Take healthy doses of The Running Man, The Hunger Games, and Jurassic World, mix them all together and you’ve got The Jurassic Games, a low budget film that, on the surface, simply doesn’t sound like it should be as effective as it is. But damn if the whole thing doesn’t work. The concept is that criminals on death row are placed in a virtual reality environment that serves as the basis for the biggest reality show on TV, and that environment pits them against dinosaurs. One will survive and be set free, all the others destined to be killed by fellow “contestants” or the Jurassic baddies. The film is produced by High Octane Pictures, and in the following interview writer/director Ryan Bellgardt provides insight into its making.
How would you describe the development process for The Jurassic Games?
High Octane Pictures specializes in producing horror movies and sci-fi movies that are more of the direct to video and streaming kind of variety. My first movie with them was Army of Frankensteins, which we did five years ago, and when it came time to do Jurassic Games, they came to me and said, “We want to produce a movie to kind of tie in with Jurassic World coming out this summer. And we’re thinking that our buyers are gonna like something with dinosaurs versus convicts.” And so they gave that premise to me and I just took it and ran with it.
They gave me the freedom to just come up with anything I wanted to. At first, it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to me that there would be actual cloned dinosaurs fighting convicts on an island somewhere. I was having trouble coming up with a story that I liked. Then one day it occurred to me to make it kind of like The Running Man, where it was a virtual reality show and it made me think, “You know, this might be kind of plausible.” Where in the near future they would take death row inmates and pit them against each other on some kind of game show. And why would they use dinosaurs? Because everyone loves dinosaurs and everyone would want to see dinosaurs fighting these guys.
When that idea popped in and I pitched that back to them, they liked it a lot. That’s when it started to take shape into something that I really wanted to do. And it’s something that I always do with the movies I get to make, make them my own. Even if it’s set parameters, like make dinosaurs versus convicts, I’m like, “Well how can I make this into something interesting that I actually like a lot?” And that’s what I tried to do with the story for Jurassic Games. And I think because of everybody’s sort of passion for the project from the very beginning, everyone kind of over-delivered. Now, seeing it finished, I’m like, “Wow, it kind of exceeded my expectations. I’m pretty proud of this.”
Is the film any sort of indictment of reality TV?
I don’t know if it was an indictment any more than it was kind of an inspiration. When I started to realize it was going to be a reality TV show, I started to think about reality TV shows I had seen, and the idea of them having to solve puzzles and do challenges was more exciting than to just pit the dinosaurs against the characters in an open free-for-all world. I thought, “Let’s take something like in the game show Survivor, they might have them do a maze and then solve a puzzle before they move on to the next stage.” So it wasn’t just about strength. Or that the bigger characters always have the advantage. So what I think of reality TV or not didn’t really play into it that much. But I will admit I thought that there might be a sinister side to cash grabbing in broadcasting and in television altogether, and maybe reality shows are a little bit of that. Where it’s a cheap form of entertainment, which, not to get too deep into all this, in this style of movie, where this kind of movie comes from, we were able to be aware of that. And be aware of the fact that, okay, there are things that we have to put into this movie to make it more appealing to buyers internationally.
In a weird way, this is kind of a love letter to the process of making a movie like this, because there are so many things translated from our real-world experience making this movie. An example I can give you is when one of the characters says, “Why do you think they picked dinosaurs to be the things that we’re running from?”, and the other character says, “Well, it’s because they tested better than robots.” When we started to ask buyers, “Hey, what are you guys wanting, a dinosaur movie or a robot movie?”, we got an overwhelming, “We want dinosaurs.” So, that’s why that’s in there.
One of the impressive aspects of the film is the quality of the visual effects, particularly considering we’re seeing the dinosaurs in broad daylight rather than hiding them in the darkness.
I’m really impressed with the work the visual effects team did. They’re a group of guys that are here, based in my home state of Oklahoma, where we made the movie. The models for the T-Rex’s and the Raptors, and some of the other dinosaurs were done by a guy named Vlad and his partner Alex — I would say their last names, but I can’t pronounce them because they’re in Russia. They worked on National Geographic stuff, and we found them through our animator, who used to work in video games. We had them make our models for us, so it starts with great models that are very anatomically correct.
Armed with these great models, my team in-house did a lot of the animating. It’s a very small team that worked really tirelessly to put this thing together. And we found that working in a group situation where we could critique each other’s work, and push each other, was really helpful. It made everybody’s work a little bit better.
Seems we’ve been spoiled by the Jurassic Park films, because when your T-Rex roars, it’s, like, “Hey, that’s not right!”
Our sound designer is a guy named Ando Johnson, who created the Cyborg and Batmobile sounds for Justice League. But you’re right, that Jurassic Park sound is so iconic. It’s hard to mimic that, but I think we got as close as we could by adding weird things into the mix, like slamming steel doors and creaking giant doors — things that are completely not organic or created organically in nature, but just add to that terrible grinding sound when they roar.
So, for the audience that doesn’t know what the hell Jurassic Games is, why should they be excited about this movie?
There’s dinosaur action from the beginning all the way through it. Then there’s the question, “If they really did this in the future, is this something I would support, or is this something I’d be against?” So there’s that little theme going on. But beyond that, you’ve got a guy kung-fu fighting Raptors, which was crazy and fun for us to do; and this big showdown at the end where two guys are running from three T-Rex’s. We just try to put stuff in there that you might not see a lot in movies. Or maybe ever.
The Jurassic Games will be available on Digital 6/12 and DVD 7/3 from Uncork’d Entertainment.
Images: Uncork’d Entertainment