Ahoy, squirts! Quint here. Every time I do a big set visit I always tell myself that I'm going to write it up immediately afterwards, but then I either get lazy or crazy busy with other stuff. In the case of Jurassic World I was derailed by Comic-Con. Luckily I compensate for my shitty memory by taking really thorough notes.
The problem I'm having now is when I sat down to write out my adventures on the set I received the news that Lord of the Rings cinematographer Andrew Lesnie passed away. He was not only one of my favorite working DoPs, he was also someone I happily called a friend. The news hit a few hours ago now and while I've said my goodbyes at this point my headspace is still a little weird, so forgive me if this particular set report feels weird. I'll do my best to nut up and work through my sadness. I'm sure John Williams' Jurassic Park soundtrack will help out.
Before we kick off, let's get my bonafides outta the way first. I was 12 years old the summer that Jurassic Park came out, meaning that summer was probably one of most formative years of my movie geek life. I saw the film opening weekend and over that summer went back another 7 or 8 times, whether it was me by myself or dragging friends and family along for the ride. I probably put $50 into the Jurassic Park pinball machine at the local arcade, I read Michael Crichton's original book, bought movie tie-in cards, read any behind the scenes book I could, drooled over Crash McCreery's production art and was just all around obsessed with this film.
It wasn't my first Spielberg film nor was it my first big screen Spielberg film, but it was the first time I remember getting caught up in film that was an event in the way that only Spielberg at the top of his game could provide. Maybe 1989 Batman came close, but it paled in comparison to the feeling I had watching Jurassic Park.
The awe and wonder of the movie captured my imagination. The way Spielberg played with dark and light tones alternately terrified me and filled me with joy. John Williams' hummable music wouldn't escape my head. In fact it's now 22 years later and I still can't get it outta the ol' gray matter.
This series is interesting to me because I'm still obsessed with it, but only really like the first movie. It shares a lot of similarities with Jaws in that way. I don't hate all the sequels, but none of them come close to the original. The Lost World I feel is up there with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as Spielberg's most disappointing misfire... and I hate that. I don't ever trust my memory of The Lost World not working... how can a Spielberg-directed sequel focused on Jeff Goldblum's Dr. Ian Malcolm be bad? Every few years I rewatch The Lost World because I convince myself I'm being too tough on it and every few years I get bummed out again.
Jurassic Park 3 is fine, but didn't stick with me. I don't know what's worse, having such a negative reaction to The Lost World or such a blah reaction to Jurassic 3.
All that was kicking around in my skull when Universal invited me to join a small group (there were four of us if I remember correctly) on a visit to the New Orleans set of Jurassic World. My 12 year old inner-self started jumping for joy, mind reeling with the thought that I may see real live (animatronic) dinosaurs and flashing on all the behind the scenes material I devoured in '93.
Sadly, I saw no actual dinosaurs on this trip. And yes, I did mutter “You do plan to actually have dinosaurs in your dinosaur movie,” while touring the sets, so don't strip away my geek card too quickly!
Uber producer Frank Marshall spent the most time with our little group and did tell us that most of the dinosaurs will be totally CG (boo), but that there was some animatronic work done in Hawaii. Those puppets never made it to Louisiana, so I didn't get to see them. Before I could have time to pout the real tour was underway.
They were shooting at the old Michoud NASA facilities outside of New Orleans proper. I've visited this place before (for Ender's Game) and what's interesting is that you not only have to be approved by the studio making the movie, but by the US government to set foot here. I guess there are still rocket parts and secrets and stuff lying around, so I had to prove I'm not a terrorist threat before I even got on the plane to Louisiana.
While we were all signing in, I noticed the paperwork had the working title of the film as Ebb Tide. I don't know why, but I've always loved these secret movie codenames... maybe it goes back to the Blue Harvest/Return of the Jedi era. Marshall would later tell us that Spielberg himself picked the name Ebb Tide as the working title, even before director Colin Trevorrow was brought on board, but I have no idea what meaning the title has to Spielberg.
After getting the paperwork squared away we went to our first set, dubbed the Raptor Arena. This is the place Chris Pratt works with his raptors. When pressed for info about his character, our guides jokingly referred to him as a “Raptor Whisperer.” I asked if he was like those guys you see in Facebook videos that hang out with lions in Africa and was given an absolute affirmative. He doesn't dominate these creatures. He respects them and is accepted by them in some way.
The place itself was an outdoor set (not on a soundstage) and fully built. It was an octagonal structure and there were stalls along the exterior that had bars with enough room for a fully grown raptor to stick its head out of and be fully supported.
