Friday, June 5, 2015

Jurassic Park III

Welcome back to FlashBack Friday as I continue my review series of the Jurassic Park films! After an extremely disappointing entry last week, I was not entirely hopeful for this third entry in the saga. Spielberg had left the project, and the general consensus regarding Jurassic Park III was not a positive one. Having been 4 years since the previous film in the series was released in theaters, I couldn't have been more ready to go back to the island of dinosaurs in 2001, and remember being extremely excited about seeing not only Sam Neill as Dr. Grant again, but finally seeing the Pteranodon depicted as a major foe for the first time in the series. Even at the time, however, I knew that there was something a little off about this movie in comparison to its Spielberg-directed counterparts. Still, this is probably the Jurassic Park movie I watched the most as a teenager, and I went into this review really hoping for it to surpass my middling memory of its quality. As always with my FlashBack Friday reviews, beware of SPOILERS from this point on!

On an adventure outing with his mother's boyfriend, Eric Kirby is marooned on Isla Sorna, an island deserted by the genetic engineering company named InGen after the dinosaurs they'd resurrected overran their compound. Eight weeks later, Eric's estranged parents will do anything to get their son back... even bribe a dinosaur expert named Dr. Alan Grant to escort them around the island under the guise of a bucket-list sight-seeing trip. Swayed by the years of funding such a pay-day would provide, Dr. Grant reluctantly agrees to be their tour guide. Unfortunately, the Kirbys are more interested in finding their teenage son than being educated about dinosaurs, and the voyage culminates in a crash landing after an encounter with a ferocious creature stomping onto the runway, leaving them stranded and without the mercenaries (who were eaten shortly after landing) hired by Mr. Kirby to protect them. With the group in shambles and their motives wildly divergent, Dr. Grant leads the survivors toward the shore in an attempt to get the attention of passing aircrafts. Their plans are constantly thwarted by the Velociraptors (seeking some eggs stolen by Billy, a grad student of Dr. Grant's) as well as the enormous Spinosaurus, eventually leading Dr. Grant into a sticky situation that is only resolved by Eric, adorned in camouflage and hoarding a bevy of left-over supplies from the vacated InGen Corporation. He's survived the past eight weeks inside a supply truck, but with Dr. Grant's help, he's soon reunited with his parents... only to have another near-death experience as they wander into a Pteranodon cage. Getting away from the flying dinos, the group finds a boat and plans to ride it all the way to the coast... only to be intercepted by the Spinosaurus who is only chased off after being hit with a flare gun. They are almost there when the raptors return yet again, and after returning the eggs to their rightful owners, Dr. Grant is rescued by both the Navy and the Marines.

Okay... so I wanted to give this movie a positive review after the sorely disappointing The Lost World, but the more I've thought about it the more prominent the mistakes of Jurassic Park III become. The entire setup of this story is far less interesting than either of the previous two movies, but it made complete sense when I found out the production woes attached to this project before its release. Universal already had a script written for this movie that was entirely different than what it turned out being. They then came up with an entirely new script involving a mysterious string of deaths on the Costa Rican mainland (later revealed to be Pteranodon related). But five weeks before filming began, director Joe Johnston jettisoned the new script and decided to start from scratch... which meant they didn't have a script at all when they started filming. For those of you who don't know, that's never a good sign.

That chaotic style of storytelling can sometimes result in pure magic, but that wasn't the case this time. It's obvious that the "rescue mission" idea was about as far as they got in the script development stage before filming began, and even the plot summary I just wrote illustrates the lack of direction this story has. Everything that happens in this movie is action-centric, with almost no plot and a very brief running time of 90 minutes (more than half an hour shorter than either previous Jurassic Park entry). It's never more evident than when the movie hits a complete dead-end as the survivors emerge on the beach to find a suited man surrounded by an enormous fleet of Navy/Marine vessels. I'll get more into my thoughts on that in a minute, but suffice it to say that Jurassic Park III isn't really a story - it's a ride. Or at least, that's what the filmmakers wanted it to be.

The saving grace of Jurassic Park III is the extremely welcome presence of Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant. He's so likable in this part, and brings back so many fond memories of the original movie that it elevates the material much higher than it deserves to be. Really the only reasons to watch this movie are for his performance and the action/adventure that is inherent in a film about people running from murderous dinosaurs. For good or bad, this film doesn't try to bite off more than it can chew. It pretty much knows that it's a schlocky action film that can never live up to the legacy of its predecessor, and taking it on those terms makes Jurassic Park III much easier to swallow. I enjoy a lot of the scenes in a junk-food kind of way, and I typically have the same slighly sick feeling after seeing this film as I do after binging on candy. There's nothing incredibly offensive or obnoxious about the action scenes themselves, it's merely the lack of any depth or meaning to the action that turns me against it.

