Jurassic Park III

s a fun little activity for anyone intent on seeing the third installment in the Jurassic Park series. About fifteen minutes into the movie, once the chartered plane is underway to the restricted Costa Rican island of Isla Soma, make a checklist of all the characters. Note which ones you think will survive and the order in which the rest will be eaten. If you’ve been to the movies more than a dozen times in your life, chances are you’ll earn a perfect score. If nothing else, this exercise will pass the time during the many lulls in Jurassic Park III, the sequel that puts the funk back in perfunctory.

Sam Neill returns as paleontologist Alan Grant, the hero of the first Jurassic Park (Neill sat out the 1997 follow-up, The Lost World). Also returning from Steven Spielberg’s original dino-epic is Laura Dern, although she can’t seem to exit Part III fast enough; her appearance amounts to little more than a walk-on. New cast members include William H. Macy and Tea Leoni as Paul and Amanda Kirby, a couple of self-proclaimed adventurers who approach Grant with a proposition. They will open their checkbook to fund his ongoing archeological digs if he will accompany them as a guide on their low-flying airplane tour of Isla Soma, the still-extant second site of InGen’s disastrous dinosaur cloning experiment. Kirby insists that his connections in the Costa Rican government have sanctioned the visit, and Grant reluctantly agrees to go along.

As it turns out, however, the Kirbys are no wealthy adventurers and the plane trip is no sightseeing tour. The now-divorced couple is in fact trying to rescue their 14-year-old son Eric, who disappeared while parasailing near the island with Amanda’s new beau. The plane crashes down onto the island and the running, screaming and chomping begins. The most expendable characters are dispatched in short order, leaving the rest to seek Eric and some means of escape while evading raptors, T-Rex and the previously unseen Spinosaurus.

As always with this franchise, the creatures are the real stars of the picture. What’s surprising is how little the special effects have advanced since the first visit to Jurassic Park in 1993. As before, the prehistoric beasties are brought to life through a combination of computer generated imagery and Stan Winston’s mechanical wizardry. And while there are convincing moments now and then, many shots – particularly those involving large numbers of the cloned critters – are simply too cartoony to be believed. Even in scenes that take place in broad daylight, the dinosaurs still manage to appear shrouded in mist and shadow, all the better to conceal those pesky imperfections.

The human performances are nothing to write home about, either. Neill is typically stolid, Leoni inherits the thankless screaming meemie role from Dern, while Macy riffs on his meek wisenheimer persona. Has any actor of the modern era gotten as much mileage out of the word "heck" as Macy? He brings a much needed dose of humor to the proceedings (at one point warning Leoni that her screeching may attract a "tricicloplotz"), as do slumming Election screenwriters Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (who share credit on the final script with newcomer Peter Buchman). Here’s hoping Payne and Taylor were well-compensated for churning out smirky gags involving a cell phone and Barney the loathsome purple dinosaur, and that they won’t feel the need to indulge in this sort of hackwork again anytime soon. Joe Johnston (Jumanji, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) takes the directing reigns from Spielberg, and it’s either to his credit or Spielberg’s detriment that there’s no discernable difference. Watching Jurassic Park III is like riding the same roller coaster for the third time in one day. What fun are thrills when you can set your watch by them?

Scott Von Doviak

poster from MovieGoods