**/**** Image A Sound A Extras B
starring Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola
screenplay by Peter Buchman and Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor
directed by Joe Johnston
by Walter Chaw Jurassic Park III is completely critic-proof, a smirking cash machine with its amplifiers turned up to "11." That it happens to be an amazingly tight little film (every single element of its first half predicts a correlative in the second) doesn't excuse its bratty attitude. If Jurassic Park III were the insolent snot-nosed little punk it most resembles, it'd be turning out its lower lip whilst jutting an insouciant chin at potential critics and naysayers: "Go ahead," the pipsqueak would say, "hit me with your best shot."
Okay, here goes.
The action sequences are occasionally gripping, although for the brevity of the film (a scant 90 minutes dripping wet), there's a surprising amount of downtime. And while there are twice as many visual effects in Jurassic Park III as there were in the first two films combined, they come in showcase clusters. To a one, they are either paced so oddly that they point more to a potential greatness than to any kind of real thrill (a fitfully entertaining pteronodon attack), are unforgivably truncated (a neat battle between a tyrannosaurus and a spinosaurus), or just disappoint outright (the egregious misuse of the "primate-smart" velociraptors)--and that's when you can see what's happening through the hyper-cuts and murky cinematography.
What should have been a breathless breakneck pursuit/escape sequence involving a whole pack of raptors resolves itself with an extended stand-off situation in which humans and lizards engage in a limp-wristed staring contest, and the ending is so vein-poppingly ludicrous that I have, in my time, imagined more plausible rescues in the sandbox with my army men ("And then here comes the spaceship--ptchoo! ptchoo!"). The denouement--and, frankly, the rest of the film--is so ridiculous, in fact, that something troubling occurred to me: Jurassic Park III is making fun of my having looked forward to it.
Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) is on a dig when a rich couple, Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni), offers his foundation a massive sum of money to accompany them on a flyover of Isla Sorna, the beastie-infested island from the second Jurassic Park film. Predictably, the plane crashes, a resourceful Spielbergian child is introduced, and Dr. Grant is forced to guide a bunch of greenhorns across dino-ridden wilderness.
Jurassic Park III doesn't work very well because it thinks it's smarter than it is--sort of a postmodern Scream-type thing with mildly sarcastic attempts at turning the el blando Dr. Grant into a slacker version of Indiana Jones. As written by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, the pair behind the scathing Citizen Ruth and Election, there is not a line in Jurassic Park III free of dramatic irony, campy foreshadowing, or Gen-X wry. It's John Kennedy Toole writing about stupid people running around in a literal primordial forest; Infinite Jest if Infinite Jest were about smart dinosaurs. By the eighth or ninth time a character stops another character and whispers, "Wait...listen...you hear that?", one either nods wisely, secure that the attempts by Payne and Taylor to mock the Jurassic Park monster formula do not, in fact, include mocking you, or one furrows his brow, wondering if it's a good idea for a film's screenwriters to actually be contemptuous of the project for which they are writing. Knowing genre and subverting it is a good idea if it's done with affection (Mimic), but an exceedingly bad one if it's done with snarky derision (Lake Placid).
Jurassic Park III would have been a fine movie had bitter wisenheimers like Payne and Taylor not been involved in the dialogue; their contempt is an unwelcome dash of self-knowledge in an environment where Herculean feats of disbelief suspension are the only refuge. Watching the Jurassic Park films is a great deal of fun when you do it with developmentally-arrested simpletons like Steven Spielberg and John Williams. It's a good deal less fun with jerks who insist on reminding you that no matter how many times someone warns not to, someone in jungle-peril flicks will always use a bullhorn to yell out their location every few minutes.
For as much as I like dinosaurs and giant robots killing and eating (not necessarily in that order) a bunch of idiots, I don't enjoy watching this Darwinian buffet as told by people who not only don't share my joy in the occasional teeth and cheese-fest, but whom are dedicated to explaining to me just exactly why the formula for these things is so stupid. See, guys, I know it's stupid--what Payne and Taylor don't seem to realize is that it's possible to be too smart for your own good and to underestimate the Jurassic Park audience. For as smooth as their brand of snippy scorn is for abortion politics and the election system, it tastes a little sour in what amounts to a glorified Godzilla movie. Originally published: November 25, 2001.
by Bill Chambers Universal Home Video's Jurassic Park III has a rather predictable DVD presentation, and that's a good thing. The 1.85:1, 16x9-enhanced video transfer offers no unwelcome surprises; in terms of shadow clarity and a lack of edge enhancement, the picture beats that of its predecessors' DVDs. The dimensionality of the image often took my breath away, though, as with The Lost World: Jurassic Park, it is wanting for the deepest blacks. A full-frame Jurassic Park III will be released simultaneously.
