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When Jurassic Park III was announced as a project that Steven Spielberg would not be directing (he serves as executive producer only), many of the fans of the first two were disappointed with the news. The anticipation and excitement for the third film suddenly seemed to disappear. Was the dinosaur fad extinct?

I hope not, because fortunately the Jurassic Park series hasn’t gone the way of Jaws or Poltergeist, Spielberg hits whose sequels, with which he had little or nothing to do, became more and more horrendous. As for Jurassic Park, however, this third entry is every bit as suspenseful as the other two, especially when you consider how quickly we’ve grown accustomed to effects that were groundbreaking seven years ago.

No Safety Net

Joe Johnston's Dinosaur, with co-star Sam NeillSometimes the net of sentimentality draped over Spielberg’s films can be a little saccharine, even when the story line naturally bends toward a darker direction. Steven Spielberg movies are dreams and never nightmares (lets not forget that DreamWorks is the name of his Production Studio).

Jurassic Park III breaks that mold. It is more of a dinosaur movie than the other two in that it’s more vicious and primitive, in both technique and story. That is both good and bad, but if you’ve been looking for a more jolting ride in the Jurassic Theme Park, then this may be the main attraction.

The fun opens with a young boy and man parasailing near the island of the dinosaurs, where the experiments from Jurassic Park II took place. As they sail into the air off the rear of the boat and float high above the ocean, the mist beneath them obstructs their view below. When their umbilical line begins to tug at them, in a way reminiscent of the opening scene of Jaws, the clouds clear to reveal that the boat is about to crash. To save themselves, the two tourists unclip themselves from the line, and sail off to land on Dinosaur Island.

The sequence is a nice way to say goodbye to the embryonic warmth of Spielberg’s first two films. Jurassic Park III aims from the start to be a leaner, meaner sequel, and it succeeds.

More Dinosaurs, Less Humans

From there, the story picks up with Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) delivering a lecture in hopes of finding the rarest of all artifacts — funding. Clearly haunted by his first-hand experiences on the island from the first film, Grant is currently focusing his research on the infamous Raptors. His hypothesis reveals that Raptors, not humans, could very easily have been the dominant species of the planet. His supporters are incredulous, to say the least. A brief appearance by Laura Dern (who played Dr. Ellie Satler in the first film) links the sequel to its original, and away we go. When a wealthy married couple (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) proposition Dr. Grant to be their tour guide on a flight over the island, their offer to finance his struggling dig motivates him to face his fears.

I won’t say much more about the plot. The story isn’t full of a lot of surprises, but it doesn’t need to be. The dinosaurs are the real attraction here, so wasting time on an overly developed story is really a moot point. That doesn’t mean the script isn’t smart. There are several very clever winks to some of Steven Spielberg’s previous hits, namely Jaws, and a very deft subtext beneath the camp and fun that keep alive the spirit of the first two.

Special Effects Carry a Film?

Jurassic Park III was directed by Joe Johnston (October Sky, Jumanji, and Honey I Shrunk the Kid). His background as a special effects artist, along with his previous films, demonstrates his gifted imagination. He does not shy away from the intensity that special effects can bring. In fact, his creatures tip toward the anthropomorphic. Jurassic Park III places the dinosaurs on center stage. They fight, they fly, heck, they even analyze.

The human drama of the first two is included only as an afterthought in this film. Maybe that’s not enough to support the film for some, or even most. But if you’re looking for a more horrific experience, and you’re willing to toss aside pretensions of believable human drama for creature feature suspense and a little Freudian psychology, than Jurassic Park III is the dinosaur movie for you.