Skip to main content

Does anyone have a question that does not relate to Jurassic Park?

Jurassic Park III
(2001)

(SPOILERS) Jurassic Park has to be a prime contender for the most doggedly formulaic of all blockbuster franchises. The Lost World went a bit darker, and even broke out of the park for one sequence, but it was otherwise so unadventurous that it even conjured a previously unmentioned second island out of nowhere. Spielberg couldn’t even be bothered to return for the second sequel, and it isn’t hard to see why. An inane contrivance to get (one of) our protagonist back on the island (or rather, the different island, and not even the interesting protagonist) and new characters with a high annoyance quotient ensure the only things in Jurassic Park III’s favour are its lean running time and a couple of inventive plot devices and/or dinosaurs.


This is the one where Sam Neill’s Dr Alan Grant (he’s the boring protagonist, mixing out Jeff Goldblum’s chatty geek chic from The Lost World) is lured to previous movie’s island (Isla Sorna) by the promise of a big fat cheque to keep him in archaeological digging for a few years to come. This is at the behest of a couple of divorced parents (William H Macy and Tea Leoni as Paul and Amanda Kirby) attempting to rescue their son and her boyfriend (whom she can’t be that into as she couldn’t give a flying one about him snuffing it). They managed to imperil themselves by going on a paragliding trip right next to the island. Doh!


The dumb opening sequence, aside from some very obvious green screen, sets up the kind of scenario one would expect from a ‘70s cheapie sequel. What may surprise here is that the script is credited to Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor and Peter Buchman. The first two on that list are responsible for Oscar bait offbeat comedies such as Election, About Schmidt and Sideways. Perhaps action fare isn’t their strong point (they also wrote I Now Pronounce You Chuck & Larry, so perhaps Adam Sandler comedies aren’t either). To be fair to them, it sounds like Spielberg and Johnston made a right balls-up, rejecting an original script, involving Pteranodon attacks on the mainland, only five weeks before filming began. The one before that sounded even worse, with teenagers marooned on the island.


They were probably also weighed down by Spielberg playing it ultra-safe. He drafted in Joe Johnston to direct, a former visual effects guy whose first feature (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids) remains easily his best. Jurassic Park III at least has a bit more zip than some of his more listless moments (Captain America: The First Avenger), and visually it’s of a piece (courtesy of cinematographer Shelly Johnson – not Twin Peaks’ Shelly Johnson). But it’s so narratively banal, technical competence cannot save it.


It’s a checklist of elements being met that is no more inventive than the Jaws sequels Spielberg pointedly eschewed. This is something Jurassic World, for all it being announced as something different, is still servicing. The wonder and awe of the first movie (and, being cynical, it was never that wondrous or awesome in the first place) has now thoroughly dispersed, so the John Williams score feels wholly out of place (Williams couldn’t be doing with it, so Don Davis is called upon, like Johnston and special cinematographer Johnson, to hit all the right beats). Ineffectually twee even (not that you’d expect sentiment from a Spielberg production).  This is a production line sequel in the most unrepentant fashion, and the symptoms of this speak loudly when you compare the grosses of this franchise; each has made about a third less than the previous one.


Presumably Spielberg et al thought the “Park” part was essential. Which meant the island part was. As was having a wee kiddie as one of the main characters and an unhealthy dose of surrogate parenting, or at least re-bonding. All these elements look to be back in Jurassic World. The natural next stage for this franchise would have been a proper monster movie in a thriving metropolis, as suggested by the end of The Lost World. But this is essentially a toothless series, one too lily-livered to allow its monsters to be proper monsters; they’re scary, but you can’t stab them, shoot them full of holes or blow them to smithereens. They can be as mean as they want, but the unironic conservation element underlying these genetically engineered endangered species hamstrings the picture. The result can only be “run away” plotting, so it’s very limited in possibilities. If humans fight back it becomes Aliens.


