With Steven Spielberg stepping down to getting merely an "executive producer"
credit, director Joe Johnston's "Jurassic Park III" could unquestionably have
been an irrelevant, needless second sequel to one of the biggest money-making
franchises of all time. With all of its possible story options told out in
the first two pictures, could there really be more to do with the premise
aside from hack together pieces from the predecessors and construct them into
a new, cohesive whole? Quite the contrary, as "Jurassic Park III" turns out
to be a new kind of breed of dinosaur--a little long in the tooth, but with
just enough life to resurrect not only the series, but the genre of big,
summer action-adventure movies.
If 1993's "Jurassic Park" was a groundbreaking achievement, both in modern
special effects and marvelous, cliffhanging storytelling, and 1997's "The
Lost World: Jurassic Park" was a joyless, boring misfire with none of the
magic that made the original so memorable, then "Jurassic Park III" stands as
infinitely better than the second film, but not quite up to par with the
first. Still, it's an entertaining and tightly-wound suspense yarn that,
clocking in at 92 minutes, is over a half-hour shorter than the previous
"Jurassic" excursions. This running time difference works as a definite
asset, as the story and break-neck action sequences get going almost right
away, bypassing the dreary, seemingly endless exposition that made "The Lost
World" almost a chore to endure.
Triumphantly reprising his role from the first movie, Sam Neill stars as Dr.
Alan Grant, a paleontologist who, seven years after his unforgettable
experiences at Jurassic Park, still must field questions about what he went
through and saw. A proposition comes his way in the form of Paul (William H.
Macy) and Amanda Kirby (Tea Leoni), a wealthy, married couple who wish to fly
over Isla Sorna and take in the glorious sights of the dinosaur-infested Site
B. Following a generous paycheck that leads Dr. Grant; his young, wide-eyed
assistant, Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola); and three other crew members,
to accompany the Kirby's on their "harmless" trip, their real motives emerge.
The Kirby's, it seems, are a middle-class, divorced couple who have every
intention of landing the plane on Isla Sorna to begin searching for their
14-year-old son, Eric (Trevor Morgan), whose paraglide crashed there eight
weeks earlier. When their airplane crashes on the island, however, they find
themselves stranded without any way of calling for help, in a land of
dinosaurs that would happily eat them for lunch.
With little more than a brief fifteen-minute introduction to the characters
and plot, "Jurassic Park III" jumps to the chase, literally and figuratively.
The next hour is an almost non-stop parade of snazzy, state-of-the-art visual
effects that make the creatures look more realistic and elaborate than ever,
and fast-moving, breathtaking action set pieces that don't hardly let up to
allow you to breathe. One such sequence, set on a creaky jawbridge that the
potential victims have no idea is located inside a giant birdcage with
flying, carnivorous Pteranodons, jauntily milks the tension for all its
Also working to the film's advantage is the intoxicating sense of wonder that
the dinosaurs are depicted with--a trait that made the original so special,
and one that was utterly absent from the followup. This assured, smart
decision allows to give the film an unexpected depth that it otherwise might
not have had in such a quick-paced narrative. The music, by Don Davis,
powerfully recaptures the lush score that John Williams perfected in the
original. And the screenplay, by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne (1999's
"Election"), and Jim Taylor, is crisply well-written.
With so many dinosaur chases, the character interaction is effective,
workmanlike, and kept to a minimum. Sam Neill proves again what a
mesmerizing, underrated actor he is, and why he is better suited for the
"hero" role than the slightly nerdy Jeff Goldblum was in "The Lost World."
Making the debut appearances in the series, William H. Macy (2000's "State
and Main") and Tea Leoni (2000's "The Family Man") are just the type of
strong character actors that give their roles the added nuances needed to
avoid cliches. In only a few scenes, we are able to believe that Paul and
Amanda Kirby are divorcees who still, in one way or the other, love each
other very much. Laura Dern (2000's "Dr. T and the Women") also makes a
refreshing appearance, albeit a fairly small one, as Ellie Sadler, her
character from the original. Dern is such a likable presence, and does such a
good job here with not much screen time, that it's a shame she couldn't have
been right alongside Neill throughout. One thing is for sure: their chemistry
together is undeniable.
"Jurassic Park III" is so thrilling a motion picture that its ending,
unfortunately, comes out feeling anticlimactic. A final run-in with their
meat-eating adversaries seems missing, as if the makers couldn't wait for the
film to come to a close. The disappointing conclusion aside, "Jurassic Park
III" is a welcome return to the style and startling execution that made the
1993 picture such a success. With a final image that hints at a possible
fourth "Jurassic" adventure, the thought of such, it turns out, doesn't seem
like such a bad idea after all.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman