Jurassic Park III
directed by Joe Johnston
(Universal, 2001)

Despite some sinister machinations by the velociraptors, the first movie proved beyond a doubt that the tyrannosaurus rex was the biggest, baddest dinosaur in Jurassic Park. In the sequel, we had some wicked little procomsognothauruses as well as more of the cunning velociraptors, but the T-Rexes -- there were two of them, now, and baby makes three -- still ruled the franchise.

Now, the makers of Jurassic Park III must have figured people were tired of seeing the T-Rex stomp around and munch on tourists, so they introduce the spinosaurus, a bigger, meaner, rougher 'n' tougher dinosaur who can whomp T-Rex's butt. Oh, and the velociraptors, who were surely plenty smart before, are now really smart and can communicate via raptor speech.

That, in my opinion, is overkill. What's on tap for JP4 -- a fire-breathing Godzilla and velociraptors who raid our stock portfolios and infect the Internet with a vicious computer virus? On the other hand, this movie does give us pterodactyls, and they are very effectively used in their assault on the human prey.

That said, Jurassic Park III gives us plenty of what we really wanted to see -- running and screaming, and dinosaurs in all their majestic, ravenous glory. Bringing paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) back to reprise his role from the first movie makes much more sense than the return of Ian Malcom (Jeff Goldblum) in the second. Unfortunately, Grant's personal and professional partner, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), makes only a couple brief if key appearances -- although not in the role we expected.

The movie begins with Grant stumping for support of his theories on the social intelligence of velociraptors. His Montana dig is once again in danger of closing down through lack of funding, so he reluctantly accepts a generous commission from wealthy adventurers Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) and agrees to give them a flyby tour of the dino-filled habitat (Isla Sorna from the second film, leaving us still wondering what's happened to the original park inhabitants on the first island). He and his assistant Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola) soon learn that their benefactors aren't really thrill-seeking tycoons, however; they're landing on the island to try and find their lost son Eric (Trevor Morgan), who may have been stranded there during a parasailing accident.

There's no real effort at character development here -- the only fully developed character is Grant, and that's largely because he was so well developed in the original film. Of the people on the plane, it's easy to predict before they even reach the island who won't be leaving.

The plane crash and the battle between a spinosaur and T-Rex put you right into the heart of the action, although it seems like the disposable characters get used up a little too quickly. The pterodactyl sequence is also great cinema, with plenty of action and top-notch special effects.

In a way, oddly enough, JP3 is a film about family values -- if the father, mother and child reunion among the human characters doesn't warm your heart, there's the familial concern of the raptors for their eggs, or the tender, loving care of the adult pterodactyls for their hungry young. Awww. There's even a plot element lifted neatly from Peter Pan, one of this plot's cleverest devices.

Bottom line: JP3 edges JP2 but still falls short of the original. However, if you're not looking for heavy plot and character development, you'll surely find the dino bits up to snuff.

[ by Tom Knapp ]
Rambles: 10 August 2001

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