Genre: Action and Adventure, Thriller
Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Michael Jeter, Laura Dern
Release Date: July 18th, 2001
Jurassic Park III is a step in the right direction for the dinosaur-heavy series and marked the end of the original trilogy. Released in 2001, it’s the last installment to hit theaters before this Friday’s release of Jurassic World (In preparation for the new film, I’m revisiting the original trilogy this week.) Although it’s not as good as it might have been under the direction of Steven Spielberg (who executive produced it), it’s a noble achievement that offers a few memorable moments and glimpses of a new dinosaur.
The new dinosaur featured here is the Spinosaurus, which is the first dinosaur in the series to fight and successfully defeat the Tyrannosaurus. While the first two Jurassic Parks featured the T-Rex and the raptors as the main antagonists, director Joe Johnston thankfully shows that he’s willing to try new things in his first entry in the series.
Johnston continues the narrative of the first two features though by bringing back paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill), who was last seen in the original, as the hero. Early on, Grant is reunited with Dr. Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern), his girlfriend and partner in paleontology from the original, who has gone on to start her own family with a husband and a few children. Grant informs her that he’s still studying raptors and has recently discovered that raptors may have the ability to vocally communicate with one another. He of course never wants to return to the island of Jurassic Park but is tricked into visiting site B (which was featured in the first sequel, The Lost World) when a young married couple named Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda (Tea Leoni) Kirby convince him to serve as their tour guide on a private flight over that island (for a large fee, of course).
The duo have ulterior plans and are secretly searching for their missing son Eric (Trevor Morgan), who was last seen para-sailing near site B. They plan to land the plane on the island to find him.
Clocking in at 92 minutes, there’s an efficient thriller quality to this sequel. After Grant and Kirby’s crew land on the island, Johnston keeps the action coming at a strong and able pace. With fewer characters here than in The Lost World, he has the opportunity to build a few (albeit paper-thin) characters here. Macy and Leoni may not have much to do (other than run from dinosaurs) but their characters are empathetic enough for us to root for them and their goal of finding their lost son. The goofy sarcasm and silliness of The Lost World has been replaced by a more serious tone (despite the fact that some of the special effects from this sequel don’t hold a candle to the effects from the previous tow films).
Neill makes up for the weaker characters by delivering a sturdy lead performance. More than any other character in this series, he is the dinosaur expert and his expertise helps guide the film with Neill providing the gravitas needed to keep the proceedings grounded (and the viewers informed about the dinosaur behavior we’re witnessing).
It’s obvious that this film wasn’t built to compare to the original but what it does do, it does relatively smoothly with only a few bumps along the way. Instead of retreading old material, the director makes a few small changes that make this story his own. In addition to the main dinosaur changing, he also offers up a great pterodactyl attack and another strong scene set on a river that runs through the island.
What Joe Johnston shows here is that this series still has a few stories left to tell and I, for one, can’t wait to see what happens next.
Review by: John Hanlon