Okay, I’m confusing myself here. In preparing for my Summer of 2001 10th Anniversary Retrospective I skipped watching JURASSIC PARK III (which was released July 18th, 2001), because I watched it again last summer to re-evaluate and my opinion had not changed from my original review.
Except the thing is now I cannot find any original review. Did I never write about it? I thought I did but I can’t find it in the review list or using Google. So I’m not sure why I didn’t write it up last summer. Whoops. This is not a review because it’s not fresh in my mind, but I will say a few things about it so we can discuss it in context of the other ’01 joints. This is the 10th anniversary and director Joe Johnston has a new movie coming out too so this is a good time to hash it out.
JURASSIC PARK III is not a terrible movie, especially when you consider the generally lackluster movies that came out that summer. Spielberg left the dinosaurs to do something more interesting with A.I., and I now see what a solid movie THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS is, but most of the other stuff is pretty crappy so far. So maybe in comparison this didn’t seem that bad.
The problem is you do have two previous movies to hold it up to, and I don’t think it can stand the comparison. I know THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK 2 is widely hated, and alot of people I know consider part 3 better. I still can’t figure that one out at all so I’ll go over it here briefly off the record so you can all tell me how wrong I am in the comments.
My problems with part 3 as opposed to part 2:
JP2 was a good sequel in the sense that it took the concept of the first one bigger. You were amazed by a theme park full of dinosaurs? Now let’s show you an island after they’ve gotten loose and overrun the place. We’ll show you a bunch of hunters being sent in to capture and wrangle them. We’ll show you them making it to a beach or getting loose in a city.
Part III doesn’t do that, it doesn’t seem interested in new ground or escalation. Just more people stuck on the island again, getting chased again. It’s not even a more-of-the-same sequel, it’s less-of-the-same. It goes backwards. It says “Oh, so you were impressed by all those dinosaurs? What if I were to show you alot less dinosaurs, in the same locations – but now there’s a couple that fly in one part! With wings!”
I’ve always considered the JP series to be a little on the dumb side. It seems smart compared to some later summer hits (the works of Emmerich, Bay, Sommers, etc.), but it doesn’t respect the audience’s intelligence the way JAWS does. It has silly elements like a lawyer getting eaten off a toilet because hey everybody, don’t you hate lawyers?
I can understand why people have a problem with them continuing this tradition in part 2. Pretty much everybody I ever discussed the movie with has a chip on their shoulder about that ridiculous scene where the little girl does gymnastics to fight a raptor. I get it, but why do the standards suddenly go back to part 1 level for part 3? I’ve never heard anybody have a problem with the less original but equally stupid antics of the little boy who’s one of the main stars of part 3. To me it’s more enjoyable to see the one goofy gymnastics scene than the jokes here, like the ringtone that can be heard from inside the beast that swallowed a satellite phone. Not only do you gotta accept that a swallowed phone could be heard clearly from inside a dino’s belly, but also that they don’t see or hear the giant fucker standing behind them until the phone rings. I’m sure Spielberg used some cheats in setting up his scenes but I didn’t remember anything jumping out as that preposterous.
And these characters, geez. I’m not saying any of the characters from the other ones are classic screen icons (Ian Malcolm comes closest), but William H. Macey and Tea Leoni as bickering rich assholes is not my idea of good companionship during a dino-adventure. I know Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor worked on the script, but this is not the ol’ Taylor & Payne blisteringly observant portrayals of flawed humanity. It’s just some obnoxious nitwits. It’s like if the lawyer survived the toilet and acted the same for most of the movie but then you were supposed to care about him at the end because he loves his wife.
Sam Neill’s character is the most likable one but he’s pretty bland. Just giving him the hat doesn’t make him Indiana Jones.
JP2 has a whole bunch of great tension and excitement in my opinion. The scene of the little girl on the beach being surrounded by tiny dinosaurs, at first cute and then terrifying. The epic shots of the hunters driving through the dino stampede trying to catch them. The whole thing with Julianne Moore on the cracking glass as her trailer is attacked by a t-rex. The unmanned boat coming toward land. The t-rex loose in the city. (despite a couple lame Godzilla jokes.)
JP3 has… nothing that made much of an impression on me. I mean I’m sure you guys can remember a set piece that you liked. I can’t. There was something with pterodactyls, I believe. I’m sure they got chased a couple times.
One obvious factor in the success of these movies is the great effects, both digital and rubber, that made the dinosaurs seem like real animals. At the time the big deal was “they did this with computers!” but the reason they hold up is because most of them weren’t. It was a combination of the absolute state of the art animatronic effects and the freshly invented computer animation technique. By the time of part 3 it was possible to be lazy with computers.
To me, the dinosaurs in part 3 seem more like monsters than animals. They run in and roar. They don’t show as much signs of thinking or spending their off time grazing or wildlife documentary things like that. The animation is not as subtle. I was surprised to see on the behind the scenes featurette that they built a full-sized animatronic t-rex that could really move around. It’s an impressive engineering feat but I’m not sure that comes across in the movie, which looks like a bunch of CGI.
I know I’m in the minority on this one, both in thinking part 2 is good and in thinking part 3 is not very good. And it’s come up a bunch of times in the other threads, but I’ve tried to stay out of it. So give me your best argument: what am I missing on this one? What makes it more than a mediocre rehash?
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.