I don’t know if anyone involved in Jurassic Park III had an idea about why the movie needed to be made other than Universal Pictures keeping the IP alive. Steven Spielberg had moved on, and if he couldn’t find life in a sequel, who was going to be able to attempt it just four years later? Going with Spielberg’s former VFX art director Joe Johnston wasn’t a terrible bet, but it was also a journeyman choice. Johnston was proficient enough to get the job done, but lacked the vision to see anything through beyond “more dinosaurs.”
This time, the movie spins the wheel and lands on a slightly more credible protagonist with Sam Neill returning to play Alan Grant, who is lured to Isla Sorna under the false pretenses of being a dinosaur guide to wealthy couple Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda Kirby (Téa Leoni). But Grant and his assistant Billy (Alessandro Nivola) have been duped, and are meant to assist the Kirbys, who aren’t wealthy, into finding their son Eric (Trevor Morgan), who became stranded on the island after a parasailing trip with his mom’s boyfriend went awry. Mercenaries Cooper (John Diehl), Nash (Bruce A. Young), and Udesky (Michael Jeter) fill out the group, although the movie’s big bad dinosaur, the Spinosaurus, quickly dispatches Cooper and Nash.
That leaves us with a handful of characters, most of whom we’re pretty sure won’t die because we like Grant, they’re not going to kill a kid, and they’re not going to kill his parents. That leaves Billy and Udesky, and Billy almost dies (his resurrection at the end of the movie feels like the result of reshoots in response to test audience scores) while Udesky, much like the hapless Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff), gets it the worst by being used as bait by raptors. Because in case you forgot, raptors are super smart.
But whereas Spielberg conveyed the raptors’ intelligence by showing their attack patterns, Jurassic Park III is overly excited to let you know they can vocally speak to each other, which ends up just looking funny. It feels like we’re missing subtitles, and if the raptors communicate directly, then they’re not very good pack hunters. They don’t use strategy or figure things out. They have chats, which would alert their prey, thus making them less effective predators. Even if this is how raptors actually communicated, it plays poorly in the movie, and becomes worse when Grant breaks out a 3-D printed raptor larynx (a.k.a. “raptor whistle”) to communicate with them.
The thinking behind Jurassic Park III seemed to be to strip down the franchise to its bare essentials, but they discovered that there’s barely anything there. It’s dinosaurs trying to eat humans mixed with the occasional majesty of herbivores being herbivores. They’re the “good” dinosaurs that remind us nature is beautiful until the Spinosaurus turns up to ruin everything for everyone. It feels like the Spinosaurus was featured because they needed a dinosaur that was even badder than the T-Rex, which isn’t really the point of the T-Rex in the first movie. The Spinosaurus doesn’t spend his time hunting or just going about his day. She looks like she has it out for the humans, who would make an unsatisfying meal for a dinosaur of her size.
The plot pushes the characters from threatening dinosaur to threatening dinosaur, so the film functions mostly like a serious of theme park rides. Welcome to the laboratory and the raptors! Wander the aviary and flee from the pterodactyls! Everything on Isla Sorna is here to kill you, but there’s also time for brief reprieves to include family bonding because every Jurassic Park movie needs this kind of character relationship.
I wish there was more to say about Jurassic Park III, but what more can you say about a movie that doesn’t really have any reason to exist beyond proving that the franchise maybe never should have been a franchise to begin with. It’s a valuable IP for Universal based on brand recognition, but it keeps hitting a wall because the original movie is deeper than dinosaurs run amok. It has atmosphere and diversity in its approach. The kitchen scene plays almost like a horror film, and there’s time to really soak in what would make Jurassic Park a place worth creating.
I won’t go in depth with my thoughts about Jurassic World because Perri will have her review up tomorrow, but I will say that the latest sequel at least tries to do something different even if it operates under the most nonsensical circumstances of any of the movies. While it still has the same flaws as the other sequels—spectacle over characters—at least it has enjoyable spectacle, despite hypocritically chastising audiences and studios for their desire to make things “bigger”. You can decide whether bigger means better when the movie opens this weekend.
Tomorrow: Perri’s Review of Jurassic World