Franchise Expansion (Or Implosion): Jurassic Park III

by Ben Martin

Franchise Expansion (or Implosion) is a column that looks at franchises that have new installments or releases forthcoming. In looking at a franchise, each entry in a franchise will be given a review and then be examined as part of the bigger franchise. (i.e., Was this sequel a worthy expansion of this franchise or was it an implosion of sorts?)]

This time around I’ll be examining the Jurassic Franchise! The fifth installment in the series, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is in theaters now. With that in mind, let’s take one last trip to the Park before it becomes a World with Jurassic Park III!

The junior entry in any franchise can prove to be a tricky one. Much of the time, the second sequel represents a change of some sort; be in tone or story. That’s the case with Jurassic Park III (2001). While the previous installment, The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) was a financial success; it was a failure with much of the audience. Thus, Universal Pictures decided to try something different with the next entry as they knew the film series was still viable. It wouldn’t be enough to let Jurassic Park: The Ride, operating at Universal Studios Theme Parks and merchandising keep the brand alive.

This impetus to doing something different with Jurassic Park was no doubt bolstered by the fact that Steven Spielberg (Ready Player One) chose not to return as director. In my estimation, I think such a choice had a great deal with Spielberg’s creative impulses after 1993. Post-Schindler’s List (1993), it seems to me that Spielberg didn’t want to make fun and magical movies any longer. Instead, the director who created the summer blockbuster with Jaws (1975) seems more interested in helming serious fare to this day. That isn’t to say Spielberg washed his hands of the dino dung; he and co-producer, Kathleen Kennedy (Solo: A Star Wars Story) still shepherded the movie in review in a productorial capacity. Therefore directorial duties on JP3 went the gentleman who had vied for them to no avail on The Lost World; Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer; Captain America: The First Avenger).
Although he was technically qualified, Johnston and crew had a difficult road ahead of them. The first stretch of which involved finding a story for the third Jurassic adventure. Logically, Michael Crichton was brought in to help develop a story. Alas, even though the author had created the novels on which the previous films were respectively based; he and the multitude of screenwriters just couldn’t find a narrative with which they were satisfied. However, Spielberg had an idea for a story which he pitched to Johnston. Said story involved Dr. Alan Grant living on one of InGen’s islands to study dinosaurs; living in a tree like Robinson Crusoe. Despite the story coming from on-high, Johnston rejected the idea because he couldn’t imagine Grant engaging in such behavior following the first film.
Following that, another script was developed in which a Pteranodon escapes from Isla Sorna and is suspected of being responsible for a series of mysterious killings on the mainland. These killings were then investigated by Grant and other characters. This second screenplay was given the green light. However, a mere five weeks before shooting began, the entire script was tossed out by Johnston and Spielberg as Johnston felt that the story was too complicated. At that point, $18 million had already been spent in pre-production. Sometimes, creative spontaneity can be great; but in this case, it led to a rush to get a script written. A script which focused on a group of teenagers marooned on Isla Sorna. Presumably, such a scenario would’ve had a slasher tone with dinosaurs standing in for a masked murderer. Alas, as cool as they would’ve been, the screenplay was ultimately formed into an unfinished screenplay which the movie became.
Jurassic Park III brings back Dr. Alan Grant, with Sam Neill reprising his role. One day, Grant is contacted by a couple, Paul (William H. Macy) and Amanda Kirby (Téa Leoni). The Kirbys have a proposition for the paleontologist. The couple offers to pay for his research if he guides them on an aerial tour of Isla Sorna (Site B from The Lost World.) Despite his suspicions of the Kirby’s motives, Grant and his assistant Billy (Alessandro Nivola) agree to take the seemingly easy gig. However, when the plane crashes on the island, Grant and the group must survive where the dinosaurs thrive!

As you probably deduced from that synopsis, this third movie’s plot is much more simplistic than those of its predecessors. More accurately, the tone of this story is that of a straight-up B movie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that; in fact, I think it’s the correct tact to take. Jurassic Park III attempts to correct the mistakes of the franchise’s previous installment. As such, the cast and crew try to bring the fun, the majesty and the likable characters back to this particular entry. The tone is made evident right off the bat. The logos for Universal and Amblin Entertainment have the water glass ripple effect over them. Furthermore, the III in the film’s title is slashed in by dino claws. In other words, Jurassic Park III intends to be a purely fun adventure.

I’ll give the film some credit in that I feel its earnest attempt to be an entertaining B picture is not a complete failure. For one, Jurassic Park III succeeds in having likable characters; particularly the Kirbys. Furthermore, these characters are played by actors who clearly want to be there and who having fun. By that token alone; this film avoids being a dour endeavor. Beyond the human cast, the film has one or two fun action sequences featuring dino cast counterparts. And all of it is brightly-lit and well shot by cinematographer Shelly Johnson (of this year’s The Hurricane Heist). Alas, that fine cinematography showcases one of this movie’s fatal flaws.

I hate to say it, but the majority of the dinosaurs in this flick look terrible! While the creature animatronics were once again designed Stan Winston in conjunction with visual effects artist; all the dinosaurs in this flick look very cheap. For example, there is a sequence which involves a dinosaur attacking a plan. But, instead of looking like a realistic dinosaur; it’s clearly an animatronic dinosaur puppet. And if that sounds like it could be charming, it’s not.

In fact, except for the cinematography, everything about this movie looks low-rent, particularly the set design. Despite being the most expensive film in the series at the time, costing $75 million; Jurassic Park III looks slightly better than your run-of-the-mill SyFy Original. As I was watching this movie on Blu-Ray, I kept thinking, “Damn, it’s hard to believe that this was a summer tentpole movie released by a major studio.” Frankly, this film is just not well made. More precisely,  it’s evident that the movie’s director and the majority of its crew were in over their heads.

This film’s biggest issue, though, is a glaring one; even more so than the lighting that shows off those cheap jungle sets. This movie is incredibly dull for the majority of its runtime. While the first half hour works perfectly well, JP3 quickly devolves into a repetitive chase movie. There’s not much new here outside of a few dinosaurs we hadn’t seen previously. It seems impossible that a film involving dinosaurs should be so tedious to watch, but this movie is just that. I appreciate everyone involved trying to make a fun movie. However, the best intentions sometimes fail, as does Jurassic Park III.

Back when this movie was released in July 2001, I was very excited to see it. Then again, I had spent that summer in a leg cast,  recovering from surgery. As a result, Jurassic Park III was one of the only movies I saw theatrically that summer. At the time, one of my best friends to this day admittedly enjoyed this movie. But hey, we were twelve and probably the target audience for this particular sequel. Alas, the problems of  Jurassic Park III are evident to me now; particularly since the movie has not aged well. Moreover, it’s a definite dud and a Franchise Implosion!
Unlike adolescent me, Universal knew this at the time. Therefore, the studio knew that they needed to be careful with the next entry in the franchise. Maybe that’s why the studio, Spielberg and many creatives went through dozens of iterations that never made it to pre-production. Or perhaps that’s why it took fourteen years for another Jurassic adventure to make it to the silver screen. Will that particular picture revive the life of this franchise?

Find out next time when I share my thoughts on JURASSIC WORLD!

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