|Jurassic Park III|
|Written by Abbie Bernstein|
|Tuesday, 11 December 2001|
"Jurassic Park III" is one of those movies that makes you really appreciate the DVD format. This is not simply because of the sound, although the DTS track certainly asserts itself vividly when the dinosaurs roar. This third tale of dinosaurs menacing island visitors breaks down so completely into cool, rewatchable sequences (these would be the ones with the dinosaurs) and material that’s not very interesting the first time and downright dull thereafter (this would be the rest of the movie) that the "Scene Selection" feature is a true blessing.
Although the script lacks both novelty and originality, "Jurassic Park III" is moderately entertaining and technically commendable. It establishes up front that it features characters who indulge in stupid horror movie behavior, as teenager Ben (Trevor Morgan) and an adult friend go parasailing off Isla Sorna, an adventure that – surprise! – ends badly. Isla Sorna, as viewers of "Jurassic Park II" may recall, is the second island to host a manmade dinosaur colony; the original batch on nearby Isla Nublar were wiped out after the end of the first film. Cut to paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), who hasn’t seen a live dinosaur since he nearly got killed on Isla Nublar eight years ago. Grant never wants to encounter a live dinosaur again, but his work needs funding, so he’s open to persuasion when Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) offer him big money to simply play tour guide while they fly low over the island. However, Paul and Amanda aren’t exactly aboveboard about their motives and it’s also unsafe to go anywhere near Isla Sorna. The plane crashes and everybody winds up on the ground with the island’s gigantic reptilian inhabitants.
Like any self-respecting monster movie sequel, "Jurassic Park III" introduces a few new creatures. The flying Pteranodon has an entrance that is one of the film’s best shots, a wonderful demonic beast image that is just abstractly human enough to be completely creepy. The Spinosaurus is large enough to impress – it towers over even the T-Rex – and (thanks to design innovations) it’s undeterred by drenching waves. A few other new dinosaur species are added for decorative rather than plot purposes, letting the view feel a sense of discovery in spotting the individual breeds and seeing how they move, especially in Chapter 15. Director Joe Johnston demonstrates a good sense of how much this dinosaur offshoot of "Where’s Waldo?" is enough to whet our interest without letting the pace lag.
The special effects featuring the Stan Winston-designed dinosaurs still have the ability to generate awe. There are a couple of shots where elements don’t appear to be occupying the same space as on another, but these are few in number. Mostly, the huge animals are thrilling to see and to hear, whether they’re grazing in serene vegetarian herds or carnivorously chasing the humans around. Director Johnston, an old hand at effects films by now (his credits include "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids" and "Jumanji," as well as the affecting drama "October Sky"), knows how to sell the notion that these are living, breathing creatures.
Unfortunately, neither Johnston nor screenwriters Peter Buchman and Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor seem to know exactly how to give "Jurassic Park III" a life of its own. If the filmmakers had come up with a truly original through-line, it would have been fun, but since they hadn’t, they might have been better off going for pedal-to-the-metal scares. As it is, there’s a lot of talk about the formidable intelligence of the velociraptors, but the payoff is disproportionately small compared to the build-up. The movie is also oddly episodic, missing chances to allow various perils to develop instead of simply rearing up and vanishing again. The film settles on a "Parent Trap"-style family drama for its emotional focal point, which becomes downright draggy in places – again, this is the kind of movie that makes you really appreciate the "skip" and "chapter select" features of the DVD player.
The DTS sound on the DVD seems better than on the theatrical release version, if memory serves. Chapter 1 sets the volume strongly, and Chapter 2 weighs in with some nicely textured explosions that are felt in both mains and rears (albeit not in the storyline – like a lot of other elements, they’re just here to provide momentary punch). Chapter 5 contains some respectably authentic aircraft engine sounds, a plane wreck that moves dimensionally through the speaker system and visceral dinosaur roars. One especially good effect here is the way that voices are heard in mains, then rears, then mains again, as the plane flips over and over and over, so that the characters sound as if they’re really being flung around. Chapter 6 is full of great dinosaur stomping and roaring as two of the biggest beasts go at it – for Saturday matinee thrills, this is the section to watch. Chapter 10 marks the next significant dinosaur appearance, with a contribution from the subwoofer that makes the room shake a bit as the creatures stampede. There’s a slightly scratchy bit at the high end of the raptor voices here. Chapter 12 recreates the tangible impact of dino footfalls and roars, minus the screechiness. Chapter 14 introduces the flying Pteranodons, along with a handsome, breathy audio flap as a parasail opens in the wind. Chapter 16 has some acutely well-modulated contrasts and excellent surround effects as the sequence intercuts between a calm, quiet suburban environment and lashing rain, cracking metal and screaming monsters on the island.
Picture quality is a little disappointing. Whites are diffuse, bleeding into the frames, and the colors seem somewhat faded, especially in interior sequences. The visuals aren’t actively bad, but in a recent release, it’s not as good as you’d hope for, either.
The "Jurassic Park III" DVD comes loaded with extras, most of them – no surprise – about either real dinosaurs or movie dinosaur construction. The audio commentary by special effects artists Stan Winston, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Michael Lantieri is alternately informative and droll, especially when they launch into a joint deadpan routine about having to use animatronic actors to work with real dinosaurs. The making-of footage should whet the appetites of aspiring young model-makers and CGI artists in the audience.
"Jurassic Park III" is the least of the "Jurassic Park" movies, but with all those dinosaurs charging around looking so real, it still provides plenty of creature effects bang for your buck.