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With: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Laura Dern, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, John Diehl
Written by: Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Directed by: Joe Johnston
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for intense sci-fi terror and violence
Running Time: 92
Date: 07/16/2001

Jurassic Park III (2001)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Triple 'Park'-ed

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Back in 1993, just before Jurassic Park was released, legendary producer Roger Corman patched together an el cheapo dinosaur flick called Carnosaur to quickly cash in on the dinosaur craze. Likewise, schlockmeisters Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski teamed up for an even cheaper movie called Dinosaur Island, which featured girls who were far better-looking than the dinos.

Throw in a couple of those 1960s "lost world" movies where people run around in front of process shots of animated rubber dinosaurs, and you have an idea of how Jurassic Park III plays. Oh, the special effects and quality of acting are much higher than in those other B-movies, but a B-movie is what this is. And it works fairly well on that level.

Part of the reason Jurassic Park III deserves any attention at all lies in the screenwriting talents of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, the independent filmmakers behind the acid-black comedies Citizen Ruth and Election. I'm sure they were very highly paid for this project, enough to finance a couple more of their own films. But as they were laughing all the way to the bank, they put together a reasonably clever new scenario.

Sam Neill returns as Dr. Alan Grant, a character who managed to stay out of The Lost World: Jurassic Park and who, at a press conference, swears that no force on heaven or earth can bring him back to that island. Apparently one force can. The same force that got Payne and Taylor to work on this film: money.

William H. Macy and Tea Leoni, as Paul and Amanda Kirby, contract Grant to guide them on a fly-by of the island as a kind of adventure tour. Grant's young assistant Billy (Alessandro Nivola) persuades him to go. Unfortunately, the truth is that the Kirbys are searching for their young son (Trevor Morgan), missing on the island after a parasailing accident. Despite Grant's pleas the plane lands on the island, never to take off again.

From there, various dinosaurs terrorize the crew, devouring anyone who doesn't have top billing. According to the rule of sequels, this new movie must have more at stake than the last two, and the filmmakers came up with the notion that the dinosaurs are very smart and can communicate with one another (the monsters can now call each other for help). We also now have pterodactyls attacking from above, as well as raptors attacking from below the surface of the water.

Director Joe Johnston, basically a Steven Spielberg second stringer who took on this movie when the Big Guy deemed it unworthy, is well-suited for this project. He keeps things from getting too serious (gone are most of the philosophical lines of dialogue), keeps the action and suspense brisk and clear, and crosses the finish line at right around 90 minutes, as opposed to the ponderous two-hour-plus running times of the other films.

Without seeming obvious, Johnston and his clever writers plant everything we need to know in the movie's first minutes. As Grant visits his former colleague Ellie (Laura Dern) at the beginning, he gives her young son a quick lesson on which of his little plastic dinos are carnivorous and which are herbivorous. The information doesn't exactly help the plot, but it helps those of us rusty on our dinosaur lore. We then know, for example, that our heroes can run headlong into a field full of vegetarian beasties and not fear for their lives.

Of course, the film gets ludicrous in more than a few spots, but I won't bother listing them and giving away more of the plot. Complaining about goofy scenarios would be like complaining about the cheap, phony dinosaurs in movies past.

Instead, I'll just reiterate. If we start from the bottom up, comparing Jurassic Park III to its 1960s rubber dinosaur predecessors, it's a pretty good one of those. But if we go from the top down, comparing it to the expensive, highfalutin' Jurassic Park, then you might as well just stay home and watch TV.

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