The central formula for the Jurassic Park franchise is so basic that it feels like they've cranked out twenty of these things instead of just three: stupid people set foot in dino-country, someone makes a crack about playing God, dinosaurs attack, stupid people run for their lives. Jurassic Park III perpetuates this unimaginative trend via the natural evolution of sequels--as can be expected, the dinosaurs are bigger, better, and smarter, and the special effects have been kicked up a notch. But this third installment sets itself apart and above its two predecessors by fully indulging in its own cliches and not taking itself seriously. Fully cognizant that it is a big popcorn flick out to satiate the public's appetite for light, action-packed entertainment, it presents cheesy dialogue and an idiotic story with wonderfully unabashed pride.
This time around, when someone talks about playing God, it's more a tongue-in-cheek joke rather than a metaphoric warning about the morality of genetic engineering. This lighter tone, coupled with a bigger agenda of action and visuals, makes for a fun time at the movies. The special effects are so good that they're easily taken for granted. Computer generated dinosaurs integrate seamlessly with animatronic ones, and they move with uncanny realism. Old favorites like the T-Rex and the raptors are back, but we're also treated to new breeds in the air and in the water. The result is a more fully realized world of fantastic creatures. And let's not forget the introduction of the Spinosaurus, the only dino with the raw power to make even the T-Rex his bitch. (Watch out, T-Rex! Don't drop the soap in the jungle!)
Besides the special effects and wall-to-wall action, Jurassic Park III also boasts a strong ensemble cast. Reprising his role as Dr. Alan Grant is Sam Neill, who always works out well as the brainiac who has to explain things to other people (Event Horizon, Bicentennial Man, and the original Jurassic Park). Alessandro Nivola plays the good doctor's assistant, and William H. Macy and Tea Leoni round out the cast as Paul and Amanda Kirby, a couple that wants a trip to Dino Island. Best of all: no Jeff Goldblum to stumble and stammer his way through the action!
The story is simple and straightforward enough. Dr. Grant is once again hurting for money to fund his dinosaur research. And though he vows to never set foot on Isla Sorna, the breeding ground for the re-engineered dinosaurs, he is eventually wooed there when the Kirbys pay him a healthy wad of dough to guide an airplane trip over the island. They claim they're just fans of exotic travel, but their true intentions become clear in short order: they intend to land on the island to search for their lost son. And before you can shout, "Holy flying pteranodon, Batman!", the travelers crash on Sorna to find themselves at ground zero for dino terror.
There's an interesting inverse relationship in the Jurassic Park universe. As the dinosaurs get smarter and smarter (this time, they've developed their own language and can set traps), the humans get dumber and dumber. The first thing Amanda Kirby does on the island is whip out a megaphone to make sure all the dinosaurs know they have landed. Later, our intrepid explorers wander into lairs, screw around in nests, and generally piss off the dinosaurs to no end. The widening divergence in brain power between the humans and dinosaurs makes you wonder two things: how do stupid people even manage to stay alive, and why haven't the dinos invented the nuke by now? Damn that lack of opposable thumbs!
JP3's strict adherence to formula makes it one of the most unoriginal movies of the year. But at least it knows it, pokes fun at itself, and moves at a brisk pace. Things progress quickly, the action is continuous, and the dinos (the true stars of the film) are bigger and badder than ever. So while it might be a bad movie, at least it's one of those "good" bad movies. With a short runtime of roughly 90 minutes, it's a quick dose of Hollywood fluff that outperforms the first two Jurassic Park films in most regards.
Rating: 7 out of 10 (0=Abysmal, 5=Average, 10=Excellent)