Bark lined the floor of the interior and a giant steel pillar rose out of the middle of the structure, connecting to a catwalk above.
One of the more unique locations in and around New Orleans is the abandoned Six Flags theme park that was devastated by Hurricane Katrina. I spent the night there while visiting a Nicolas Cage movie (then called The Medallion, later called Stolen) and boy is it creepy. That creepiness won't make it into Jurassic World, but they did use that location as the basis for the Main Street of Jurassic World. They completely built dozens of gift shops and tourist food spots and shot there for two weeks.
I'm a theme park junky, so all the talk about showing us the fully working park promised in the first movie really pressed the right buttons for me.
The set we saw all the action on was the new Park's control room. This is where the powers that be watch over the park. It was a row of desks that overlook a giant bank of monitors... kinda like the command center in the original movie, but a lot more modern and sleek with a really high tech wall of monitors... that were all real, by the way. Well, I mean they weren't just greenscreens. They had all the information you're going to see in the movie.
The center portion was all taken up by a large map of the island, showing the different sections, security, etc, and the sides had live feeds from throughout the park. Some of it was tourists queuing (which we were told was actual footage shot at Universal Orlando and run on a loop), some of it security cameras in different sections of the park.
There was about three rows of desks in front of the monitor screen (kind of like a home theater set up) and working was Jake Johnson's Lowery and Lauren Lapkus' Vivian. The scene had Bryce Dallas Howard's character, Claire, come in and, sipping coffee like a true boss, being brought up to date on the goings on.
The set up for this scene allowed for Jake Johnson to use his mumblecore training to be conversational and a little off the cuff. His character is a bit of a Jurassic Park fanboy. He wears an old JP tee shirt (which he mentions is one of the real deal originals that someone stole from the original gift shop sometime after the incident in the first movie) and when Claire notices it she asks him if it occurred to him that wearing a Jurassic Park tee was in poor taste. People did die there, after all. I get the feeling that aside from the Walt Disneyification of John Hammond this new attempt at the park is trying to avoid all branding with that incident.
Lowery bites back, though. He's a bit of a Park hipster. He points to his shirt, “This place was real. It didn't need genetic hybrids. They just needed dinosaurs.” Johnson's character doesn't like how corporate this has become. Creating a new dinosaur just to get asses in seats and up revenue doesn't sit well with him, to the point where he starts joking they should just go ahead and name the new dinosaur Pepsisaurus or Tostidodon.
During a camera move director Colin Trevorrow came over to talk a little with us. No matter how the final film turns out it was immediately apparent why he got the gig. He's got a whole lot of love for Jurassic Park and his enthusiasm was infectious. He said the most amazing part of the process so far was he got to have one of those famous story sessions with Spielberg (like the big one on Raiders that everybody knows about) where they hammered out the details on the film.
Colin said what was missing from the sequels was the sense of awe about these amazing creatures, which is why his pitch was to tell a story at a fully functional Park years after it has been run successfully. He wanted to capture that awe from the first movie and not just make another movie where every simply runs and screams.
He talked a good game, that's for sure. We had a great interview with him over lunch that I'll post seperately, but he did confirm that we'll see a familiar face, although it's not one you might expect. The only returning cast member outside of BD Wong can be glimpsed in the latest trailer. She may be older, but she's just as mean (and hopefully still has a hunger for evil dinos).
You should have an idea of who/what I'm talking about, yeah? It's the original T-Rex from Jurassic Park if you couldn't figure out my riddles. I didn't get a look at at her during my visit, but Trevorrow said that she looks leaner and meaner and that he kind of modeled the aging of her face on Burt Lancaster, which sounds all sorts of awesome to me. How did she survive after the events of JP1? I guess life found a way once more.
I should also mention that one of the first things I noticed when walking on set was that they were shooting on 35mm. The format seems to be having a bit of a resurrection with these big tentpole flicks. The bulk of Jurassic World is filmed on 35mm, but they did shoot a lot of the Kauai stuff on 65mm (ie big Imax size).
Trevorrow was called back to, you know... do his job and Frank Marshall took over and led us around a few of the other sets, including the new visitor's center. The lobby had two double helix style spiral staircases that grew out of a circular center. They were breaking down the set when we toured it, but we were told how there were interactive kiosks that all surround what will be a large hologram in the middle.
Down the hallway to one end was a statue of the late, great Richard Attenborough as John Hammond. Like I mentioned above they treat him a bit like Walt Disney, the original man with a vision that led to Jurassic World... they just leave out the part about him deciding he fucked up and went a step too far.
