The Jurassic Park franchise is one of those odd, staggered ones that occurs most often in the land of Japanese Manga to Movie to Anime to Game to back again crossovers. First there was a book, by Michael Crichton, which was not a great book but was good amount of fun. Then came a highly hyped movie based on the book. It narrowed the questions of scientific ethics down, changed the Ian Malcolm character, happied up the ending a little, swapped up a few characters for a "better" layout and added a romantic side plot. Then came a sequel to the book: Lost World (named after one of the better Dino-Adventure books by Doyle). It was not so much a sequel to the first book, but more a sequel to the movie, going more with the sort of questions the movie asked than the novel and sticking with characterizations from the movie. Then came the second movie, Lost World which changed as much about "it's" book than the first did. Including the much maligned "dinosaur from 20,000 fathoms" finish.
It is in sight of these facts that Jurassic Park III manages to rise above the schlockiness that it into which it constantly threatened to dive. Starting with a scene of a parasailing gone awry, and following it up with a handful of scene setting vignettes in which we learn that Alan Grant no longer quite likes dinosaurs, we have a steady build that works enough to keep us in our seats. Not on the edge or anything, but we are attentive.
Being a dinosaur movie, the plot does not fully show up until they do. Alan Grant has been forced, against his will, to land on Site B (ala the second novel/book) in the search for a young boy and the man who is dating his mom (the awry parasail adventure). There are a couple of toughs brought along, guns for hire who think they can easily deal with dinos with big guns. The various Parks Jurassic have been about nothing if not about how "nature will find a way....to kill folk" and so all delusions are quickly nixed and left for, pardon the pun, dead.
From there on, after the plot inducing "tragedy ending the very brief act two", the familiar territory of "solve unbelievable situations by running and outthinking" comes into play. There is also the familiar ground "find the child, post haste!" so if you have seen the other two movies then you know more about the plot than any spiolers can give away. This movie is about enjoying watching people run from big lizards, smart lizards, and a couple of flying lizards. Either you like dino-action, or you do not, and that will probably decide your enjoyment factor over most other aspects.
The action predictable, though fun, and the ending more convenient than anything else, I still want to take a moment to praise this movie for one enduring aspect. The two biggest absentees from the first book to movie translation, being the pterodactyl cage and the implication that the creatures are less dinosaurs and more genetic patchwork dolls meant to emulate our notion of dinosaurs, are inserted into the third movie. Some of the "plastic" of the first two movies is pared away, leaving scenery that feels more like the original book. And some of the bigger offenses to the morality of the first couple of movies has been dropped into the ground. This is what makes this movie a good part to the franchise, thoguh still second to the first movie, the fact that it sort of squares the movie sequence back into the Crichton vision (though I think Crichton swore off this movie).
On the more negative side, the characters have been somewhat flattened. The new young intern (not played off, by Alessandro Nivola, as a romantic interest for the lead this time) is less a full replacement for the modified Ellie of the original (and this) movie and more of a bouncing point for ideas and dinosaur identification, and the new endangered (played by Trevor Morgan) child is ok if a little too fit for the island (his level of survival matching Newt from Aliens showing that space marines have got nothing on children in a Hollywood movie). The no long married couple working like a true husband and wife again (William H Macy and Tea Leaoni) work, but mostly in that "you know who they are" sort of way. You kind of root for them, but only because you know the type from previous movies and this is what you are supposed to do. Sam Neill's return as Grant is largely fueled by what feelings you had for the character from the first movie.
The dinosaurs have little characterization as well, narrowed down mostly to a few pterodactyls, a group of very smart and more civilized raptors, and the nemesis of the movie: Spinosarus. The rest are background pieces. The effects for the non-main dinos seem diminished, much more definitely CG than was initially obvious in the first two films.
This is where the movie leaves us. A handful of characters that you do not really care about, but enjoy watching and you can take cues from other movies about how to handle. A handful of dinosaurs who, for the most part, are uniquely looked at in this film. Lots of generic jungle. This movie will not win anyone's hearts, nor even haunt anyone's nightmares, but it is never about that. This movie, through and through, is a throw back (as far as I see it) to adventure movies of old. It is about enjoying the chase, the fight, and the narrow escapes.
With the return to some of things I missed most from the franchise since the first book, that was plenty enough for me.
I would only say buy it if you can get it cheap, or if you want a collection of dino-themed movies; but its a good saturday afternoon rental.
Written by W Doug Bolden
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