Directed by: Joe Johnston
Starring: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola
All in all, Jurassic Park III isn't a bad film ... if plot, characterization, believability and originality don't count. If you can think of the film as an extended amusement-park ride (actually, it often seems to have been inspired by the Dinosaur Encounter at Epcot, except you don't get sprayed with mist -- that'll happen in Jurassic Park IV no doubt) and leave it at that, it's moderately entertaining. Whatever it is or isn't, it's undeniably a scaled-down creation. Not only has Spielberg himself bailed out of the director's chair, but the film's been given the down-and-dirty treatment. The original film clocked in at 127 minutes and the sequel at 129; this time, we're given a brisk 91 minutes of dino antics. In other words, Jurassic Park III is a glossy "B" picture. That's not entirely a bad thing, since it saves the movie from bloat and limits its self-importance to a few remarks about the evils of "playing God." This has a downside, though, since it kills the film as the "event" we're clearly meant to take it for. (The first post-screening question I was asked was, "Did they run out of money on this one?") The screenplay is a monument to perfunctory writing, except where it wanders over into non-writing (e.g., exchanges such as, "This is T. Rex pee? How did you get it?" "You don't want to know," and a deus ex military climax that is beyond unbelievable). Nearly everything the viewer needs to know is telegraphed early on and that which isn't is obviously set up (when guest star Laura Dern tells Sam Neill to call her anytime from anywhere and then disappears from the film, you know there's a pay-off down the road). This round, Sam Neill returns to the series as Dr. Alan Grant, who finds himself suckered into going to the second island of dinosaurs on the promise of heavy funding for his own paleontological researches. The fact that Neill stalks through the film with such a look of grim ill-humor makes it impossible not to wonder if his character's position doesn't parallel his own rationale for being in the movie. The difference is that, presumably, Neill was well paid for his participation, while Dr. Grant has indeed been taken. Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni)not only don't have any money to speak of, but have more in mind that just flying low over the island with Grant as a guide, despite their original claims. Instead of being the wealthy, married thrill-seekers they claim, they're an estranged couple hoping to rescue their son, Eric (Trevor Morgan), who disappeared while hang-gliding over the island with mom's new boyfriend. It's an adequate set-up, but it's hard not to question Grant's credulity in accepting their offer at face value. (It's even harder not to question the movie's curious subtext that all an estranged couple needs to bring them back together is to become potential dinosaur appetizers.) Regardless, this is enough set-up for the film's dinosaur action set-pieces, all of which are, of course, accomplished with the utmost technical skill. The highlight is undeniably the highly touted pterandon business, which is nearly as impressive as the filmmakers have claimed. Certainly, it works better than the script's "hook" about the evolved dinosaurs who can think, plan and communicate -- not in the least because dino-speak is ... well, slightly comical. (Thank goodness, they didn't opt to subtitle the beasts' exchanges -- "Hey, Fred, when they put down those eggs we're after, I'm making a meal out of the blonde.") If you're in the mood for a no-brainer with big monsters chasing people around for an hour and a half, Jurassic Park III is the movie you've been waiting for. It's nothing more than that, however.