Jurassic Park III

Continuing to expand the boundaries of technology, rather than exciting entertainment, Joe Johnston's Jurassic Park III, the franchise's third installment, builds on Spielberg's dual hits, Jurassic Park (1993) and The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), which jointly have grossed over $1.5 billion worldwide.

Much darker than the previous films, Jurassic Park III feels more like a horror movie set in an amusement park than a good sci-fi adventure. While the story is weak, the special effects are strong, and the creatures are much more sophisticated than those in the earlier chapters.

It's doubtful that this sequel, which credits Spielberg as exec producer, will score as big as the second one, The Lost World, which still holds the record as the biggest grossing opening weekend in film history, with its phenomenal figure of $92.7. However, Universal's revitalized ad campaign, which now sells the film as a PG-13 horror flick, should result in one of the summer's strong openings, though the movie will not have as long legs as its predecessors.

As sequels go, Jurassic Park III is the weakest in the trilogy. The new picture is not an event movie in the way that the former installments were. Even before its overseas release, the first Jurassic Park penetrated the culture and social fabric of other countries, with a Dino-Mania sweeping the entire globe. Up to Titanic, the 1993 picture was the biggest-grossing movie of all time on a worldwide basis.

Although it uses characters and concepts created by Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park III is the first of the series not to be adapted from the author's novels. A priority for the studio, which needed a summer tentpole, the film was rushed into production in Hawaii long before there was a finished screenplay with a satisfying ending. In a much-publicized move, the cast was later reteamed for reshooting a new conclusion, which is acceptable if not terribly thrilling. The final script is credited to Peter Buchman and Election's Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, who functioned as script doctors, with additional polishing by uncredited Go's John August.

The link with the previous pictures is provided by the reliable thesp, Sam Neill, as Dr. Alan Grant, one of the world's foremost paleontologists, and by Laura Dern, who was in the first film and here makes a special appearance in a small but crucial role, as Dr. Ellie Sattler.

As viewers may recall, Grant was skeptical, when he accepted an invitation from industrialist John Hammond for a preview tour of his company InGen's latest brainchild, a unique touristic attraction located on Isla Nublar, a remote island near Costa Rica. Unlike anything the modern world had seen, Jurassic Park would allow visitors to interact with the genetically engineered dinosaurs. However, the highly anticipated trip quickly turned into a terrifying nightmare, when the cloned Velociraptors and T-rexes claimed the would-be amusement park as their very own.

Personally shaken and narrowly escaping death, Grant put the fateful experience behind him, though, like most scientists, his commitment to study the dinos remained staunchly intact. Years later, the InGen's debacle and the economic-political climate have taken their toll, and public or private funding for dino research has become nearly impossible.

Desperate to find new resources for his research, Grant is at his most vulnerable, when he receives an offer from a presumably wealthy adventurer, Paul Kirby (William H. Macy) and his attractive wife, Amanda (Tea Leoni), to serve as their personal guide on an aerial tour of Isla Sorna, another InGen site. Adjacent to Isla Nublar, this quarantined island has become a primordial breeding ground for Hammond's creation, as well as a magnet for thrill-seekers. To demonstrate his generosity and the seriousness of his proposition, Kirby opens his checkbook. What's an idealistic and desperate scientist to do Despite doubts and hesitations, he accepts the offer, unaware of the couple's true identity and motivation.

In a nicely-shot prologue, the viewers see a teenager named Eric (Morgan) and an older man peacefully flying over the island, only to crash some moments later. It turns out, Eric is the couple' son, and older man is Amanda's boyfriend, both of whom have disappeared with no trace.

Accompanied by his young protg, Billy (Alessandro Nivola), Grant suspects something's fishy when the pilot prepares to land on the island. A protest and fight occur aboard the helicopter, only to be interrupted by an enormous creature that appears out of nowhere, forcing the plane to crash into the jungle. Grant soon realizes that his hosts are divorced, and that the reason for inviting him on the journey is to search for and rescue their missing son.

All of this happens in the first reel, the only one that pays attention to such “irrelevant” matters as ideas, characterization, and motivation. From then on, the movie assumes the shape of a yarn about an ethnically diverse group fighting for its survival, while stranded on an island inhabited by genetically cloned dinos. Recalling Aliens (the second picture) and other sci-fi adventures, the tale is structured in terms of encounters with the creatures, chases, deaths, and survival–until the next encounter.

As the marooned group attempts to locate Eric, it needs to find a way to escape InGen's new creatures, including the massive Spinosaurus, which hunts both on land and underwater, and Pteranodos, which has the ability to fly. A few revelations are made along the way, such as the couple's shock, when they realize that their experienced guide has been to Isla Nubar, but not Isla Sorna. A measure of sentimentality and some requisite family values are introduced once Eric is found, about mid-way into the picture.

It's always intriguing to guess which of the mission's participants are the greediest, and which will the first to face the horrifying creature and die after the bloody confrontation. When Aliens was released, I and other critics pointed out the story's race and gender biases, the fact that the first victims to go were women and ethnic minorities. Fifteen years later, the ethos has changed and political correctness demands more careful consideration, though Jurassic Park III still embraces some cliches.

What's unfamiliar and often exciting are the island's new tenants, representing the unpleasant development since Grant was there. They include the flying Pterandon and the Spinosaurus, a predator measuring 44 feet in length (comparable to the largest T-rex). It's only a matter of time before the gigantic dinosaurs engage in ferocious battles.

Viewers intrigued by technology will get a kick out of the instrumental role played by cell phones in at least two strategic scenes. In the context of this story, the usually obnoxious gadget and its familiar ring are more than a welcome surprise. In general, in this picture, technology is all, and while the ensemble is appealing, there's not much acting to discuss. Asked to use their athletic rather than dramatic skills, the thesps are adept at running fast for their lives.

Director Joe Johnston, who collaborated with Spielberg on Raider of the Lost Ark before he made Jumanji, lacks his master's magical touch, the facility to orchestrate tension in both routine and extraordinary situations. Production values are proficient, though Don Davis's music, using original themes by John Williams, is necessarily second-rate.

It remains to be seen what will be the future of the Jurassic Park series as the most lucrative franchise in Universal's history.