- Summary -
Director : Joe Johnson
Cast : Sam Neill, William H Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, John Diehl, Bruce A Young, Laura Dern, Taylor Nichols, Mark Harelik.
Year of Release : 2001
Length : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: Predictably, humans return to an island filled with dinosaurs after a couples young son is lost there while paragliding. Alan Grant, on a retainer from the couple, is seconded to help the search as an “expert” on dinosaurs, and once again we watch as stupid people do stupid things and then get eaten.
Review : Hilarious roller-coaster film from director Joe Johnson (Jumanji) sees various leaps in logic take place to get more humans onto an island with man-eating dinosaurs. A subtle difference from Spielberg’s two films, Johnson unloads all the intellect from the franchise and gives us an effects heavy thrill ride, which, considering how the series had become bogged down with plot issues, is a refreshing breath of fresh air. Poking at the viewers left brain with a stick, Jurassic Park III isn’t terribly smart, but it is a great adventure yarn. Ending is a bit silly though.
In the aftermath of the debacle that was The Lost World, Steven Spielberg relinquished his role as director on the franchise and handed the reins over to his protegé, Joe Johnson. Johnson’s flair for filmmaking, shown in his debut film Jumanji, would come in handy in trying to take the seemingly stale dinosaur franchise in a different direction; indeed, Johnson succeeds substantially here.
A couple’s son is lost on one of the Jurassic Park islands while paragliding on an adventure holiday, and in desperation they persuade Alan Grant (now somehow struggling for research money) to take on the challenge of tagging along on the rescue mission as an “expert”. When the light aircraft reaches the island, the couple want to land to search for their son, something Grant acknowledges early on as an incredibly stupid idea. As you’d expect, the dinosaurs on the island soon realise that more prey has arrived, and before you know it, the human rescue team is stranded on the island and themselves in need of rescue. The requisite running and screaming ensue, allowing Grant to both flex his knowledge of the dinosaurs that live on, defying the original films mantra that they have a short life-span to regulate their existence, and work up a sweat in the process.
By the time Jurassic Park III was released, audiences appear to have moved on from the dinosaur craze that exploded into the pop-culture ether after the original film came out. While the threequel was itself a handy little action/adventure yarn, audiences didn’t take to it like they did the original. And neither should they. This film is a different beast entirely. Oh sure, there’s the cornucopia of dino threats, all different again from what we’ve seen before, and the usual gimmicky chase/capture/death sequences, but unlike the original two Jurassic flicks, this entry does away with anything resembling character development. That’s not saying much, in terms of a film built upon a single-joke premise, but the point stands when even Alan Grant, a previously established character, has no further developmental arc than he finished with in the first film.
Where Jurassic Park succeeds is simply throwing logic to the wind and simply giving us a popcorn-friendly action adventure, relatively blood-free and kid-suitable without being sanitised beyond that which an adult would find boring. The dinosaurs have become increasingly larger throughout this franchise, and III is no exception, presenting a massive Spinosaurus, an enormous finned dino that kills off even a T-Rex during the films opening act. This is to establish that if you thought the T-Rex was the king of the beasts here, you’re wrong-o. (Psst, it’s called “upping the ante”!) Throw in a raptor (again) or two, a few flying Pteranodons, plenty of cliffs and natural dangers, and you have a film which seems content to throw the audience around like passengers in a theme park ride. Devoid of any real emotive impact, the characters all seem relatively generic, if not outright clichéd, and you can sense what’s going to happen to each walking dino-snack well beforehand.
Sam Neill reprises his role of Alan Grant, the producers obviously feeling that Jeff Goldblum had done his dash after the lacklustre second film, and he does as good a job as you’d expect. Consistency issues aside (watch his performance here and in the original film and tell me they’re not two different characters!), Neill is the most solid of the cast, and considering who else is in this film, is something of a surprise. William H Macy and (the excreble) Téa Leoni play the couple whose son goes missing, Alessandro Nivola appears as Alan’s assistant Billy, and Trevor Morgan does well as the cheeky young son, Eric. Along for the ride is the late Michael Jeter, miscast as a mercenary, and a few other obvious fodder-types meant for early, easy eating. William H Macy, as a solid actor himself, seems a little lost in this film, a far cry from the usual dramatic/comedy roles he’s normally given. He’s certainly no action star, but he admirably gapes in awestruck incomprehension along with the rest of the cast in this film. Téa Leoni, who’s performances I usually rank alongside the enjoyment of listening to fingernails scrape down a chalkboard, is again impossibly unlikable here. Joe Johnson does very well to give this film the mandatory tension build-up, although plot at this point of the franchise is near meaningless: the logic behind the film seems gung-ho at best, and audiences will see past this as merely an excuse to return to the islands again.
Thankfully, in place of character development and emotion, we have plenty of delightfully humorous and thrilling plot beats, such as the annoyingly familiar mobile phone ring, the standard dino-in-the-dark sequence with a near-miss escape, and the sudden, tension-free ending. That last bit isn’t a positive, though. Taking the lack of depth to this script out of the equation for a moment, one of the films major failings is its final sequence. The film just…. ends. One minute the humans are being chased, cornered and shortly dino food, and the next, they’re being rescued by the army. Or the navy. Whichever; it’s such a sudden ending to a film that you’re left sitting there wondering what just happened. Like they ran out of money to make more film. Johnson had built up a fair degree of tension in the final third, as the humans run around trying madly to escape the rampaging Spinosaurus, and it comes undone with a giant thud as an utterly inadequate final scene simply screams out “lack of idea on how to end it”. Most action films finish with a massive explosion, exciting car chase or last gasp rescue: Jurassic Park III finishes with everyone getting into a military helicopter and flying away. Bang, roll credits, the end. If I finished my reviews like that, nobody would read them! I deduct 1 star for having such a shite ending, and another star for casting Téa Leoni.
Aside from that, and the lack of coherent plot, Jurassic Park III isn’t too bad a film. Many bagged it as being an inferior entry into the franchise, seemingly content to rehash the main elements of the first film to tell it’s story. I disagree to a certain extent, in that the film feels more intense than either of the other JP films ever achieved. If the first film was an intimate, Hitchcockian-styled character piece with an “And Then There Were None…“-esque pulp feel, and the second was an attempt to make the franchise feel more “epic”, then the third film goes for a balance between the two. Don Davis, as score composer, bravely tries to acoomodate John Williams’ epic themes from films 1 into this more adroit action-themed narrative, and to a modest extent, he succeeds. Davis would go on to score the highly successful Matrix films, although fans of those films will find almost nothing Matrix-y going on in Jurassic Park III. His action-heavy score brings the required gravitas and energy to the up-beat action, and a languid tension to the more sombre, subtle moments. It’s effective, if not entirely up to par with the master on whose work he’s basing this.
I may sound a lot like I’m bagging the film for being stupid, which it is, but then, it’s the kind of stupidity in film that makes Michael Bay such a successful director. Joe Johnson knows what audiences want in a film about dinosaurs walking the earth, and he doesn’t shy away from it. With it’s hyper-intense action sequences (in particular, an exciting plane crash and dino attack rolled together) and sparkling with a wit that’s kinda refreshing (young lad Eric isn’t afraid to give the adults a bit of stick), Jurassic Park isn’t trying to be clever or intelligent. Johnson understands what worked and didn’t work in the previous two films, and ramps up the former to counteract the lack of story: as a piece of entertainment cinema, Jurassic Park III succeeds on every level.