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2001, Dir. Joe Johnston
92 min. Rated PG-13.
Starring: Sam Niell, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Michael Jeter.

Review by Noel Wood

You know, most of the time when you get a big-budget action movie done by a respected filmmaker that becomes a record-breaking smash hit, a sequel is inevitable. I mean, it’s pretty much a given, right? But when the original filmmaker drops off the project for reasons unknown, it’s time to rethink the inevitable sequel. Let’s just say they should never have made a 2010. Or a SUPERMAN 3. Or BATMAN AND ROBIN. Or any of those god-awful straight-to-video Disney sequels. The rare exception is when the series is taken over by another respected director, such as MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and ALIEN.

And Especially, JAWS 2. You see, when the original movie comes from Steven Spielberg, when it comes to a sequel and the man doesn’t sign on, fuhgeddaboutit. JAWS was one of the most groundbreaking and trend-setting movies of all time, and spawned the “Summer Blockbuster” that you see so often today. JAWS 2 was, well, a steaming pile of shark crap.

Which brings us to the good ol’ JURASSIC PARK series. The first film was great. Great job by Mr. Spielberg in presenting a real edge-of-your-seat fantasy thriller without insulting our intelligence too much. His use of dark moody atmosphere, a killer score, and clever scenarios to convey a real sense of terror was amazing. The CGI was groundbreaking. This was one of the first films to use the technology on such a grand scale, and it STILL looks better than a lot of the stuff you see today, almost a decade later. You can’t tell me those tigers in GLADIATOR or the arena monsters in STAR WARS EPISODE II looked remotely realistic, but seeing a herd of friggin’ dinosaurs run through a field was damn convincing. The sequel, THE LOST WORLD, was a bit darker and slower than its predecessor. Having lost most of the cast, Spielberg tried to create a new tone altogether, and while it wasn’t horrible, something didn’t gel as well as it did in the first. Part of it is the realization that once you’ve seen giant dinosaurs, you can’t really do much else to top them. You don’t get much more badass than Velociraptors and T-Rexes. I figured they’d stop after two movies, but then the summer of 2001 rolls along, and we get part 3. A part 3 with no Spielberg at the helm.

So what do you do in a third movie? I mean, you’ve already exploited your best dinos in part one, and revealed a second location in part 2. So to pull them in, you find an old cast member that’s NOT named Jeff Goldblum and introduce a few new characters along with a rescue mission plotline. Oh, and a new big badass dinosaur in the Spinosaurus, who proves his mettle early on by completely taking out our old megadino, the T-Rex. Unfortunately, while the Spinosaurus is big and ugly and mean-looking, it doesn’t have that certain something we saw with the T-Rex. Nobody thinks of Spinosaruses when they think of badass dinos.

But you know what? I actually LIKED this movie. It wasn’t the original, but it did exactly what it needed to do. First and foremost, Joe Johnston didn’t take the project TOO seriously. JURASSIC PARK III is a B-movie. No bones about it. It presents itself as such. It’s campier than the previous two movies, and that’s a good thing. The dinosaurs are played a little more comedically. Please tell me I wasn’t the only one who, when the Raptors have a little conversation amongst themselves, was reminded of the aliens in the classic 70’s sci-fi romp LASERBLAST or even the “Ack Ack”s of the Martians in Tim Burton’s MARS ATTACKS. The other two movies were also played for camp to a certain extent, but never going so far as to have pterosaurs give their victims the evil eye while on the attack or cell phones ringing from inside a big pile of dino-poop.

The first film did a good job of setting up attack sequences with some dramatic tension (see the chaos/control scene with the glass of water) while THE LOST WORLD dragged on and took too long to set up crucial scenes. JP3 takes a different approach – it just plows in to the action almost from the start, and kind of coasts along at that pace for most of the movie. In this case, it works. The movie is significantly the shortest of the trilogy, so keeping it quick is a good move.

This movie also tones down the “cute kid” factor, which was a big old pain in the ass in parts 1 and 2. The kids served a purpose in the first one, but were pretty irritating nonetheless. Ian Malcom’s “daughter from the blue” in part 2 pretty much serves none. We do get the kid factor in this one in the son of William H. Macy and Tea Leoni’s characters. He’s old enough and palateable to avoid the cute kid label, but he’s the integral focal point of the plot, and therefore is not a useless peripheral character.

And I never thought I’d hear myself saying this, but thank God for Sam Neill. He actually is the most interesting and least annoying member of this cast. The cast of the first worked well together as an ensemble. Neill, Goldblum, Dern, and Attenborough had a lot of chemistry and fueled the movie along perfectly. Goldblum’s character out of his element in part 2 just seemed annoying. Julianne Moore, Pete Postlewaite and Vince Vaughn did a pretty good job of picking up the slack, but it still didn’t gel as well as the cast of the original. In part 3, Bill Macy does a terrific job per usual, Tea Leoni is annoying as fuck as we should expect, and the Trevor Morgan did what he needed to do. Sam Neill is not only the best thread to tie these characters together, but shows that he still has the spark he carried in the original. Jeff Goldblum wasn’t able to pull this off.

No, this movie was no Oscar candidate or perennial classic cinema, but it did exactly what it was intended to do. I read reviews from folks all over the place when it was first released stating how bad it was. Some folks called it the worst movie ever. People bitched about the lack of plot, the one-dimensional characters, cheesy action sequences, and clichéd dialogue. But what the fuck were they expecting? The first JURASSIC PARK wasn’t exactly ON THE WATERFRONT. It was a big ass B-Movie with a coherent filmmaker behind it, so you got what you paid for. Same thing applies here. Yeah, it might have been better had Spielberg actually directed it, but my personal opinion is that it would have suffered if that were the case. Spielberg has shown he’s not infallible, and the perfect example of that is the previous sequel. This movie was far more enjoyable than THE LOST WORLD. Had Spielberg directed part 3, it likely would have plodded along aimlessly. Joe Johnston showed that he has what it takes to make a movie like this work (look no further than JUMANJI, not a fabulous movie by any stretch of the imagination but the action scenes were impressive) and the result was a satisfying conclusion to the series. I hope they don’t greenlight a JP4, because I’d like to see the series end on this note.


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