THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"JURASSIC PARK III"

The original Jurassic Park was a true event movie. It opened in the summer of 1993 to record-breaking business. Many people, myself included, went back to see it again. All summer long, that was the movie everyone talked about. The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2 came out a few years later, made big money right away, and dropped from sight. Everyone wanted to see it, but no one seemed to love it (much like this year's Pearl Harbor). Still, it too was an event movie - even if many were disappointed by the event. In contrast, Jurassic Park III, which is certain to rake in a bundle for the short term, is not an event movie at all. In fact, it feels like some other studio's rip-off of Jurassic Park. No, wait - let me rephrase that; it's like the bottom half of a drive-in B-movie double feature.

Need proof? Let me tell you that JP3 runs a mere 85 minutes, with an additional seven of end credits. The theme of the first movie - dealing with the dangers of using modern technology to play God - is nowhere to be found. The characters are so one-dimensional and cardboard that you have to wonder why stars like William H. Macy and Tea Leoni would play them. I can almost imagine the pitch meeting for this sorry sequel: "Hey, let's make a Jurassic Park movie for people who hate plot, characters, and logic. You know, the kind who only care about dinosaurs eating people."

Sam Neill returns as Dr. Alan Grant. In an early scene, we see him visiting old friend Ellie (Laura Dern, making a cameo). They discuss their continuing fascination with dinosaurs, even though they were nearly eaten by some of them in the first movie. Shortly thereafter, a couple (Macy and Leoni) approach Grant with a proposition. They will pay him big money to be their tour guide for a flight over Isla Sorna, the infamous "Site B" that served as a backup to the main Jurassic Park. In desperate need of funds for his research project, Grant reluctantly agrees. What he doesn't know is that the couple plans to land on the island; they believe their young son was stranded there following a freak para-sailing accident. (You'd think I was making this up, but I'm not.)


It's deja vu all over again as dinos threaten humans in Jurassic Park III
 
Once on Isla Sorna, the group spends its entire time running from dinosaurs. They run through fields. They run through jungles. They run through streams. Leoni has the annoying task of screaming like a maniac while she is running. If you removed all the scenes in which people are shown running, Jurassic Park III would last about 15 minutes. Of course, the kid has somehow managed to survive eight weeks on the island. He seems less concerned with carnivorous dinosaurs eating him than with the fact that his divorced parents have come together to rescue him. Maybe, he thinks, they will get back together. You read that correctly - at times the film plays like a prehistoric version of The Parent Trap.

There are lots of new dinosaurs in JP3, including some of the flying variety. The special effects make them look better than the ones in the original, but the impact isn't the same. The people never seem to be occupying the same space as the creatures - not because the effects work is bad, but because the weak script doesn't create much sense of danger. Remember feeling terror when the glass of water rippled in the original film? JP3 tries pathetically to manufacture that kind of feeling by having one of the dinos swallow a satellite phone; every time its electronic chirping is heard, you are meant to feel dread. Maybe it's me, but phones aren't scary. A creature so big that it's capable of making the ground shake is scary.

Jurassic Park III was directed by Joe Johnston, a capable filmmaker who also did Jumanji and The Rocketeer. Those pictures showed a focus on story that this one noticably lacks. The idea of paring down the idea to its core man-versus-dinosaurs premise isn't necessarily bad. The problem is that the action is often staged simply for its own sake. Action scenes work when they are part of something more. Take away a compelling story and all you have is a 90-minute demolition derby where things smash up for no reason. Jurassic Park III is a depressingly soulless, utterly unnecessary sequel.

( 1/2 out of four)


Jurassic Park III is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi terror and violence. The running time is 1 hour and 32 minutes.
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