Jurassic World Dominion’s extended edition is half fluff, half repair job

Thanks to COVID-related delays in production and visual effects work, Hollywood’s blockbuster-release pipeline has slowed down considerably. So it makes sense that precious billion-dollar hits are being recycled, with a spate of extended editions that recall the DVD boom of the 2000s. Two particularly high-profile expansions are now available. 2021’s gigantic hit Spider-Man: No Way Home is back in theaters with 11 minutes of new footage and a subtitle, “The More Fun Stuff Version.” And an extended version of Jurassic World Dominion with 14 extra minutes of footage is available for streaming on Peacock, for digital rental, and on Blu-ray. So many extended editions can be categorized as an attempted repair job or a cash grab. It’s fitting for Jurassic World Dominion’s kitchen-sink quality that the newly bulked-up version functions as both.

It certainly has more potential fan mandate than a longer No Way Home. The Spider-Man sequel gets some extra character comedy in its longer version, but it was also a widely beloved movie; a longer version is really just a victory lap. Dominion, however, received a more mixed reaction from both critics and audiences: It’s both the worst-reviewed Jurassic movie on Rotten Tomatoes and the lowest-grossing of the Jurassic World trilogy in the United States.

Jurassic World Dominion is already the longest Jurassic movie by close to 20 minutes, since it assumes the responsibility of both wrapping up the Jurassic World trilogy and serving as a reunion/postscript for the first three Jurassic Park movies. Essentially, it’s two unwieldy movies fused together. It’s a warmly performed but wan Jurassic Park legacy sequel, with older scientists visiting yet another dinosaur sanctuary and research facility that’s less controlled and less altruistic than it looks. Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum reunite in the same Jurassic movie for the first time since the original 1993 Jurassic Park. At the same time, it’s also a crazier globe-trotting adventure, where characters from Jurassic World deal with a new status quo of dinosaurs running wild everywhere. That half of the movie is much sillier, but also more fun.

Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) bugs his eyes out comedically as he attempts to evade a pursuing dinosaur while riding a motorcycle in an actual, official Jurassic World Dominion publicity photo. No, this is not a screengrab we made, even though it does look weirdly blurry and kinda Photoshopped. Image: Universal Pictures

It would take more than 14 minutes of footage to reconcile these two movies into a single cohesive, well-paced project. Still, almost anyone inclined to either rewatch Dominion or check it out on streaming might as well opt for the extended version. (In for a penny, in for a 160-minute pound!) It’s a de facto director’s cut; Colin Trevorrow says this was his version of the movie before he was asked to trim it back. “It really wasn’t that I went back and did a director’s cut, it’s just that we have been honestly given a gift of being able to share the original film,” he says. Like so many director’s cuts before it, this longer version isn’t materially different as a movie, but it does make marginally more sense.

There are two major categories of new material in the extended edition: new scenes involving dinosaurs, and extended versions of scenes involving puny humans. Rather than recontextualizing this overstuffed monster mash, the additions play to the movie’s strengths and weaknesses — which is to say the dinosaur stuff is fun, and the human stuff is a bit half-assed. Trevorrow expects character crumbs and fan service to sustain fans who are looking for some form of human connection.

The dino scenes are frontloaded in the first hour of the movie. The most substantial addition is the movie’s new opening, which won’t be brand-new to everyone who watches it. This five-minute sequence — which starts with nature-doc-style observation of the animals in their natural habitat before cutting to “65 Billion Years Later” as a T. rex tromps through a drive-in — has been available on YouTube since 2021. (It also played as a long-lead prologue to the movie on IMAX screens in 2021.) Maybe reusing this teaser as the opening seemed too old hat, too slow, or too derivative of the 22-year-old Disney disappointment Dinosaur.

