IT’S NOT JUST A WALK IN THE PARK
If you’ve read this article’s predecessor, you’ll know that 1997’s The Lost World was, for me, an acquired taste. It took me a long time to warm to Jurassic’s first sequel — and I very much doubt I’ll ever warm to its latest.
That leaves one film — just one — and, given the title of this article, I’d be surprised if you didn’t know which. In 2001, director Joe Johnston delivered the now infamous Jurassic Park III, and, I’m here to tell you, it’s by far my favourite of the three sequels so far.
I’m not just saying that, not just trying to stand out from the crowd. I realise this admission might have lost me any shred of respect I had amongst a significant portion of Jurassic fans, but I’m being 100% genuine. I am, you might say, one big pile of shitting you not. I love Jurassic Park III, and, if you’ll bear with me, I’ll do my best to explain why.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, a lot of my love for J.P. III comes not from the film itself, but from the time and place surrounding it. The franchise’s second trip to Isla Sorna represents the first time I was fully conscious that a new Jurassic film was coming, and if you consider that, when I was a kid, I had the potential to get roughly 65,000,000 times more enthusiastic about things than I do now, I was pretty damn excited about it.
I lived and breathed J.P. III, obsessing over that incredibly vague initial teaser, and gluing myself to the TV when actual footage began to show up. Eventually — after what felt like about a thousand years — July 2001 finally came along.
I didn’t see Jurassic Park in cinemas because I was two, and — though I’m honestly a little baffled by it, because I remember the ‘Something Has Survived’ marketing campaign very well — I have it on good authority that I didn’t see The Lost World there, either. I did, however, see J.P. III on the big screen. In fact, thanks to a relative who worked at the cinema in question, I saw it at a preview screening shortly before its proper release.
I remember that screening as though it were yesterday — the darkened screen as we waited for the film to start, the soft blue seats — fabric sullied, here and there, by the stain of dried chewing gum (spared some expense…) — the unparalleled excitement… and, frankly, the fear.
I can’t recall exactly how many times I did it, but I pretended to need the toilet with thoroughly suspicious regularity throughout the film because I was completely terrified that the raptors would somehow manage to kill Grant.
I also remember my dad, as the credits rolled, saying that nothing would ever beat the original film.
I could certainly see where he was coming from — even then, I was conscious that Jurassic Park was on an entirely different level — but I’d had, nevertheless, a great time. (Well, with the 75% or so of the film I’d actually seen…)
To this day, watching J.P. III makes me feel exactly as I did then. If Jurassic Park is always wishing that the park will find a way, and The Lost World accepting that a sequel I didn’t want is still a pretty great film, then Jurassic Park III is being taken back to being ten again.
It’s having the veil of adulthood lifted away, and the illusion that — for a little while — Alan Grant surviving Sorna is once again the most important thing in the world. It’s the delirious excitement of the months before the film’s release; it’s the hours spent with the plethora of video games that were published around it — and, yes, it’s also the film itself.
In many ways — given my feelings about Malcolm having been the focus of The Lost World — I was very much predisposed to prefer J.P. III. Whatever you make of it, Grant’s return is a massive factor behind my enjoying the film so much, but it’s certainly not the only reason.
Though it’s unquestionably inferior to that of The Lost World on the whole, in borrowing more from the series’ trademark themes, J.P. III’s soundtrack feels a good deal more familiar than its predecessor’s.
From the opening scene, with its immediate reprisal of the iconic fanfare, it’s like a warm handshake, welcoming you home — and while none of Don Davis’s original contributions are at all bad, they’re well and truly overshadowed by his efforts to echo John Williams. The group’s arrival at Isla Sorna, Alan’s final moments with Ellie, the wonderful reminder that not everything on the island is out to kill as the boat makes its way down the river, the ending…
It’s not, however, all good news — because there’s only one way to describe the weird, off-key rendition of the fanfare that plays over the closing credits: a complete abomination.
‘THAT’S A VERY BAD IDEA!’
Indeed, despite my overall fondness for the film, there’s a fair bit in there that I don’t much care for.
The most general of my issues is how the film looks. I can certainly appreciate the fact that they were going for more of a primordial jungle this time around, but Sorna’s distinct lack of familiarity does, nonetheless, bother me a little. Just as I never felt as though I was back on Isla Nublar with Jurassic World, I never felt as though I was revisiting The Lost World’s Sorna with J.P. III.
There’s no real style to the film, either. In fact, other than the sequence set in the aviary and the final encounter with the spinosaur, it’s a pretty bland affair all-round. Couple this underwhelming cinematography with some very poor animatronic shots, and — in the beginning — some truly atrocious green-screen work, and you have a recipe for visual disappointment.
