Sequel Surprises: Jurassic Park III
After Steven Spielberg helmed Jurassic Park (a modern masterpiece), and The Lost World: Jurassic Park (a bloated mess), directing duties for the third flick went to Joe Johnston of The Pagemaster, The Rocketeer, and Jumanji fame. Sam Neill and Laura Dern reprised their roles from the original movie as Dr. Grant and Ellie. Instead of going for an environmental bent or Godzilla homage, Jurassic Park III embraces that it’s a C-grade monster movie, and shows that sometimes lack of pretension can be a good thing.
Dr. Grant ends up on Isla Sorna because a rich couple (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) will pay him oodles of money. It’s meant to just be an aerial tour, but they land over Grant’s objections. While on Isla Sorna, they encounter Pterodactyls, the T-rex, and the brand new massive Spinosaurus. Eventually, the couple reveals they are on the island to look for their son Eric. Eric is a crafty boy who uses raptor pee to survive (!!!). In a terrible ending, they are rescued by the U.S. Marine Corps and Navy.
The smartest thing Jurassic Park III does is keep the story nice and simple. This movie was in development hell for a real long time because of the screenplay. Over several different drafts, it was rewritten by such luminaries as William Goldman and Alexander Payne. Jurassic Park III runs a lean 93 minutes, a good 30 minutes shorter than both of the prior movies. It moves along at a good pace, understanding the real reason people want to see the movie is for the crazy dinosaurs. Characterization is trite, but in this case it works because they are going for a kind of Red Bull Jurassic Park experience.
A lesser aspect of the film is how Ellie is stuck to just having a short cameo. Her interactions with Dr. Grant were a highlight of the original, and it’s too bad they couldn’t use her for more. The CG is a bit dodgy in places (the pterodactyl on the bridge looks off, even though the scene remains creepy), but that’s more of a sign of technology advancing at the time. You could jump right into Jurassic Park III without ever seeing the second movie in the series; its tone is more lighter like the original blockbuster, and it makes little references to what came before it. Jurassic Park III is no perfect dino film by any means, but it’s one lean creature feature.