While the previous films were issued in separate Dolby Digital and DTS versions on DVD, with DTS listeners losing out on the supplemental material that Dolby buyers enjoyed, Jurassic Park III includes both DD and DTS 5.1 tracks on the same disc, which is a Collector's Edition to boot. The difference between the two sound configurations is almost insignificant here, perhaps due to the compromised bitrate of the DTS audio--each mix is full of showpieces that will tax your subwoofer. (Spinosaurus tips the Richter scale even more than T-Rex.) The overall soundscape is not as elaborate as that of the other Jurassic Parks, but the DVD reproduces what is there with aplomb.
DVD producer Laurent Bouzereau returns to the franchise (he made the documentary on The Lost World: Jurassic Park and created most of the extras for the first two discs) for a feeble making-of and additional featurettes--it's beginning to show that Bouzereau's resources are being spread thin. (This year alone, we have reviewed nine titles that he had a hand in.) "The Making of Jurassic Park III" (23 mins.) starts off promisingly with a slight discrepancy in Kathleen Kennedy and director Joe Johnston's accounts of how Johnston became involved in the project, but after that it's more of the same (expressions of awe for the beasts and whatnot), with only the faintest allusions to the film's troubled development and rushed schedule.
In "The New Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park", palaeontologist Jack Horner (not to be confused with the Burt Reynolds character from Boogie Nights) and the Jurassic Park III team spend seven minutes barely enlightening you about those dinosaurs making their Jurassic Park debut, the pteranodon and spino. A 3-minute "Tour of Stan Winston Studios" is an extended montage tracing the spinosaurus from an early mould to the complex finished product's implementation--where's the instruction? A solid context is also missing from three "behind the scenes" compilations (of the plane crash, a certain character's death blow, and the climactic lake business) that intercut final footage with the action as it appeared outside the lens; Bouzereau did a few of these on the 2-disc Cape Fear DVD as well, and while they may be fun to edit, they're pointless to watch.
"A Visit to ILM", hosted, for all intents and purposes, by F/X supervisors Dan Taylor and Jeff Mitchell, breaks ILM's contribution down into four stages: concepts; the process; muscle simulation; and compositing. These sections are composed of brief explanations and demonstrations, none quite so substantial as any of ILM-er John Berton's segments on The Mummy: Ultimate Edition or The Mummy Returns: Collector's Edition DVDs. Twelve "Dinosaur Turntables" (wherein the first and last digital models of a dinosaur (plus "Billy Brennan") rotate as if on auction), three animated "Storyboards to Final Film Comparisons", extensive "Jurassic Park III Archives" of production photographs and poster art (see sidebar), trailers (in DD 5.1) for all three Jurassic Park movies, an edifying interview with Horner called "Montana: Finding New Dinosaurs" (which explores the spinosaurus in greater depth), notes, cast/filmmaker bios, archaeological truths buried under "JP Institute", a keepcase-enclosed booklet that folds out into a comparative dino chart, and commercials for the Universal Studios theme parks, the Jurassic Park III soundtrack CD, and the videogame "Scan Command: Jurassic Park III"...almost round out the disc.
Stan Winston and various members of his and ILM's teams (Taylor again, John Rosengrant, and Michael Antieri) provide a somewhat entertaining screen-specific, film-length commentary in which they point out effects elements we'd never guess were such and delve into how animatronics and CGI were blended so seamlessly (better than ever before, they insist) for the dinosaur sequences. DVD-ROM content caps things off: you'll find multiple game demos (aside: I certainly hope that "Preditor" is a typo), some recycled information, and a selection of desktop wallpapers, all 'hidden' in areas of an interactive Isla Sorna map. Lastly, complete movements from Don Davis's score accompany a number of the sub-menus (in 5.1); on behalf of movie-music fans everywhere I must therefore give this disc, and Universal, props. Originally published: July 18, 2001.