Introduction: Jurassic Park III
So it didn’t take long for a third Jurassic Park film to come along even though certain key players changed. First there was the director Joe Johnston. His resumé was up and down prior. Honey, I Shrunk the Kids was his debut and a big hit. The Rocketeer a bomb. Then his next gig was the live-action sequences in The Pagemaster; Jumanji, which forced me to walk-out, followed by the generally forgotten October Sky. Since then his most notable success was helming the first Captain America. I, for one, count this film among his successes.
One of the writing credits on this film belongs to Alexander Payne having just recently done Election and going on to many big things since. So there’s some pedigree there and, of course, Amblin’s name is still on it so it’s not like Spielberg abandoned the franchise entirely.
As per usual with the sequels, much of the cast is new but they are certainly talented. This was an shortly after stardom role for William H. Macy, and isn’t exactly an ideal fit for him but he does well enough with it. The there’s Téa Leoni who since David O. Russell’s Flirting with Disaster has been a favorite of mine. However, it seems that the roles she’s been able to land on television have been better and ones she can sink her teeth into more easily.
Playing the role of the stranded kid needing to be saved is Trevor Morgan, who was not only an unjustly underrated actor in his youth but continues to be as an adult. It’s a genuine illustration of the double-edged sword that a big movie role can be. Should the film have been more well-received maybe more opportunities would’ve been created immediately thereafter. Though as the BAM awards, and review indicate, he’s always been appreciated here.
While it was funny to have Malcolm back and learn about him on his own in the last film, Drs. Grant and Sattler are the heart of the scientific trio, and although Laura Dern isn’t around much her character does play a vital role and it’s good to see them still getting along, and refreshing that they’re not together. We assume because of his unwillingness to have kids, this assumption made likely as we meet Ellie’s husband and baby. It’s a very realistic set-up wherein while the dynamics of the relationship have changed the people have not.
Parasailing Over Sorna
With the second and third films taking place on Site B, the whole concept of a park was really only a brand. You weren’t seeing a film about a park that never got off the ground because of the disasters in the final testing but rather you need some narrative excuse to get people on the second island.
Enter the parasailing tandem that pays for an illegal swoop over Sorna. Is it ill-advised? Sure. Will it likely strand them? Absolutely, but at least the formality gets it out of the way.
The bigger struggle in the set-up is the cover story concocted to get him to agree to go. Despite Grant’s protestations that “No force on earth or heaven can get me on that island,” he does go. Ultimately, he himself is being seen as a fossil, digs are harder to fund and seem pointless now and his speaking engagements are marred by questions about his time on the park, or the incident in San Diego that he was uninvolved in. They claim to be something they’re not (adventurers) when really they’re parents looking to rescue their son. The lie is needed in part because they really don’t have the money I just wish the cover was more compelling because it made it hard to believe he wouldn’t see through it.
The trickery continues as they are about to just fly-by which is what Grant thought he agreed to but knowing the real reason they have to land it’s clear that these people will get the plane down even if they have to crash it, which they do.
One of the most successful things about this film is the ramping of the hypothetical scientific situations that may present themselves if dinosaurs came back to life and we were able to observe them in the wild. Here in this film we learn that Velociraptors can vocalize and communicate and are though to be smarter than primates. They may well have become the dominant species on the planet of not for the Cretaceous-Paleogene extinction event. The film interestingly speculates on how the incident in San Diego may have gone quite differently if it was a Raptor on the loose and not a T-Rex. The advancement of the star of the Raptor is evident by Grant dedicating more study to the species and replicating its resonating chamber with printer. The Raptor as depicted was always a bit more fictitious, but at least it’s consistent.
More new dinosaurs were in the mix, many not on InGen manifests which opens the door for you to always wonder what other sneaky activities they’re up to. There is the Spinosaurus, which was believed then, and is virtually confirmed to be now, larger than the Tyrannosaurus Rex; Ceratosaurus, Ankylosaurus, Pterodactyls, and more.
Aside from adding humor, the mention of the use of T-Rex urine is an important scientific supposition that these animals well could’ve used excretions to mark territory.
On this island, and on Nublar, there was evidence of breeding, so here life found a way.
Whereas Lost World featured too many similar skirmishes Jurassic Park III excels in mixing things up a bit more. Yes, there is the mandatory being caught in a vehicle setpiece but there’s a greater sense of isolation and danger in this installment as it’s a far more rogue mission. Prior there were factions representing Hammond and InGen.
One miscalculation the distraught parents make is that they assume that this is terrain that Grant knows, when it’s not this is his first time on Isla Sorna.
At the risk of sounding like Roger Ebert’s review of A.I. I will float the notion that perhaps seeing Ben’s eight-week struggle to survive while awaiting someone else to rescue him ultimately may make a more compelling story, but the one that is told is a good one. It only bears mentioning in regards to the franchise as a whole, especially with the current landscape of Hollywood cinema now featuring things like the Star Wars anthology films it’s a period of time that may be worth examining at a later date.
