Jurassic Park 3

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From the start, the Jurassic Park series has built in an underlying theme, purposefully exploring the comparison between big summer movies and amusement park thrill rides. While this attitude does well by those of us that enjoy the “ride” aspect of the movie-going experience, linking today’s Hollywood spectaculars with the early days of cinema, without a certain amount of depth the experience leaves one wanting. It’s like an appetizer and a  tasty dessert without the satisfying meal in between. 

A lot of folks don’t like any of the Jurassic Park movies for this reason. At least JP2 gave us an extra act at the end beyond what was in the novel. JP3 seems to have been cobbled together from elements from Michael Chrichton’s books that didn’t make it into the first two movies, and given that it’s a good half hour shorter than the others, leaves one feeling that something’s been left out. For JP3, Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer) takes over the director’s chair from his boss Steven Spielberg. While Spielberg is a director famed for putting what the audience wants on screen, he also has a knack for giving the audience a few things they didn’t even know they wanted along the way. Johnston, as his background in design and f/x indicates, is more interested in assembling the necessary elements in a given situation, and making sure it all looks good in the frame.

Sam Neill returns to the series as Dr. Alan Grant, and we learn that Grant didn’t stay with his girlfriend Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, looking vivacious), spoiling the first film’s happily-ever-after a bit. Ellie is now married to some guy who works for the US State Department. The only reason we know this is so that the plot can turn later, otherwise I get the feeling Ellie wouldn’t be in the movie. Despite rumors that Jurassic Park 3 would take place between the first two films, Grant makes a direct reference to 2 early on, adding that nothing would make him go back to Isla Nubla.

He proves to be as good as his word. However, all it takes is a big check to get him on a plane over Site B on Isla Sorna. William H. Macy and Tea Leoni play Paul and Amanda Kirby, a divorced couple that tricks Dr. Grant and his assistant Billy (Alessandro Nivola from Face/Off) into going with them on a mission to search for their son (Trevor Morgan from Barney’s Great Adventure), who was last seen para-gliding near the island. Kirby hires a group of mercenary soldiers o’ fortune to protect them, but they turn out to be phonies as well and don’t last long. After a huge spinosaurus wrecks the plane, the survivors play the usual game of run & jump trying to stay a step ahead of the prehistoric predators and get off the island alive.

Despite some polish given the script by the team of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (Election, Citizen Ruth), the characters aren’t given time to let us see the depth we know is there. They have their moments (anything with Macy is a little bit better for it), and I congratulate all involved for letting the dinosaurs continue to behave like dinosaurs (and not cartoon characters), but it doesn’t seem to be enough. Johnston seems to be in a hurry to get back on The Ride, not trusting the material to hold audience interest. The real reason people go to see these movies is to see living dinosaurs. Some of the series’ best moments are just watching the dinosaurs (or the people, for that matter) hanging around, without a fight or a chase scene.

Jurassic Park 3 does a good job marking time for the series, and is a fun 90 minutes, but – like the raptors – I’d appreciate a little more meat.

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