Cyberlizard goes to the movies

Jurassic Park 3 (2001)

Starring Sam Neill, William Macey, Téa Leoni, Laura Dern, Alessandro Novello

The original Jurassic Park, based on the successful Michael Crichton novel of the same name, was something of a landmark in cinema history, primarily for its CGI dinosaurs. Nearly ten years on and with one sequel under his belt (Lost World), Steven Spielberg decided to step back and allow Joe Johnston to produce Jurassic Park 3.

The plot

The film starts with a man and a boy paragliding off - yes, you've guessed it - Isla Sorna, the so-called "Site B" of Lost World and still officially restricted. Following the mysterious sudden disappearance of the crew of the power boat pulling them, the paraglider is detached and floats off towards the island, man and boy clinging on for dear life.

The scene then switches to the USA, where an older and somewhat disenchanted Dr Alan Grant (Neill), now separated from Dr Ellie Sattler (Dern) although still on good terms with his former partner, is trying to raise money for his continued research on velociraptors. In a public lecture he dismisses those created by John Hammond and InGen on the island of Isla Sorna as simply amusement park creatures when compared to the real creatures of history that are now simply rock within the strata of the Montana Badlands. However, when persuasive-sounding Paul (William Macey) and Amanda (Téa Leoni) Kirby turn up, offering to write a huge cheque in return for Grant being their guide on a "low flyover" of the island, ostensibly for their silver anniversary, the palaentologist is unable to resist, and he and his assistant Billy (Alessandro Novello) thus find themselves bound for disaster on what is in fact a badly planned venture to find the Kirbys' son Eric on Isla Sorna.

The film

So much water has flowed under the bridge in special effects terms since the original Jurassic Park was made that there was always a danger of diminishing public returns concerning computer-generated dinosaurs. Let me first say that the creatures themselves are very good, and in addition to the ever popular T-Rex and velociraptors some extra players have been added to the mix, including the fearsome Spinosaurus and the sinister pterodactyls, who seem even more chilling when walking along on their wingtips than when in the air.

Unfortunately the plot and the characterisations are both a bit thin, although top marks to the producer to keeping it a short film at 90 minutes or so and thus avoiding unnecessary padding. The rescue story is fairly straightforward, and young Eric Kirby is perhaps less irritating than other Spielberg children. The problem is that as always there is at least one child involved in the film. To the question, Why change a winning formula?, more below. The Kirbys as a couple, though played competently enough by Macey and Leoni, are probably supposed to evoke both our laughter and our sympathy but to me at least unfortunately did neither, coming across as merely irritating, especially Téa Leoni's character: another annoying strand of continuity from Lost World where Julianne Moore as the female lead was equally bone-headed and hapless. Sam Neill is one of those actors who can put a shine on whatever he performs in and easily weighs in as the thespian heavyweight, but the beautiful Laura Dern unfortunately doesn't get much to do apart from look nice and make us wonder why Alan Grant let Ellie Sattler go. There are a few other characters who, as someone wryly observed, perform the role of the nameless Star Trek crewmen who are there to be killed off quickly. On the plus side, there is some discussion of velociraptor intelligence and the intriguing possibility that had events turned out differently, velociraptors and not humans might have come to rule the earth. The action sequences are also quite good, although perhaps some people may have become accustomed to some of the stereotypical sequences by now.

Once again we come to the problem with the Jurassic Park series: it is still too bound to the Spielberg childhood-cinema fascination. While I dislike the gratuitous violence of much contemporary entertainment, notably the current fascination with gangster themes in both cinema and films, it is worth remembering that the original novel was written for adults with plenty of adult science and ethical questions contained within its pages, not to mention very unsanitised dinosaur attacks. I do not think JP3 is a bad film, but it leaves an adult appetite unfulfilled. It would be nice to think that there is out there still an audience for an adult film that involves dinosaurs, but perhaps the boat has already been missed.

If you have been following the series it's worth going to see Jurassic Park 3, as it is good entertainment and - dare I say it - a family film. Whether the series can sustain another follow up after this one is debatable, although the Alien series managed a reasonably good fourth outing after the much-criticised third film. Certainly the ending of JP3 leaves the possibility open.

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