There is a strategy that started many years ago, most likely in the grassy fields of some elementary school playground. The premise follows that, when you have the biggest kid on the playground on your team, there is no need for drawing out elaborate, detailed game plans. A ragtag team of rookies might draw a play in the sand with a stick or trace out pass routes in the quarterback’s palm. But when you’ve got the goods, a simple “go deep and do your thing” will suffice.
With Hollywood’s most notorious player on their side, the creative team behind “Jurassic Park III” appears to have referenced the old playground rule, abandoning a strong script and seemingly winging its way through nearly two hours of dino doo doo. Too bad Steven Spielberg (“A.I.”), this time trading in the director’s chair for a producer credit, chose to take a breather and sit this game out. Without him, the seemingly never-ending franchise appears to have run itself into the ground.
Not the most daring of all directors (although “A.I.” may have been his attempt at refuting that claim), Spielberg at least knows a lame duck when he sees one. It was rumored, in fact, that Spielberg only helmed the previous installment, “Jurassic Park: Lost World,” as part of a give-and-take agreement that allowed him to take on another project with a little more meaning — a little three-hour epic in black and white about the Holocaust.
Without Spielberg’s direction, “Jurassic Park III” is a tired rehashing of some of the basic elements of the first two films, with little or nothing to suggest that there is anything more to be said about the fantastical dinosaur park.
Reprising their roles as dinosaur experts Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler are “Jurassic Park’s” Sam Neill (“The Dish”) and newlywed (to rocker Ben Harper) Laura Dern (“Dr. T and the Women”), although Dern’s role is really nothing more than a cameo to help remind us of the days when “Jurassic Park” was still respectable.
Still shunning practical thinking, still toiling away at digging up fossils and still declining to comment on the whole dinosaur island scenario, Grant is immediately tricked into returning to the island that still brings him nightmares. In fact, there is a very brief scene where a sleeping Grant dreams of a talking dinosaur. So ridiculous is this poorly-timed, almost comical scene that it should serve as more than fair warning that this film is heading nowhere. Anyone that stays past the dream sequence has been warned, and therefore, waived all right to complain afterwards.
A more “Indiana Jones”-ish adventurer this time around (notice the “Jones”-style hat that he clings to like a life-support line), Grant ends up stranded on another dinosaur island — Isla Sorna — with his young assistant, Billy (Alessandro Nivola, “Timecode”). Grant is supposed to be serving as an aerial tour guide to a rich couple, but it turns out he is unknowingly aiding a couple of bickering divorcees in finding their son who landed inadvertently on the island in a parasailing incident. Played quite unambitiously by Tea Leoni (“Deep Impact”) and William H. Macy (“Panic”), the two serve only to deliver some contrived and unnecessary “love conquers all” message.
Amongst these characters, the film’s most dreadful quality clouds any potentially exciting moments. The dialogue reads like a Bazooka Joe bubble gum wrapper with barely half the wit and the performances suggest director Joe Johnston never bothered with anything more than one take on any of the scenes. With the exception of Sam Neill, it appears that everybody had some pressing engagement that prevented him or her from putting in more than a moment’s worth of effort.
Without Spielberg’s direction, the “Jurassic Park” trilogy lacks not only tight storytelling and commendable performances, but also some of the basic elements of suspense that the first two thrived on. One has to wonder how many times an audience will lean forward in anticipation and grip their dates in fear as any given character whispers: “Shhh. Do you hear that?” followed by thundering footsteps and some beast bursting onto screen.
Part III seems to know the importance of that suspenseful dino entrance, but not quite how to handle it. Here, the script enlists the aid of one of those annoying, music-toned cell phone ringers that is gobbled up by a Spinosaurus, at the beginning of the film. One can imagine, then, what it means when the characters hear the cell phone ringing in the distance. Not surprisingly, the small hint of comedy in that absolutely ruins the suspense of the moment.
With the introduction of several new dinosaurs, there is at least a seemingly fresh quality to the series. The Spinosaurus, discovered since “Lost World” and incorporated as an ultimate threat to the trilogy’s in-house king of the jungle, the T-Rex, makes its first appearance within minutes of landing on the island. There’s the potential for a sort of “Godzilla versus The Sea Monster”-esque battle here, but the script deals with the bout quickly and moves along to more important things — like the “new and improved” Velociraptors and the first full exploration of the Pteradon cage that made a brief appearance in “Lost World.”
Still, even the chance to throw a few new monsters at the audience is botched. The animation this time around is nothing short of shoddy. The once-awesome Velociraptors look increasingly more like testosterone-boosted chickens and the flying Pteradons adopt unrealistic, human-like walking maneuvers when they get stuck in small corridors. Even a potentially terrifying nest of ravenous baby Pteradons resembles an animatronic display on a Disney ride.
While “Jurassic Park” has always been, and will likely remain, a science fiction horror movie at heart, the series appears to be moving towards the likes of B-rate slasher flicks. While the first two episodes questioned the morality of creating life, the latest installment never shows half as much brain, and instead relies on classic slasher movie conventions. A group of young adults decides to explore a forbidden island against everyone’s warning. The youngest of the group, Billy, dares steal an egg from a Velociraptor’s nest in hopes of selling it off back home. Anyone showing any moral weakness is immediately gobbled up, or at least severely wounded as a warning.
Even the titles are starting to show slasher-flick unoriginality. “Jurassic Park III?” Get creative. At least the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series took the effort to add a subtitle to every movie. Then again, “Jurassic Park III: The Raptors’ Strike Back” may not have worked all so well.