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Thursday, September 27, 2012

Fishing in the Discount Bin - Jurassic Park III

Welcome back to Fishing in the Discount Bin, my weekly column where I rant about one of the many, many DVDs, VHS tapes, and Blu-Rays that make up my home video library.  Today, we get to the overlooked Jurassic Park film, Jurassic Park III.  This entry is originally dated February 19, 2012.

So I recently picked up the Jurassic Park trilogy on Blu-Ray, and I spent a lazy Sunday doing a marathon screening of the entire trilogy.  Some quick thoughts:

Jurassic Park - Once every 10 or 15 years, a movie comes along that's such a gigantic leap forward in special effects that the entire world has to pick up their jaws from off the floor and ask, "How did they do that?"  Jurassic Park is one such film.  I'm surprised it doesn't have a bigger fandom.  It probably does...I'm just no good at seeking out fandoms on the Internet.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park - Hadn't seen it since I saw it in the theatres way back in 1997.  I forgot Vince Vaughn was in it.  Back when Swingers first made him big, he did a lot of serious stuff before going back to the comedy that got him famous.  It's got great special effects, but the whole "been there, done that" feeling hangs over the film.

And that brings us to Jurassic Park III.  This really is kind of the bastard stepchild of the franchise.  Largely forgotten, it came out long after the fad of the first film had died down.  Most of the creative team from the first two films didn't have much to do with it, such as director Steven Spielberg, who just stepped back and served as executive producer.  But I still think Spielberg brought in a great guy to direct.

Joe Johnson is one of those directors who flies under a lot of folks' radar, but he's done lots of good stuff.  He made his debut with Honey, I Shrunk The Kids...he did The Rocketeer, Jumanji and this past summer's adaptation of Captain America.  As the legend goes, and as confirmed in the Blu-Ray bonus features, after seeing the first one, Johnson got Spielberg on the phone and said, "Dude, please let me do the sequel!"  Of course, Spielberg did the second one, but when the time rolled around to do #3, Spielberg got Johnson on the phone and said, "Hey...still want to do the sequel?"  Johnson said yes.

I remember the stories at the time...it was a troubled production and they touch upon it in some of the bonus features.  Basically, 6 weeks before filming, they decided to throw out their script and start over.  It was one of those cases where they were writing the script while they were filming, which can sometimes be disastrous.  It might even explain why Jurassic Park III is the shortest in the franchise.  The first two are 2 hours long...#3 clocks in at 90 minutes.

So the film opens with some tourists paragliding off the coast of Isla Sorna...the islands where the dinosaurs live.  For those who never saw the second film, it was revealed that there was a second island called "Site B."  While Jurassic Park was "for the tourists," Site B was where the bulk of their genetic research and raising of dinosaurs took place.  While all the dinosaurs at Jurassic Park eventually died off, the dinosaurs at Isla Sorna/Site B were turned loose and left to fend for themselves.  And they thrived. 

Anyway, the paragliders.  Dinosaurs eat the boat that's towing them and the paragliders crash on Isla Sorna.

We then cut to our hero of the first film, Dr. Alan Grant, played once again by Sam Neill.  He's playing with a kid in a sandbox, trying to educate the tyke about dinosaurs, when they're joined by Dr. Ellie Satler, once again played by Laura Dern.  She was Grant's girlfriend in the first film, you may remember.  While we, the audience, are led to believe that they've have settled into domesticity, we quickly learn that Satler is actually married to someone else, but she and Grant have managed to remain close friends and colleagues.  From here, Grant heads off to give a lecture on his latest discoveries on dinosaurs.  He opens up the floor to questions, but he's quick to mention he will not be answering questions about Jurassic Park or "the incident in San Diego, which [he] had nothing to do with."  (That's the end of the second film, for those who missed it.)  One smart-ass grad student asks that isn't all of his work moot at this point because, once Site B is opened up to scientific research, no one will dig for fossils anymore.  Grant answer that the beasts that roam Site B aren't true dinosaurs, but genetically modified theme park attractions, and that no force on Earth would get him to that island.

Grant heads back to his latest paleontological dig, and meets up with his grad student/sidekick Billy.  Billy had been doing some analysis of velociraptor skulls, and playing with a 3D printer, has developed kind of a "raptor call" to impress Grant with.  While at their dig, Grant and Billy are soon approached by Paul Kirby, a wealthy businessman, and his wife Amanda.  They are thrill-seekers, and ask if Grant would play tour guide on an aereal tour of Site B.  Grant is heavily reluctant, but the promise of a huge-ass research grant is too much to turn down, and Grant and Billy are off to Isla Sorna. 

