Back between 1993 and 1997, when the original Jurassic Park and it’s sequel burst into the public consciousness like a rampaging saurian ploughing through a woefully inadequate security system, a major part of the advertising campaign included the hyperbolic phrase “if it doesn’t say JP, it’s extinct!”. Now this wasn’t JUST a subtle form of brain washing (although most toy ads definitely are) but it actually meant that all the merchandise was branded so parents could tell it apart from the hundreds of other unofficial toys out there. It’s a smart business idea but what do you do when something that IS official doesn’t meet the quality control you expect? This segways us to Jurassic Park III nimbly as a ballet dancing Velociraptor; a product that has “JP” literally written all over it and yet feels like the disjointed movie version of a knock off toy that a deadbeat uncle would buy for a belated birthday present from a shifty market.
After a parachuting trip on an adventure holiday goes predictably awry, 12 year old Erik Kirby is left stranded on Isla Sorna, the location of the Site B where the genetic process that created the dinosaurs that populated Jurassic Park was perfected. Before we wonder what kind of parents would allow their child to go parasailing within spitting distance of an island loaded with giant flesh eating lizards we’re reintroduced to Alan Grant who after his experiences dodging teeth the size of beer bottles is still struggling to find funding for his archaeology digs has since split from Ellie Sattler who has gone on to start a family. He’s approached by the Kirby’s who uses much needed money to lure him to Isla Sorna under the pretence of a fly by tour but who actually has managed to scrape together a small group of mercenaries to search their lost son. As dinosaurs have spent the last 65 million years pre occupied with being dead, they waste precious little time chewing up the interlopers to their island and trashing the shit out of their plane. The survivors desperately try to stay that way while a hulking, crocodile shouted Spinosaurus takes time out of it’s busy schedule of making T-Rex’s it’s bitch to relentlessly pursue them. To make matters worse the disaster prone group falls foul of a gaggle of Velociraptors as one of their number has committed the embarrassing dinosaur faux pas of stealing their eggs for fortune and glory. As they trek from one end of the island to the other to try and escape, they have to brave everything from Pteranodon attacks to the world’s most maddening ringtone in order to stay one step from the varied species of murder lizards who are crawling over each other to have their fucking number.
The previous dino installment, the decidedly half-hearted The Lost World, found it’s legendary director literally phoning in his presence via video call but it seems that a half focused Steven Spielberg is still way more effective than a fully commited Joe Johnston. Johnston, usually a helmer of perfectly serviceable three-star adventure movies (Jumanji, Captain America: The First Avenger) has always been a case of Spielberg-lite, virtually spending his entire career in the shadow of big Steve. Now this is nothing to be ashamed of – Roland Emmerich gotten a good run out of it – but making the third movie in a trilogy where Spielberg made the first two manages to force direct comparisons between them.
Obviously Johnston comes off second best, I mean who wouldn’t, but that doesn’t excuse the bland, meandering script that suspiciously feels like an unpolished draft that was handed in by mistake. The pace of the film is all over the place with frantic action beats clumsily threaded together with a solid cast literally wandering aimlessly through the jungle – how often is it you get see William H. Macy straining to fill a role – but it truly does the heart good to see Sam Neill return as bone dusting curmudgeon Alan Grant even if he has to act against the single most misjudged moment in the entire franchise – yeah, that’s right, I’m bringing up the notorious dream sequence in which Grant “awakes” on a plane to a Velociraptor firmly calling his name. It’s a stunningly awful and your brain instantly turns itself in knots in trying to work out how the hell something so deliriously stupid made it’s way past a number of responsible gatekeepers to actually find it’s way into the damn movie.
There’s plus points here (it’s a dinosaur movie – there has to be SOME) and unsurprisingly Stan Winston’s live action dinos are as magnificent as they ever were, with the utterly massive Spinosaurus being a stand out as it bellows and postures while interacting with real water and fire but in comparison the CGI dinosaurs look alarmingly bad for a film of this scale. The carnivores are ok (the same shot blending of practical and CG Raptors are actually pretty successful) but for some reason the herbivores look like utter shit and frequently resemble wet plasticine. A standout shot of a couple of Bachiosaurs looking like they both have serious brain damage instantly loses the usual sense of wonder the franchise effortlessly emits (it’s DINOSAURS, people!) and replaces it with the noble majesty of a farting warthog with a comically large erection.
It’s not that JP3 is an overwhelmingly bad film but it’s so aggressively “meh” it frequently verges on pointlessness – say what you will about the subsequent Jurassic World movies, at least the fuckers MOVE – even the ending is hideously planned out as it somehow runs out of gas a good 10 minutes before the end as the nondescript cinematography soaks it’s dino action in weak blues and insipid greys.
The real tragedy is that you can actually tell that the filmmakers were really trying hard to square up to the type of high-concept adventure that Spielberg makes so effortless, but a stellar Pteranodon attack aside, this will forever be known as the movie in which a Velociraptor fucking says “Alan”.