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Jurassic Park III
starring: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leone, Michael Jeter

by david
July 23, 2001

Jurassic Park III mentions the events of JPII only once. Thankfully.

If you haven't seen the previous Jurassic Park movies, here's a quick rundown:

In Jurassic Park, a lab called "InGen" decides to create genetically engineered dinosaurs from DNA found in fossilized mosquitos to use in a theme park. The company buys an island called Isla Nublar and builds the ultimate safari park. After one of the zoologists is killed by a Velociraptor (a bipedal, pack-hunting carnivore), a group of consultants is hired to scope out the safety of the park. While they are there, the dinosaurs escape, kill and eat several people, the consultants barely get off the island alive, the park idea is scuttled, and the animals in the park are put down.

A couple of years later (in JPII), a second island is discovered - Isla Sorna. Isla Sorna, as it turns out, is where all of the adolescent dinos were kept while developing. Now it is home to herds of roaming reptiles, where they live and reproduce totally unchecked. In the book, an ill-thought-out research mission turns into a fight for survival. In the sad, ill-conceived, horrible film (the only Spielberg flick I can think of that is a huge stinker), a group of researchers (including some of the consultants from JPI), try to stop poachers from taking dinos from the island. They fail, a Tyranosaurus runs wild through the streets of San Diego in some ridiculous Godzilla homage, and, in a particularly laughable scene, a little girl kills a Velociraptor with her gymnastic talent.

Thankfully, JPIII returns to the effective formula of the first movie, and all but ignores that the second film even happened. When their son, who was parasailing, is lost near Isla Sorna, the parents (played by Tea Leone and William H. Macy), recruit Doctor Grant (Sam Niell), one of the consultants from JPI, and his assistant to help in a rescue mission, along with a group of soldiers-for-hire led by an exceptionally out-of-type Michael Jeter. Most of the crew are eaten by an assortment of Tyranosaurs, Pteranadons, Spinosaurs, Composaurs and Velociraptors (all beautifully rendered by Industrial Light & Magic's CGI animation group) as they fight to find the boy and get off the island.

What to say about this movie? Well, it is light on plot and dialogue. The director, Joe Johnston, wastes no time getting the characters into deep trouble, and spends as little time on plot as possible thereafter. There are no subplots, and only a few "serious" moments detract from the near constant action, once the small initial dose of exposition is over. It is pretty typical humans-vs.-monsters survival thriller fare -- no real surprises to be found anywhere. But, for all its formulaic framework, this kind of movie, done well, just works. One of the best sci-fi films of all time, Alien, pioneered this formula. Aliens and Alien III followed it with great success, as did the original Jurassic Park, and Pitch Black, the surprisingly effective Vin Diesel vehicle of last summer. Now Jurassic Park III joins this crowd.

Don't get me wrong here - I'm not ranking JPIII with any of the Alien pics (at least the first three), and I liked Pitch Black somewhat more than this film. But JPIII packs some good thrills, some very exciting action sequences, and a handful of very scary moments. The script, while not Shakespeare (or, even Terrence McNally), does a good job of driving the story toward the action sequences, and making them all an integral part of the story. The acting is solid - all of the principles do a good job of screaming, running, and lending an air of gravity to the proceedings. I'm not making fun of anyone by saying this - these are all top-drawer actors, and they are acting on sound stages against puppets, which has gotta be an incredibly hard gig. The end result of their hard work is an exciting, enjoyable escapist film.

With the exception of the upcoming Planet of the Apes and the re-release of Apocalypse Now, this summer and fall look to be pretty weak, movie-wise. Personally, until the Harry Potter flick arrives, I'll be looking for as many small film pleasures as possible. While JPIII does not quite compare to Alien or even the original Jurassic Park, it is an enjoyable film - a solid, well-put-together thriller, and while you are awaiting the big guns, you could do worse than see this flick.

For instance, you could rent JPII. That would be much, much worse.

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