Jurassic Park III
2001, PG-13, 91 min. Directed by Joe Johnston. Starring Sam Neill, Trevor Morgan, Alessandro Nivola, Téa Leoni, William H. Macy, Michael Jeter.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., July 20, 2001
I don't remember anyone clamoring for a new dino sequel, do you? Have it we do, though, whether we were jonesing for it or not. Once Steven Spielberg and Michael Crichton cracked open the box-office bonanza of dino DNA in 1993, it's as though the folks at Universal have taken as their personal mission the safeguarding of dinosaurs against another extinction. Spielberg only served as the executive producer on this second followup and Crichton is credited solely with the creation of the film's original characters. Jurassic Park III indeed shows none of the former's whimsy nor the latter's flair for scientific confabulation. Instead, the film is a straight-ahead matinee actioner, all bark and bite but little soul. The script, by Peter Buchanan and writing partners Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (Election), is strictly boilerplate. The thin plot is laid out in the film's opening minutes. It provides just enough hokum to get a group of otherwise sane individuals onto an island teeming with dinosaurs and then have them spend the rest of the movie running for their lives. And screaming. There's a lot of that too. Though the human drama has all the subtlety and surprise of a basic fight-or-flight response, the dinosaurs manage to keep things (mostly the human targets they're chasing) moving. JP3 is the most elemental of chase movies. The dinosaurs are a combination of computer effects and Stan Winston animatronics, and they look pretty darn good, although no time is allowed (as in Jurassic Park and Lost World) to admire their sheer magnificence and beauty. These dinosaurs have evolved socially and vocally. It's proposed that they can communicate as a group and that they are smarter than primates. But it seems the only thing they have on their minds is to kill the puny human invaders of their island paradise. Sam Neill reprises his role as Dr. Alan Grant, who is conned by a divorced couple (Macy and Leoni) to return to the island. Once he proclaims that nothing on Heaven or Earth will convince him to return, we know the good doctor's fate is sealed. Macy is able to inject into his delivery some of the ironic intonation that is missing with Jeff Goldblum's absence from this sequel. The placidity of Leoni's face, however, leaves her little dramatic range with which to work, although her screaming is definitely top-notch. Laura Dern reappears in a gratuitous early sequence, although she now stays at home editing books and minding a toddler who's only interested in a purple dinosaur named Barney. The best moments in the movie have to do with the ringing of a cell phone, a screen sound so real (and a possible homage to Spielberg's Hook) that you'll be shushing your neighbors before you realize what's going on. However, when a cell-phone gag is the most exciting or inventive thing in a big summer dinosaur movie, you have to wonder if the species might not be ready for extinction.