Plagued by the release date being postponed for a year, and the first film in the successful Jurassic Park franchise to not be helmed by the acclaimed Steven Spielberg, it’s little wonder that the most recent (albeit over a decade old) Jurassic Park film is considered the most hated of the current trilogy by fans far and wide. With the impending release of Jurassic World next summer, and the first glimpse of a trailer at the end of November, it’s time we revisited the sweeping vistas and dense jungles of Isla Sorna to truly give Jurassic Park 3 a second chance.
Released eight years after the original Jurassic Park film, and with only two of the original cast members returning (notwithstanding Ellie in a cast-off token role as the Deus Ex Machina, or at least his wife), it’s easy to toss off Jurassic Park 3 as just another sequel cash-in on a weathered franchise that probably should have stayed extinct in the ’90s. Jurassic Park 3 is both a fond wave goodbye from Spielberg to classic fans at the peak of the trilogy, and at that time was also his gateway of opportunity to break out into a new trilogy of dinosaur park movies. However, those dreams evidently flew off into the same sunset as the Pteranodons that disappeared off to new nesting grounds at the curtain call of Jurassic Park 3.
Rogert Ebert claimed that JP3’s greatest charms are the potential to still thrill in a cheap B-Movie way, and its satisfying knowledge of how not to overstay its welcome with a thrifty running time short of 90 minutes. It’s evident that this sequel is the dying effort of a jaded director/executive producer longing for the heyday of his classic releases winning acclaim with fans. Sadly for Spielberg and Joe Johnston, the audience reception of Jurassic Park 3 at the time pretty much reflected the changes in the cinematic industry with the turn of the century. Gone were the ’90s classics of GoodFellas, Forrest Gump and Pulp Fiction – a decade of cinema opportunities for director experimentation and narrative free choice, a film scene which was then replaced by the blockbuster spectacles of Fellowship of the Ring, Gladiator and Crouching Tiger. This transition from experimental cinema towards big money productions, aided by a surge in DVD home cinema formats, is just one of the many reasons that it failed to meet expectations despite the largest budget for a Jurassic Park film to date.
Nevertheless Ebert was right in stating that Jurassic Park 3 was “the best blockbuster of the summer,” and even that it can be considered to be the best of the last ’90s blockbusters despite mistakenly ending up released in 2001.
The two most striking parts of a Jurassic Park film are those of the most basic childhood elements, a sense of awe and a focus on adventure. We are treated to both aplenty as director Joe Johnston takes us on a romp back to Site B, the location of previous sequel The Lost World. This time a teenager and the toyboy of his divorced mother disappear whilst parasailing close to the island, and Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) is shanghaied unexpectedly into a rescue mission by the divorced parents, and made to revisit Las Cinco Muertes.
Jurassic Park 3 plays out best as a B-movie, and will be most enjoyed if you try detaching yourself from the convolutedly erratic narrative. It doesn’t matter that there just happens to be dinosaurs on the island that aren’t in any of the official records, such as the spinosaurus, or that the group stumble across the Hatchery or Pteranodon Aviary with no directions on a massive island (and no mention of any of these structures in the previous movie, The Lost World, which took place on the same island. Surely John Hammond would have warned Ian Malcolm about the potential flying death before the team shipped out?). Jurassic Park 3 is essentially a merry old romp through the woodland with a bunch of completely new characters, who laughingly get eaten by the local fauna in an order eerily similar to that of a budget horror movie. The black bodyguard dies, the one with a foreign accent dies, the screaming mother impedes the party’s progress, and this all sounds strikingly similar to Jurassic Park meets Final Destination.
It’s whimsically brilliant that every action in the film only serves to further the plot, with Dr. Grant easily finding the missing teenager, or the party miraculously finding an open (but well-protected and defensive) building to hide in when less than 10 seconds from the teeth of a spinosaurus. Jurassic Park 3 is action at its most grandiose, and as an audience we’ve only been treated to such romps in recent years from sparse episodes of Primeval on ITV. The plausibility of JP3’s narrative is almost as laughable as Dr. Grant mythically conversing with velociraptors, or the rapid appearance of the US Marine Corps and the film getting wrapped up in a matter of minutes (a shorter time than a cinema toilet break; you could leave during the raptor attack and return during the credits in vast confusion. Maybe they were all eaten?).
Despite the many aforementioned nitpicks and briefly flaunted exploration into the background of Jurassic Park 3, it’s worth a second chance purely because it is Jurassic Park 3.
“But why?”, you may cry.
Remember that sense of awe when John Williams’ overwhelming score first seeped in during a wide shot of a brachiosaurus in Jurassic Park? Remember the fear as Goldblum and his ex-girlfriend were chased through a dinosaur graveyard and his estranged daughter clocked a raptor in the jaw through some swish acrobatics? Remember that sense of childish adventure walking through the woodland with your parents, where any number of imagined creatures could be hiding behind the next corner? This is Jurassic Park 3, and despite all of its shortcomings, it still manages to retain the core essence of a franchise that drew in an audience almost a decade previously, despite perhaps losing one or two things along the way. Shouldn’t that be enough for us to forgive Jurassic Park 3? With so many films now losing their focus in burgeoning spin-offs and sequels (looking at you Toy Story 4), our journey back to Las Cinco Muertes always retains that same sense of awe and adventure you had as a child. With Jurassic World released next summer, my – and no doubt your – inner child awaits in fear and delight.