Jurassic Park III

Jurassic Park III ★★½

“Jurassic Park III” is among the first movies I can remember enjoying despite knowing it wasn't very good: one of my first 'guilty pleasures.' The original is one of my favorites, and the sequel “The Lost World” is one of the more boring sequels ever to a film about dinosaurs running amok, so at least this one kept me more interested than that.

It's probably the performances; for “Lost World” they brought back Jeff Goldblum for the lead, and for this one they bring back Sam Niell. He's definitely the better of the two, but the reasons the character is returning don't feel as strong. The plot involves a wealthy divorced couple, the Kirbys (William H Macy and Tea Leoni) losing their son Eric (Trevor Morgan) to the dinosaur island on a parasailing trip (what was he doing parasailing next to a restricted island crawling with dinosaurs?). They trick Dr Alan Grant (Neill) to come help find him due to his knowledge of the island. Predictably things go wrong, and their plane is destroyed by a new breed of dino, the 'Spinosaurus,' sort of like if a T-Rex had a crocodile face. Now they have to trek across the island to find Eric and a satellite phone to contact help and get out alive.

Watching this film is a bit of fresh air compared to the computer effect filled movies of today. This movie was made when the special effects were still a mixture of CG and live action robotics and puppetry. The puppets look great, the CG not so much. But when the effects are done traditionally they are quite effective; there's a great shot where one of the velociraptors stalks and steps on one of its human victims and you can only see the legs, which are puppet operated but it's done so effectively it actually makes for a chilling scene.

Stan Winston apparently contributed uncredited help on the effects work, and it shows. There's also a memorable set piece where the plane crashes and is rolled over and over by the Spinosaur, and the practical shots of the actors actually in a rolling airplane fuselage set is well done. In addition, some of the raptors are depicted with feathers sticking out the tops of their heads, so the filmmakers even integrated modern paleontological discoveries into the designs of the dinosaurs. A nice touch.

The performances are acceptable; Niell does his best to recapture the magic of the original even if the script is failing him. Bill Macy is one of those actors I really like, and he tries his best but can't get too much of the movie going by himself. Tea Leoni is astoundingly annoying as Macy's wife, but I can't fault her for a shallow written character. Alessandro Nivola and Michael Jeter (of “Air Bud” fame!) play additional help on the expedition/cannon fodder for the raptors to pick off.

This is the first film in the series to not be written by Michael Crichton and his voice is badly absent from the script. The actors try with all their might to bring life to proceedings but the characters are flatly written, and other than Grant (who is technically a returning character written by Crichton) no one is memorable. Not to mention there's no wonder in their eyes or performance when they encounter the beasts, an essential element established first in the original “Park.” Here it feels more like a cheap monster movie where the humans try to escape the eating machines with no redeemable values.

This is an exceptionally mediocre film, yet somehow I enjoy the hell out of it. It has a strange magnetic pull for me even though it's not even remotely on the same level (or island, as it happens) as the original classic. Maybe the presence of Niell and Macy elevates it, as do the neat locations on Hawaii, the great practical effects, and the sets. A large variety of dinosaurs appear, and the musical score is effectively creepy and exciting when it needs to be. Overall you aren't likely to have the same strange enthusiasm for it as I have, so to be safe, stick to the original. Two and a half stars.

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