[box cover]

Jurassic Park III: Collector's Edition

Universal Studios Home Video

Starring Sam Neill, Tea Leoni, William H. Macy,
Alessandro Nivola, Michael Jeter, and Trevor Morgan

Written by Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, and Jim Taylor
Directed by Joe Johnston

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Review by Betsy Bozdech                    

"I think it's going to be the kind of movie that it needs to be... It's gonna sell a lot of popcorn."

JP3 director Joe Johnston

"You probably won't get off this island alive."

Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill)

It's hard to blame the folks at Universal for wanting to make a third Jurassic Park movie — successful franchises are hard to come by, and if you stumble upon one, it's only natural to want to milk it for all it's worth. It's just too bad they didn't invest some of the piles of money they made on Jurassic Park and The Lost World in a fresh approach and an original story. Because unfortunately, Jurassic Park III (and The Lost World, for that matter) suffers from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom syndrome: Viewed out of context, it might come across as a fairly entertaining action thriller with some top-not special effects, but compared to what came before, it's lowest-common-denominator moviemaking.

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Watching Jurassic Park III, you get the feeling that someone brainstormed a few good dino-attack set pieces — Bigger predators! Flying monsters! Raptors that can communicate! — and waited until the movie started shooting to bother coming up with a plot to link them together. At least screenwriters Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne, and Jim Taylor had the presence of mind to realize that no one who'd run from a T-Rex and battled velociraptors would voluntarily go back for round two (not counting Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm in The Lost World, of course). Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neill and his eyebrows, which really should get an acting credit of their own) is Shanghaied onto Isla Sorna — dino cloning company InGen's experimental "site B" — by Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni), who claim to be filthy rich adventure travelers looking for the ultimate vacation. Once their plane sets down, though, one of many overly contrived plot twists kicks in, and the Kirbys reveal their true motive. It's up to Grant and his eager-beaver grad student Billy (Alessandro Nivola) to lead the Kirbys and their motley crew to safety, all while dodging dinos even more terrifying than the ones creature wizard Stan Winston cooked up for the previous Jurassic flicks.

All in a whopping hour and a half. Talk about your minimum storytelling effort; considering that Dr. Grant, Billy, and the Kirbys spend most of those 90-plus minutes running from place to place screaming their heads off, Jurassic Park III is lighter on plot and character development than some laundry-detergent ads. Admittedly, that makes it a little less upsetting when people start dying, but still. And you can't really blame the cast. While Neill is more or less on autopilot (having to say lines like the one quoted above with a straight face must have required a lot of zoning out), Leoni and Macy seem to really get into it, having a ball while they check off the "action adventure" box on their resumes. And Nivola's only major fault is his character's name — every time Neill's Dr. Grant starts a mini-lecture by saying "Now, Billy..." it sounds like one of the Troy McClure-hosted educational movie parodies on The Simpsons.

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Of course, at this point Jurassic Park isn't really about the human characters; people want to see better, cooler, bigger dinosaurs. And, in theory, Johnston and Winston deliver exactly that. The movie's CGI and model-based effects are pretty impressive — the gigantic spinosaurus is sufficiently bad-ass (enough to kick T-Rex's butt in a big battle scene), and the beady-eyed pteranodons are convincingly birdlike in their movements. Even our old friends the raptors are new and improved; their heads have been readjusted to match recent paleontological research, they move more fluidly, and some of them sport spiky quills. But the one thing the effects team at ILM can't whip up out of pixels and grit is an unsophisticated, ready-to-be-impressed audience. As it is for Dr. Grant, this is (mostly) stuff we've seen before: These monsters may be meaner and more lifelike than ever, but the awe their predecessors inspired in 1993 moviegoers is long gone.

In fact, if there's any strong reaction this film does inspire, it's deja vu. You've got Neill's Dr. Grant (in practically the same outfit he wore in the first film), Laura Dern popping up briefly as Ellie Sattler, vicious raptors pursuing clueless humans in a compound that's a dead ringer for the facility in the first Jurassic Park (think they saved money by reusing some of the props?) — even another dino-poop gag. We've all been there and done that by now. The only thing missing is the first movie's edge-of-your-seat sense of urgency — you know that the major characters are going to make it out okay by now, so the suspense factor is pretty slim. If you want my advice, try the BBC's excellent Walking With Dinosaurs documentary instead; the dinos are almost as lifelike, and host Kenneth Branagh's narration beats this clunker's hollow lines.

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On the plus side, Jurassic Park III comes in an above-average DVD package from Universal. Besides looking and sounding good — the anamorphic transfer (1.85:1) is great, if too small on most TVs to appreciate the scope of the effects, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 audio tracks do justice to the raptors' squawks and hoots — the collector's edition disc boasts a healthy roster of special features, including:

The rest of the list includes two short featurettes — Tour of Stan Winston Studios and Montana: Finding New Dinosaurs — dinosaur turntables (3D, 360-degree looks at 11 of the film's creations, plus Nivola's Billy), production photos, a poster gallery, trailers for all three Jurassic movies, fairly extensive production notes, cast and filmmaker bios/filmographies, DVD recommendations, a variety of special offers from Universal, an ad for the Jurassic Park Institute (don't pack your bags — it's a Web site), and links to a passel of DVD-ROM features, including games and screensavers. And the keep-case insert has a nice comparative sizing chart with vital stats for all of the movie's dinos. All in all, nothing less than you'd expect for a big action blockbuster, but — like the film itself — it won't blow your socks off, either.

— Betsy Bozdech

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