Dino Crisis: Revisiting Jurassic Park III

Just before the park opens, Cal revisits the last Spielberg-less adventure…

The law of diminishing returns always catches up with popular franchises at some point. While some may contend that Jurassic Park‘s first sequel, The Lost World, was a subpar follow-up, it remains a robust continuation that deserves more love in this reviewer’s opinion. But a similar defence cannot be mounted against 2001’s Jurassic Park III, which is nothing more than a big-budget B-movie lacking the scientific underpinnings of its predecessors. With Steven Spielberg relinquishing the director’s chair to blockbuster purveyor Joe Johnston, this is a Jurassic Park adventure with many hungry dinosaurs but very little in the way of substance, intelligence or suspense. It’s entertaining to a point, but too episodic and clichéd, not to mention it features dumb characters doing silly things, and it suffers from a contrived narrative. There is a reason why this franchise remained dormant for a subsequent fourteen years.

Following the events of the first movie, palaeontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) still lives in the shadow of the experience, being consistently badgered for information about Jurassic Park. Approached by wealthy married couple Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda (Tea Leoni), he’s given a proposition: they will pay him handsomely if he accompanies them on a plane trip over Isla Sorna and acts as their dinosaur expert. Alan reluctantly agrees, bringing along his young, wide-eyed assistant Billy (Alessandro Nivola) for company. As it turns out, however, Paul and Amanda are separated, and have travelled to Isla Sorna to search for their son, Eric (Trevor Morgan), who is stranded on the island. Gee, do you think their plane might be destroyed, leaving them to deal with rampaging dinosaurs for an hour?

Michael Crichton only published two Jurassic Park novels, meaning that the trio of credited writers here had to develop an original story, and the result lacks any sort of intelligent backbone. One has to wonder, though, why Crichton’s The Lost World wasn’t used as a basis for this sequel, since Spielberg’s motion picture of the same name bears a minimal resemblance to its literary namesake. Crichton himself actually helped the writers come up with ideas, but quit when he failed to conceive of something satisfying. Go figure. Jurassic Park III progresses like a bog-standard B-movie, with mostly flat dialogue and a poor structure. Indeed, it lacks a legitimate climax, fizzling out with an odd deus ex machina that cannot hold a candle to the iconic sequences that closed the prior features. Furthermore, it lacks a solid beginning and end, which gives credence to the rumour that there was no finished script in place when filming began.

Johnston and his team seem to have forgotten that 1993’s Jurassic Park only featured fourteen minutes of dinosaur screen-time – and of that, only four minutes was comprised of computer-generated beasts. Jurassic Park III neglects the build-up and the masterful sense of tension that Spielberg was renowned for, with the dinosaurs here starting their rampaging barely twenty minutes into the movie. The less is more approach of the original picture remains far more effective – after all, in that movie, several nail-biting minutes are spent observing the characters in utter terror as they hear the T-Rex approaching. Even The Lost World managed to continue the franchise in an admirable fashion. But none of that deft sleight-of-hand is present here – Jurassic Park III is all about the money shots. It would not be too much of an issue if this was a proper, cheesy B-movie with R-rated violence like Deep Blue Sea, but it’s not. Instead, we’re stuck with goofy sequences like a talking fucking raptor in Alan’s dream. Plus, John Williams did not return to compose the soundtrack, and the resultant score sounds like a limp imitation.

If nothing else, Jurassic Park III does offer brisk entertainment and a handful of action scenes that are admittedly enjoyable. It certainly looks good, with sturdy production values and solid cinematography that masterfully captures the dinosaur action. The animatronic dinos are terrific for the most part, though some sequences look a tad shonky. Surprisingly, the computer-generated beasts are actually a step down in quality compared to its predecessors – they often look surprisingly phoney. This is probably attributable to the fact that the dinosaurs are on-screen so much, making it a case of quantity over quality. Also, the movie commits a cardinal sin by showing the new Spinosaurus battling everyone’s favourite dinosaur, the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and coming out on top. It’s an attempt to up the stakes and announce the Spinosaurus as the new king, but the sequence doesn’t sit right.

Performances are standard across the board, with Neill doing what he can while the other actors are simply there. Jurassic Park III is also predictable with its ensemble; no major characters are allowed to die off, with the unimportant side roles becoming dino fodder. It just detracts a lot of tension from the action set-pieces, which are in need of a more nuanced craftsman like Spielberg. At the end of the day, Jurassic Park III is watchable, but generic and forgettable. And the end result is a crime compared to the majestic motion picture that spawned it.

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.
  • Sam Neill, as part of his contract, requested that the Australasian premiere of the film took place in his hometown of Dunedin, New Zealand.
  • 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.
  • The plane ride to the island shows Grant pulling his hat down to cover his face. This is most likely a nod to another popular Steven Spielberg series, Indiana Jones.

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