There are certain things you can always expect from a Jurassic Park movie.
Dinosaurs (duh), that iconic John Williams score, a Cliff Notes introduction to chaos theory, someone accusing someone else of “playing God” – Steven Spielberg’s original Jurassic Park really laid out a template that the subsequent films have followed religiously. One could even argue that the huge opening weekend success of Jurassic World is, in some way, due to the fact that it followed the original “Jurassic formula” much more closely than the other two lackluster sequels. (Isla Nublar is WAY cooler than Isla Sorna.)
However, there is ONE strange component to that formula that inexplicably has shown up in EVERY SINGLE Jurassic Park film so far. And it’s not dinosaurs, DNA, or Dennis Nedry.
ALL of the Jurassic Park movies have subplots about divorce. All of those cute kids who spend the movie running away from prehistoric carnivores – every last one of them is a child of divorce. That seems odd, right?
The divorce motif in the first Jurassic Park is the easiest to miss. When the lawyer Donald Gennaro – better known as “the guy who gets eaten off the toilet by the T-Rex” – visits Hammond’s amber mine early in the film, he finds that he just missed Hammond because the billionaire “had to leave early to be with his daughter. She’s getting a divorce.” This might explain why Hammond got dumped with his grandkids Lex and Tim for the preview weekend (Yes, they are the target demographic, but…) and might explain why the two kids seem so over-the-top eager to adopt Sam Neill as their surrogate father figure. (“Our real dad NEVER wears a neckerchief…”)
Divorce also sneaks into The Lost World: Jurassic Park pretty early as Dr. Ian Malcolm’s daughter, Kelly, guilts him hard over his decision to blow off his week’s visitation, just so he can selfishly make sure that Julianne Moore doesn’t get eaten by an apex predator. Kelly hits him with “I’m your daughter all the time, you know. Not just when it’s convenient,” among other passive-aggressive barbs. Their divorced dad-daughter tension is strong enough that Kelly sneaks along on his trip to Isla Sorna, which is SUPER-fortunate for Daddy Goldblum, because, later on, Kelly saves her dad by murdering a velociraptor with gymnastics. (Wish I was kidding.)
The next two Jurassic films – Jurassic Park III and Jurassic World – are far more overt about the divorce element. All of the dino-mayhem in the surprisingly dull Jurassic Park III turns out to just be one big old romantic-comedy-esque plot device to make William H. Macy and Tea Leoni realize that they never should’ve gotten divorced in the first place. (The speed with which Leoni forgets her rebound boyfriend, Ben – who was stripped to the bone by pteranodons – is a little disturbing.)
Most recently, the kids in Jurassic World, Zach and Gray, were presumably sent to the doomed theme park, just so their parents could get divorced without them even knowing it. (“Welcome back, kids! Your father is now your weekend daddy!”) Gray, the younger brother, brings up the divorce theory to his oblivious older brother – after he found mail from divorce attorneys – and, later on, their mom (Judy Greer) has a tearful phone conversation, while their divorce arbitration appears to happening over her shoulder.
Divorce is a fairly familiar motif in Steven Spielberg movies (perhaps most notably in E.T.). In Disney movies, they kill the mom. In Spielberg movies, the parents get divorced. It’s the director’s go-to plot device for conflicted child protagonists.
But the Jurassic Park movies aren’t small domestic stories. They’re enormous, literally theme-park-sized spectacles. So why is divorce such a big part of their DNA? Why go back to the “divorce well” so often in a franchise with only four movies spanning 22 years?
Is it just directors trying to emulate Spielberg too hard? Are they packing the JP movies with as many Spielberg-isms as possible to, hopefully, re-capture the lightning he trapped in bottle with the first film?
Or is there actually some big thematic reason why divorce and dinosaurs HAVE TO go hand-in-hand? Is divorce the perfect example of chaos theory? Are they trying to say “it’s not good to bring back things from the dead – whether it’s a dinosaur or my love for your father”? Is it more exciting to watch a depressed kid run away from danger? Is almost getting eaten off the coast of Costa Rica really the best way to cope with two Christmases?
Or is it just some big dumb coincidence?
Either way, when the eventual Jurassic World 2 (Jurassic EPCOT? Jurassic Universe? Jurassic Rapture?) comes out, it’s a safe bet that, as it ends, some plucky tween hero or heroine will realize that, while divorce is hard, nothing is better at making you forget the collapse of your parents’ marriage than being terrorized for two hours by a rogue theme park attraction.