This may be why the new movie has come up with a fully-fledged genetically enhanced dinosaur. You probably can destroy a fake dinosaur up with impunity. Nothing off message there. Grant’s unimaginative correction of one of Laura Dern’s kids (playing with plastic dinosaurs), that they shouldn’t be fighting because one is a herbivore, is the kind of restraint that has severely limited the potential of the franchise. Perhaps they should have gone the full Westworld hog, and had Jurassic World with insane robot dinosaurs. Ones that can go berserk, fight real dinosaurs and be exploded all over the place.


As was the case with The Lost World, a decent cast has been assembled. Unfortunately they’re awarded one-note characters to a thespian. Macy does his usual unheroic but well-meaning shtick. Leoni is saddled with the “bloody silly woman” part you rather hoped had disappeared from movies circa The Poseidon Adventure. Shouting, screaming, running away, doing all the things you shouldn’t do in a dangerous situation, unless you’re being pursued by Jason Voorhees.


Alessandro Nivola, a good actor who for some reason has never really made it big (but was still just about a rising next-big-thing at the time, thanks in no small part to Face/Off) gets to be the young hot head protégée of Grant, one who apparently knows bugger all about dinosaurs since he’s responsible for stealing two raptor eggs. Still, he’s not so bad, apparently, as they don’t kill him off (Billy’s reappearance in the last scene stands out glaringly, and was reportedly a result of Nivola protesting about his demise to Johnston).


Grumpy Grant is reteamed with a sprog (Trevor Morgan’s Eric), whose ability to defend himself from dinosaurs isn’t quite as ridiculous as the gymnastic girl in The Lost World, but still takes some swallowing. Like Aliens’ Newt, but with gas grenades and a camouflage gear, Eric manages to survive in the jungle for eight weeks when he should have long since been dinosaur breakfast. He even knows to fend off dinosaurs with a bottle of T-Rex pee. It just so happens he’s a huge fan of Grant, and has read all his books. I liked the dig at the rivalry between Grant and Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm, though. Eric’s critique of Malcolm’s book, that it was “kind of preachy” and it “seems like the guy was high on himself” finds Grant readily concurring. If Jurassic World births a new trilogy, it would be nice to see the old guys back and butting heads at some point.


Grant’s actually better before he goes back to the island. During a post-lecture Q&A, a host of hands go up. “Does anyone have a question that does not relate to Jurassic Park?” he clarifies. When only most of them go down, he adds “Or the incident in San Diego which I did not witness?” One or two are left up.  His snoozing on the plane with his hat over his face only draws attention to how he very much he is not Indiana Jones, however. He'd have been better suited to Steven Spielberg Presents Time Team.


Still, the theory is audiences are showing for the big dino set pieces, and Park III at least manages to throw in a couple that save the picture from being completely redundant. The spinosaurus, the new dinosaurus that can put paid to a T-Rex, isn’t really all that impressive or fearsome. It lacks the same predatory sleekness that makes the T-Rex or the raptors so effective. The writers come up with the occasional coup, though. Early on, Grant is pursued by a T-Rex, running into the spinosaurus, which leads to the two titans duking it out. Most inventive is the running device of Paul’s satellite phone, which turns out to be inside the spinosaurus. And later, buried in a big pile of its shit.


The raptors are still the main attraction here, JP’s equivalent of xenomorphs. Like the Alien franchise, however, familiarity lessens their fear factor. Now a jungle boy with some smoke can scare them off. The final standoff is quite effective, but still; much has already been made of how smart they are (“They were smarter than dolphins or whales. They were smarter than primates”), yet they seem to have qualms about picking off the group simply because there are a couple of eggs in their possession? And because Grant uses the imitation raptor larynx (made with a 3D printer!) to confuse them? Still, there’s always the ice cold way one snaps Michael Jeter’s neck. The best moment is still of the good old fashioned shock variety; coming across a derelict lab, Amanda sees a raptor preserved in a glass case. Then said raptor blinks…


The appearance of pteranodons ought to have been the star exhibit, but Johnston fails to make the best use of them. Ironically, their first appearance is not in flight but walking on a fog shrouded bridge, and its much more eerie and impressive than the subsequently rather daft sight of them carrying of Eric and Billy rescuing him with a feat of paragliding.


