Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 1:31 - Released 7/18/01

There's nothing like a nice, juicy, well-established film franchise to suck in the bucks and allow struggling writers to hone their craft. Once you have a name like Jurassic Park, which is inextricably attached to the name Steven Spielberg, you can just keep making profitable sequels every few summers until the cows (or if you prefer, the velociraptors) come home. Joe Johnston's Jurassic Park III is a case in point. Spielberg didn't even have to bother with this one, other than cutting a check.

Joining director Johnston, the Star Wars/Indiana Jones effects guy who has gone on to direct a few notable films like Jumanji and October Sky, is freshman writer Peter Buchman, aided by Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor (Election). This relatively inexperienced creative team was able to produce a serviceable addition to the one-trick JP series, thanks mainly to some reasonably prominent names in the cast and some major cyber-crafted effects; their primary task (contriving a reason to return to dino land) was handled poorly, but after we get past it, the script goes on autopilot. Like the Godzilla and Jaws sequels, once you've got people running from bigass beasties who want to eat them for lunch, things like interesting plot lines and convincing dialogue are superfluous and unnecessary. One definite coup on director Johnston's part, however, was convincing Jurassic Park star Sam Neill, who did not appear in the 1997 sequel Lost World (and the film suffered for his absence), to recreate his character of paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant.

The story involves a pair of divorcees whose child has disappeared in a parasailing accident. The trouble is, the accident happened on the restricted island of Isla Sorna, which happens to be owned by the infamous I-Gen corporation and is therefore inhabited by the Animals Formerly Known As Prehistoric (AFKAP). Believing their son to be alive but in great danger of being consumed by members of the AFKAP organization, hardware salesman Paul Kirby (William H. Macy) and his ex-wife Amanda (Téa Leoni) decide the only way to rescue him is with the guidance of the foremost scientist on the subject. Convincing Dr. "I swear to God I'll never look a dinosaur in the face again" Grant, as he has become known, is achieved surprisingly easily (see "poorly contrived" section above) and soon we're back to the old scenario of people running like hell with hungry rexes, raptors, and pteranodons in hot pursuit. Joining the good doctor and the estranged parents are Grant's assistant, Billy (Alessandro Nivola), pilot Udesky (Michael Jeter), and several others who are brought along to serve as Purina Dino-Chow. Playing the Kirbys' resourceful young son Eric is 14-year-old Trevor Morgan.

Even without Spielberg's input, and even without a terribly intelligent script, this film survives on its effects. Neill, Macy, and Leoni all do adequately in their roles, but all three of them are underused. The bit about the Kirbys masquerading as tycoons is insipid; the part about their reconciliation is patently predictable, and the part about Grant's Dr. Dolittle act is howlingly ridiculous. But people who go to see Jurassic Park III are not there for character development, they want cool-looking dinosaurs, and that they will get in spades. So what am I getting my neck frills all up in a bundle about? ****

Copyright 2001 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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