Every couple of weeks, I get an e-mail asking me if I can send someone a copy of the “Jurassic Park 4” script that was co-written by John Sayles and William Monahan, and every time, I have to write back to explain to the person that I never had a digital copy of it. Sure, Sayles accused me in print of hacking Steven Spielberg’s personal computer to steal the file, but that just suggests to me that Sayles has little or no idea just how many people have their hands on a script over the course of the development process.
One of the reasons so many people remain so curious about that proposed version of the sequel is because of just how crazy it sounded. I still wish Universal had gone ahead and made it, because even if it turned out to be completely insane, it would have been the sort of insane that you can’t stop watching, sort of like this summer’s “Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter.” There are some films that you can’t believe exist, even after you see them, and I think it’s safe to assume that “Jurassic Park 4” had the potential to be one of those films.
Universal remains dedicated to the idea of returning to one of the biggest franchises they have on the inactive shelf right now, and why not? It seems like one of those things where you can do so many different versions of the idea that there is a great deal of flexibility that a writer could exploit. And now, thanks to the acclaim that met last year’s release of “Rise Of The Planet of the Apes,” Rick Jaffa and Amanda Silver have been hired to start over and try to crack the problem.
Last year, I had a chance to moderate a panel on genre screenwriting at the WGAw, and Jaffa and Silver were both on the panel to discuss their process and their passions. Jaffa is the genre fan, and he loves big ideas, big hooks. Silver seems to be the one who grounds their more outrageous ideas, meaning this could be a partnership that finally results in something that Steven Spielberg feels like supporting. For a long time, Joe Johnston was attached to direct the fourth film, but now that he’s had a success like “Captain America,” Johnson may well have moved on to other things that he’s more interested in doing, raising the question of who will get to bring the dinosaurs back to life.
Whatever the case, Universal’s milked a lot of money out of the franchise so far, and I’m guessing that by the time they re-release the original film in 3D next summer, they’ll have a pretty good idea of whether or not they’re moving forward with the Jaffa/Silver draft.
Now, just for kicks, here’s the text I ran on Ain’t It Cool about the “Jurassic Park 4” that almost happened back in 2007:
“Let”s talk about JURASSIC PARK 4 by William Monahan and John Sayles. We”ve been hearing vague rumors about this one for a while now, and I mean vague. There”s not a solid piece of information out there so far, based on the Google search I ran earlier tonight. I can tell you that a few of the rumors I read are close to right, but nothing had the details nailed down.
Steven Spielberg has been quoted as saying that they had the “mother of all ideas” for this sequel, and that if they”d come up with it earlier, this would have been the third film. He claims this will completely reinvigorate the franchise, and Kathleen Kennedy promises that it”s nothing like the other films so far. Normally, those sorts of comments could be dismissed as hype… but in this case, they”re not kidding around. Bill Monahan wrote the first draft based on a story by Spielberg. Monahan”s a busy guy, but most of his stuff hasn”t hit the screen yet, so don”t feel bad if you don”t recognize his name. Ridley Scott”s wrapping up work on his KINGDOM OF HEAVEN right now, and wants to make TRIPOLI at some point, while Martin Scorsese is just gearing up to make THE DEPARTED, which Monahan adapted from the Hong Kong thriller INFERNAL AFFAIRS. As a result of all these other obligations, Monahan moved on after that first draft, and none other than John Sayles was brought on to bat clean-up. I know that most people think of John Sayles as Mr. Indie Cinema if they know his name at all, but he”s also a big-time script doctor and, more importantly, he came from an exploitation background. ALLIGATOR, PIRANHA, and THE HOWLING are all great early genre scripts that he wrote, smart and funny and very aware of what they”re supposed to do.
I”m pleased to report that this second Sayles draft of JURASSIC PARK 4 sees him working in full exploitation mode. I”ve talked to a number of people about this draft, and it seems to radically divide them in terms of reaction. Some people adore the premise and get excited as soon as they hear it. Some people (including the person who gave it to me) are convinced it”s the worst thing they”ve ever read and a signpost on the road to Hollywood Hell. Personally, I think it”s well-written and certainly inventive, but I also think it just might be the single most bugf**k crazy franchise sequel I”ve ever read, and I”m not sure we”re ever going to see this thing onscreen. It just doesn”t seem possible that Universal would make something this vigorously whacked out.
I spent the entire first act of the script thinking I had it figured out. I knew where it was going. Problem was, every time I thought I had it figured out, something happened that seemed to change the entire premise of the movie.
