And You Thought It Was Safe(?)


Jurassic Park 3 (2001)

I can remember walking out of the first Jurassic Park with a headache and a thought: This movie deserves a sequel. Retrospect allows me to see how very, very wrong I was to even sub-vocalize such sentiments. Jurassic Park, for all its numerous, PG-13, summer-blockbuster flaws, was too good for a sequel. And now it has two to sully its reputation. Two mediocre attempts to recapturing the magic and the wonder that just dripped off the first film…something utterly impossible. And do you want to know why? Want me to tell you? ‘Cuz I will. Just watch me. But first you’ll have to sit through the plot synopsis, and a few paragraphs of my bitching and moaning. (Well, it is what we’re here for, after all.)

We open in the waters of Isla Sorna, The Lost Wrold‘s Site B. As the camera pans over picturesque cliffs the word “restricted” flashes across the bottom of the screen in BOLD RED CAPITALS. This, of course, means nothing to us, and even less to a guy named Ben (Mark Harelik), who’s decided to take his future-stepson, Eric (Trevor Morgan) parasailing over Isla Sorna’s many panoramic coves. After an unseen something-or-other makes a meal of their boat’s crew, Ben and Eric compound their original Bad Idea with a One That Is Still Worse, landing on Isla Sorna, the Worst Vacation Spot on Earth.

We then play catch up with Drs. Alan Grant (still Sam Neill) and Ellie Satler (still Laura Dern). Ellie’s got herself a husband now, with two little brats to cart around, and Dr. Grant is still passing the time digging up bones in Montana because, well…at least the bones don’t go chasing after you. He lectures occasionally, tries not to think about Jurassic Park, or “that incident in San Diego,” and desperately searches for ways to keep funding his digs. But, since he is Dr. Alan Grant, there’s only one direction for his character to go. Through arm-twisting and check writing, Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda Kirby (Tea Leoni), Eric’s divorced biological parents, hire Grant as their unofficial Isla Sorna tour guide. The plan: to rescue their son, who’s been slumming around and island full of dinosaurs for eight weeks with no food, no weapons, and only a city kid’s knowledge of wilderness survival. Because we can’t have anyone die in these movies. Goodness no. Everyone knows only lawyers and eee-vil capitalists get it in Jurassic Park films.

Well, scratch that. We can’t have any women or children die in these movies. Expendable male characters are a dime a dozen. And what should occur five minutes after the Kirby’s plane touches Lost World soil? Why, the expendable male characters make discreet (re: unseen and bloodless) exits, via the jaws of Spinosaurus aegypicus.

ith their plane crashed, their equipment wrecked, and their armed guards off inspecting saurian digestive tracts, Grant, his paleontological protege Billy (Alessandro Nivola), and the Kirby’s Three set out for the coast, pursued by Spinosaurus and a particularly nasty pack of ‘raptors. Sound familiar?

Walking out of JP3, I felt overcome with egret. Not because I was sorry I’d seen the movie (I was, and am, but that’s beside the point). No, I regretted the wasted opportunities. Three screen writers, hundreds of millions of dollars, and four years later…for what? The first half of The Lost World all over again. Not only does JP3 never go anywhere new, it stays safely on ground the trilogy has already visited, too chickenshit and lazy to move on. But don’t tell them I told you, okay? You’re supposed to be wowed by the fact that Alan Grant is back! And, hey, look, a spinosaurus! Isn’t it cool?

Well…yes, it is. So are the ‘raptors that bedevil our human heroes throughout…not only because Phil Tippett’s design team saw fit to deck them out in feathers and stripes and all manner of decoration (it must be mating season or something) but they have more depth than any of the one-dimensional objects this film parades before our eyes, played by human beings who should’ve know better than to sign onto a franchise that overstayed its welcome before the first sequel even rolled off the assembly line. Yes, dinosaurs are cool. But good films are cooler. The original Jurassic Park at least had a shimmering sense of wonderment to counter its occasional, cliched scare-scenes. There’s nothing like that on display here, and the dinosaurs David Koepp went out of his way not to demonize are once again reduced to level of your average movie monster.

Just look at this script. The sheer number of contrivances needed to get Grant back on that damn island would make Ian Malcolm’s Chaos Theory-laden head explode. Talk about the consequences of random paradigm shifts. And I take back that parenthetical asside in the last paragraph:  it  can’t be mating season, as the raptors have already laid their eggs. This becomes pivotal once Grant’s paleontological padawan, Billy, makes the ultra-hyper-mega-stoopid mistake of stealing a few early in the film, providing a reason (no matter how dunderheaded and biologically-unsound it might be) for the raptors to bedevil our humans for the rest of the film. Man, the University of Montana must have the most liberal entrance policy in the world.

