Universal went all-out with their press day for Jurassic World this past weekend, decorating a couple of sound stages on their studio lot with foliage, props, and all sorts of cool stuff from the film. (See some photos below.)
We'll get to the interviews in a minute, but first I wanted to mention one of the coolest things they had on site for members of the press to try out: The Jurassic World Apatosaurus VR experience. Like many of you, I've been following news of the Oculus Rift and other VR tech for the past couple of years, but I'd never had the chance to use it myself until this junket. Created by Felix & Paul Studios in under a month, the experience allows viewers to come face to face with a huge apatosaurus in a clearing in Muir Woods, the same location used as Endor in Return of the Jedi. ILM created the apatosaurus and a pteranodon that flies overhead, and I have to say, it was a pretty spectacular introduction to the world of VR and what's going to be possible as this technology continues to improve and become mainstream over the next few years. This should be available soon in the Oculus Store for anyone with a Samsung Gear to download. Here's a screenshot from the experience:
I'll go ahead and set the stage with some photos from the junket:
I had the opportunity to attend press conference interviews with actors Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins, and co-writer/director Colin Trevorrow. I've selected the seven best things I learned from the entire day and compiled them into one easy-to-read piece so you can get the highlights of the junket without having the details of the film spoiled for you.
Pratt Wanted To Make Sure Owen Was Different Enough From Star-Lord
Chris Pratt is as nice as you'd expect from the guy who played the beloved goofball Andy on Parks and Recreation. But Trevorrow wanted to make sure that Pratt never veered into that territory while portraying his Jurassic World character, so he developed a term that helped keep Pratt on track. The actor explains:
I approached it as being and always saw it as a character who is just different from Peter Quill. A huge part of that was just our director Colin Trevorrow’s vision. He had this term called “the third rail.” I didn’t grow up in a city with a subway, but apparently in the subway, there are three rails and, if you touch one, it will kill you. That was the third rail, for me. If I started being goofy, or acting like a dip-shit, or going to my normal comedic bag of tricks – some of which I used in Guardians of the Galaxy, and certainly the character of Andy Dwyer from Parks and Rec is a full embodiment of that type of clowning around and that type of comedic schtick that I’m known for – that was my third rail. If I wanted to have any fun with this, it was all in my repartee with Claire, and my relishing an opportunity to spar with her and get her goat a little bit. That was how I could have fun, but for the most part, it was deadly serious. There was a bit of a darkness.
This is a guy who’s been through something. It goes back to, who would this guy be, if this were really a job opening and they needed a person to fill this position? We came together and decided that the backstory is that he’s a guy who probably trained dolphins for the Navy, and he saw what type of treatment those animals received, which is always not great for the animal. We decided that the likelihood is that, in the years that he’s been working for the park, this isn’t his first set of raptors. Raptors didn’t make it through some of the training. These animals died on his watch. They killed each other on his watch. Certain techniques that we tried didn’t work. We’ve come a long way and a lot of these animals have paid the sacrifice for the work that I’m doing for this company. That’s pretty serious. There’s not a lot of room for goofing around, when you play that guy. He’s a guy who’s been through combat. He’s a combat veteran with a bit of a darkness, who lives on an island. He’s chosen to move away from the world and live on the dark side of an island. All that stuff was interesting, fun character work and made me want to be someone who was different. I love Peter Quill, and I love Andy. I look forward to playing Peter Quill again. It’s super fun. But this was somebody who’s just a little different for me.
Colin Trevorrow Gave His All To This Film
Trevorrow, whose excellent first film Safety Not Guaranteed was made for a comparatively paltry $700,000, didn't approach Jurassic World as simply a launchpad for his career. Bryce Dallas Howard explains:
Colin is a really smart guy and he’s going to have a sensational career, but I was always asking him, 'Hey man, what are you going to do next? What’s the next thing?’ and he just said, ‘I’m focusing on this. I’m putting all of my energy into this right now. There will come a time and place where I start looking at future projects, but right now it’s this.’ And what I got from that was his integrity as an artist and how important this movie was to him. It wasn’t just a way to leverage his career. This was as much a passion project for him as Safety Not Guaranteed and as anything he’ll do in the future.
The Dinosaurs Weren't Just CGI or Animatronic
Jurassic World is the first film in this franchise to utilize motion capture technology when it comes to the dinosaurs, with guys in mo-cap suits providing many of the movements of the film's velociraptors. Nick Robinson and Ty Simpkins mentioned the challenges of interacting with the dinos in this movie:
Nick: The first day, we had the muscly guys, who were basically the mini-Triceratops —
Ty: — walking around with kids on their backs [providing mo-cap work as small Triceratops in a petting zoo segment of the theme park]. There were also people with strings that would pull trees so it would look like a dinosaur was coming out of the trees, so that would signal us when a dinosaur was about to attack us, and then there were the dancers, which were the raptor guys.
