Thursday, June 11, 2015

Summer School: 'Jurassic Park III' (2001)

With so many summer franchises returning this year, I'm catching up on previous installments.

The opening credits of Jurassic Park III, in which the roman numeral is slashed across the title by apparent dinosaur claws, declare the movie's cheesy B-movie intentions pretty clearly. My memory of seeing Jurassic Park III in theaters is one of massive disappointment, and I think that failing to recognize its B-movie status is key to that disappointment. Jurassic Park was a huge spectacle with some smart ideas, and The Lost World was a messy attempt to follow up on that spectacle and those ideas. Jurassic Park III is just a dumb movie about people running from dinosaurs, and in that sense it manages to succeed from time to time (at least as often as The Lost World does, in my opinion). Watching it again years later, I didn't exactly enjoy it, but I did find it sort of amusing in its low ambitions.

The movie offers up the thinnest of pretexts to get Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) onto Isla Sorna, the "Site B" island from The Lost World where dinosaurs roam free. Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm is completely absent in this installment (aside from a derogatory reference to his book that could also be a dig at Michael Crichton's original novel), and Laura Dern's Ellie Sattler makes only brief appearances at the beginning and end of the movie. So Grant is saddled with some useless new companions, mainly divorced parents Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda Kirby (Tea Leoni), who are surprisingly effective at hoodwinking him into accompanying them to the island, where their son has gone missing.

While the first two movies at least had the pretense of scientific exploration and advancement underpinning their stories, there's no scientific inquiry involved in Jurassic Park III. Grant is introduced giving a lecture and then overseeing a dig, but his scientific interests are essentially irrelevant. And no one is trying to study or modify the dinosaurs this time; they're just hoping not to get eaten. As a monster movie, Jurassic Park III is marginally effective at best, and its characters are dumb and annoying enough that it's easy to root for them to die. Macy and Leoni get stuck with some dreadful comedy-of-remarriage material, and Neill mostly has to act flustered. The requisite annoying kid, the Kirbys' stranded son, is the least annoying kid in the whole franchise, and is actually more resourceful than most of the adults.

Overall the movie isn't particularly suspenseful, but there is one standout sequence set in a fog-filled aviary with pteranodons attacking the characters with sudden ferocity. It could have easily been airlifted into one of the previous movies (it's actually based on a scene from the original novel), which highlights how inessential this movie's storyline really is. The abrupt ending also feels like the filmmakers just kind of gave up (the movie is half an hour shorter than the previous installments), although it's not quite as abrupt as I had remembered. Being less terrible than my memory of it is about the highest praise I can give this movie.

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