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'Jurassic Park III'

Third 'Jurassic Park' is far from a charm

Wednesday, July 18, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

Among various intriguing things in "Jurassic Park III" is an assurance in the credits that "no animal was harmed in the making of this film." It raises several questions:

1. How can you harm an animatronic or computer-generated dinosaur? Aesthetically? Philosophically?

2. Did any animal other than Homo sapiens go undetected by me in the film's (rather chintzy) 88 minutes?

3. Dividing those humans into cast and crew, the former may deserve protection from dinos, but do the latter from critics?

I'm cross as two sticks, as Tennessee Williams would say, at the writers and director, whose names aren't well known. Give me a minute and I'll look them up. We'll be delaying their flaying.

'Jurassic Park III'

RATING: PG-13 for intense sci-fi terror and violence.

STARRING: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Tea Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan.

DIRECTOR: Joe Johnston.




Meantime, I'm even more cross at the executive producer, whose name I do know: It's Steven Spielberg, and he should be ashamed of himself for failing to exercise quality control over anything -- such as common plot-sense -- but the almighty F/X.

"JP3" goes like this:

Dr. Grant (Sam Neill), paleontologist extraordinaire, is still deeply traumatized and deeply principled from getting his Jurassic kicked in the first "JP" debacle of '93 (he skipped the second, of '97). Since then, dino-clone funding has evaporated, as do Grant's trauma and principles when Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) offer him a blank check to be the guide on their anniversary-trip-of-a-lifetime aerial tour of Isla Sorna off Costa Rica -- Dinoland!

The Kirbys' ruse is exposed when they break the rules, land on the forbidden island, and she instantly starts screaming "Eric!" through a bullhorn -- thereby summoning hungry dinosaurs instead of Eric, who is their lost son and the real reason for tricking Grant into coming along to help find and rescue him.

If nothing else, there's no waiting around for the action in this yarn: Dr. Grant is understandably annoyed when, right off the bat, the dinos make mincemeat of his pilot and fried fritters of his fuselage. But instead of hurling this idiotic woman and her estranged hubby to T-rex, Grant feels their pain and agrees to join their search for sonny.

With Paul and Amanda for a gene pool, we'd expect Eric to be Jughead at best, but he turns out to be a clever survivor of dinos and parents alike, it being a toss-up as to which are more hazardous to his well-being.

Mamma mia -- Tea! -- the quintessential dumb woman who keeps getting herself and the men in trouble. You thought her type went out with Eisenhower? Leoni has said her character's got "a little Rambo in her." But it's got a little more Bimbo and Dumbo.

Pappa Macy, by contrast, is more believably equipped to deal with all these Jurassic exigencies by virtue of his occupational skills as a tile salesman in Enid, Okla.

Suddenly, in the middle of their life-and-death dino-dodging, our attention is diverted to "The Prehistoric Days of Our Lives," and we're supposed to care about saving this lying, scheming, dysfunctional duo's marriage. I dearly wanted to see them become the dino-dinner special. Professionally prohibited from telling you if they do or don't, I suppose you can guess from my pique.

Speaking of pique, I just looked up director Joe Johnston, whose previous films include "Honey, I Shrunk the Kids," "Jumanji" and "October Sky" -- all decent enough. But more important in his resume is the fact he was special and/or visual effects designer for Lucas' "Star Wars" trilogy as well as Spielberg's "Raiders of the Lost Ark" and "Indiana Jones." His assignment to direct "JP3" thus seems a payoff for past technical services rendered.

Indeed, as we'd expect, Johnston provides F/X out the wazoo. Some are terrific -- notably, several close encounters of the velociraptors kind after Grant's sidekick Billy (Alessandro Nivola) poaches two raptor eggs. Royally PO'd, these raptors know how to communicate with each other and set traps for humans by sly use of their cell phones -- the humans', not the raptors'. Verizon telemarketers haven't hit them up yet but presumably soon will.

The grand finale involves an exciting if preposterous airborne attack-chase by (fictitious) pteranodons -- and final appearance by T-rex in the rain, looking much like the great Carnegie Museum mural.

But by and large, Johnston is stuck with a mess of a story. Full discredit for that goes to the scripting trio of Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, whose characters and conflicts are all cardboard and cartoon. They inject ludicrous melodrama into near-ludicrous science fiction.

Neill is a long-in-tooth Dinosaur Dundee. Macy and Leoni are insufferable. Handsome Nivola succeeds at being handsome. At least Trevor Morgan is quietly dignified as the kid.

At its full-house preview, a smattering of applause and sitting ovation greeted the end of this fairly entertaining but truly jurassinine film.

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