Jurassic Park 3

imgresWith the imminent arrival this week of Jurassic World, we continue our look back and cast a critical eye over the third entry in the series, the snappily titled Jurassic Park 3.

The release of the film followed a four year period since The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the first sequel to Jurassic Park, which while not scaling the heights of the original film, was still a monster hit, so to speak. The notable changes for the third film saw Steven Spielberg step aside to allow Joe Johnson to step into the director’s seat, but additionally this was the first of the series not to be based on the work of writer, Michael Crichton.

With a CV as a Visual Effects Artist working on films such as the Star Wars Trilogy, and Raiders of The Lost Ark, Joe Johnson certainly had notable experience working on blockbuster films and as a director, he had shown promise with Jumanji in 1995, from which certain key plot strands of a boy lost in a mystical world find their way into his work on Jurassic Park 3.

The film sticks to what works best in the previous films, dinosaurs chasing hapless civilians around an island. In this case, it’s the island of Isla Sorna, a secondary island set up by billionaire John Hammond as a breeding ground for the main island featured in the first film. The film’s introduction pulls you in with a young boy hand-gliding around the island, who unfortunately crash lands and is declared missing leading to his parents tracking down Dr Alan Grant, played once again by Sam Neil, to help them track down their kid. And thus once again, we find ourselves at the mercy of old friends, the T-Rex, a pack of Raptors and some new additions as well.

Jurassic Park and The Lost World proved that films in this series didn’t need a big star to sell the film, the stars were the dinosaurs. This is the appeal of the films. The release of Jurassic Park in 1993 had introduced CGI on a scale that hadn’t been seen before. For audiences around the world, you were walking hand in hand around the island, and the reactions in cinemas were electric. Steven Spielberg must have kicked himself when he was finally able, in his own words, to make ‘a good sequel to Jaws, on land’.

Looking back, it’s a wonder that upon the release of the first film, dinosaurs had been forgotten in terms of modern –day cinema. The days rampaging beasts on the big screen of One Million Years BC had become extinct, and they were perhaps seen as kitsch to newer audiences, while dinosaurs themselves were left behind in the children’s toy boxes. It took the imagination of writer Michael Crichton to meld together what would be seen a perfect blend for a summer blockbuster.

However, in hindsight, perhaps it should have been expected that a case of diminishing returns would eventually set in by the third film.

And it is at this point, where ‘second sequel syndrome’ kicks in. The success of a good sequel has always been establishing a continuing narrative where people care about what happens next in the story. The 2nd film tried to continue the story of a secondary island and brought back some of the stars of the first film, but really people just wanted more dinosaurs. Unfortunately even a director of the quality of Spielberg struggled to top the set-pieces of the initial film, succeeding sporadically in a fantastic scene with an attack on a trailer, but falling short with an ill-advised trip to the mainland.

By the time of the second sequel, people had their fill of  dinosaurs and didn’t really fancy paying to see a repeat of what had already grown slightly stale in the second film, and they didn’t particularly care about the continuing adventures of Dr Alan Grant or Dr Ian Malcolm.

The problem with Jurassic Park 3 therefore isn’t that it is bad; it’s actually a fairly solid piece of popcorn cinema. The problem is that it’s all it is. There is no story arc to really invest it, and it never scales the height that the first one did, and at certain times the 2nd one did too, thus leaving no room to ever find itself. Everything had already been done in the first film and three films in, there is no wow factor.

The events of the film seem inconsequential following what felt like seismic shocks from the initial films. There is a smaller scale at play. The island is not maintained, there is no monitoring or involvement. It’s almost as if the world in the film has moved on and forgotten dinosaurs all over again. While the pitch for the film is safe, with parents searching for the kid, it’s over and done with pretty quickly and it leaves you back where you started with Jurassic Park, watching people run away from a pack of Raptors once again.

On a viewing level, there is no real spectacle which goes to show that Spielberg hit a home run with the first film. The memory of the key points in the first film hang heavy over this film. The T-Rex reveal, the Raptors teaming up in the kitchen. It all felt so fresh in 1993, and in the sequels there was never a Plan B.

And so, as Jurassic World reaches cinemas on Friday, the question which remains is whether the problems of Jurassic Park 3 will be addressed. The casting of Chris Pratt hints at a choice of a leading man to even out the threat of the dinosaurs becoming the main draw. This could be a wise choice following his star turn in Guardians of The Galaxy, but whether he is a big enough star to stare down a T-Rex remains to be seen until the gates of Jurassic Park open once again.

David Brogan
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