If the Jurassic Park series insists on going in the monster movie direction, Jurassic Park III is right on target. This is a massive improvement on the disastrous The Lost World: Jurassic Park and it wisely removes Steven Spielberg from the director’s chair. His replacement is Honey, I Shrunk the Kids director Joe Johnston.
The task with Jurassic Park III is pretty simple. It’s a shorter film than its predecessors and it is more of a chase flick with a very certain, very concrete objective. There are fewer characters and there is less going on, which kind of creates a lean and mean approach that works with some of the more dangerous dinosaurs roaming about. The special effects are still average and far off the mark of the original, but some scenes are still quite effective.
Alan Grant (Sam Neill) is back in the mix. He’s still pals with Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), but she moved on and married someone else. Grant is still working and obsessed with Velociraptors, working with a graduate student (Alessandro Nivola) at learning more about the dinosaurs. One day, Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda (Téa Leoni) arrive at Grant’s dig site wanting the good doctor to take them back to Isla Sorna – the “Site B” of The Lost World.
Tempted by the promise of big time money for his research, Grant reluctantly agrees to take the Kirbys to the island. They want to land, unbeknownst to Grant, and are actually after something significant: their missing son (Trevor Morgan). Grant discovers the truth about the couple and helps them locate their kid, but not before numerous run-ins with the dinosaurs.
Jurassic Park III clocks in at roughly 92 minutes, making it a swift ride through Isla Sorna. Despite the leaner runtime, there is quite a bit of filler. Time is spent on the relationship between Paul and Amanda, for instance, and this takes some of the steam out of the movie. Having Grant back in the fold is a great touch and some of his observations, like about the difference between astronomers and astronauts, make for good material.
Grant’s disdain for John Hammond’s creation and the notion of “playing God” permeates Jurassic Park III with more delectable cynicism. It also makes Neill’s character more complete, more interesting. He doesn’t want to be back in the land of the dinosaurs; his preference is to pick through the bones and piece together the puzzles. Having the dinosaurs existing – and chasing him – somehow ruins his pursuit.
The action of Jurassic Park III is more convincing than the action of The Lost World. The dinosaurs are comprised of more CGI than in past incarnations, which is somewhat sad, but some of the animatronics are still present. There are also some advances in the dinosaurs, like the addition of quills to the heads of some of the raptors. This was done to reflect the possibility that the dinosaurs may have had feathers. The new-look raptors are pretty cool.
Jurassic Park III looks better than The Lost World: Jurassic Park, too. There are some downright lovely shots at the beginning of the film, with Isla Sorna looking spectacular during the parasailing sequence. There’s also more daylight, which helps give the picture more colour. Cinematographer Shelly Johnson, a frequent collaborator with Johnston, delivers the action and beauty with precision.
Jurassic Park III spoils things with a clunky and underwhelming ending, unfortunately, but it’s still a giant dino-step ahead of The Lost World and that’s got to be worth something. The actors are better, the action is better and the movie’s lean runtime actually benefits the material – or lack thereof. It’s nowhere near the masterwork of Spielberg’s first kick at the raptor, but what is?