"Jurassic Park III" marks neither an improvement nor much of a variation on the lucrative dinosaurs-go-amok franchise created by Michael Crichton and brought to the cinema by Steven Spielberg. Although soaked in as much pseudo-scientific jargon, philosophical ponderings and interpersonal drama as the filmmakers were able to manage without turning everything into pure hokum, "JP III" is little more than a glorified slasher movie, albeit with nonhuman villains.
Having watched the fearsome dinos gobble up various bad guys (apparently, the critters don't like the taste of women and children) in the first two flicks, the remaining suspense lies in wondering who will get chomped next, and how. The thrill is gone -- along with Spielberg, who merely executive-produced this time, turning over directorial duties to family-film veteran Joe Johnston ("October Sky," "Jumanji").
The bulk of the $100-million-plus budget must have been spent on the special effects, computer-generated and otherwise. Yes, the monsters look great. The jump-in-your-seat moments, though, aren't nearly as plentiful as in the 1993 original (which admittedly benefited from being the first of its kind).
As in most terror tales, this one opens with a scary prologue -- a taste of death to come featuring a couple of characters whose significance isn't explained until later. A man and a 12-year-old boy (Trevor Morgan) are parasailing off the coast of Isla Sorna, that "other" island populated with dinos created from fossil DNA. They hopes to catch a glimpse of a Velociraptor, or maybe even a Tyrannosaurus Rex.
"Not too close," warns the boat's driver. "You don't want to be eaten."
One heavy fog, a couple of mysterious jolts and a loud crash later, and a certain someone's fears have been realized (off screen). The message is the same as before: Don't mess with Mother Nature. And if it's too late to avoid that sin, don't mess with manmade nature.
Advancing that philosophy is the job of a screenwriting team that includes Crichton, rookie Peter Buchman and "Election" scribes Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor. Why did they sign up for this junk?
William H. Macy (another talent sucked in by the payday) and Tea Leoni are at the center of the film as Paul and Amanda, a dysfunctional married couple searching for their son, who was left stranded on Isla Sorna after an accident. The pair -- so annoying that they clearly deserve a serious chomping -- have conned esteemed paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill) into returning to the dreaded island, along with his rather reckless assistant, Billy (Alessandro Nivola). Also signed up for the trip is a group of gun-toting tough guys, including one wisecracking character played by Michael Jeter ("The Green Mile").
New to the concept: The ornery, fearsome Spinosaurus and the mean, flying (and fictitious) Pteranodons. A Spino and a T-Rex get into a slap-happy fight that recalls the work of stop-motion-animation legend Ray Harryhausen.
"This is how you play God," Grant opines, alluding to the entire dino-creation disaster. Would that Spielberg might offer a little divine intervention and make the series extinct before nature takes its course.