Jurassic Park III (United States, 2001)
Relatively speaking, Jurassic Park III is a disappointment of behemoth proportions. With Steven Spielberg gone from the director's chair (replaced by Jumanji's Joe Johnston), the Jurassic Park saga has sunk down to its B-grade monster movie roots. The concept of a human character has been replaced by a cardboard cut-out, each of which serves one of two purposes: to run away from the dinosaurs or to be eaten by them. The "synthespians" of Final Fantasy would have been perfectly at home in Jurassic Park III. There's no need whatsoever for human actors.
The first Jurassic Park was a well-paced adventure movie wrapped in a magical package that used state-of-the-art special effects and digital sound to make us believe that dinosaurs could once again roam the earth. The Lost World: Jurassic Park II, while panned in some corners, basically offered more of the same - tightly-paced action and adventure. Unfortunately, Jurassic Park III not only re-hashes the two previous outings (hapless humans hunted by hungry dinosaurs) but does it with far less style and human interest. This time around, there's no build-up to the first appearance of the dinosaurs - they're suddenly there. Character interaction, never a strong suit in the series, is worse than perfunctory - it's virtually non-existent. Every action piece is staged in a generic fashion, leaving no room for suspense or tension. And the whole movie is over so fast (sans credits, only about 1 hour, 20 minutes) that it hardly seems to have happened.
The plot, insofar as there is a plot, has paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) traveling to Isla Sorna ("Site B") as the paid guide for Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni), an estranged husband and wife searching for their son, Eric (Trevor Morgan), who is lost on the island. Grant, accompanied by his assistant, Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola), soon finds himself in the same kind of life-and-death situation he ended up in during the original Jurassic Park, being chased by Raptors, T-Rexs, and the "new" Spinosaurus. Also along for the ride are a few other individuals (Michael Jeter, John Diehl) who practically have "Dinosaur Fodder" stenciled on their foreheads.
It's a sad observation to note that the best scene in the movie - a reunion between Grant and his former sidekick, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, in a cameo) - features no dinosaurs. Everything that transpires on Isla Sorna is repetitious and largely uninteresting. Admittedly, there are some new dinosaurs (including a few that fly), but they act in basically the same way that all of the others do. The raptors have been elevated to super-genius status (they now talk to each other, albeit not in English - I was half-expecting subtitles) while our old friend, the T-Rex, has only a brief, ignoble cameo. The special effects, while still impressive, seem to have been done on the cheap - some of the dinosaurs, especially the new ones, look less polished.
Jurassic Park III lacks a legitimate climax - it sort of ends with a big, deus ex machina bang. This is in keeping with the film's overall poor structure. It doesn't have much of a beginning, a middle, or an ending - causing me to wonder if there was a finished script before filming started (according to comments made by two of the actors, there wasn't). The movie vainly attempts to replicate the human relationships of the first two movies: a low-key romance between two adults (Grant and Sattler in Jurassic Park; Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm and Julianne Moore's Sarah Harding in The Lost World) and a adult/child bonding (Grant and Hammond's grandchildren in Jurassic Park; Malcolm and his daughter in The Lost World). In this case, however, there is no chemistry between the couple, William H. Macy and Téa Leoni, and Grant's interaction with Eric simply doesn't work. It is forced and unnatural.
The filmmakers obviously hoped that bringing back Sam Neill would lend an air of legitimacy to this production that it might not otherwise have possessed. And, to give Neill support, they have added a group of top-notch character actors - William H. Macy, Michael Jeter, John Diehl, and hunk-in-waiting Alessandro Nivola. The only serious instance of miscasting is Téa Leoni, who is farther out of her element than Julianne Moore was in The Lost World. Yet, because the characters are so thinly written, no amount of acting experience can make a difference. Given the material he has to work with, Neill can be forgiven for his lackluster performance.
It was probably foolish to hope for something new or original to surface during the course of Jurassic Park III - after all, the formula has long been established for this sort of movie - but it shouldn't have been too much to expect a little excitement. Instead, in keeping with 2001's roster of lackluster sequels, we have been presented with something that is uninspired and obligatory. It fits right in with the likes of Crocodile Dundee in L.A., The Mummy Returns, and Dr. Dolittle 2. At the end, Jurassic Park III leaves the door wide open for a Jurassic Park IV. I can only hope that a justifiably poor box office showing will slam that door shut with a louder thud than the sound made by an approaching T-Rex.
Jurassic Park III (United States, 2001)
Cast: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, John Diehl, Laura Dern
Screenplay: Peter Buchman and Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
Cinematography: Shelly Johnson
Music: Don Davis, John Williams
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures