Spanish filmmaker Juan Antonio Bayona toils in the world of monsters. Whether its the tsunami that ripped the vacationing family apart in his Naomi Watts-Ewan McGregor-starrer The Impossible; the ghostly children in his wildly terrifying debut The Orphanage; or the actual tree monster in his examination of grief and loss, When a Monster Calls, the often repellent, always terrifying creature of the dark is where Bayona finds his answers.
As the director of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which opens on June 22, Bayona is now playing with some of the biggest monsters ever.
“We are living in a time of monsters right now, but we also need monsters, we need fantasy to process what we are going through,” says the diminutive 43-year-old filmmaker. There is very little that is overtly political in Fallen Kingdom, but it does contain a few veiled barbs at Donald Trump, including an interestingly coiffed Toby Jones, who plays one of the films villains, and another bad guy saying, “What a nasty woman,” about a paleo-veterinarian (played by Daniella Pineda).
Yet the film as a whole can be seen as a cautionary tale for the state of our broken world. When chapter two of the Jurassic World trilogy begins, its been three years since the dinosaurs turned against the tourists at the elaborate theme park, insurance payouts are massive, and the remote island of Isla Nublar—where the dinosaurs were left to fend for themselves—has been shut down. One last supposed humanitarian effort to save the man-made creatures, from an active volcano that threatens the island off of Costa Rica, turns out to be an elaborate, sinister plot, one that preys on the worst of our capitalistic instincts, to sell the lethal creatures to the highest bidder—think T. rex as the latest weapon of mass destruction. With the exception of our leads, played by Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard, and newcomer Isabella Sermon, all the humans in the film are varying degrees of evil. The dinosaurs might be dangerous, but they are definitely not the bad guys.
“These monsters are the result of the red lines that weve crossed,” said Bayona, at the end of a lengthy press tour thats taken him to theaters around the world. “We created them so we, ultimately, are the monster. Its the way Michael Crichton had been talking about the Jurassic universe from the beginning. They are cautionary tales where you never blame science, you never blame nature, you never blame new technologies. You blame the wrong use of these elements, the wrong use of science. . . . In that sense, these are moral tales. And in this movie we are turning a moral tale into a moral fairy tale, where you [ultimately] find a castle with a princess and a dragon. I thought that was a beautiful idea.”
Colin Trevorrow, co-screenwriter and executive producer of the film, wanted to work with Bayona because of his previous work. “If you take The Orphanage, a haunted-house movie, and combine it with The Impossible—the family stuck in a natural-disaster movie—and combine that with A Monster Calls, which is a childs relationship with a large animatronic or [computer-generated] magical creature, you basically have our film,” Tevorrow said.
But in the end, it was the directors connection to the material that impressed Tevorrow the most.
“This is really a movie where we need you to care about the dinosaurs in a way we havent asked the audience to before,” said Trevorrow. “[Bayonas] way of making these animals feel real, and the intimacy of those interactions with these magical creatures, are the things that excite me about him the most.”
Trevorrow can thank Steven Spielberg, the original architect of these dinosaurs that audiences first witnessed in 1993s Jurassic Park, for that. Bayona grew up on the films of Spielberg, Alfred Hitchcock, Akira Kurosawa, and Francois Truffaut. With only one TV station airing these movies in his hometown of Barcelona, Bayona was obsessive about never missing a film. He was particularly drawn to Spielberg for his mastery of emotion.
“I learned a lot about making movies and filmmaking from Steven Spielberg,” said Bayona. “Most directors think about story, [whereas] I think more about emotion. And I think we both are very emotional as directors. We are also interested in similar things: family, childhood, and growing up. As a kid, I felt his movies were talking to me in a very straightforward way.”
E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial was a particularly strong touchpoint for the director, and he tried to mimic some of what he calls “pure emotion” from that classic in his continuation of the Jurassic Park legacy. “There is a scene [in E.T.] that I love, when Elliot is showing his toys to E.T.,” said Bayona. “For me thats a compendium of [Spielbergs] cinema. . . . Its so poetic. You put yourself in the position of a kid and think about what would you do with an alien at your home. You would show him your toys.”
Playing in Spielbergs toy box is a different experience for the thoughtful filmmaker, who has only made films, albeit those with a sizable budget, outside of Hollywood and on his terms. Fallen Kingdom is a piece of the industrys machinery. “You put yourself at the service of the legacy of the movies that were done before, and you are at the service of Colins story,” Bayona said. “I really wanted to make this film pay tribute to the legacy of the movies Steven did in the past.”
This is why in one of the most striking images in the film, when Isla Nublar is being engulfed by lava, the last dinosaur we see is the good ol brontosaurus—the very first dinosaur audiences discovered in Spielbergs Jurassic Park.
“Its a different way of working. In a sense I feel less exposed,” Bayona admitted. “I felt much more exposed with The Impossible and A Monster Calls.”
Yet, its Bayonas flourishes that are often what save this preposterous tale from itself. If one scene reminds you of something out of 1979s Dracula starring Frank Langella, its no coincidence. Bayona, a mere 5-year-old when that movie first debuted on his home screen, was traumatized by the image of Langella crawling into a girls bedroom.
“I had a window in my bedroom and I was convinced that Frank Langella was gonna come and sneak through it. I couldnt sleep for months,” he said. “When I read the [Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom] script there was a brief moment that I decided to make into a big moment.” The scene, first introduced in the films trailer, provides one of the more tense moments in the pic.
Bayonas own directors toy-box moment is an intercut between a scene of Owen (Pratt) and Claire (Howard) trying to extract blood from a tranquilized T. rex (to be used to resuscitate the dying velociraptor, Blue) and Maisie (Sermon) watching old videos of Owen training and bonding with a young Blue.
“Its my favorite stretch of the film,” said Trevorrow. “Being able to see the beginning of that relationship intercut with the possible end of it. I thought it was a beautiful sequence.”
With Fallen Kingdom, Bayona seems to have more on his mind than just the typical action film. You see it in his connection to the emotion he is trying to evoke in the audience, and also when you talk to him—there is a gravitas in the way he explains his process. During our interview he carried a copy of Fear by Stefan Zweig, the Austrian author that inspired Wes Andersons film, The Grand Budapest Hotel. Bayona relays the story of Zweigs tragic death: he and his wife killed themselves in Brazil, prior to the Germans invading Europe during World War II, because they knew where the war was headed and did not want to be a part of it.
Its a dark image to end the interview on, but one that underscores Bayonas connection to the monstrous forces in our world. Bayona avoids most talk of politics, but its clearly on his mind.
“There is a moment that you need a monster in your life to shake up everything,” he said. “We all need monsters to be aware of the problem we are living in.”
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