Director: Joe Johnston
Cast: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni
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“There are two kinds of boys. Those that want to be astronomers or astronauts,” Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) tells Eric (Trevor Morgan), near the end of Jurassic Park III. “The astronomer gets to study these amazing things from a place of complete safety,” he continues. “But you never get to go into space,” adds Eric.
It’s a cute exchange, but one that gets right to heart of Alan’s relationship with InGen and its gargantuan mistake: on the one hand, they brought dinosaurs back to life and almost killed him; on the other hand, dinosaurs. And so while the grumpy Dr. Grant (who was notably absent from The Lost World) maintains that nothing will get him to go back to Isla Nublar, it doesn’t take much to persuade him to visit its sister island, Isla Sorna (introduced in The Lost World) – only the promise of a large sum to fund his research, courtesy of Mr. and Mrs. Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda (Tea Leoni) Kirby. While they say they’re well connected and extreme sports enthusiasts, what eventually emerges is the far less spectacular truth: their son, Eric, has gone missing on the island and they want to get him back.
And so Alan, accompanied by his trusty assistant Billy (Alessandro Nivola), find themselves flying to Isla Sorna, before discovering that this is all a ruse – and before their plane gets attacked on the runway, leaving them all stranded in DinoLand once more.
The attack is an excellently gripping introduction to this third outing – after a suitably creepy introduction that sees Eric hang-gliding near the island, before his boat is inevitably made extinct – and it also introduces us to the new kid on the Mesozoic block: the Spinosaurus. The problem is that by revealing this new threat so early on, there’s little place else for the film to go to deliver the kind of shock necessary to make Jurassic Park feel like, well, Jurassic Park.
It’s a mistake, but one borne out of enthusiasm rather than cash-hungry callousness, and it’s that warmth that sustains us for the remainder of the film’s running time. Director Joe Johnston, who would go on to give us the first Captain America movie, is a neat fit for the franchise, able to serve up suspenseful set pieces without scaring the young kids in the back row, and also balance it with a predictable but likeable bit of family drama – Mr. and Mrs. Kirby, unsurprisingly, are separated and there are no bonus points for guessing whether this excursion will bring them back together.
Not together, more mysteriously, are Alan and Ellie, with Laura Dern making a cameo appearance – literally phoning it in, except that Laura Dern could never be accused of doing that in any role – but sadly staying removed from the main plot. It’s perhaps that absence that the film is lacking, or the comic relief of Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm, to help balance out the relative lack of dino-related terror. If this feels lighter and more throwaway than the first two JPs, though, Jurassic Park III wins points for running with that tone; it wraps everything up a little too quickly in its final act, but clocks in at a pacy 90 minutes that never gets dull. With its name notably lacking any indulgent colons or subtitles, there’s an unpretentious quality about this unassuming popcorn flick that makes it quietly charming.
Neill, of course, wears the hat and stares at the dinosaurs with just the right amount of dread and excitement, even if Leoni and Nivola’s sidekicks don’t make much of an impression – the latter is there mostly as a plot point to bring raptors into the equation. But fortunately, the dinosaurs get some welcome character development that makes them interesting in their own right, as Alan’s theories about their intelligence and communication are proven right. And, if the sight of talking dinos isn’t enough – the less said about a dream sequence in which a raptor says “Alan”, the better – there’s also the debut of the Pteranodon, which provides the film’s standout sequence, as our humans become trapped in a gigantic bird cage.
The result offers some welcome novelty in a movie that’s happy to tread familiar territory, playing it safer than the divisive The Lost World. Crucially, though, it has no less affection for its source material than its predecessors. Jurassic Park III is a sequel that understands its central hero, but more importantly appreciates the relationship that audiences have had with this series over the years. With its focus on knowledge over nastiness, this is a more grounded adventure than The Lost World, but one that hasn’t lost its love for seeing these beautiful creatures in full flight. Sometimes, Jurassic Park III reminds us, you just want to go into space.
Jurassic Park III is available on Netflix UK, as part of £7.99 monthly subscription.
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