The situations that are diegetic work out well like Ben making his presence known and helping Grant out during a chase; the fog in the birdcage as the walk along the tension bridge is particularly effective; the raptor chase; the need to make an off-island call have them dig through a pile of feces (a return of the “one big pile of shit”).
The pseudoscience sets up a tremendous situation wherein the Raptors set a trap. The dinosaurs being bigger, faster and stronger is bad enough but showing this kind of intelligence makes them a far more formidable foe.
Motifs and Themes
Some of the more noteworthy themes and motifs in the film draw allusions to other works, including Spielberg films: touching upon the latter first the discovery of a skeleton is not unlike Raiders. The Barney reference may have been past due at this point but it’s funny and well-played. Connecting to another story the sequences where the Spinosaurus can be tracked by hearing a cell phone ringing in its stomach are reminiscent of the crocodile with the clock in Peter Pan.
The referencing of the other films in the series has to happen here. One of the common ways to do this is having books by Dr. Malcolm around. In this one entitled Everything’s Chaos is seen.
Thankfully there isn’t much screentime allotted to the beats surrounding the graduate assistant who absconds with a dinosaur egg. It’s the kind of subplot that’s over-teased and you know where it’ll end up. He is caught and Dr. Grant gets to chastise him as “being no better than the people who built this place,” which is true but stating it is.
Perhaps the most insightful piece of dialogue the film offers is when Dr. Grant offers the great analogy delineating the different personality types it takes to be either an astronaut or an astronomer. The meaning being that an astronomer would more likely be a bit more introverted, studious, and fond of controlled settings; whereas, the astronauts would be more extroverted, instinctive, and adventurous. It’s particularly useful because in this world there had not previously been an analogous field of study to paleontology that dealt with the living organism, for obvious reasons. Being in a world where there now could be one and he and his role are less desirable is not an easy thing to take.
Grant offers the above analogy as a way of responding to Eric’s assessment of one of his earlier books “You liked dinosaurs back then.” Albeit an adequately debunked viewpoint there is still an astuteness to it in noting how these kinds of experiences can change a man’s view on his life’s work and the subject of his study. Grant may be a bit jaded at this point but still recognizes that it’s the how and why they were brough back along with our absolute inability to coexist with them, for a number of reasons, that really bothers him.
Conclusion with a Tinge of Nostalgia
In the end, Jurassic Park III may be somewhat lighter on ideas than the original, and while it debatably zooms in on the science more selectively, opting to float ideas rather than deconstruct them; it is more fun and more focused narrative than Lost World is.
All’s well that ends well here, with Ben being found, his family being reunited, and Ellie saving the day for Dr. Grant. Yes, there was inherently some nostalgic moments, but it does stand on its own. In certain ways it may be about as close to a slice-of-life as this narrative world can offer or that we would want, which can either disconnect or involve an audience depending on their proclivities.
I clearly find myself more drawn to this one than the first follow-up.
The Intervening Years (2002-2014)
It would be tiresome and unconstructive to chronicle all the things that changed in the film industry in the twelve-year off period in the series. In fact, if you look at almost any twelve-year period you’ll see similar changes. The easy shorthands are: Jurassic Park III opened on July 18th, 2001, less than two months before 9/11; and half-dozen years or so before the Great Recession. Both these things clearly impacted Hollywood project selection along with any number of other sociological changes such as social media.
Perhaps what most directly lead to the return of the franchise was that in these years things like the phrase tentpole came into being along with less wisdom being ascribed to the commonly held belief that there was a shelf-life for sequels and even remakes in some cases.
However, the cannibalization of film product to further create new material is really not a far cry from the debates about adapting the novel or stage play to the screen that Bazin studied and commented on with such tremendous insight. Therefore, in an era where the pre-sold commodity is not necessarily more prevalent but more discussed, and paradoxically more embraced and more reviled than ever, the notion that the current generation needs its own version of now-canonized, burgeoning classics holds a lot of caché.
And, yes, we do feed that beast when it’s something we think we may love or be interested in. We talk about it on the Internet ad nauseum, get it trending, and go see it; or if we won’t we still discuss it with regards to what we think they’re doing wrong with the darling film we love so. I am not blameless in this area, this is merely a statement of fact.
However, Jurassic Park films are in many ways my field of dreams. If they build it, I will come. As a child who made his first friend in kindergarten because I saw he was drawing a dinosaur, as the same child who at two separate stages of my youth seriously considered working in the paleontological field, I’ll gladly come.
So, the nostalgia-fueled roulette that Hollywood spins to find its next hot proper finally seemed ready to roll back around to Jurassic Park, and better yet, it was going back to the first island and going to fulfill Hammond’s crazy dreams, at least in part. How could I not go along for the ride?