The script starts at a Little League game somewhere in America, an idyllic scene that quickly goes bad when pterosaurs attack the kids and their parents. It”s a cool scene, and I couldn”t help but immediately anticipate what might lay ahead. Dinosaurs in America. All-out warfare on home soil. This should be fun. In a series of television clips, we learn that this is the first attack on North American ground following months of this sort of thing in Central America and Mexico. The UN has created a task force to exterminate the dinosaurs. Awesome, I thought. A bad-ass heavily-armed United Nations task force versus the dinosaurs. Bring it on! But then the script throws its first major curve ball, introducing Nick Harris, an unemployed soldier of fortune. Nick”s the lead in the movie. Not Alan Grant. Not Ian Malcolm. Despite all the rumors to the contrary, those characters are not back for this film. Instead, we meet Nick as he watches those same reports on TV that we are. He”s approached by an ex-commander of his and offered a meeting about a job. He”s warned that the guy he”d be working for is a little bit strange…
… which brings us to John Hammond. It”s a great cameo role for Richard Attenborough, and he”s said several times that he is looking forward to it. In the script”s single wittiest scene, we catch up with the eccentric ex-billionaire who is now the most-sued man in history according to the Guinness Book Of World Records. He”s been declared incompetent by his heirs and his company has been taken over by other corporations. Technically, Jurassic Park isn”t even his problem anymore, but he still feels responsible for the dinosaurs and the damage they do. Hammond”s got a big idea: breed some new dinosaurs that can”t reproduce and introduce them into the wild population. A Judas strain that will kill off the dinosaurs within one generation. Easy enough, except the UN has outlawed any breeding of new dinosaurs by anyone and they”ve prohibited the sale, mining, or possession of amber worldwide. Hammond”s got scientists ready and waiting to go, but he needs genetic material to work with. As soon as Hammond mentions where that material might come from, I thought for sure that I was ahead of the script again. Oh, of course! The shaving cream can that Nedry stole. He”s going to hire this guy to put together a team of mercenaries, and they”re going to spend the whole film on Isla Nublar getting picked off one-by-one while trying to find the samples.
After all, the first three films are all pretty much carbon copies of each other, excuses to turn people loose on the island. I almost set the script down at that point, disappointed that they”d do something so predictable again after all this talk about how they were going to turn things upside down. Page sixteen, and I was sure I knew the rest of the script without even reading it.
But I was wrong… again.
Nick Harris does indeed go to Isla Nublar, but he goes alone. He does indeed track down the shaving cream can that Nedry stole, but that”s a mere five pages later. And as soon as he finds it, he”s attacked not only by excavaraptors (think trapdoor spiders), but also by security rangers who work for Grendel Corporation, the mysterious Swiss holding company that took over Jurassic Park from Hammond. Seems they want those genetic samples for their own purposes… whatever those may be. Nick has to get off the island, evading his pursuers, human or otherwise. He manages to make it back to the mainland just long enough to hide the shaving cream can before the security team catches up with him and gasses him into unconsciousness.
All of that happens by page 39, at which point I realized I had no idea where this thing was going, and I quit trying to guess. It kept confounding my expectations. It certainly didn”t feel like it was just another rehash of the same formula. When Nick wakes up, he”s in the tower of a medieval castle in the Alps. Seriously. That”s the precise moment when the entire enterprise goes so over-the-top loony that you”ll either go along with it for the entire insane ride or reject it roundly as a big bag of ludicrous. Nick is introduced to Adrien Joyce, the major domo henchman of Baron von Drax, CEO of the Grendel Corporation. Joyce isn”t a moustache-twirling bad guy bent on torturing Nick into revealing where he hid the shaving cream can. Instead, he offers Nick a job, and in order to explain the job to him, he has to take him on a tour of the entire castle, which turns out to be a fairly sophisticated genetics lab where Grendel Corporation has been breeding some dinosaurs of their own design, cross-breeds that never existed in any era of nature with all sorts of custom modifications.
I want to tread lightly on what happens over the course of the rest of the film on the off chance that Mary Parent or someone at Universal is seriously going to make this thing. There”s the eight-year-old-boy side of me that thinks that a DIRTY DOZEN-style mercenary team of hyper-smart dinosaurs in body armor killing drug dealers and rescuing kidnapped children will be impossible to resist. And then there”s the side of me that says… WHAT THE F**K ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?! Nick is put in charge of training these five dinosaurs, X1 through X5, and the first thing he does is name them. “Any soldier worth his pay has a name to answer to, not a number,” he says. So we are introduced to Achilles, Hector, Perseus, Orestes, and Spartacus, each of them a specially created deinonychus, which is sort of like a miniature T-rex. They have super-sensitive smell and hearing, incredible strength and speed and pack-hunting instincts, and they have modified forelegs, lengthened and topped with more dextrous fingers, as well as dog DNA for increased obedience and human DNA so they can solve problems well. All of this is topped off with a drug-regulating implant that can dose them with adrenaline or serotonin as the situation demands.
And go ahead. Look at the calendar. We”re a long, long way from April 1st right now.
By the end of the film, there are set pieces that are much, much bigger than anything we”ve seen in the other films, and much crazier. They”re all well-written, and there”s a glee to the bloodletting that you have to admire. There”s also a blatant set-up for a JURASSIC PARK 5 that is just too good for the studio to pass up. That is, of course, if they actually decide to make this one.
In the end, this represents an enormous gamble for Universal and Amblin”, and I admire them for at least exploring this as a possibility. They”ve thrown some damn good writers at it so far. If they make it, it”s anyone”s guess how fans of the series so far are going to react. This is no-holds-barred SF/horror/action with none of the staring-up-at-a-special-effect-in-awe tone of the first three films. This is a drive-in movie, slightly unhinged from page one, with some truly hissable human villains and some outrageous monster characters. Will it work? Will we ever see it onscreen to find out?
Only time will tell.”
The same is true of this new approach. We’re a long way from actually seeing a new movie, but at least Universal seems dedicated to figuring it out.
“Jurassic Park 3D” will be in theaters July 19, 2013.