Nick: It was difficult at first, but you get to use your imagination, which kind of gives you free reign, and the crew would help. They’d play the Jurassic Park theme song sometimes, so that’s kind of hard to mess up.
Trevorrow References Jurassic Park, But Didn't Want To Simply Remake It
Trevorrow strikes me as an incredibly smart guy, and after having the chance to speak with him for a few minutes, I'm very excited about his future. He's a humble, self-aware person, and it sounds like this project gave him some pause when was first brought on board:
[There’s] the danger of making a fan film, and making something that is just derivative of the things that we love because we love them so much. That was my initial fear. I get a lot of questions about my psychological state when I was told that Spielberg wants me to direct Jurassic Park 4, and where my brain immediately went was, ‘the worst case scenario here is if you’re just accused of making a carbon copy of Jurassic Park.’ So in my first meeting with him and many afterwards, that became the mission: how do we push forward and do something new and do something that has its own identity and something that I can be held responsible for? I want to be the only one who can be blamed if this is a failure. I just can’t allow it to be anyone else’s fault. If it’s a success, it’s everybody’s fault. When Derek [Connolly, his writing partner] wrote the film, we sat down with Steven and kind of stripped everything away and asked some fundamental questions: 'Why is Jurassic Park 4?' is the number one question. 'Why would we make another one of these?’ I’m a little bit defensive of these properties because I care about them so much and if I’m going to have the audacity and the arrogance to make one, how can we make one that’s about something and about something new? What we settled on is we could make a movie about what was happening at the moment, which is that we had a giant corporation that needed a movie on a release date that was going to happen one way or another, so we could make a movie about we tend to repeat our mistakes, whether they’re a good idea or not, if there’s money on the table.
The Film is Full of People With Something to Prove
When talking about the differences between making a small movie like Safety Not Guaranteed and something on a scale this huge, Trevorrow pointed out how the high-end productions can sometimes cause filmmakers to lose their edge. He wanted to make sure he and his cast never had that problem, so he filled the movie with people who needed to prove something:
It’s almost a greater danger because it can make you a little soft, it can make you a little complacent, because they very naturally take your hunger away from you. You are literally not hungry. Derek and I, we kept our hunger throughout this whole process, and so did Chris Pratt, and so did Bryce Dallas Howard. They all had things to prove, and I’m a real proponent of populating a movie with people who have something to prove. Vincent D’Onofrio hasn’t been on film in a long time because he’s been on a television show. These two kids who are looking to be recognized as real actors. Bryce Dallas Howard hasn’t been in a movie in four years, had two children, and is back playing the lead of a movie. And Chris Pratt, who I think even in Guardians of the Galaxy is seen as a little bit of a goofball, playing a relatively straight character. I think that is what kept the hunger going through the whole process.
The Script Was Partially Written As A Critique of Our Society's Desire For "More"
I can't reveal what I thought about the movie yet (the embargo lifts tomorrow), but thematically, Jurassic World comments on not only today's blockbuster culture, but on society's seemingly constantly expanding desires for excess. Take it, Mr. Trevorrow:
I didn’t want to make it a meta-commentary. It happened very organically because it’s what we were experiencing at the time. Derek and I are in a hotel room in this very short period of time trying to write something that we could care about and could feel passionate about and I think in the process, a lot of that ended up being in the movie. I saw it a little bit bigger than [just commenting on blockbuster culture]: I feel like we do live in a culture where we constantly want more and we want it to be bigger — not just our entertainment, but our food portions, and so many different things. We want to be entertained, and we want upgrades. There was something to be said in that, and also, what really drives it is that constant push for profit at all costs. It’s a very dehumanizing force that can allow us to lose sight of our humanity and our priorities, and I felt like that was something we could make a movie about. We could hang our hat on that.
This Was A Personal Film Filtered Through One Man's Vision
Trevorrow emphasized how he never had the studio standing over his shoulder while they were on set, and he essentially said that this was one of the most personal, unfettered films we're ever going to see produced at this level. He wanted the film's success or failure to rest on his shoulders, and he brought up a few other movies this year that seem to have been made in the same fashion:
Steven [Spielberg] has final cut, and ultimately he gave that final cut to me. And you’re seeing my director’s cut on however many thousands of screens. It is definitely not a corporate product; surprisingly, for the amount of somewhat anti-corporate talk in the movie, I think there was a lot of freedom granted to make something that was a very personal and original vision. In the films we have enjoyed this year as movie fans, as fans of cinema, I think there is a consistency to them. Movies like Mad Max, Kingsman, Ex Machina — these are clear visions by either an individual or very small groups of people that don’t feel like they’re made by committee, that aren’t a corporate product. Audiences have responded to them, and I think it means that we want that. We want to be able to get inside someone’s brain and live in there for a little while if we’re interested in that person. So all I can hope is to make a movie that makes people interested enough in what’s going on inside my brain to want to travel there again.
Jurassic World opens this Friday, June 12th.