One seriously has to wonder at the safety precautions of quarantining this island too. As in, it’s scarcely feasible that it would be left so accessible, that it would be left to run amok, and that flying dinobirds would be allowed to take off to form colonies God knows where.


Dr Grant’s rather trite moral, on discovering Billy has stolen the eggs is, “Some of the worst things imaginable are due to the best intentions”. You couldn’t accuse the makers of Jurassic Park III of having the best intentions. This is the most half-hearted of attempts to squeeze some cash out of a steadily floundering franchise. It’s no wonder it has taken 14 years for a fourth instalment to arrive, and I’m dubious even then that it will be different enough to truly reinvigorate it. That discarded John Sayles script, with the intelligent, genetically engineered raptors working for the military might have provided partial inspiration for Jurassic World, but from the trailers it doesn’t look as if it has providing anything quite different enough.



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Lieutenant, you run this station like chicken night in Turkey.

Assault on Precinct 13 (1976) (SPOILERS) You can’t read a review of Assault on Precinct 13 with stumbling over references to its indebtedness – mostly to Howard Hawks – and that was a preface for me when I first caught it on Season Three of BBC2’s Moviedrome (I later picked up the 4Front VHS). In Precinct 13 ’s case, it can feel almost like an attempt to undercut it, to suggest it isn’t quite that original, actually, because: look. On the other hand, John Carpenter was entirely upfront about his influences (not least Hawks), and that he originally envisaged it as an outright siege western (rather than an, you know, urban one). There are times when influences can truly bog a movie down, if it doesn’t have enough going for it in its own right. That’s never the case with Assault on Precinct 13 . Halloween may have sparked Carpenter’s fame and maximised his opportunities, but it’s this picture that really evidences his style, his potential and his masterful facility with music.

The wolves are running. Perhaps you would do something to stop their bite?

The Box of Delights (1984) If you were at a formative age when it was first broadcast, a festive viewing of The Box of Delights  may well have become an annual ritual. The BBC adaptation of John Masefield’s 1935 novel is perhaps the ultimate cosy yuletide treat. On a TV screen, at any rate. To an extent, this is exactly the kind of unashamedly middle class-orientated bread-and-butter period production the corporation now thinks twice about; ever so posh kids having jolly adventures in a nostalgic netherworld of Interwar Britannia. Fortunately, there’s more to it than that. There is something genuinely evocative about Box ’s mythic landscape, a place where dream and reality and time and place are unfixed and where Christmas is guaranteed a blanket of thick snow. Key to this is the atmosphere instilled by director Renny Rye. Most BBC fantasy fare doe not age well but The Box of Delights is blessed with a sinister-yet-familiar charm, such that even the creakier production decisi

White nights getting to you?

Insomnia (2002) (SPOILERS) I’ve never been mad keen on Insomnia . It’s well made, well-acted, the screenplay is solid and it fits in neatly with Christopher Nolan’s abiding thematic interests, but it’s… There’s something entirely adequateabout it. It isn’t pushing any kind of envelope. It’s happy to be the genre-bound crime study it is and nothing more, something emphasised by Pacino’s umpteenth turn as an under-pressure cop.

We got two honkies out there dressed like Hassidic diamond merchants.

The Blues Brothers (1980) (SPOILERS) I had limited awareness of John Belushi’s immense mythos before  The Blues Brothers arrived on retail video in the UK (so 1991?) My familiarity with SNL performers really began with Ghostbusters ’ release, which meant picking up the trail of Jake and Elwood was very much a retrospective deal. I knew Animal House , knew Belushi’s impact there, knew 1941 (the Jaws parody was the best bit), knew Wired was a biopic better avoided. But the minor renaissance he, and they, underwent in the UK in the early ’90s seemed to have been initiated by Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, of all things; Everybody Needs Somebody was part of their That Sounds Good to Me medley, the first of their hits not to make No.1, and Everybody ’s subsequent single release then just missed the Top Ten. Perhaps it was this that hastened CIC/Universal to putting the comedy out on video. Had the movie done the rounds on UK TV in the 80s? If so, it managed to pass me by. Even bef

Maybe he had one too many peanut butter and fried banana sandwiches.

