Jurassic Park III

reviewed by Steve Sailer

UPI, July 18, 2001

 

The "Jurassic Park" series raises the question: Do you end up with a better sequel when a bored Steven Spielberg, likely the most gifted director of all time, just goes through the motions as he did with 1997's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park"?

Or, do you get a more enjoyable installment when a competent pro like Joe Johnston ("Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" and "October Sky") takes the helm? I'd give the nod to Johnston's "Jurassic Park III."

Shrewdly, the series has always used competent actors, but ones who lack the box office clout to force Spielberg to cut them into big piece of the profits from the next movie. Here, dignified Sam Neill is back from the first movie to play paleontologist Alan Grant, and Laura Dern returns in a small role.

The standouts, though, are William H. Macy ("Fargo") and Tea Leoni ("Deep Impact") as a comically bickering divorced couple who kidnap Neill to help them search for their twelve-year-old son, who had crash-landed on a dino-infested island. Personally, my preference for "Jurassic Park IV" is to bring back Macy and Leoni in a nice, quiet romantic farce where nobody gets eaten.

Before you rush out to see "Jurassic Park III" based on my stirring endorsement - "It's a lot less annoying than the last one!" - please note that I can't seem to recall anything that happened in either of the first two dinostravaganzas after that first glorious scene of a sunlit grassland with brontosauruses peacefully munching away. All I can remember after that is a lot of gnashing of really big teeth.

So, perhaps I'm not all that qualified to express an opinion on the subtle differences in quality between dinosaur movies. Still, I suspect parents will find the parts of the movie where nobody's running and screaming to be mildly engaging. If your kids are young enough that "JP III" will give them nightmares, don't let them go. If they are old enough, though, the movie is pleasantly lacking in bad language and sex innuendo.

That famous 1993 shot of the brontosaurus herd was most moviegoers' introduction to the promise of computer generated imagery. It seemed to herald a new golden age of movies, when anything imaginable could be filmed.

The technology keeps advancing, but sadly, the thrill is mostly gone. It's rather like what's happened in golf course architecture. There, the rapid development of earthmoving machinery allowed course designers to stop looking for ideally shaped golf holes in the natural terrain. Instead, they now just have the boys on the bulldozers push a lot of dirt around until the land looks as spectacular as the blueprint. Golfers were thrilled for a few years by these new capabilities, but then humanity's remarkable talent for becoming jaded set in.

Same here. In "JP III" the human lunchmeat get chased around by a spinosaurus, which makes the T-Rex from the first movie look like an alley cat, but, well, it's just another enormous ravenous man-eating carnivore. I wish I hadn't become so blasť. It would be far more fun to go through life being as bowled over by each new CGI movie as I was by the initial minutes of the original "Jurassic Park" or the entire first "Toy Story."

It also doesn't help that Spielberg seems to have been squeezing the budgets for the sequels to improve his cash flow. The new film's reported $93 million budget is rather paltry for a film whose first two installments combined did about a billion dollars at the box office.

You can see them chintzing on computer MIPS - a lot of the dinosaur action appears slightly herky-jerky and shot in fast motion. And the movie is too dark, with mist frequently being used to obscure the beasties. Finally, the flick lacks a truly climactic fight.

There's nothing wrong with the action, it's just that it's not getting much better. Spielberg seems to be weaseling out of the implicit deal behind sequels: as inspiration and novelty decline, the producers will at least keep spending more money on each subsequent release until box office boredom plunges the last installment into the red.

Still, there are some cool new flying pterodactyls in "JP III" that try to turn the cast into birdfeed.

Yeah, okay, I know a lot of you out there are right now firing up your email clients to inform me that they aren't "pterodactyls," they are "pteranodons," and those big galoot herbivores aren't "brontosauruses," they are "brachiosauruses."

Sorry, but that's what I called them when I was a kid and I see no reason to change now. I mean, what did I miss that would change the name of creatures that haven't been around for 65 million years? Did some brontosaurus Jesse Jackson call a press conference to announce that from now on he wanted to be called a "brachiosaurus" and that anybody who forgot and referred to "brontosauruses" was terminally unhip? I bet that when even dinosaurs like me finally start calling them "brachiosauruses," they are going to pull another switcheroo and announce that we are aren't supposed to call them "brachiosauruses" anymore, but now instead they'll be "dinosaurs of bronto."

Rated PG-13 for people getting digested. There's not much else that's objectionable.

 

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