Speaking of which…who’s teaching class while Grant tromps around the wilderness? Sam Neill, his “g’day mate” hat, and cast-off, James Horner flannel shirt, spout the occasional philosophical treatise on Why the Whole Concept of Jurassic Park is Bad, Bad, Bad…and that’s about it. Not that we needed yet another character to belabor this point. Sam Neill must’ve needed the check. Grant is no challenge for the man to play, and never really does anything except, of course, shepherd yuppies through dinosaur country. Grant’s few character scenes fall flat on their face not only because they’re so brief but also because they’re so damn slipshod. We leave the movie knowing nothing new about Alan Grant, and if a sequel can’t give you something new what the hell is the point?

Neill does exactly what he did the first time around, spending the film throwing pearls of valuable advice. Last time, at the very least, he had a appreciative audience to receive these bits of information (most of which Alan Grant should never have been privy to the first place, but whatever…); here, his pearls are thrown before a pack of yuppie swine who, because they are our main characters, never meet with the horrible deaths that (in any sane world) would result from ignoring Alan Grant. After they hired him for his “expertise,” no less.

Take Paul and Amanda. These people deserve to die slow, horrifying deaths, yet, if they did, they’d never reconcile their differences and reunite with their son to form a whole, happy, Defense of Marriage Act-approved Family. God, it makes me want to barf just thinking about it. This is the kind of, “Fun for the whole family,” wholesomeness that belongs on Disney Night at the Movies, having no place on Isla Sorna. But we’re talking about the actors, not the Far Right, Family Values conspiracy to dumb down and restrict American cinema to the point where it all seems like some vast, no-so-subliminal message reading, MARRY AND REPRODUCE.

And I suppose I should give props to Macy and Tea (don’t pronounce it “Tee”) Leoni. Both actors are great at playing their respective, annoying, suburban nebbish charactorsTrevor Morgan pulls the same hat trick. Props, man. But even he gets on my nerves somewhat. You’d think, after being trapped in the Lost World for two–whole–months would’ve reduced Morgan’s Eric into a shivering monkey-brain. Patrick, the kid in Komodo, went insane after a day and a half on Giant Lizard Island. Kid must be some kinda pothead to remain this calm whilst being chased by dinosaurs.

By the way: why the hell is the Spinosaurus chasing these people around? Hate to break it to everyone, but when you’re twenty feet tall humans are about as appetizing as a “chicken” McNugget. A very bony “chicken” McNugget. Early in the flick, Grant calls the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park “theme park monsters,” and he’s right. Theme park monsters will chase humans around for 90 minutes. Dinosaurs probably wouldn’t. But these are not “theme park,” but “movie monsters,” and in keep with tradition around these parts, I will now officially blame this movie’s total ineptitude on its director and three writers…two of whom, at least, should’ve known better. Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne first came to my attention with 1999’s excellent High School black comedy, Election. They, too, should’ve quit while they were ahead. Whatever verve and punch they hoped to give the script obviously didn’t survive the work of our third writer, Peter Bachman. God only knows how much blame goes where, so I’m just going to lay a curse on everyone involved. I knew this thing was going south months ago, while they were, presumably, working much closer to the film.

JP3‘s script troubles were passing into legend long before its release, so obviously someone else out there in Moiveland had a problem with this whole idea. Director Joe Johnston gets a special stamp of blame here, since Joe apparently thinks it’s okay to start filming without a finished script. I guess that’s one way to keep a movie’s plot twists secret…not that there are any twists to hide…but this was not some sort of clandestine effort to keep the plot from leaking onto the Internet. No, simple, money-grubbing negligence moved this picture into theaters. You’d think filming without a working script should be a pretty big “no-no,” but you have to remember how people in Hollywood look at stories these days. Stories are cumbersome, ugly things that get in the way of moving your “product.” To Hollywood, stories are the flashy packaging you use to wrap your “product,” instead of the other way around. If anyone working on JP3 thought about telling a story, it doesn’t show. This movie was made to sell dinosaur action figures, and that shows. Glaringly.

But for a little while…about forty seconds…when the Tyrannosaurus rex and the Spinosaurus have an ol’ fashioned dinosaur throw-down…for those forty seconds, Jurassic Park 3 kicks fucking ass. The rest of the film could rot in Hell for all I care. And would someone please tell the United Nations (or the Costa Rican government…or, hell, Greenpeace, for that matter) to throw a blockade around this damn island before another boatload of idiots makes it through the breakers and Jurassic Park 4 descends upon us all?

GHalf-G

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