Will I be pilloried for ranking Jurassic Park III right up there with Spielberg’s 1993 original? Will I be butchered for suggesting that, in some ways, it’s even better? Before you brandish your pitchforks, let me explain.
My main qualm with Spielberg’s film was that it never gave its intellectual characters a chance to demonstrate their cunning. They sat around a dinner table early on and expressed concerns about reviving extinct animals. They made good points and stole away with quotable lines. They knew what they were getting themselves into, and yet, when dinosaurs started breaking out of their enclosures and eating people, they recoiled into action hero cliches. None of them used their brains to solve problems (indeed, in the end, they were all saved by a dinosaur).
Jurassic Park III is graced with characters who are both smart and stupid, for reasons that make sense to the intentions of the plot. The smart characters are smart because they are aware of the situation that confronts them, have settled on a game plan and are determined to stick to it no matter the cost. The stupid ones are stupid because they’ve never seen a live dinosaur, have arrived on the dangerous island with a mission and are also determined to stick to it, never mind the ferocious carnivores that lurk behind the trees. Such is the pitfall of ignorance.
This combination of smart and stupid provides some very funny moments, but it also creates a human dynamic that plays against the threat of the dinosaurs. On one hand we have the dinosaur-fearing experts Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola). On the other, the witless greenhorns Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni). What works about this relationship is that Grant and Billy never compromise their intelligence and savvy when it comes to evading terrorising predators; their goal is to leave the island. The Kirbys are no longer together, but some time ago their son went missing on the island and they, under the guise of wealthy explorers, have convinced (bribed) Grant to be their tour guide on what is essentially a disheveled rescue operation.
All the characters either begin the story with strong motivations or are later dealt motivation cards they’d rather not have. This works better for me than the two grandchildren in the first film who served little purpose to the plot other than to scream and find themselves in constant peril (why a child no older than 14 would be a master hacker in 1993 is beyond me).
There is a new dinosaur this time, and there is a scene early in the film that pits this dinosaur against a Tyrannosaurus Rex, the long-time mascot for these Jurassic Park pictures. The scene plays like the passing of a torch, the ending of an era, and for the rest of the movie our heroes have to outrun and elude this new Spinosaurus, which is larger, more agile, and has arms long enough to pick flayed dino meat out of its teeth. If you ask me, long arms on a body that big equals more menacing, and the filmmakers have some fun with dramatic scenes involving the Spinosaurus.
Jurassic Park III is directed by Joe Johnston, who wanted to direct The Lost World (1997) but was shoved this project instead. It couldn’t have played out better. JP III is quicker, funnier, more coherent, and is not simply a monster movie aimed at culling the herd as swiftly as possible (although two minor characters are eliminated before you can blink). It continues Michael Crichton’s message of God-playing, but not at the risk of character development. There are thrilling chases (including one with formidable Pterodactyls), neat little twists in the plot, and an ending that is as pleasantly preposterous as the whole notion of Jurassic Park.
Best Moment | That Pterodactyl sauntering out of the fog.
Worst Moment | The over-the-top attack on the boat. No way was that water deep enough to conceal a whole dinosaur.