Regardless, it’s far more elegant than the abbreviated Mosasaurus attack that opens the theatrical cut, which seems to be one of the only original-version sequences that’s truncated in the extended edition. The extended-version opening also ties in more closely with the movie’s thematic concerns: the folly of assuming that humans have dominion over nature. The transition from a sequence of dinosaurs in their world to the news footage of dinos in our world emphasizes how their resurrection upsets the status quo for nature as well as for human society. There’s also a kind of serenity in watching these beautifully rendered dinosaur effects applied to something more naturalistic than a fun yet exhausting perpetual-motion monster movie.

Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) extends a finger toward a baby Nasutoceratops in a way that makes it look like she’s about to boop it on the nose, as Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) looks on in Jurassic World Dominion. Image: Universal Pictures

Nothing else in the Dominion extended cut is as worthwhile as that opening, but there are other fun additions, particularly in the section establishing the off-the-grid life of Owen Grady (Chris Pratt), Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard), and Maisie Lockwood (Isabella Sermon). The new cut prolongs the Western vibes of an early scene where Grady lassos and captures a Parasaurolophus with a follow-up where Grady is held up at gunpoint by poachers (or rustlers, really), who take the dino away from him.

These are the same people who eventually kidnap Maisie, which explains a strange moment in the theatrical cut where Grady notes after the kidnapping that he’s “seen them around” previously, which makes him seem weirdly ineffectual. (“Oh yeah, some shady guys have been lurking around my remote cabin and my secret hidden clone daughter, so I made a mental note of it.”) There’s also a scene where Grady’s beloved raptor Blue kills a hunter, which does more to leaven the sentimentality around the creature; in the theatrical cut, Blue seemingly avoids killing anyone simply by chance. The extended version also features a brief, inessential but welcome fight between two diminutive dinos in the Malta black market.

The more human-centric new material is trickier to spot. Much of it extends existing scenes. For example, Ellie Sattler (Dern) and Alan Grant (Neill) share a longer conversation during their initial reunion. This is preceded by a moment where two younger women on Grant’s dig refer to uncovering dinosaur bones as “random” while playing on their smartphones, another of this trilogy’s nod to indifference in the face of natural wonders. Later on, Grant gets a moment where he gently convinces a hesitant, fearful Maisie to accompany him and Sattler into the tunnels beneath the HQ of the adversarial company Biosyn.

The exchange between Grant and Maisie is one of just a handful restored to the back half of the film. The other notable extension is a lengthier version of a fraught conversation between main bad guy Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) and his disillusioned right-hand man Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie). These dialogue scenes were probably cut and shortened for the sake of pacing, and it’s telling that the last hour of Dominion feels slack with or without them. The movie is caught between the heedless momentum of the typical blockbuster (which Grant’s encouragement to Maisie unintentionally mimics: “Moving forward is better than staying still,” he advises) and the desire to give eight or nine major characters their due. Neither the human lines or the dinosaur action can be cut down enough to give this movie substantial breathing room. Even in the longer cut, the filmmakers are forced to rely on listless quips and filler lines, like Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) describing one bit of giant-locust mayhem as “bananas.”

Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and Lewis Dodgson (Campbell Scott) face off in the foreground of a tech-heavy room, gunslinger-style, while Ramsay Cole (Mamoudou Athie) looks on in the background in Jurassic World Dominion. Image: Universal Pictures

Really, the film and its action aren’t bananas enough. This is the first Jurassic movie to get any kind of substantially longer cut. The network TV version of The Lost World restored some deleted scenes, but cut other material to fit into a network time slot. And even a version of Jurassic World Dominion that approaches the three-hour mark isn’t a work of glorious, visionary excess.

It’s more a post-release souvenir of a certain type of contemporary blockbuster filmmaking, where genuine affection for the material, self-consciousness about pleasing the hardcore fans, and ever-present concerns about the bottom line converge into something equally appealing and cumbersome. Jurassic Park is a sleekly engineered thrill ride, and its trilogy of rebooted sequels are an overpopulated theme park. The Dominion extended edition ultimately feels like a protracted exit through the gift shop.