Sunday, December 21, 2014

Will 2015 be the year of the dinosaur?

Let’s skip ahead to the answer: Probably not, but it should still be an interesting year for dinosaur lovers.

Next year will see the release of Jurassic World in June and the animated The Good Dinosaur in November. The last time two big-screen dinosaur films debuted in the same year was 1993, when the first Jurassic Park was followed a few months later by We’re Back! A Dinosaur’s Story. That same year also saw the release of the film adaptation of Super Mario Bros., in which dinosaurs were a major plot element but otherwise didn’t get much screen time.

Needless to say, 1993 also was a big year for dinosaur merchandise as companies tried to cash in on the sudden revival of dino-cinema. Dinosaur books, comics, posters, magazines, toys, cartoons, and direct-to-video movies were everywhere. Will we see the same thing again?

I have my doubts. One reason for the wild success of the original Jurassic Park was it had the good fortune of debuting during a blockbuster drought. The film’s only competition at the box office was the dismal Arnold Schwarzenegger vehicle The Last Action Hero. Many of the other big hits that year — The Fugitive, Groundhog Day, Cliffhanger – were not the kind of movies whole families went to see. More importantly, they were not the kind of movies likely to sell a lot of merchandise.

A sign that things have changed for Jurassic World is the studio bumped up the release of the movie’s trailer by two days so it would debut ahead of the new Star Wars teaser, which threatened to drown out any buzz for the Jurassic Park sequel. Then there is the upcoming release of a tiny film you may have heard about - Avengers: Age of Ultron. Even the new Mad Max and Terminator films, while not necessarily kid-friendly movie properties, will likely divert the public’s already short attention span away from dinosaurs.

Another reason we’re not likely to see another explosion in dinomania is that cinematic dinosaurs are viewed as passé. The original Jurassic Park showed the public something they had never seen before: Incredibly lifelike computer-generated dinosaurs. But people no longer need to go to movie theaters to see such spectacle. BBC convincingly brought CGI dinosaurs to the small screen with Walking with Dinosaurs and its sequels, as did TV shows like Primeval and the short-lived Terra Nova. Sure, dinosaur lovers like myself could poke holes in the “dinosaurs are old news” argument, but Jurassic World’s creators are not helping. Here’s what the film’s director, Colin Trevorrow, told SlashFilm in May:
What if, despite previous disasters, they built a new biological preserve where you could see dinosaurs walk the earth…and what if people were already kind of over it? We imagined a teenager texting his girlfriend with his back to a T-Rex behind protective glass. For us, that image captured the way much of the audience feels about the movies themselves. “We’ve seen CG dinosaurs. What else you got?” Next year, you’ll see our answer.
Yes, it’s a little distressing the people producing the next Jurassic Park film think dinosaurs are boring. Still, that’s what we got. (It’s also an attitude explaining why the movie’s dinosaurs look so out-of-date compared to what paleontologists now know about their appearance.)

Now that I’ve spent the last few paragraphs poo-pooing the idea of Jurassic World resurrecting another surge of dinomania, let me point out there are reasons to be hopeful we will at least see an uptick in dinosaur-related products.

First, unlike Avengers or Star Wars, dinosaurs are not copyrighted. The Jurassic Park brand is, but book publishers, for instance, can’t release Star Wars-related products without first acquiring expensive licensing rights. No such restrictions apply to books about dinosaurs.

Second, there is a lot of interest in Jurassic World. As of this posting, it was the second most-referenced 2015 film on the Internet, according to Google. That puts it ahead of Star Wars but behind the Avengers. People seem genuinely interested in revisiting Jurassic Park.

Third, the public loves dinosaurs. Sure, dinomania waxes and wanes, but the fascination is always there. Seeing dinosaurs on the big screen is only going to help drive that interest up and businesses will want to cash in on that.

So what are we likely to see in dinosaur-related merchandise? The truth is it’s too early to tell. As far as paleofiction, which this blog is primarily concerned about, next year will see the release of The Dinosaur Lords, an epic fantasy novel combining Jurassic Park with Game of Thrones. There are no other major dinosaur novels announced so far, but I would be surprised if we didn’t get at least one dinosaur fiction anthology or the re-release of some older paleofiction titles. The big question is whether Jurassic World will get a novelization. Jurassic Park 3 was novelized as a kid’s book but there was no counterpart for adults. Note: Michael Crichton’s original novels Jurassic Park and The Lost World were released few years ago as a single volume titled Jurassic World. Don’t mistake that for the movie novelization.

What about toys? We already know Lego is releasing a Jurassic World set, which appears to be repurposing figures from its 2012 Lego Dino series. I’m sure we also will see Jurassic World action figures and playsets, and The Good Dinosaur undoubtedly will come with several tie-in toys. Chances are we won’t know more until Toy Fair 2015, a U.S. trade show in which many of the hottest new toys are debuted. The show kicks off February 14.

Video games are more problematic. Game developers have shown surprisingly little interest in dinosaurs over the years, but that may be changing. The creators of the popular Lego video game series have strongly hinted that their next game would be set in Jurassic Park. Other than that, there are a handful of non-Jurassic World games in the works. The most interesting is Saurian, which allows gamers to play as a dinosaur. Another dinosaur game – theHunter: Primal – is currently out as an unfished release, with the developers promising to add more dinosaurs to the title’s thin roster in the future.

Of course, I’ll update this blog with any paleofiction news as soon as I hear about it.

1 comment:

Eccentric Cowboy said...

Intriguing and well thought analysis sir. I'm quite impressed actually. You took a lot of different factors into account and provided a solid layout. :)

I am a bit worried about Jurassic World myself, as introducing a genetic cross-breed is usually not a good sign. Syfy Channel tends to do that a lot with predictable results.

I do think quite a few people will try to capitalize on the popular release however. I'm among the numberless legion of paleo-fans that got its roots started with the original Jurassic Park, and it is my hope that this movie will help inspire the young generation and inspire them to look at the old stuff, both movies and literature.

I myself am trying to release my first novella which is dinosaur themed in the next month or so, and I certainly won't be shy on jumping on board the Dino-fever Train!

It is true however that this movie reveals some of the problems with Hollywood lately, digging up old graves for wide public appeal. From a business angle it makes sense, as they are tapping into nostalgia and public recognition. A movie that started out with something completely different would be less likely to attract public attention. Definitely annoying, but that's how the safe-bet investors work.
That said, I'm actually surprised now that they didn't have some feathered raptors. Speaking personally I don't care either way, but even they know they have to whip out something new in order to hook the audience. Going with unfeathered animals would only look like the previous animals and come across as more blasse and samey. I suppose they're banking on the new hybrid to get everyone's attention.
Even so, baffling decision.

They are definitely trying to stick with the traditional formula, what with kids, park breaking down, raptors, large theropod rampaging, etc. Really doesn't work here though.

I am somewhat happy however that our muscled protagonist has the sense to be equipped with a suitable big game rifle strapped to his back, but I'm kind of wired that way. ;)

Well, let's keep our fingers crossed and hope that it won't get botched and we'll see some fun stuff in the next year!

And keep up the good work, I love this blog. :D