now. Like, the moments you remember from that first one are, like, the camera lingering, like, lingering on Laura Dern seeing the dinosaur for the first time, like, lingering on that glass of water that's rippling because you know what's coming next. And - you know, and this movie cuts around like crazy. Really, the only thing it lingers on with any love at all is Jeff Goldblum.
MORRIS: There are a lot of slow zooms on Jeff Goldblum unbuttoning his shirt.
MEINZER: Totally fine with that.
MORRIS: But yeah, it's a goofy movie, but it really does love those old actors and love those old characters, which is something I appreciated as a fan.
WELDON: So there are two new additions to the mix. There's DeWanda Wise as Kayla Watts, a hotshot pilot, and Mamoudou Athie as Ramsay Cole, who is Biosyn's head of communications. What did you guys think they brought to the mix?
YOUNG: I liked them both...
YOUNG: ...With a caveat. I always like seeing Mamoudou Athie in everything. He was in a little show called "Cake" on FX. He had a movie on Netflix - I believe it was called "Uncorked," really enjoyed him there. And I enjoyed seeing him on screen. I thought he did a great job. He was really the - a very strong protagonist in this film, and I really enjoyed that. I also enjoyed DeWanda Wise with the caveat that I felt a lot of times that she was playing Will Smith from the '90s.
YOUNG: The ways in which she was, like, keeping it real and cracking wise with the people around her felt very Will Smith-y to me. But I really enjoyed seeing her. And they gave her a lot of power and confidence in the movie, which I really appreciated because honestly, in the '90s, they probably would have given that role to, like, any old standard white dude. And the fact that it was her doing that, I was just like - I watched, and I was like, yeah, great pilot, capable, can survive all of that. So I enjoyed what they did with her.
MORRIS: I thought DeWanda Wise was just terrific. She did such a good job with the one-liners. She's kind of the Han Solo of this movie, and I think this movie needs a Han Solo. Of the nine movies we saw within this one movie, that was in my top two or three movies within this movie.
MEINZER: I would love to see a movie with just her in it, honestly. Like...
MEINZER: ...What is her whole backstory? What is she going to do next? Who is she going to rescue? Who is she going to fly away from? And I always like seeing a strong woman in a movie, especially a movie like this, where the other women didn't really get to be as fierce as I would have liked. And it was great to see her be fierce. As for Athie, I got to say, he was probably the only new character in this franchise that the audience at my screening applauded for.
MEINZER: And other than that, the only applause was for the old cast.
MEINZER: So I think the audience really liked him. And he is very magnetic on screen. I do have the caveat, though, that it makes no sense that he is second in command for the entire empire of Biosyn...
MEINZER: ...Because it's like, you're the guy who puts out press releases. You're the, like, communications...
MEINZER: ...PR guy. I don't really understand what's going on here, but...
MORRIS: You're running the Twitter account.
MEINZER: Yeah, exactly.
WELDON: Well, that is a healthy range of opinions we have about this film. But now we want to know what you think about "Jurassic World: Dominion." Find us on Facebook at facebook.com/pchh or tweet us @pchh. Next up, what's making us happy this week.
Now it is time for our favorite segment of this week and every week - what's making us happy this week? Kristen, what is making you happy this week?
MEINZER: Oh, my gosh. So much is making me happy right now, but one in particular is Season 2 of "Hacks" on HBO Max.
WELDON: Oh, yes.
MEINZER: It is so good. Jean Smart, who is just fantastic, she's back as legendary and problematic comedian Deborah Vance, along with her young comedy writer Ava, who is possibly more problematic than Deborah despite proclaiming to be more woke and being more woke on the surface. And this season, Deborah takes her team, including Ava, on the road for a nationwide tour. And one thing I think the show does really, really well is make me want to cheer for someone who is reprehensible. She is a terrible person, and yet every episode, I just want things to go her way. But if I were friends with her, I would never trust her. She would stab me in the back. She would sue me. She would try to take away everything I have. And yet somehow, Jean Smart makes Deborah Vance somebody I want to cheer for. It is so good. I love Season 2 of "Hacks."
