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Jurassic Park III (2001)
Rated PG13

Starring: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, and Téa Leoni

Rating:
**1/2
out of
*****

In 1993, the original Jurassic Park wowed moviegoers with on-screen dinosaurs the likes of which had never been seen before. Animals that hadn't walked the Earth for millions of years were (seemingly) alive and terrorizing the cast. The film packed theaters and sold a lot of popcorn. I actually went to see the movie twice. Once to watch the movie and the second time to admire the dinosaur effects.

1997 brought The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the inevitable sequel. In four short years, CGI effects had become commonplace and the dinosaurs failed to amaze like before. The fact that the storyline was clichéd and the acting quite wooden didn't help things either. Still, it packed theaters and sold a lot of popcorn. (I only went once and still haven't seen it a second time.)

2001 brought Jurassic Park III, the still-inevitable sequel. The first two films were based, albeit loosely, on the books by Michael Crichton. Jurassic Park III was written directly for the screen by no less than three people, which usually means problems. In fact, shooting began on the film before the script was completed, which is also not a good sign. Alas, those problems show up on screen as Jurassic Park III is a mindless film that does what it can with what is has to work with but ultimately winds up being more of the same ole' stuff.

Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), having survived his encounter with the dinosaurs of Dr. Hammond's Jurassic Park, has gone back to digging up fossilized dinosaurs and begging for grants to continue his research. No one seems to want to know about the dinosaurs of the past anymore. They want to know about Grant's experiences at Jurassic Park or about the events at Site B and San Diego (from the second film). Grant declares at a fundraising seminar that real dinosaurs exist only in fossils and that the dinosaurs he'd dealt with on Isla Nubar were genetic amusement park attractions and not worthy of scientific study. Nothing, he claims, would make him want to return to the island he'd barely escaped before.

Enter the Kirbys (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni), a rich, married couple who offer Grant the opportunity to write whatever check he'd like for his research if he'll be a tour guide for a fly-over of the dinosaur-inhabited island. Grant reluctantly agrees, but soon finds that the Kirbys are not who they say they are. Unfortunately, he finds out shortly before the plane they're on crashes onto Isla Sorna, the Site B from The Lost World. Once again, Dr. Grant must lead a team of paleontology-impared civilians to safety or face being lunch for a number of different dinosaurs, including a few new creatures not seen in the previous films.

Bringing back Sam Neill as Dr. Grant, who'd skipped the first sequel, adds a little weight this time out. William H. Macy is always dependable and his character is truly worth watching for the humorous anecdotes he gets to spout. Unfortunately, everything else in Jurassic Park III is strictly mediocre. Except, of course, for the special effects, which are outstanding to say the least. The plot-device to get Grant and company to the island is threadbare and hokey. Casting Michael Jeter as a mercenary with heavy weaponry is farcical. And, someone, please tell me how Téa Leoni gets cast in anything. Director Joe Johnston is simply not Steven Spielberg, who only served as Executive Producer on this outing. In its favor, the running time is mercifully short.

Since Jurassic Park III did nearly $200 million in business, it's probably a safe bet that Jurassic Park IV will be released in 2005 -- if the four year span between the first and second and second and third films is to be trusted. Hopefully, someone can write a decent script between now and then.

Trivia: The effects crew used 250 gallons of oatmeal to simulate Spinosaur droppings. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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