Jurassic Park 3 Had Big Boots To Fill, But It’s Definitely An Underrated Gem
Of course, nothing can ever quite top the original Jurassic Park, a bonafide monster of a classic that still scares the DNA strands out of me.
From Steven Spielberg’s distinctive direction to Jeff Goldblum’s pithy one-liners, Jurassic Park (1993) is a rare treasure within the action genre, seamlessly combining thrills and wit with meaty ethical questions.
However, although no subsequent Jurassic Park or Jurassic World movie has ever quite been able to match the roar of the first outing, I’ve still found plenty to enjoy in the many various sequels. Particularly, dare I argue, with the overly bashed Jurassic Park III.
Set some years after the bloody theme park malfunction at Isla Nublar, fans reunite with original survivor Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill), who has long since parted ways from former flame Dr Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern),
Dr Sattler – whose extended cameo here is far too short to please true fans – has settled down into family life, while Dr Grant remains wedded to his palaeontology work, having recently broken new ground in his research into the intelligence of velociraptors.
However, despite his enduring fascination with dinosaurs, Dr Grant prefers to keep a safe distance, sticking to fossilised remains rather than the ‘theme park monsters’ manufactured in John Hammond’s (Richard Attenborough) lab.
Indeed, he makes his stance crystal clear before a lecture theatre filled with morbidly curious students, boldly declaring that ‘No force on this earth or in heaven could get me on that island’.
Of course, this staunch position is swayed somewhat once a hefty amount of money is placed on the table, enough to fund Dr Grant’s ongoing research and tempt him as so many characters in this franchise are tempted.
This supposedly chance turn of fortune sees Dr Grant and his assistant Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola) reluctantly accompany the wealthy Mr and Mrs Kirby (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni) on their flight over the dino-populated Isla Sorna, acting as a pair of prehistoric tour guides.
However, to the surprise of precisely no one watching, the Kirbys aren’t all they seem, and their promises not to land the plane are swiftly broken with a crash and a wallop.
What follows is a desperate scramble for survival, with the group fighting tooth and nail as they battle through the snarling wilderness.
Twenty years after its release, Jurassic Park III is widely regarded to be the weakest of the franchise, with an underwhelming 49% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, and in many ways, the criticism is justified.
The first film in the series not to be based on a Michael Crichton novel, the plot of Jurassic Park III is much more run-of-the-mill action movie territory, clocking in at a relatively snippy 92 minutes.
While the first two instalments dealt primarily with the evils of human greed – the dinosaurs thrust beyond their time ultimately framed as pitiful victims in their own right rather than actual villains – Jurassic Park III is more of a simple rollercoaster ride through the mouldering chaos left behind on Isla Sorna.
It also doesn’t attempt the sort of ambitious world-building we would later see in the revamped Jurassic World trilogy, with no suggestion of a changing world beyond the neat perimeters of the island.
This third film simply asks you to imagine what you would do if your teenage son was stranded on an island filled with prehistoric monsters; the palaeontologists you would be willing to deceive, and the lives you’d risk. All of course while chucking in a few new terrifying beasts for good measure.
At the time of its release, the Wall Street Journal’s Edward Jay Epstein blasted Jurassic Park III as exemplifying ‘Hollywood’s standard practice of stomping a brilliant concept beyond recognition’, while The Telegraph’s Tim Robey remarked ‘it shrivels to nothing between the set pieces, in an excess of fog, token bits of talk, and an absence of genuine, elemental awe’.
Now, of course, no moments in this film can be fairly compared to the iconic reveal of the first outing; Dr Grant’s mouth agape as he wordlessly tries to attract Dr. Sattler’s attention.
It’s also pretty hard to imagine the first one featuring a hallucinatory velociraptor calling ‘Alan!’ from the aisle of a private plane, a highly meme-able moment which has unfairly seen the film remembered as completely ridiculous rather than just a bit silly in places.
However, I would argue that Jurassic Park III remains an enduringly nail-biting, and surprisingly rewatchable, summer blockbuster that keeps a talon-like grip on viewers throughout every gnarly twist and turn.
First of all, it’s genuinely very scary, containing some of the most frightening moments of the entire franchise. The screams and scares come a little too thick and fast for the plot to really develop, but there are still various memorable moments of genuine tension and creeping dread.
After all, there are few Jurassic scenes before or since that could rival the eeriness of that first Pterodactyl appearing from the mist, marking the sudden – horrifying – realisation that the group had stumbled into a ‘birdcage’.
The part when Billy nobly throws his own life to the winds to save young Eric (Trevor Morgan) from the Pterodactyls – redeeming himself somewhat after the nearly catastrophic egg theft – remains, I would argue, as sickeningly tense as the infamous water rippling scene.
After all, even in this perilous parallel universe, there are few grimmer deaths imaginable than being pecked to death by a hungry nest full of prehistoric baby birds. The sight of those snapping, impatient beaks still gives me goose-pimples two decades after I peered at them through my fingers at the cinema.
Also worth a mention is the truly nasty looking Spinosaurus, an unfathomably colossal beast that makes even the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex look relatively tame in comparison.
The Spinosaurus chase scenes are made particularly memorable due to it having ingested a satellite phone which continues to ring out menacingly from onside its gigantic guts. As improbable as this outcome may be, I still enjoy it greatly and will defend it until dinosaurs do indeed walk the Earth again.
Although we don’t get the same endlessly quotable dialogue of the original, the film is notably well cast and it’s good fun to see Dr Grant back in action, swinging expertly between disgruntled and wide-eyed as only he can.
Wandering the wreckage of Isla Sorna, he’s still a likeable, compelling lead who you would absolutely trust to guide you through Velociraptor territory, being a far more believable character than Chris Pratt’s raptor whisperer, Owen Grady in the subsequent Jurassic World films.
The line ‘some of the worst things imaginable have been done with the best intentions’ is one which has been forever lodged in my brain, as is the philosophical musing, ‘I have a theory that there are two kinds of boys. There are those that want to be astronomers, and those that want to be astronauts’.
The haplessness of the supporting cast members, who are forced to become resourceful lightning-quick, fits with the humorous side of the movie, a side that isn’t afraid to make reference to Barney the Dinosaur during one of the tensest chase scenes.
I will always have an enduring affection for Jurassic Park III, it being the very first Jurassic Park film I saw in the cinema, and perhaps my nostalgia does allow me to brush over some of the shakier bits.
It looks likely that the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion will be a far different beast than the third instalment that presided it, picking up after a gasp-inducing cliff-hanger. We now, after all, expect more from sequels, assuming they will bring more rather than diminish.
However, I still think Jurassic Park III it’s well worth a rewatch, having deservedly earned its place as a smaller, yet still worthy, dinosaur in the Jurassic Park paddock.
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