Cinemas get a Jurassic jolt

Are Hollywood studios going the way of the dinosaur in China?


Laura Dern: returning to the Jurassic franchise after 30 years

Even though nearly three decades have passed since Steven Spielberg’s 1993 dinosaur epic Jurassic Park first hit the big screen, the franchise has found new ways to connect with old and new fans. Jurassic World Dominion again features Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard, along with T-Rex “Rexy” and the Velociraptor “Blue”. The latest sequel also brings back three stars from the original cast: Laura Dern as Dr Ellie Sattler; Jeff Goldblum as Dr Ian Malcolm; plus Sam Neill as Dr Alan Grant.

The film has also brought China’s cinema industry back to life despite its having received negative word-of-mouth and poor audience ratings. On Douban, the TV series and film review site, Dominion received a rating of 6.3 out of 10, the lowest in the Jurassic franchise. Regardless, the blockbuster has still gone on to rake in Rmb600 million ($90 million) since its release on June 10. It’s also the first film in months to surpass the Rmb100 million mark on its opening day.

The first three Jurassic Park films were never officially shown in China during their original worldwide releases in 1993, 1997 and 2001 respectively. But the country’s audiences knew enough of the reptilian cast to flock to cinemas in 2013 when the remastered version Jurassic Park 3D was screened. It went on to collect Rmb349 million in ticket sales. Since then, China has become the biggest market outside of North America for the franchise, which has changed from ‘park’ to ‘world’ to reflect its global ambition. In 2015, Jurassic World made Rmb1.4 billion in China. Three years later, Jurassic World 2 set a new record earning Rmb1.7 billion, which made it one of the top 10 highest grossers at the Chinese box office to date.

This time round, analysts predict that Dominion could make Rmb1 billion in box office revenues by the end of its run. To drum up interest for the film, Universal put it out simultaneously with the US release and it is being billed as the “epic conclusion to the Jurassic era” which seems to imply that it is the final instalment in the entire dinosaur saga.

To that end, the studio probably wants to go out with a bang so more species of dinosaurs were added to the cast than ever before. According to YiMagazine, there were a total of 27 different kinds in the film, of which 17 were brand new (such as the dicryosaurus, therizinosaurus and heterodon) while 10 were old ‘faces’ from the previous series.

Not everyone was impressed. “I know this could be the last instalment in the franchise but does everyone in the family have to make an appearance? It feels like watching a dress rehearsal, when all the dinosaurs come out to walk through their scenes,” one joked.

Still, the sparky takings of Dominion should lift the spirits of cinema bosses. Theatres in the country are slowly opening up again after the recent resurgence of Covid-19 in many cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, where lockdowns pushed ticket sales to a 10-year low during the Dragon Boat Festival holiday weekend in June.

While there has been a backlog of unreleased domestic movies, Hollywood bosses are also suffering from a “really funky year” in China, as Rich Gelfond the CEO of IMAX put it last month. A combination of movies being banned by censors and cinemas being closed for lockdown has seen a collapse in Tinseltown’s Chinese box office take. The Batman, Fantastic Beasts 3 and Uncharted did show but Disney’s Marvel franchise has seen five releases in a row shut out (Tom Cruise’s Top Gun: Maverick also stands little chance of getting the approval for take-off either). Prior to Jurassic World Dominion the best-performing ‘imported’ film in the first half of the year was DreamWorks’ animated movie Bad Guys – and it only made a total of Rmb291 million. Uncharted, starring Tom Holland, collected just Rmb150 million.

“For the Chinese market, the strong box office in June will deliver a boost of confidence for the film industry ahead of summer. Therefore, Jurassic World Dominion is also seen as the hope for the entire market to reverse its decline,” YiMagazine added.

But local studios could be in pole position if a summer box office spree does happen. According to the Hollywood Reporter the coming weeks will see a string of Chinese titles hitting screens. Major US movies, by contrast, have not yet received official release dates from China’s regulators.

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