While the lack of ambition of Jurassic Park III can sometimes allow me to give it a pass on things I normally wouldn't, it also underlines moments where more interesting storylines are introduced and carelessly discarded. For instance, when Dr. Grant is classifying the Spinosaurus, he mentions how InGen didn't have it on their list and says, "which makes me wonder what else they were up to." Unfortunately, this intriguing idea is never even touched upon for the rest of the film. While it may have required more time than the screenwriters had to flesh out that concept, just mentioning it without any follow-through is even more disappointing than never bringing it up at all. With such a short film and no actual ending to speak of, I would have welcomed a call-back to the first movie by uncovering some kind of conspiracy within the organization that brought dinosaurs to life in the first place. There's also an awesome moment where we get to see Velociraptors zoom across the screen, making us think we're finally going to get a glimpse of the 60+ mph they're capable of reaching... and we never get to see them run again in the film.

To make matters worse, the filmmakers continue the trend of not delivering on promises by allowing the Spinosaurus to vacate the film so unceremoniously. While the scene in the lake with the massive predator is pretty exciting and actually looks really good (despite the various flaws in logic that accompany the scene), the fact that a flare gun makes the dinosaur flee into the trees to never be seen again in the film is beyond disappointing. While I had a few qualms with the jarring ending of Jurassic Park where the T-Rex magically appears to kill off the raptors attacking the group, the unsatisfying departure of the poster character in this film made me realize how much better a final appearance from the Spinosaurus would be. I mean, how cool would it be for the Spinosaurus to come in at the last second and kill the pack of raptors that have been stalking the group all movie long? It would be such a nice call-back to the first film (which this movie isn't shy about) and give us a far more satisfying end than the ridiculous one we were given.

I could go on and on about the STUPID ending of this film, but for the readers' sake I'll try to be brief. So... Ellie heard Alan mumbling incoherently into a satellite phone about a river and somehow knew that he went to Isla Sorna? I mean, she knew more than anyone how much he was against the idea of returning to the island, so why would she just make that assumption...? Not only that, but a retired paleobotanist somehow has the connections to order an enormous fleet of Naval ships and a huge regimen of Marines to abandon the work they're currently doing in order to rescue a single person? And for some reason they brought along a little man wearing a suit so he could surprise them all on the beach? AND, they somehow rescued Billy when we all saw the Pteranodons picking him apart as he floated down the river?? Come on, there was blood in the water and an ominous shot of a Pteranodon in the foreground turning to glare at Dr. Grant. This had to have been a last-minute change, because there is no way Billy survived that attack. To cap it all off, we see three Pteranodons flying into the clouds to find a new place to live, despite the fact that they have a big bunch of babies that they're neglecting back in the bird cage...

Anyway, this movie goes completely off the rails at the end, and I won't even try to defend it. I'm at least heartened to know that Jurassic World will by and large ignore the 2nd and 3rd films in this franchise, which allow it the freedom from having to tie in all the idiotic plot lines introduced in those movies (the T-Rex attack in San Diego, the Pteranodons escaping the island, etc.). Everything I see about the new film makes me more excited, even the trained Velociraptors and the genetic hybrid dinosaur that's going to be wreaking havoc. I'm actually really looking forward to it - especially after the last two clunkers - and I hope it is able to recapture at least some of the magic from the original film.

To wrap up my thoughts on Jurassic Park III, I can honestly say I don't hate this movie. It's stupid and abbreviated and meandering, but it has some entertaining and slightly unsettling moments, and it gave us one last adventure with Dr. Alan Grant. If anything, it gives me a bar that I know Jurassic World will be able to clear, regardless of whatever problems it may have. This film is slightly less irritating that The Lost World, but comes nowhere near the brilliance of the first movie. In fact, it cheapens what made that film so magical in the first place, from the forced call-backs, to the terrible practical effects (the Spinosaurus attacking the plane, in particular), to the absolute aping of John William's memorable theme. Having said that, it's a trashy B-movie that's moderately enjoyable at certain moments. If it wasn't for the fact that I like Dr. Grant a little more than I like Ian Malcolm, I'd probably be giving this the same score as The Lost World... but I'm going to be a little more generous and give Jurassic Park III two and a half stars. 

JURASSIC PARK III is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi terror and violence

** What did you think about Jurassic Park III? Was it an unforgivable departure from the previous two, or did you find some guilty-pleasure in it? Let me know in the comments, and don't forget to like my Facebook page! **