And speaking of disappointment… Grant’s infamous nightmare… the fact that we finally get to see raptors running out in the open, for all of half-a-second… Eric’s ridiculous recuse of Grant… being able to hear the satellite phone ringing from inside the belly of the spinosaur… that horrendous part of the ending with the suited, megaphone-wielding man standing alone on that beach, with absolutely no hint of the naval forces that arrive mere seconds later…
Jurassic Park III has no shortage of underwhelming moments, and there is, perhaps, an element of hypocrisy in the fact that I can see past these flaws whilst being utterly unable to do the same with Jurassic World’s.
The thing, though, is that with Jurassic World, some of my biggest issues seem to have been intentional — whereas with J.P. III, I feel there was a sincere attempt to make a decent, relatively grounded film with characters considerably more ‘real’ than some of those that would follow them fourteen years later. (The fact that the film runs as smoothly as it does, given that the script was still being written during filming, is a minor miracle.)
‘YOU’RE STILL THE BEST.’
Though I can 100% appreciate why some might have issues with it, I genuinely like how Grant is presented in J.P. III. The fact that his love for dinosaurs has been tempered by Hammond’s ‘theme park monsters’ facilitates one of the most satisfying character arcs in the series. Small and thoroughly missable though it is, ‘My God, I’d forgotten…’ is one of the best moments the Jurassic films have to offer.
And I also, as unpopular as it might be, have a certain appreciation for his not having ended up in a relationship with Ellie.
True, Jurassic Park’s ending seemed to chart their path forward pretty clearly, but there’s a nice element of realism in the fairy tale happily-ever-after not having panned out, and just like Grant’s feelings about dinosaurs, it leads to one of the film’s nicest moments — the classic theme playing softly in the background as the two old friends part ways, as Ellie reminds Grant that he is indeed still the best.
‘YOU MEAN THERE ARE TWO ISLANDS WITH DINOSAURS ON THEM?’
And, truth be told, I have very few problems with the film’s central story, either.
Though you could argue that Eric Kirby getting stranded on Sorna is a bit too convenient, it does, on some level, work with the films that came before. There is, when you think about it, a satisfying through-line to Jurassic’s original trilogy.
Jurassic Park: dinosaurs are secretly resurrected on an isolated island.
The Lost World: dinosaurs are, in fact, roaming freely on an island near the first — and, in spectacular fashion, the public learns of their existence.
Jurassic Park III: people have, predictably, begun to illegally profit off that second island, with disastrous consequences.
Would it have been better if J.P. III had added a few extra minutes to its runtime to further expand the mythology of Sorna? Undoubtedly, but — like I said — I have very few problems with the film’s central story. In fact, the only real issue I have with it concerns a certain species of dinosaur.
Not the velociraptors — because I think (regardless of your opinions on the overall film) we can agree Jurassic Park III delivers some pretty fantastic raptors. No, my issues lie with the film’s misguided attempt to one-up the T. rex: the spinosaurus.
In relentlessly pursuing the characters across the island, it’s the first real instance of one of Jurassic’s dinosaurs being monster first, animal second. (Though I must say that I have absolutely no problem with it taking down that tyrannosaur, and think that it well and truly deserves its place on the film’s logo.)
Fortunately, though, there is — potentially… — a perfect way to make J.P. III’s monstrous spinosaur fit into the franchise just as well as the first three films fit together.
‘THIS IS HOW YOU PLAY GOD…’
Though more or less accurate to the science of its time, Jurassic’s spinosaurus is distinctly inaccurate to modern interpretations of the animal. Rather than running about the place like an oversized T. rex, spinosaurus is today considered to have dwelled primarily in water, adopting a more horizontal posture as opposed to the upright one seen in J.P. III.
On one hand, this can be seen to date the film, but, on the other, I think it presents a perfect opportunity to tie it more intimately to Jurassic World.
What if, you see, the spinosaur was retconned as being the first hybrid? What if it was established that Dr. Wu had taken a baryonyx or a suchomimus as a base, and tried to create a spinosaur accurate to how it was known at the time? It would certainly account for the animal’s monstrous behaviour…
Given that there’s absolutely no hint of this in J.P. III itself, it’s not a perfect solution, but I think it could work, bringing — just like the fact that Hoskins would end up dealing with the pteranodons that escaped at the end — Jurassic’s second trilogy a little more in line with its first.
But I’m getting off-topic. This article was supposed to be about Jurassic Park III as it is, not as it might be — and I think, on that score, I’ve said pretty much all I have to.
I’ll never argue with the fact that, when it comes right down to it, the other films in the series are a good deal more competently made than the third. Certainly, in not having a finished script when shooting began, it’s a lesson in how not to make a film — but I love it still.
As I said above, it takes me right back to being a kid again. It lifts away the veil of adulthood, creates the illusion that Alan Grant surviving Sorna is once again the most important thing in the world — and that, friends, is a world I find infinitely preferable to the one we’re stuck with now.
It’s much more than just a walk in the park.