WELDON: Jordan, what is making you happy this week?
MORRIS: I'm going to recommend a graphic novel, "Thirsty Mermaids" by Kat Leyh. This is a for-grown-ups comic about three kind of down-and-out mermaids who get super into human booze from pillaging shipwrecks. They find, like, the...
MORRIS: ...Ancient bottles that are in every shipwreck. They get a fondness for human booze. And so they do a spell to get themselves legs, and they go on land to get drunk. They get stuck on land, high jinks ensue. It's such a fun tone that you don't get enough in grown-up comics, in my opinion. It is very funny. It has a great kind of friendship and inclusion message. Beautiful to look at. If you want an adult animation comp, this is kind of a comic book. If you like a "Bob's Burgers" or a "Tuca & Bertie," I think "Thirsty Mermaids" will do you right. Yeah, that's "Thirsty Mermaids" by Kat Leyh. I liked it a lot.
WELDON: Thank you very much, Jordan Morris. All right, Ronald, what is making you happy this week?
YOUNG: All right. There was a little show that came out in 2013 on Comedy Central entitled "Nathan For You."
YOUNG: I watched it when it was on television, and I frequently re-watch all the time just because it makes me feel good. It is a ridiculous show. It is basically part prank show, part advice show, where Nathan Fielder goes around to businesses, and he offers them business advice and then helps them to execute the business advice to varied degrees of success. I really enjoy it because it's not a show that you can put on in the background and just have on because there's so many visual gags. If you don't like cringe comedy, this is probably not the show for you. And there are...
YOUNG: ...Definitely some problematic elements watching it again in 2022, where I was like, ooh, I don't know if that would fly today. But I still enjoy it, lighthearted. And that's "Nathan For You." It's available on Hulu right now.
WELDON: Thank you very much, Ronald. OK. What's making me happy this week? You know, I've said some unkind things about C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles Of Narnia" in the past.
WELDON: And I stand by most of them. I think its central Christian allegory is punishingly rigid and blunt, and it is so casually, blithely, freely racist in the way that a lot of the stuff from that era was and remains. But I did love these books as a kid, and I can't deny that. And I now realize that so little of it had to do with the story, and so much of it had to do with how cozy and tweedy and British they seemed to me. So I've been revisiting them on audiobook, and I have had occasion to remember that my favorite one was "The Magician's Nephew" because, of course, it is. It's all about lore. It's all about, you know, how Narnia was created in the first place and where so many of the things that you encounter in the first book, "The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe," where everything comes from, the lamppost where Lucy meets Mr. Tumnus because everyone is clamoring for the origin of the lamppost.
WELDON: And I have to say, this is - I'm not proud of this, but the character of Jadis, who becomes the White Witch over the course of the book - look; she is such a diva. Yas, queen. The house down boots. No choice but to stan a legend.
WELDON: Et cetera, et cetera. I mean, I'm - I listened to a version read by Kenneth Branagh. He does a great job. His Jadis is fierce. She slays. I live. That's "The Magician's Nephew" by C.S. Lewis, read by Kenneth Branagh. And that is what is making me happy this week.
If you want links for what we recommended, plus some more recommendations, sign up for our newsletter at npr.org/popculturenewsletter. That brings us to the end of our show. Kristen Meinzer, Ronald Young Jr., Jordan Morris - thank you all for being here.
MEINZER: Thank you.
YOUNG: Thanks for having us.
MORRIS: Yeah, thanks for having us. This was fun.
WELDON: A reminder before we go, NPR is doing its annual survey to better understand how listeners like you spend time with podcasts. Please help us out by completing a short, anonymous survey at npr.org/podcastsurvey. We would really appreciate your help to support NPR podcasts. That's npr.org/podcastsurvey.
This episode was produced by Candice Lim and edited by Jessica Reedy. And Hello Come In provides the music you may or may not be bobbing your head to right now, "Life's Rich Pageant" (ph). Thanks for listening to POP CULTURE HAPPY HOUR from NPR. I'm Glen Weldon, and we'll see you all next week.
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