HOW do you tell Spielberg the best way to remake one of his biggest blockbusters? Colin Trevorrow reveals all
‘I DIDN’T seek it out,” says Colin Trevorrow, with the air of a man who still doesn’t quite understand how he’s landed where he has. “I was going to go and do what I should do as a filmmaker and make slightly larger films each time, learn my craft, make mistakes and solve them.” He shrugs. “But when given the opportunity…”
The filmmaker’s ongoing bafflement is understandable given that he finds himself sitting in a swanky hotel talking about what it’s like to be the director (and co-writer) of Jurassic World, the latest instalment of a cinematic behemoth. Previously best known for a handful of online shorts and having made only one feature, 2012’s Safety Not Guaranteed, Trevorrow was hand-picked by Steven Spielberg. No wonder he still feels a bit punch-drunk.
When Spielberg’s original movie came out in 1993, it didn’t just change what we thought about dinosaurs, it created what has become a cinematic convention: the summer blockbuster. It’s no wonder that director Trevorrow felt more than a little daunted by the task of recreating that movie, albeit with some new twists and turns. “Essentially every one of these movies is a remake of the first, if we’re all being honest with each other,” he says. “So if you know that going in, how can you take it and subvert people’s expectations and make something that feels new even if, at the end of the day, it’s still a bunch of people who go to an island and try not to get eaten by dinosaurs?”
In the first movie, the action focused on the exploits of a biotech firm headed by CEO John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) that used blood found in fossilised mosquitoes to clone dinosaurs. And what do you do with cloned creatures from millions of years ago? You put them in a secure zoo, of course. But it only takes a bit of sabotage and a storm to set them free. In Jurassic World, the park is a whole island, a luxury resort replete with all our favourite corporate brands (Nobu, Margaritaville, Starbucks – it gets gloriously trashed as the dinosaurs wreak havoc), as well as the tacky souvenir stalls.
In adapting Michael Crichton’s 1990 novel, Spielberg shifted the focus away from a moral dilemma about scientific hubris to a kids film about wonder and awe and creatures that would blow your mind. Trevorrow has continued in the same vein. Watching the movie in 3D in a screening room with just two other journalists, it was impossible not to think how wasted it was on us and how much kids, high on buckets of popcorn and fizzy juice, are going to love it. “It’s for them,” says Trevorrow. “I mean we all get to enjoy it, but it is for them; and hopefully in a way that doesn’t pander to them and doesn’t make too many assumptions about what they want.
“I directed the movie as an eight-year-old child. I regressed. As well as travelling 20 years into the future to be the filmmaker that I probably will be some day and directing it as him.” He laughs. “It’s a mind bender.”
Trevorrow’s only feature prior to this was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and won an Independent Spirit Award, but he’d done nothing on the scale of a summer blockbuster. “The amount of creative autonomy I was given on this was shocking,” he says. “I still don’t understand. I would never have done it if I was in charge.”
He’s joking. But not entirely. Spielberg and his collaborators had been trying to make a new Jurassic Park film for 15 years but it was never quite right. When Trevorrow signed on he didn’t know what the story was.
“I read a screenplay that I didn’t understand. I was in the hotel and I was thinking ‘Am I really going to turn this down?’” He went into the meeting and said that he didn’t entirely get it but there were three ideas that he liked. “Those were the ideas that Steven had brought to the writers – it was an open park, which is obviously really cool, there’d be a character who has a relationship with the raptors, who is learning from them and could possibly train them. Very cool. And a dinosaur that breaks out and threatens everyone, kind of Jaws-like. I mean that’s a no brainer.”
So he asked to take those three ideas and write a new movie around them. Pretty ballsy for someone who had never been at the helm of a major film, never mind someone being offered a gig by Steven Spielberg. “One of the first things I said to him was ‘Here’s what happens, if this movie is terrible, you continue on to be a legend and I am history. No one will ever hear from me again’. The only way I could do it was if it was going to be bad, it’d be my fault and I could be responsible for it.”
Spielberg was up for it. “He said: ‘Go ahead. We’ve been trying to make this movie for 15 years. Let’s see your Jurassic Park movie.’”
Since the movie was already planned for release in the summer of last year, Spielberg used his clout to change the timescale. “There aren’t that many people in our industry who can call a studio and say “You know what? You’re going to get that in the summer of 2015 not 2014,’” Trevorrow says.
Trevorrow has proved with Jurassic World that he can manage a movie that is massive. There are enough hat tips to the first film to keep people who still remember it amused as they spot references. And the combination of Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard is a winning one, with enough comedy to counterbalance the thrills and spills. Trevorrow has also managed to weave in some Blackfish-style references, questioning the ethics of theme parks altogether. It’s admirable stuff in a popcorn flick.
As for what a director who has just taken an exponential leap in terms of his career does next, Trevorrow is making a predictably bold move. “I’m making a weird choice to go back and make the two movies I think I should’ve made, a small one and a medium one,” he says. “And I’ll do a large one after that. I’m in a kind of weird position where I want to prove that I can do smaller movies.”
The mission with Jurassic World was to bring it to a place where it would be mentioned in the same breath as the other mega franchises. If Trevorrow has achieved that then he knows it will give him a lot of freedom. He drains his iced coffee. “I can imagine that other filmmakers if they were in the same position as me might just want to never make a movie again,” he says. “They’d just want to back slowly out of the casino clutching their bucket of chips.”
• Jurassic World is on general release from Thursday