The other hallway led past a series of offices behind glass. This is the Biolabs and part of the entrance tour. Organized on pristine shelves were a myriad of mosquitos in amber. We were told all the equipment in this set was real, working genetics equipment on loan from some fancy college or lab somewhere.
This was a particularly cool set to stand in because all the amber chunks (ranging in size from baseball to soccer ball) were lit seemingly from inside, showing off the mosquito in each piece. Dr. Woo's office is connected to this room and we were led past a secret door in the wall to what was only described to us as a “hidden genetics lab.”
Gone was the Apple Store slick of polished glass and metal from the lab the visitors see. This one is more of a mad scientist's lab. Spines in jars, walls made of concrete and lined with aquariums that, when filming, contained all sorts of genetic mutations like albino snakes, hairless rates and even two-headed snakes.
There was also a refrigerated room that shot off from this room that contained what looked to me to be the actual DNA storage pods from the first Jurassic... the ones Dennis Nedry steals the samples from. They didn't tell us outright, but I believe this is where the Indominus Rex was cooked up.
Next stop was to check out the cool gyroscopes that allow Jurassic World visitors to travel where they want in the less carnivore-filled sections of the park. You've seen these in the trailer... two-seater vehicles encased in a clear sphere.
Apparently these things give off a certain electronic signal that interacts with chips in each dinosaur and keeps them from interacting (ie destroying) these things. Kind of like an invisible fence. That can't always work or there'd be no movie, right? There might or might not be a bit of tee-ball with a Stegosaurus and this thing at some point.
Marshall said he wanted to save the best for last and led us to a familiar set. In the film there's a forbidden zone on the island, which essentially is home to the original attempt at Jurassic Park. They've abandoned it completely and have let nature take it back. Since this is a Jurassic movie eventually some folks will be lost in the dinosaur-filled jungle, out of the safe zone and trying to avoid being dinner and they stumble across... the original visitor's center.
Trees and vegetation have grown dense in this place, but you can still make out the stairs and notice the T-Rex bones on the ground... and yes, a very faded, weather-worn and tattered “When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth” banner was amongst the weeds and debris on the ground.
As you can imagine this triggered instant nostalgia. It only grew to be more surreal when we later ended up eating lunch on this set with Trevorrow and Marshall... that was the bulk of our interview, which I'll run as its own piece over the next day or two.
On our way back to the active set we stopped by a section of bleachers that was used for the big Mosasaurus/SeaWorld style water dino scene that is a big money shot in all of the marketing. Marshall told us that it was Trevorrow's idea to have this scene in the movie and that when he described the scene to Spielberg (a great white shark being fed to the Mosasaurus), Spielberg was all “I see what you're doing there” and then proceeded to expand upon it.
It wasn't enough that the Mosasaurus eats the white, he thought it'd be cool if the bleacher were built on hydrolics that would lower the crowd down so they could watch the Mosasaurus finish its meal aquarium style.
Back on set we got a chance to sit down with Bryce Dallas Howard and Jake Johnson (and I'll run those chats separately as well) before they did another scene. Since they were in the control room they jumped time a little bit once Colin got what he wanted from the previous scene.
The new scene has the same players, but they're reacting to something bad. I think it was the realization that the Indominus Rex has removed its tracking chip (something we see in the latest trailer). “I'm telling you she's where she's always been...” but then they see her on a security camera feed somewhere else and realize that she is indeed where she shouldn't be. Panic sets in, they start yelling “Get the out of there now!” and “Evacuate the containment area!”
It was a high tension scene and a good one to leave off on.
I didn't get to see any Chris Pratt stuff as he had already wrapped, but I liked the back and forth between Bryce and Jake Johnson's character. She's a little stuck up and he's a little too loose. It's a good dynamic, at least in stuff I saw them shoot.
As for the rest of the movie, I'm still just as much in the dark as you guys are. The marketing up until that last trailer wasn't spectacular, but I'm pulling for this one. Like I said above, Trevorrow talks a good game and it was clear his heart was in the right place. His instinct to go back to the awe of mother nature feeling of the first film is a good one and I hope it pays off for him. He's got a very charismatic cast at his disposal, so he'll have no one to blame if it doesn't come together.
I guess we'll all find out on June 12th.
There you have it, squirts. I'll be back over the next few days to share some of the on-set interviews I took part in. Many thanks to the folks at Universal for extending the invite and to Colin Trevorrow and Frank Marshall for being gracious hosts.