It's the summer of sequels. Dr. Dolittle II, American Pie II, Scary Movie II, and the monster of them all, Jurassic Park III. Sequels, as a general rule, do little better than half the box office of the original. The Lost World (Jurassic Park II), however, is one of the top grossing films of all time, so you can pretty much expect that part III, good or bad, is going to make a lot of people rich.
Unfortunately, it's not going to make a lot of people happy. I'm sad to say, but the magic is gone. When Jurassic Park came out, it blew people away. People were amazed. Not only was it a hugely entertaining adventure, it set new standards for computer animation and reinvigorated interest in dinosaur research around the world. It had the benefit of a great story-teller in Michael Crichton, and visionary director in Steven Speilberg. The Lost World was fun, but felt like it had been made just for the money. It still had that spark, though. When part III rolled around, Crichton decided he wanted nothing to do with it. Speilberg, busy with A.I., decided to simply take a producer credit, and handed the reins over to his protog, Joe Johnston. As a result of the loss of it's two major creative forces, Jurassic Park III fails to break any new ground and, unfortunately is unable to amaze the audience.
That's not to say the filmmakers didn't try. There's a huge new dinosaur, a super-predator only recently discovered by paleontologists. The faithful T-Rex is back as are the ever present Raptors, and, finally, some Pterodactyls. The writers mined some material unused from the original novel and came up with a fairly thrilling sequence that takes place in a giant aviary. The flying dinosaurs are really pretty cool until they get up close, where they start to look a little fake. There's one fairly exciting dinosaur battle, but the directors don't go nearly far enough with this concept. If they want to keep people interested in these stories they're going to have to step it up. Have the Raptors (with their newly discovered ability to communicate) scheme to take over the island. Maybe they could figure out how to restore power to the compound and the miles of electrical equipment strewn about. Or, they could take a cue from every show on television, and have the dinosaurs vote a species a week off the island. I can just imagine a Raptor in a long black coat barking "You are the missing link. Good-bye." Or not.
The spinosaurus, a massive carnivore, pursuing prey in Universal's Jurassic Park 3 - 2001
Anyway, the story puts us through the same paces as the other two. A bunch of people are stuck on the island and have to run around being picked off one by one until someone can finally get a phone to work. William H. Macy and Tea Leoni are distraught parents looking for their son, lost on the island eight weeks ago. Sam Neill returns as Dr. Alan Grant, one of the few people in the world with experience with actual dinosaurs. Along for the ride are the requisite group of mercenaries who you never really get to know very well. They should group them in the credits under "Edibles." Macy is always good, even when dealing with a substandard script. His desperate, nervous everyman demeanor is perfect for the character, and it's too bad the writers couldn't take full advantage of that. Tea Leoni usually irritates me, but she is pretty low key here. Sam Neill, on the other hand, is usually very good. But this time it felt like he was reciting lines from the first movie. The real stars of the film, the dinosaurs, are kind of hit and miss. As I mentioned, the pterodactyls were alternately very cool and kind of fake looking. All of the other dinosaurs looked real, but they never take the time to get close to them the way they did in the first film. There is the requisite running with the herd scene, but it's over before you know it, and you can't tell what's going on anyway. I guess the problem is that the initial shock of seeing the dinosaurs and how real they look is gone by now. If filmmakers want to keep the audience's attention, they need to go close up to lots of different kinds of dinos, not just Raptors.
Jurassic Park III, in the end, comes off as fairly typical summer fare. It's loud, relatively exciting, but without much subtlety or depth. It will make a ton of money, and could feasibly spawn another sequel. But with as little attention as it gives to keeping the story fresh and thrilling, the Jurassic Park franchise could soon be as extinct as it's prehistoric stars. Grade: C+
Jurassic Park III is rated PG-13 for violence and scary dinosaurs.
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