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Review: “Jurassic Park III”

Jurassic Park IIIDirected by: Joe Johnston
Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Larry J. Franco
Written by: Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Edited by: Robert Dalva
Cinematography by: Shelly Johnson
Music by: Don Davis, John Williams (themes)
Starring: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter
Based on the Jurassic Park book series by Michael Crichton
Year: 2001

 

I remember when I first found out this movie was actually a thing that was happening. It was amazingly sudden, if I recall correctly. I was still fairly new to the internet back in 2001, and the only magazines I read at the time were gaming magazines like Electronic Gaming Monthly, so it’s not like I was exactly up on the latest movie news. So imagine my surprise when I saw several ads and merchandise hanging around Wal-Mart (as it was written at the time) for a third Jurassic Park film that I had never even heard about.

Jurassic Park III - (from top, L-to-R) Sam Neill, Alessandro Nivola, Téa Leoni, William H. Macy, Michael Jeter

Oh my God! We're going to war with the dinosaurs, and there's a mini-T-rex!

Oh my God! We’re going to war with the dinosaurs, and there’s going to be a mini-T-rex!

My natural assumption was that this was some sort of teaser campaign to hype up the just-announced film, and, having nothing but adoration for the first two films at the time, my excitement for a third was fairly considerable. There were several action figures there to whet my appetite and set my expectations pretty high, too. This movie looked like it was going to be packed with action! Dr. Grant was back and apparently packin’ heat! There were soldiers, too! “Holy crap!” my adolescent self thought, “This was going to be freaking awesome!”

Of course, I didn’t think of the fact that the existence of action figures meant that the film was coming out pretty darn soon — not in, say, a year, as I had thought, but rather in a matter of weeks. So, lucky me, I didn’t have to live in anticipation for too long until the film’s release before I was actually able to see the film in theatres. Needless to say, my excitement levels were still basically unbearable by the time I sat down in the theatre with my family to enjoy, for the third time, another adventure 65 million years in the making…

To best explain my initial reaction to the film, I feel it is best that I recount the thoughts that ran through my mind regarding the very first scene, as it’s still quite vivid:

The film starts, and, at this point, I’m super excited! And, once again, we’re treated to a shot of an island — Isla Sorna, a.k.a. “Site B.” So excited! … And then… what… What the heck is up with that cheap, red “RESTRICTED” subtitle? That’s kinda corny, but… okay. … Oh… OH! What is this? What…? How did they botch the blue screen, or the green screen, or whatever it is they used for the parasailing scenes!? … OH MY GOD, AND THE ACTING! … This kid is worse than Kelly in the last film! What the heck? What’s going on? HOLY CRAP, THEY KEEP DOING THAT AWFUL BACKGROUND EFFECT! Why!? There’s at least going to be a dinosaur scene, right? Dudes in the boat just got eaten. Maybe we’ll see a plesiosaur? … … No? … How long is this? … WILL SOMEBODY PLEASE EAT THESE GUYS ALREADY?! … NO?! … What the hell!?

It's worse in motion, trust me.

It’s worse in motion, trust me.

Needless to say, the film did not endear me right away, much to my astonishment and disappointment. Things didn’t necessarily improve too much from there, either, and it wasn’t long before I started realizing that something was just… off… about the whole production. Sure, we had Dr. Grant back, and, hey, there’s Dr. Sattler, too! — Oh, but it’s only a cameo. — The dialogue was less quippy compared to the second film, too, which, even at this time in my appreciation for the second film, was still a welcome change of pace for me. But even more so than that film, Jurassic Park III basically takes the whole concept of wonder and the themes of scientific responsibility and pretends like they barely even exist, though I did like the shout out to the fact that the previous films’ depictions are now outdated — they are mutant creations, afterall. The film, however, delves even further into cheap roller coaster attraction-style thrills that are heavy on chase sequences and light on the smarts.

Jurassic Park III - T-Rex vs. Spinosaurus

A great part of this is likely due to the fact that Spielberg handed off the directing reigns to Joe Johnston, the man better known for directing the effects-driven minor classics Honey, I Shrunk the Kids and The Rocketeer but also the critical flops The Pagemaster and Jumanji, another large film which also suffered from prominent but awful special effects. With only the family drama October Sky standing as his sole major critical hit, the former effects artist and Spielberg protege was not exactly the most encouraging choice to take over the reigns of the series, and . (It’s worth noting that Johnston has continued to have spotty success, with Hidalgo and The Wolfman both failing to win over critics. Thankfully, he managed to deliver a wonderful Captain America film!) It’s also worth noting that this was the first film in the series to not even be based on a preexisting book, though certain concepts that went unused in the previous adaptations are incorporated here, such as the pteranodon cage.

Jurassic Park III - Pteranodon

And while Sam Neill’s return as Dr. Alan Grant from the first film is a welcome decision, the rest of the cast is wasted on annoying characters who are not only out of their element on this dinosaur-infested island, but who therefore also contribute to the devolution of the films by turning it into one scream-filled sequence after another. Do we really want to watch a deceitful, separated couple made up of a hysterical Téa Leoni and a nerdy William H. Macy fall back in love with one another as they look for their stranded, poorly-cast son on an island where far more interesting adventures could certainly be had at any given moment? No. Not really. (At least Alessandro Nivola, as Billy, has the decency to be so bland that he’s practically neutral.)

The first film had the family-building element semi-subliminally running throughout, but that was delicately balanced out with the scientific and ethical questions of the whole concept of cloning and fiddling with nature, not to mention that all important element of breathless excitement.There is some subplot about Dr. Grant discovering the extent of velociraptor intelligence and communication, but this is rendered somewhat superficial and unremarkable given the fact that the previous two films already established that these things were super smart and extremely vicious. Do we really need that hammered in a third time in such a silly manner?

Jurassic Park III - Sam Neill returns as Dr. Alan Grant

I suppose there are some positive things to say about the film, however. The decision to move on from the T-rex was a nice change of pace, giving us an exotic-looking new giant antagonist for our heroes to run from: the surprisingly persistent spinosaurus, who dispenses of the previous dinosaur king in a somewhat satisfying manner in what is surprisingly only the second major dino-on-dino fight in series history after the climax of the first film. Dinosaur effects are also serviceable and at times quite impressive in motion (the pteranodons are pretty fantastic and very menacing), but it’s notable that the heavy use of CGI makes the film feel and look cheap, even when it was first released, despite the advancements in effects between 1993 and 2001. (Sometimes there’s just no substituting good animatronics.)

I also suppose that Jurassic Park III is far more self-aware, being more of a theme park ride than the actual attraction this series is centered around, when compared to The Lost World, which helps for those who set their expectations accordingly. We’re given a simple premise — rescue the kid on the island, reunite him with his parents, avoiding being eaten, and get out — and the film should probably be commended for never straying too far from the plot by throwing in lots of stray subplots. Those velociraptor interactions are about all you get. At just about an hour and a half long, JP3 doesn’t overstay its welcome and is a decent enough time killer, but it’s hard to ignore the fact that this was probably the film that made me realize that, most of the time, sequels are nothing but mediocre cash-ins capitalizing on the magic of a predecessor.

The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2 / 5

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  1. June 19, 2015 at 12:21 am

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