SEQUELISED: Jurassic Park III (2001)

New recruit Oscar Stainton braves Isla Sorna for one of the most disappointing sequels in recent history. 

Who made it?: Joe Johnston (Director), Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor (Writers), Larry J. Franco, Kathleen Kennedy (Producers), Universal Pictures.

Who’s in it?: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, John Diehl, Laura Dern. 

Tagline: “Their Time Has Come.”

IMDb rating: 5.9/10.

As problematic as Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park may have been, it did expand the horizons of the universe. Jurassic Park III, though, was a huge step backwards. The characters are sub-standard, the story is lazy and shamefully contrived, and the effects aren’t as good as either of the previous movies, almost seeming to be a parody of a Jurassic Park film. However, I don’t blame the quality of the film on director Joe Johnston, as he has made consistently good films that I really enjoy, but I think the three scriptwriters involved weren’t able to form a cohesive story that lives up to Spielberg’s original. 

The plot, as thin as it is in the ninety minute timespan, centres on the rescue of a boy named Eric (Trevor Morgan) who ends up stranded on the now-restricted Isla Sorna, and the survival of the rescue team, led by Alan Grant (Sam Neill) from the first film. Alan is lured to Isla Sorna by seemingly rich businessman Paul Kirby (William H. Macy) on the promise of cash for Alan’s dig. The plane lands and Amanda Kirby (Téa Leoni), Paul’s wife, attracts the attention of a Spinosaurus which causes the plane to crash and devour members of the crew. The rest of the movie is a series of chase scenes involving the Spinosaurus and the Velociraptors, interrupted by the cloying domestic drama between the Kirbys reuniting with Eric and coming back together. Even the climax itself is unsatisfying, requiring a military deus ex machina that feels tacked on in the extreme.

In all fairness, Neill does a good job at bringing a jaded Grant to the screen, working well with what little he had. But his character is ruined by undoing his character arc in Jurassic Park about learning to love kids and marrying Ellie (Laura Dern). Here, Ellie is married to another man with two children. The writers could have prepared something special involving Alan and Ellie’s relationship and their place in the world outside of the main story – it was insulting to undo all that development. His scenes in the prologue showed potential, displaying Alan’s struggle to keep palaeontology alive and rekindle his love of dinosaurs. But it all amounts to nothing.

The film has only a few worthwhile action scenes, specifically the Raptor attacks and the group’s encounter with a colony of Pteranodons in a giant aviary, a memorable scene conveyed with an eerie and mysterious atmosphere. Some of the musical cues are melodic and charming, but I yearn for John Williams’ talent. At times, the visual elements actually look quite good, but they are incredibly rushed and don’t allow the audience to soak it in like in the original. The Raptors look as though they are there and seem at least animalistic, but their behavioural patterns are exaggeratedly fictitious.

Due to the weak writing, there are the many stupid moments throughout the movie. Barely twenty minutes into the film, Alan has an infamous dream about a talking Raptor on the flight to Sorna. It’s intended to be scary and foreshadow the Raptor’s capability of speech, but it comes off as childish and inane. (Real-life raptors weren’t even capable of human-level speech patterns.) Also, the ever annoying Amanda Kirby seems to exist only to scream, bicker and run away, never contributing anything but maudlin or moronic moments. Neill and Macy are completely wasted. The rest of the characters are forgettable and bland. Some outright stupid moments include a satellite phone being heard from the belly of a Spinosaurus, said dinosaur being able to break a fence designed to contain them yet is unable break down a rusty metal door, a ridiculous cameo of Barney (I wish I was joking!), and a cheap regurgitation of the dino dung scene from the first film. Even the creatures themselves have been ruined; the CGI herbivores are pushed to the background with little screen-time, and the carnivores don’t behave like real animals, like in the previous films. The animatronics are clunky and the CGI is too obvious. The movie tries to recreate the sense of awe and wonder from Spielberg’s initial effort, but it feels forced and artificial. The carnivores are robbed of their ferocity while the herbivores look hideous.

The most obnoxious change is the addition of the Spinosaurus. While I accept that it was larger than the T-Rex in real-life, the Spino was not a rampaging movie monster that hunted human-sized morsels like a serial killer. This leads into the infamous duel between the T-Rex and the Spinosaurus, and it’s a problem because the Tyrannosaurus was an integral part of the previous films and a childhood favourite. The fight itself was overly brief and anticlimactic. The T-Rex was set up as a powerful predator and having it dispatched in such a way feels like a cheap shot. It was just a botched attempt to showcase a dinosaur that hadn’t earned it’s stardom yet like the Raptors.

What frustrates me the most about Jurassic Park III is that there was potential to make-up for some of the shortcomings in The Lost World, akin to how The Last Crusade assuaged many people’s misgivings after the release of The Temple of Doom. Instead, it’s the shallowest and the least adventurous film of the entire trilogy because there’s too much focus on domestic slush. While the first two films dealt with themes of science, technology, playing god, and man vs. nature, Jurassic Park III took the franchise away from exploring such concerns, choosing to be safe and marketable. Let’s pray Jurassic World turns it all around…

Best Scene

Woah, there’s actually some suspense in this movie…

Useless Trivia

(Via IMDb)
  • Jeff Goldblum confirmed in an interview that he was not invited back to reprise his role from the earlier Jurassic Park titles.
  • Shooting for the film began before the final script was completed.
  • The Spinosaurus was the largest animatronic ever built. It weighed twelve tons and was operated by hydraulics. This allowed it to operate while completely submerged in water.
  • Sam Neill, as part of his contract, requested that the Australasian premiere of the film took place in his hometown of Dunedin, New Zealand.
  • Creator Michael Crichton worked with the screenwriters several days to brainstorm about a story, but left after some days when he could not come up with a satisfactory idea.

Oscar Stainton

Student of Ancient History at Royal Holloway University of London, Anglo-Mexican, die-hard Tolkien fan, lover of escapist fiction (be it in space or a world of knights and dragons), dino-maniac, and prospective writer.

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