Jurassic Park III Review

Andy Hall has reviewed the Region 1 release of Jurassic Park III. No Spielberg, no Crichton, no story. But if you just want dinosaur action, there’s plenty here. It’s a decent disc as well.

The Movie
The last visit to the Jurassic Park islands involved the return of Ian Malcolm to the dinosaur islands, and the somewhat flawed plan of InGen to export dinosaurs to the mainland. This time Dr Alan Grant (Sam Neill) returns in a somewhat thinner story set on the “Site B” island. Grant had gone back to traditional palaeontology after dismissing the Jurassic Park dinosaurs as “genetically engineered them park monsters”. But a constant lack of funds leads him to accept an offer from wealthy adventurer and wife Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H Macy and Tea Leoni) to be a guide on a flight over the island. Of course things don’t go to plan and they are soon on the ground and on the run from the predatory inhabitants. These now include the Spinosaurus, a dinosaur even bigger and fiercer than the Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the discovery of flying dinosaurs in the Pteranodons. Needless to say, the usual mayhem ensues.

This third instalment of the series differs from the previous movies in two significant aspects. Firstly, there’s no Steven Spielberg, as he is just the executive producer here (ie he puts his name to the project to finance it). Joe Johnston takes over instead and directs in a far more straightforward manner. Although Spielberg’s direction of The Lost World: JP was hardly regarded as his best, his presence is missed. The second – and more important – difference is that this is not based on a Michael Crichton story. So instead of progressing the overall story in any way, this merely uses the dinosaurs on the island as a tool for the action, with no more development than a computer game would. Indeed, I’ve seen porn movies with more plot set up than what we have here, as the excuse to get Alan Grant and party onto the island is extremely thin to say the least. Nothing new is really added to the story arc, except perhaps even further intelligence development of the Raptors, and the introduction of the flying Pteranadons and the Spinosaurus (strange how they hid out of sight during the second film). So without any real plot development, what are we left with? Basically, just a popcorn action movie. But it is a superior action movie, with ever more impressive special effects and the kind of straightforward thrills that some people complained the second film lacked.

Sam Neill returns as Dr Alan Grant, getting his turn after Jeff Goldblum in the first sequel, it’s just a pity he has little more to do than run away from dinosaurs. Laura Dern also appears again as Ellie Sattler, though in just a cameo role. The other stars are all good actors who turn in the necessary competent performances. The real star here is of course the special effects, which have moved on significantly since the last movie, particularly in the seamless blending of CG effects and animatronics.

If you were expecting further story development here you will find this film a huge let down. If you just want one and a half hours of action, then you will probably enjoy this movie. It performed well enough at the box office to warrant another film. However, with the fact that there is something of an over saturation of dinosaur material, including the BBC’s Walking With Dinosaurs and The Lost World, so that the “awe” has gone from seeing these effects, the next film will have to do more than just showcase these effects to prevent the novelty wearing off.

Framed at 1.85:1 anamorphic, as were the previous two movies, this is by and large a very good image indeed. It looks a little light in places but this is certainly a combination of intended effects and my old player.

You would be expecting “shake the house down” sound for this movie and both the Dolby Digital and DTS tracks certainly deliver that. The fight sequence between the T.Rex and the Spinosaurus can easily be used as a good demo for your home cinema system.

Video Extras
Although missing the input of Spielberg and the extensive documentaries of the first two movies, there is plenty of extra material here. This includes:

The main featurette is The Making of Jurassic Park III which clocks in around 23 minutes, less than half as long as the corresponding ones from the previous films. It’s the usual promotional and “behind-the-scenes” stuff, but as this is a movie with cutting edge special effects there is enough of interest here. The usual warning applies that if you don’t want to spoil what little of the plot there is then don’t watch this first.

Next up is a commentary with the special effects team. This includes animatronics people (Stan Winston) along with the ILM CG effects people. Obviously they talk only about the effects, so it’s only screen specific when there is something for them to discuss. Interesting at times when they discuss how the two types of effects are blended together, although unfortunately at some points this just descends into “That’s CG”, “That’s real”, “That’s CG”, “That’s CG”.

The New Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park III is a seven minute piece including palaeontologist advisor Jack Horner and some of the special effects team talking about the Spinosaurus and Pteranadon, new to this film. It’s spoilt by the need to state that the film is “educational”, which is precisely what it isn’t.

The next two features highlight the two different special effects houses used in the film. Firstly, the Tour of Stan Winston’s Studio is a commentary-free look at Winston’s Studio, and how they build the animatronic dinosaurs, and runs for about four minutes.

The Visit to ILM is a lot more extensive, if unfortunately somewhat sprawling. It is broken up into four sections: “concepts”, “process”, “muscle simulation” and “compositing”. These are again broken down further and further still. There is plenty of interesting technical detail here, particularly highlighting the advances that have been made since the previous movies. It’s just that there is so much menu navigating and clicking to do that you may not persevere to the end. Where’s the “Play All” button?

The next feature is Dinosaur turntables which has all-round views of eleven of the dinosaurs from the movie, and helps to identify them. This is not an interactive feature though.

The following two features look specifically at the film’s technical development. Firstly, the Behind The Scenes features three scenes, and mixes footage from the film with shots showing how the animatronics were done. Secondly, the Storyboard to final feature comparison again features three scenes, this time showing the film in one window and the accompanying storyboard in the other.

The Jurassic Park III archives features a moving video montage of production photos, and runs for about three minutes. There is also a similar section of a poster gallery, though this jumped around unpredictably on my player. Interesting for the fact that some early posters show that the movie was once titled Jurassic Park: Extinction.

Next is the Theatrical trailers section. This includes trailers for all three films, presented in non-anamorphic widescreen, but in 5.1 sound.

More interesting is a brief (under 5 minutes) but interesting feature, titled Montana: finding new dinosaurs. This is a visit to the palaeontologist advisor Jack Horner’s current dig in Montana, and he discusses the work done, and the sort of people who work on the dig with him.

The production notes section is very extensive, and does include information not repeated in the booklet. The cast and filmmakers section is the usual stuff, but fairly well presented.

The last few extras are basically just plugs. Recommendations is just ads for other Universal DVDs. The DVD Newsletter is a plug for signing up at the Universal website, while JP Institute does the same for the Jurassic Park Institute. Finally, the Special offers section advertises the Barcode Battlers game, the movie soundtrack and Universal Studios theme parks.

DVD-ROM Extras
There is a fair amount of material here, which is genuinely on the disc rather than just linked to the web. Everything is accessed via a Flash-based interface that is reasonably well presented, including random dinosaur facts that pop up from time to time. The only complaint is that it doesn’t appear to be resizable, leading to some very tiny text if you use a larger resolution. The material which can be accessed here includes film stills and wallpaper. There are production notes which include a plot synopsis (obviously pretty brief). There is also cast and crew info (complete with Tea Leoni’s name with an incorrect spelling), and dinosaur info. The interactive side of things includes a trivia game (covering all three movies). Finally there are four Dino Defender and Danger Zone! game demos, which are very basic and very “kiddie” orientated.

Final Thoughts
If you are looking for further story development after the first two movies then you will definitely be disappointed; if you just want throwaway dinosaur action, then there’s probably enough here to entertain you. The disc has enough extras to warrant an excellent score, and is technically very good to boot.

Andy Hall

Updated: Jan 07, 2002

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