3000 Miles to Graceland (2001) (SPOILERS) The kind of movie that makes your average Tarantino knockoff look classy, 3000 Miles to Graceland is both aggressively unpleasant and acutely absent any virtues, either as a script or a stylistic exercise. The most baffling thing about it is how it attracted Kevin Costner and Kurt Russell, particularly since both ought to have been extra choosy at this point, having toplined expensive bombs in the previous half decade that made them significantly less bankable names. And if you’re wondering how this managed to cost the $62m reported on Wiki, it didn’t; Franchise Pictures, one of the backers, was in the business of fraudulently inflating budgets .

I dreamed about a guy in a dirty red and green sweater.

A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984) (SPOILERS) I first saw A Nightmare on Elm Street a little under a decade after its release, and I was distinctly underwhelmed five or so sequels and all the hype. Not that it didn’t have its moments, but there was an “It’ll do” quality that reflects most of the Wes Craven movies I’ve seen. Aside from the postmodern tease of A New Nightmare – like Last Action Hero , unfairly maligned – I’d never bothered with the rest of the series, in part because I’m just not that big a horror buff, but also because the rule that the first is usually the best in any series, irrespective of genre, tends to hold out more often than not. So now I’m finally getting round to them, and it seemed only fair to start by giving Freddy’s first another shot. My initial reaction holds true.

He must have eaten a whole rhino horn!

Fierce Creatures (1997) (SPOILERS) “ I wouldn’t have married Alyce Faye Eicheberger and I wouldn’t have made Fierce Creatures.” So said John Cleese , when industrial-sized, now-ex gourmand Michael Winner, of Winner’s Dinners , Death Wish II and You Must Be Joking! fame (one of those is a legitimate treasure, but only one) asked him what he would do differently if he could live his life again. One of the regrets identified in the response being Cleese’s one-time wife (one-time of two other one-time wives, with the present one mercifully, for John’s sake, ongoing) and the other being the much-anticipated Death Fish II , the sequel to monster hit A Fish Called Wanda. Wanda was a movie that proved all Cleese’s meticulous, focus-group-tested honing and analysis of comedy was justified. Fierce Creatures proved the reverse.

How do you melt somebody’s lug wrench?

Starman (1984) (SPOILERS) John Carpenter’s unlikely SF romance. Unlikely, because the director has done nothing before or since suggesting an affinity for the romantic fairy tale, and yet he proves surprisingly attuned to Starman ’s general vibes. As do his stars and Jack Nitzsche, furnishing the score in a rare non-showing from the director-composer. Indeed, if there’s a bum note here, it’s the fairly ho-hum screenplay; the lustre of Starman isn’t exactly that of making a silk purse from a sow’s ear, but it’s very nearly stitching together something special from resolutely average source material.

You absolute horror of a human being.

As Good as it Gets (1997) (SPOILERS) James L Brooks’ third Best Picture Oscar nomination goes to reconfirm every jaundiced notion you had of the writer-director-producer’s capacity for the facile and highly consumable, low-cal, fast-food melodramatic fix with added romcom lustre. Of course, As Good as it Gets was a monster hit, parading as it does Jack in a crackerjack, attention-grabbing part. But it’s a mechanical, suffocatingly artificial affair, ponderously paced (a frankly absurd 139 minutes) and infused with glib affirmations and affections. Naturally, the Academy lapped that shit up, because it reflects their own lack of depth and perception (no further comment is needed than Titanic winning the big prize for that year).

Remember. Decision. Consequence.

Day Break (2006) (SPOILERS) Day Break is the rare series that was lucky to get cancelled. And not in a mercy-killing way. It got to tell its story. Sure, apparently there were other stories. Other days to break. But would it have justified going there? Or would it have proved tantalising/reticent about the elusive reason its protagonist has to keep stirring and repeating? You bet it would. Offering occasional crumbs, and then, when it finally comes time to wrap things up, giving an explanation that satisfies no one/is a cop out/offers a hint at some nebulous existential mission better left to the viewer to conjure up on their own. Best that it didn’t even try to go there.