A scene from 'Jurassic Park III'
Courtesy Photo
**1/2 stars 92 minutes | Rated: PG-13
Opened: Wednesday, July 18, 2001
Directed by Joe Johnston

Starring Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, John Diehl, Bruce A. Young, Mark Harelik, Laura Dern


Let's face it, killer dinos just aren't as scary on a 25" Trinitron. But this third outting still has some fun in it if you turn out the lights and turn up the volume.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 12.11.2001


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Nothing really wrong with well- executed 'Jurassic Park III' except that it's all been done twice before

By Rob Blackwelder

In 1993, the first "Jurassic Park" took Hollywood's first giant step into the world of computer generated special effects, rendering from scratch huge life-like dinosaurs that genuinely interacted with the humans they chased and chowed on. There were a few tell-tale signs of CGI style that savvy audiences now recognize (soft-focusy skin on some critters, for example). But there wasn't a movie-goer on Earth who wasn't agog at how real those dinos looked.

CGI effects have evolved exponentially in the last eight years and in "Jurassic Park III" the movie's biggest stars are so seamless blended and thoroughly convincing that the very concept of these ancient beasts being a special effect barely even crosses your mind. It only occurred to me once, for about 10 seconds, during a fight between a Tyrannosaurus Rex and this movie's even bigger, meaner baddie called Spinosaurus. Half way through the furious dust-up, it hit me: "Holy cow, these things aren't real!"

I might not even have thought about the effects at all except for being drawn to the extreme deliberateness of the movie's big-budget post-production by the over-amped, over-bearing, Dolby'd-to-death sound effects, apparently designed to shatter eardrums.

Director Joe Johnston ("Jumanji") steers "Jurassic Park III" faithfully through the franchise formula of trapping a handful of scientists, civilians and at least one smart kid on the island overtaken by dinos after it was abandoned by the greedy genetics firm that spawned them in the first film.

The excuse this time: A hardware store owner (William H. Macy) and his ex-wife (Tea Leoni) pose as millionaire adventurers offering to back a big research project if series staple Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) will be their tour guide on an illegal charter flight over the island. Real motive: Their 12-year-old son (Trevor Morgan) disappeared while para-sailing in the same locale (also illegally) on a bonding trip with his mom's new boyfriend.

The plane, of course, crashes after a close encounter with the ominous new Spinosaurus -- a savage, 45-foot carnivore with a crocodile snout and a big, bony fan arched along its back -- and it isn't long before everybody is on the run and expendable cast members are being eaten. "Jurassic Park III" is largely a blockbuster B-movie exercise in Filmmaking 101, but it just so happens this is Johnston's specialty. He's a director who can take the most ritualized script and turn it into wonderfully entertaining fare, as he did with 1999's "October Sky" and 1991's "The Rocketeer."

He has a couple clever accomplices too, in the form of screenwriters Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. The sardonic wits behind the social satires "Election" and "Citizen Ruth," they infuse this otherwise obvious affair with a peppery sense of humor that manifests itself in subtle ways throughout the movie. (Example: Macy and Leoni aren't the only ones lying about their identity. The mercenary they hired to get them to the island and back safely isn't really a mercenary either.)

Fending off the occasional well-organized Velociraptor hunting party (it's implied in the story that Raptors are far more intelligent than scientist have suspected before), our protagonists eventually find the resourceful kid, who has survived by hiding out in an overturned tanker truck and developing his own camouflage.

Hoping to get rescued, they make for the coast through "Spino" territory and a colony of voracious Pterandons (the flying dinosaurs). But Neill's paleontologist pal (Alessandro Nivola) can't resist swiping some Raptor eggs from a nest, which turns the second half of the movie into a hide-and-seek game as the angry reptiles come after their ovum.

This picture has its problems with logic (either Spinos know how to make satellite phones ring or some other explanation got cut out of the movie) and, ironically, in spite of the incredible computer effects there are some conspicuous soundstage and green-screen moments that don't even involve the dinosaurs. Luckily, Johnston knows enough to move past such moment swiftly and quite literally cut to the chase.

Over-produced and highly predictable, "Jurassic Park III" really isn't all that thrilling. Let's face it: If you've seen one "Jurassic Park," you've seen them all. But there is just enough innovation here to propel this second sequel beyond its highly contrived immediate predecessor (the actually boring "Lost World") and into that movie quality limbo I like to call "OK as a bargain matinee."

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