Sometimes, critics are just wrong. This week, we’re trying to bring Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III back from the dead.
Jurassic Park III
Dir: Joe Johnston
Starring: Sam Neill, William H Macy, Tea Leoni
IMDb rating: 5.8
Metacritic rating: 42
Scholarly boffin-types, trapped on an island, battling against newly un-extinct examples of nature’s cruellest – who thought that concept would ever get old? Regrettably, the stuffy critics of 2001 did, and they made it perfectly clear. For the majority, Jurassic Park III suffered from the ordinary direction of Joe Johnston, which only served to highlight the importance of Steven Spielberg being at the wheel of these things. The plot, in which dino-lover and Jurassic Park-survivor Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) is tricked back onto pre-historic hang-out, Isla Sorna to search for a businessman’s (William H. Macy) missing son, also came under fire. In a series where dinosaurs had been brought back from the dead by taking DNA from mosquitoes, this plot thread took things too far.
The key villain from the first two films – the gurning T Rex – is shockingly killed off early by a new resident badass
In actuality, Jurassic Park III doesn’t suffer nearly as badly as most sequels do. The key villain from the first two films – the gurning T Rex – is shockingly killed off early by new resident badass the Spinosaurus. The action stands alongside any of that in Jurassic Park and The Lost World, while the casting has characteristic balls: in a franchise that positioned Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum as action heroes, Jurassic Park III goes one better, and casts real-life Ned Flanders, William H. Macy, as the star and narrative catalyst. Alongside the returning Neill, who looks like Dwayne Johnson in comparison, Macy is given a rare crack at a lead that isn’t defined by a jittery loser persona.
Macy’s closer, in fact, to his character in Fargo, a deceitful poser whose failed marriage to his wife (Tea Leoni) is one of the shattered relationships on show. It’s a recurring theme – most tragically, Dr Grant’s former partner Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) has a child with another man, and is so disconnected from Alan that her son knows him only as “the dinosaur man”. Though we later discover his proposition for Dr Grant to provide a tour of the island is a ruse, Macy’s Paul extends a pattern set by The Lost World – that in Jurassic Park’s world, the rich selfishly put others in harm’s way in order to get what they want, using influence and finance as leverage over the expendable 99%.
But William H. Macy, lonely singletons, a cynical glance at the influence of the rich – who cares? A Jurassic Park movie isn’t anything without spectacular technical prowess and gripping, unpredictable set-pieces, both of which Jurassic Park III possesses in spades. It’s clear the focus has been set on animating the Velociraptors and, most of all, the newly-introduced Spinosaurus, but they’re both fearsome – the invincible, eternally-grinning latter particularly a thing of nightmares. So are the sinister Pterodactyls, here introduced as giant birds in a cage, in an inspired set-piece that sees the creatures emerge from fog like some movie monster of yore.
In an era where blockbusters try to compensate plot-wise by cramming in more explosions than WWII, Jurassic Park III’s contrivances appear less grating
Context is everything. Maybe anthropomorphising the Velociraptors and upgrading them to the status of reptilian geniuses is a bit much – if you thought them figuring out how to open doors in Jurassic Park looked ridiculous, wait until they start talking to each other – but Jurassic Park III’s flaws aren’t nearly as potent as they seemed back in 2001. Now, in an era where blockbusters try to compensate for being leakier than a sieve plot-wise by cramming in more explosions than WWII, Jurassic Park III’s plot contrivances are less grating, its dodgy character motivation seems less unbelievable and the combination of practical effects and sparing implementation of CGI is hugely refreshing. If Jurassic Park III were released today, it would probably be considered sophisticated and subtle in comparison to what we normally have to deal with.
The film also – daringly – ends in two quiet, surreal scenes that almost parody the idea of the blockbuster climax. Rather than a showdown between the good guys (Dr Grant and crew) and the villains (a pesky group of Velociraptors, always travelling in a troublesome pack like a 50s biker gang), a silent compromise is instead reached. The ‘raptors, distracted by Dr Grant’s imitation of a ‘raptor distress signal, simply walk away. The survivors then reach the safety of a beach, where a lone man in a suit and tie stands with a megaphone, calling into the jungle for signs of life, searching for Jurassic Park III’s ragtag group of protagonists. It’s a bold, weird approach to capping off what is surely one of mainstream Hollywood’s oddest trilogies.
All pictures: Universal