When they reach Isla Sorna, Grant starts acting as tour guide, but starts to get panicky when the Kirbys and the rest on their flight start talking about landing.  Grant tries to stop them, but he's rendered unconscious.  He wakes up to find that they've landed.  He tries to convince them to leave, but they refuse to, until one of their crew starts running out of the jungle screaming, They hop in the plane, but they are prevented from taking off by the new villain of the film...the Spinosaurus. 

I've got to say, the Spinosaurus has to be my favourite villain dinosaur in the film.  While the T-Rex was portrayed as just an animal following its instincts, the Spinosaurus is just a mean SOB.  He's a lot more viscous and brutal than the T-Rex.  The Spinorsaurus stops the plane from flying off, eats most of the crew, and our heroes manage to escape when the Spinosaurus stops to fight a T-Rex.

That's when the truth comes out.  The Kirbys aren't wealthy business owners.  Paul runs a small hardware store.  He's divorced from Amanda.  The paragliders were Paul and Amanda's son and Amanda's new boyfriend.  Getting no help from the US Government to help rescue their son, they mortgaged everything to hire a bunch of mercenaries to storm the island.  The mercs recommended bringing along a dinosaur expert, so that's why they tricked Grant into coming along. 

So they meet up with those infamous velociraptors and Grant gets seperated from the rest of the group, but he does manage to find Eric...that's Paul and Amanda's son.  Amanda's boyfriend died, BTW.  Eric managed to set up a nice little survival bunker for himself and has been hiding out.  They soon reunite with the rest of their group, and they meet up with that evil Spinosaurus once again.

I've got to say, I love this one gag.  When the Spinosaurus ate one of the mercs, the merc was carrying a satallite phone.  And, in a great variation of the ticking clock inside the crocodile in Peter Pan, our heroes are alerted the Spinosaurus's presence when they hear the satalite phone's annoying ringtone from inside the Spinosaurus. 

They escape from the Spinosaurus and hide out in a mysterious, large building.  That's when Billy makes his shocking confession:  when they were running from the raptors, he actually managed to steal some raptor eggs, with the intent of selling them when they return to the mainland to fund their dig.  Grant is disgusted by this, calling Billy no better than the people who built Jurassic Park.  They make their way through the building, which turns out to be an aviary.  That's right, in the entire trilogy, they finally get attacked by pterodactyls!  Trying to redeem himself in the eyes of his mentor, though, Billy makes the ultimate sacrifice to save Eric. 

They manage to get to a boathouse and sail down the river to the coastline, where they'll be the safest while awaiting rescue.  Along the way, they hear that ominous ringtone again, but are relieved to see that the Spinosaurus has pooped it out.  They go sifting through the piles of dino dung to find the phone so they can call for help.  They return to the boat, and have one last final confrontation with the Spinosaurus.  But, during the battle, Grant is able to get one desperate call to Ellie asking for help. 

With the Spinosaurus defeated, our heroes make their way for the coastline, but are once again confronted by the raptors.  Grant reasons that the raptors don't want to hunt them...they just want their eggs back.  When Grant gets the eggs out of his bag, he also finds the "raptor call" that Billy made for them.  Grant is able to use the call to confuse the raptors, so the raptors just take their eggs and leave. 

Did I mention that Ellie's husband works for the US state department?  Because when our heroes make it back to the coast, they find a US aircraft carrier and a platoon of Marines arriving to rescue them.  They also discover that Billy survived, and was rescued by the Marines.  It then ends as all the Jurassic Park films end...with our heroes flying safely away from the island.  Oh, and Paul and Amanda are now totally reconciled because nothing reignite the spark in a marriage like many near-death experiences in a quest to save your son.

I dunno...this one is good.  I mean, like a lot of third films in franchises, you can tell they're out of ideas and just kind of going through the paces, so there's lots of that going on.  But the special effects are still amazing, the Spinosaurus is a great new villainous addition to the franchise.  The new characters are not too bad.  William H. Macy does his typical thing as Paul, who quickly realizes he's way, way, way out of his element when they're stuck on the island.  And Tea Leoni as Amanda...not gonna lie, she was one of my top celebrity crushes back in the 1990s, so it's just nice seeing her. 

In the end, I guess it's just my same reaction to Terminator 3.  It's good, but in the grand scheme, unnecessary. 

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