Jurassic Park
review by KJ Doughton, 20 July 2001

While watching Jurassic Park 3, I noticed that the theater smelled like a zoo. This appropriate olfactory touch lent itself to the latest of summer’s perfunctory, not bad but not-great blockbusters. I should have thanked the gamy guy next to me for not washing his pits, and adding a third dimension to this predictably professional showcase of velociraptors, T-rexes, pterodactyls, and some new beastie that looks like something the Crocodile Hunter might attempt to wrestle on his Animal Planet television series.

First, the good news. Jurassic Park 3’s script has certainly done an admirable job of rationalizing why noted paleontologist Dr.Alan Grant (Sam Neill) would go anywhere near the vicious prehistoric beasts that nearly swallowed him whole in the first film of the series. The notion of distressed parents concocting a scheme to lure him into Costa Rica and help track down their missing son is an interesting twist. The film’s writers have also injected some humor into the mix, which puts color into this rather bland, familiar formula. When a fan of Grant’s tells him that he enjoys Grant’s two scholarly books on dinosaur science, the fossil-savvy expert explains why the second was less affectionate towards his subjects. “When I wrote the first book,” he points out bluntly, “the dinosaurs hadn’t tried to eat me yet!”

The bad news is that a tired franchise remains a tired franchise, with or without the biting wit provided by screen scribes Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, and Jim Taylor. The dinosaur encounters aren’t nearly as frightening this time around, despite superb renderings of such marvelous, extinct giants by Industrial Light and Magic. Meanwhile, does anyone even remember the humdrum plot behind Jurassic Park: The Lost World? Part of the fun behind viewing a movie like Jurassic Park 3 involves observing the various ways in which a studio can justify resurrecting a series that has already exhausted all of its possibilities. Remember Lethal Weapon 4, The Godfather III, Alien 3 and Alien Resurrection (the ludicrous fourth installment), and Ghostbusters 2? I didn’t think so. Typically, even with the best and brightest script chefs on hand to cook up a new spin, the batter is already so lumpy and thin that it all comes out bland and flavorless.

As far as leftovers go, however, Jurassic Park 3 is fairly tasty fare. As the movie begins, we find ourselves above the oceans of Cost Rica, watching a tour boat zip across the water’s surface near the island of Isla Sorna. Amidst the whitecaps, a thrill seeking forty-something and the young boy accompanying him have convinced a gullible skipper to steer them alongside this notorious piece of land. Years earlier, dinosaurs were cloned there from DNA by would-be theme park entrepreneur John Hammond until his top attractions started eating staff and patrons. The Costa Rican government has since deemed this dangerous area “no man’s land” and forbidden its exploration by gawkers and curious dino-seekers. On this day, however, pre-teen Eric Kirby (Trevor Morgan, who antagonized Haley Joel Osment as the wannabe child actor from The Sixth Sense) and a guardian with incredibly poor judgment use a hang-glider rigged off the boat to elevate them over the emerald-green island. They’re hoping to get a more impressive view of its unique occupants from the air. Needless to say, this ends in disaster, with all but Eric ending up as dino delicacies.

This sets the film’s bare-bones plot in motion, as the boy’s separated parents attempt to put their differences aside and retrieve their son from Isla Sorna. They convince a trio of dim soldiers of fortune to provide some brawn and weaponry, and eventually lure the reluctant Grant to join the ride with the help of a hefty blank check. Archeological digs don’t come cheap, and Grant can use the dough. En route to the island via plane, it’s worth a chuckle when Grant asks one of the tough-looking mercenaries how they came to know Paul Kirby (William H. Macy) and his ex-wife, Amanda (Tea Leoni). “We met through our church,” is the roughneck’s response.

Predictably, the travelers are stranded on Isla Sorna, and the rest of the film is a solid thrill-ride of narrow escapes, frenetic chases, and close encounters – all played with a sarcastic edge. Surrounded by salivating velociraptors, Grant orders the other expedition members not to move a muscle, only to turn around and find that they’ve already bailed out on him. In another clever scene, a toothy predator’s presence is detected by a ringing cell phone, swallowed by the hungry carnivore and sounding off from the dark recesses of his stomach. Later on, our heroes hear the same distinctive ring emanating from mound of dinosaur dung, and shovel through the poop to retrieve the phone, after the device has made its way through the host’s digestive tract. Meanwhile, there are swooping pteranodons, club-tailed ankylosauruses, and a fifty-foot long meat-eater called a spinosaurus. This bruiser’s scrap to the death with a swaggering T-rex is an impressive duel of the titans.

O.K., so maybe Jurassic Park 3 isn’t going to change the world. Even so, I admire the craftsmanship behind this movie more than the manipulative, insulting method behind Pearl Harbor, another much-ballyhooed summer “event” film that draped itself in historical tragedy and failed to deliver as an action flick. Director Joe Johnston has streamlined his sequel to a lean ninety-four minutes, and emphasized the prehistoric mayhem and ghastly behemoths that we have come to see. Throw in some refreshingly self-deprecating humor, and you have a recipe for a familiar meal served up with just enough seasoning to keep it interesting.

Directed by:
Joe Johnston

Sam Neill
William H. Macy
Tea Leoni
Alessandro Nivola
Trevor Morgan
Laura Dern

Written by:
Peter Buchman
Alexander Payne
Jim Taylor

PG-13 - Parents
Strongly Cautioned
Some material ma
be inappropriate for
children under 13




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