by Ed Symkus
Here we go again, most likely for the last time. Of course, that was said just after the release of the disappointing first sequel to Jurassic Park, which eventually pulled in something like $600 million. And with blatantly open sequel opportunities left at the end of this one, who knows what the summer after next might hold?
There's no question that Jurassic Park III is fun to watch. There are ingredients of terror, humor and adventure. Special effects are state of the art, ranging from the looks on the faces of the dinosaurs to the way their skin wrinkles just the way it should when they move. The film's sound design is spectacular. Anyone watching this in a well-equipped theater will feel their seats shake due to giant thudding footsteps or dinosaur roars or all kinds of huge equipment being wrecked.
But there's also a feeling of "been-there-done that" hanging over the whole thing. Except for the introduction of a couple of new creatures -- the monstrous Spinosaur and a flock of pterodactyls (of which a nest of young ones are far more threatening than the adults) not much new ground is covered.
One piece of old news that's kind of nice is the return of Sam Neill's character, Dr. Alan Grant, from the first film. Presented here once again as a busy paleontologist doing the lecture circuit and always looking for more funding for field research, he's visited one day by a wealthy entrepreneur (William H. Macy) and his wife (Tea Leoni). They want to hire him -- because he's the best -- to conduct a flyover tour of the infamous Costa Rican island where dinosaurs roam. With those frightful days behind him, he says no, but eventually can't refuse the open checkbook with lots of room for zeroes that will help fund his research if he says yes.
But it's not long before, upon winging their way down there, along with some unexpected burly extras, that the good doctor finds out he's been duped, that the entrepreneur and his wife aren't who they seem, that the idea is to land on the island, not fly over it. This is all hinted at in the film's prologue, when a man and a boy are enjoying a Dino-Soar ride, a private tourist attraction where people can hopefully parasail close enough to the secluded island to get a look at what lives there. But things go wrong in the first few minutes.
And, back up to present time, seconds after the plane carrying Dr. Grant and company lands, things go a lot more wrong. Dinosaurs attack; truths are told (the Macy and Leoni characters are the divorced parents of the boy from the prologue, who has now been missing for eight weeks); dinosaurs attack again... and again.
So the rest of the film is just like its predecessors -- all about survival. It's made up of continuous scenes of people running away from big, hungry, scaly and very smart things. Unfortunately, as the cast size dwindles, it seems to get less tense. It's very easy to figure out who's going to get it next. And though at first exciting and often terrifying, it turns out to be a sort of run-of-the-mill exercise of setting people up in grave situations, then making viewers say to themselves, "Hey, how are they going to get out of this one?"
But it all goes back to the fact that we really have seen this movie before -- twice. And while the effects are absolutely super, there's not even a hint of a stretch in the acting department. Sam Neill is as competent as ever. We get what we expect from him. William H. Macy appears to be slumming this time out. He looks good and reacts well, but it's as if he knows that he's being overshadowed by big, make-believe things that weren't there when he was playing his part. And then there's Tea Leoni, an actress who just can't seem to make up her mind as to whether she's going to be good or bad in a movie. Her best film to date is Flirting With Disaster, in which she manages to be funny and offensive. But with Deep Impact, she introduced an intolerably annoying side of herself, then was partially redeemed with a soft and friendly performance in The Family Man. But watch out, folks. She's supposed to be a concerned mother in this one, but she comes across as an idiot, literally yelling out her lines, most often right after being told that loud noises will attract toothy killers.
Once again, though, there are elements of the film that are fun. It's fun to see realistic looking monsters. It's fun to see the bad guys get it. It's fun to see well made action sequences. It's fun to know that this retread only goes on for about 90 minutes.