In Jurassic World, Spielberg uses surprise factor and surprise actors
It was only a matter of time before Jurassic Park was resurrected. But its star and director never dreamed that they would play a hand in the reboot
In a behind-the-scenes video from the second season of Parks and Recreation, Chris Pratt slowly reads out a text message, purportedly for film director Steven Spielberg, that says: "I'll have to get back to you later about Jurassic Park 4". Little did the then-chubby comedy sidekick realise that this self-deprecating gag would one day become a reality.
We are in the midst of a global promotional tour of the Spielberg-produced Jurassic World in Beijing and Pratt, flanked by co-star Bryce Dallas Howard in an interview, looks momentarily dazed when his psychic prediction is mentioned. "I was with him on set when his friend sent that," Howard recalls. "Chris was like, 'Oh my god, I can't believe this'. He had totally forgotten he had done that."
"I forgot," says one of the fastest-rising stars in Hollywood today. "I guess if you do enough stupid comedy bits in your life, eventually some of them are bound to come true. It should be noted that it was literally a joke to think that Steven Spielberg would hire me at that time. I made a joke about it - it was so unlikely."
Until last year's Guardians of the Galaxy, in which he plays the bounty hunter Peter Quill aka Star Lord, Pratt, who turns 36 later this month, has been settling for minor roles in smaller-scale movies. But the success of that Marvel comic screen adaptation has changed all that and turned him into a top-billed action superhero.
"I'm sure from the outside it seems like it happened overnight. But there was a lot of crying - it turns out you can burn a lot of calories crying," he quips.
Uncanny as it may seem, Pratt's Spielberg joke has spoken to the public subconscious that Jurassic Park - being one of the most recognisable sci-fi blockbuster series in history - is long overdue for a sequel in today's franchise-driven business.
Jurassic World takes viewers once more into a dinosaur-theme park. This time, however, the park management are forced to artificially create scarier monsters to stop visitors getting bored.
In the director's seat for this challenging relaunch is Colin Trevorrow, an emerging talent whose only other feature-length film was the well-received Safety Not Guaranteed. He joked at a Beijing press conference that the 2012 indie hit "cost about as much as the presentation you're looking at right now".
This irony is on his mind at our interview several hours later. "For me, this movie is about the fact that we just keep repeating our mistakes. Why do we do it? It's because we think we can make lots and lots of money," he says.
Trevorrow gives the impression that he's mentally blending the irresponsible park management in Jurassic World - set on the same island 22 years after Spielberg's original - and the people who are producing his film. "I saw this movie as really being about why there's a Jurassic Park 4 in the first place.
"There's a bunch of people who got together and said, 'well, look, if we make another Jurassic Park movie we can probably make a ton of money'. Is that a good idea? Doesn't matter. Let's do it. Let's make a whole movie about that: money will make us repeat our mistakes."
Pratt echoes his director's sentiment about the movie's darker premise: "Hopefully, there'll be some moments of lightness but, you know, the stakes are very high in this movie. There's not a lot for my character to laugh about because people are dying all around him."
However grim that may sound, it is not as depressing as the consensus among filmgoers that the franchise's three existing entries are a case of diminishing returns, with Spielberg's 1993 classic Jurassic Park dwarfing its two sequels, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) and Jurassic Park III (2001).
When I ask Trevorrow about his list of things not to repeat from the previous films, he refers to the successful equation of the first: "We go to a place that's totally safe and we feel we're going to be fine, and then, surprise, you're actually totally unsafe and you're probably going to die.
"In the second and the third movies, it's a different equation, which people in the beginning said, 'you're going to an island that's very dangerous and you're probably going to die', and sure enough, you do. That's not as much of a surprise," he says with a chuckle.
In a way, Jurassic World marks a defining stage in the careers of its director and stars. While Pratt is enjoying his meteoric rise, and Howard making a comeback of sorts from her long acting break to be with her young children, Trevorrow is at a make-or-break moment of his own.
"I remember one of the very first things I said to Spielberg was, 'Look, if this film fails, you will continue to be a legend and I will disappear off the face of the earth'," the director says.
Although the early buzz has been positive ( Variety says the movie "is shaping up to be a box office monster") Trevorrow is speaking as if he will not be returning to direct another Jurassic Park movie.
"I know that they will be made, and I plan to be involved in helping shape them. And because of the nature of these stories, it might be best for a new voice to attack each one of them. It might be more interesting for the audience to have a completely different vision every time.
"What's important to me is to be able to present a set of ideas that might allow us to expand the franchise into something new. I don't think there can be a bunch of movies with people on an island running away from dinosaurs and trying not to get eaten," says Trevorrow.
Should they come up with an alternative to running in the probable sequels, Pratt would be all ears. "I didn't quite fully realise the physicality of this role going into it … I did a lot of sprinting and running and sliding, take after take. There were some days that were straightly physical."
With his newfound reputation as a bankable star ( Guardians of the Galaxy ranked among 2014's highest-grossing films worldwide and is set for at least two sequels) and the constant rumours that he will next be putting on the fedora for Spielberg's Indiana Jones reboot, it's safe to say Pratt's star is on the rise.
"You hear this old adage: do one for them and one for you," says Pratt. "Usually, it means a big one for the studio system to get paid, and then one that will fulfil you creatively and allow you to express yourself artistically.
"Well, I don't have time to do both now. Luckily, the movies I'm doing are fulfilling me creatively and allowing me to pay the bills, but if I have that time to go off and do an indie movie that's an art house piece, I'll probably prefer to spend those three months being present in my son's life, staying home."
But here's the catch: only a clairvoyant could tell when those three months are going to arrive for the hotshot star who almost certainly has Spielberg's number on speed-dial.
Jurassic World opens on June 11