2001: Looking Back At JURASSIC PARK III - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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2001: Looking Back At JURASSIC PARK III

Martin Rayburn makes it up as he goes along!
Six weeks before the start of principal photography, director Joe Johnston tossed out the Jurassic Park III script, opting to write a new one off the cuff, and conducting his production with often only a day long advance on the next two or three page installment. This is how Johnston, cast and crew made their way through a $93 million motion picture. Let that sink in and tell me there isn't a detachment from the real world among every single person working in Hollywood.

But I likely don't need to tell you any of that as, whether you heard how this third film in the Jurassic Park franchise was shot or not, it's all patently obvious when you watch this action-smart, story-stupid sequel that still, twenty years on, sticks out among the wider franchise as the biggest disappointment of the series.
Like the wrecked buildings and ravaged genetic laboratories that Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) visits when he finds himself stranded, again, on Isla Sorna, the third Jurassic effort stands as only a hollowed, corpse-like reminder of the original, raided of all back-plot and substance. Where there were once potent ethical implications and social commentary, there is now: action.

But who's to blame here? Where else could Johnston have gone with this relatively exhausted ongoing "storyline"? The industry executive setup: We've got a huge market for an island full of dinosaurs, but no rational or convincing reason as to why any character would end up there. The industry executive solution: We don't need a reason. Lighten up. Have fun. If you're smiling, then we aren't technically "stealing" your money.

But perhaps this is all overburdening the issue. Sam Neill does do a good job of re-hashing lines that read like water-doused kindling; "We probably won't get off this island alive," "This is playing God," you know the drill. Any issues his dramatic, monotone dialogue addresses were dually covered (and then some) in the original. Neill also does a good job of totting around his quick-tongued, dim-witted posse of fools, including William H. Macy and Tea Leoni, who play the divorced parents of a boy caught alone on the island after a parasailing accident leaves him stranded. Psssst: there's your plot.

The fact of the matter is, Johnston knew he had no outs. With no capacity for further originality or expansion, Jurassic Park III could only solidly capitalise off of one thing. Give the people what they want, feed them their own tails when there is no tale to tell. And so this installment is quicker and leaner than any of the others. Despite some scattered slower scenes of exposition, the film moves at a fast pace, hoping you won't notice the weakness of the plot, with digitally perfected sequences that rarely let up, growing in intensity and sheer aesthetic believability as the movie progresses. Yet, missing a climatic ending. The one included feels like a fake-out ending, yet nope, that's where this ride ends. And end it did, with Jurassic Park III killing the franchise for fifteen years.

But it isn't all negativity as, even though Jurassic Park III arrived at a time when CGI effects had taken a monumental leap toward believability, you won't find outlandish, graphically animated figures here. Thanks to Stan Winston and his team the animatronic dinos look as real as they ever have, which is a good thing as they show up throughout the film a lot more than the original. The behind the scenes documentary on the BluRay gives a fascinating look at these full-sized models that weighed up to 5,000lbs, moved limbs at speeds of 100mph, and could pick up 5G's of force per movement, and was worth the price of admission alone.
Watched again now, with the benefit of hindsight, perhaps Johnston would have made a bigger mistake had he actually tried to insert an innovative plot or theme or group of memorable characters into this feature. Because at under 90 minutes (minus credits) it's trim and an easy watch, despite the flaws, as Johnston cut a lot of the fatty sequel excess of The Lost World - protracted melodrama, bunk character bonding, and distended revelations - for a much more streamlined, action-stocked vehicle. Although the film's overall visual rendering is more drab and much darker than the former two, the (at times) humorous one-liners and on-going comedic bits (for instance, a ringing phone in a Spinosaurus' belly) contrast well with the heavy effects, and give the movie the feel of a genuine, old-school popcorn flick.

Does this make scriptless direction, storyless action, and the abandonment of all formerly pertinent themes and social issues an acceptable solution? Not quite. Jurassic Park 3 may have bite, but unlike the original, it gives you nothing to chew on.

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