Director Steven Spielberg revolutionized special effects with 1994's "Jurassic Park", which brought believably mobile and realistic looking dinosaurs to the big screen. Only a couple of years later though, Spielberg's sequel floundered - the name alone brought record crowds into theaters, but few could stand the relative lack of action and the nearly 40 minute buildup till anything intense showed.
Although the second film dissapointed audiences, its grosses made it obvious that a third picture should be made. Come this year, Spielberg was a bit busy though - not only was he directing "A.I.", but he was about to skip forward onto "Minority Report". Obviously, a few years had passed and the amount of time that was left to make a sequel was starting to drain out. The choice of Joe Johnston ("Jumanji") was made and soon after, shooting began, but this would be a film that would take a different way when it came to storytelling.
Where the other pictures were content to offer character development and a large chunk of buildup, Johnson follows a similar method to Renny Harlin's "Deep Blue Sea" - simply introduce the characters, isolate them and send in the villians. The remainder is simply action scene after action scene, with a little bit of breathing room in-between to not wipe out the audience.
The film opens with Eric(Trevor Morgan) and his stepfather going parasailing off the coast of Isla Sorna, home to the dinos of the first feature. Of course, they're still there and the duo crash land into the middle of the forest. The boy's parents, Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) trick Alan Grant (Sam Neill, from the first film) into being their island guide as they fly over the island - they simply have "forgotten" to tell him that they're actually going to land. The only question is - will they actually get off the island in the plane? The answer is obviously not, and it's only a matter of minutes before we're introduced to the latest dinosaurs to make appearances in the series including a late-in-the-game appearance by some flying friends.
Johnston has taken the approach of simply going all out for 90 minutes, with only the least possible character development. Thankfully, he's able to do quite a wonderful job with the chase sequences, many of which are quite inventively staged - well enough, in fact, to make us care about characters that are almost entirely one-dimensional. Another terrific touch is that Grant has found that the Raptors can communicate with one another, which leads to another very nice layer of tension to the proceedings.
The one element that doesn't work is the addition of the Leoni and Macy characters. Although Macy isn't bad, Leoni is suprisingly irritating, with her character almost constantly yelling her child's name loud enough for the entire population of dinosaurs on the island to overhear. The exasperation of Neill's character at who he's stuck with attempts to play for laughs, but it walks a thin line between amusing and repetitive. The fact that the Macy and Leoni characters act like being chased by dinosaurs is marriage therapy is also rather lame.
Overall though, "Jurassic Park 3" is well-acted, generally passably written (by "Election"'s Alexander Payne and two other writers) and offers up just what it says it will - 90 minutes of solid thrills, well-staged and consistently exciting. It certainly won't go down as one of the year's finer films, but I definitely thought it was one of the Summer's more entertaining efforts.
VIDEO: "Jurassic Park 3" is presented by Universal in 1.85:1 (1080p/AVC). The picture quality is quite nice on Blu-Ray, and a certainly a step up from the prior DVD. Shelly Johnson ("The Last Castle")'s cinematography is attractive and the picture presents it nicely - sharpness and detail are quite nice, and fine details are more clearly visible this time around.
Aside from a few moments where some slight pixelation is visible, the picture was without concern. Given the fact that this is a new movie, I'd expect no print flaws and my expectations were met - I spotted nothing in the way of specks, hairs, scratches or anything of the like. Edge enhancement was also pleasantly absent for image quality that remained clean and clear for the entire film.
Colors tended to look subdued until the film reached the island sequences, where the greens of the trees and general plant life were presented in rich, bold fashion. Black level remained strong and flesh tones accurate and natural. The Blu-Ray edition boasts greater clarity and detail than the prior release, as well as colors that seem slightly more natural and clean/pure.
SOUND: The film is presented DTS-HD 7.1. As with the first two pictures, this third edition is a model of exceptional sound design - this time, by sound designer Christopher Boyes ("Pearl Harbor", "The Rock", "Titan A.E."). As one might expect, the first bits of the film really don't have much to offer in terms of sound use, but once the film reaches the island, the surrounds start to become employed full-force. There are several demonstration-worthy sequences throughout the picture, including one lengthy stretch early on the island that goes from a plane crash to a battle between the T-Rex and Spinosaurus that seems to be taking place in the entire room. Several other impressive sequences occur, especially one that has several flying visitors coming in to attack the group. During the sequences where the raptors "called" each other, their sounds popped up from all points around the room - a very cool effect.
Although the most intense sequences remained thrilling and agressive with exceptional power, I was also pleased that the more subtle moments didn't simply fold-up. There's a generous amount of ambience during the quieter sequences, as the sounds of insects and other slight jungle life is distinctly heard all around the viewer. Also, the excellent score by Don Davis ("The Matrix") is enjoyably spread-out around the listening space, nicely balanced out with all of the other elements of the soundtrack.
Audio quality remained outstanding during the entire film. As one would expect, there are moments of extremely strong low-bass, which add nicely to the experience, but never become overwhelming. Surround use is exemplary; the film never misses an opportunity to immerse the viewer in the action. Dialogue also remains clear and easily understood, impressively remaining crisp amidst the chaos of the rest of the soundtrack.
Commentary: Although one would expect a commentary from director Joe Johnston, he does not attend this chat, nor was he able to attend the commentary for his "Jumanji". Instead here, we get something that's still quite entertaining and exceptionally informative: a track from effects artists Stan Winston, Dan Taylor, John Rosengrant and Michael Lantieri. Although the other participants were responsible for terrific work here and in other films, it's really quite a highlight to hear from someone as famed as Winston, whose work on the "Jurassic" films and elsewhere is extremely well-known and highly-regarded.
This track certainly could have been highly technical and rather slow, but the four are able to discuss the highly complex work that they had to do on this show in language that is not only interesting, but insightful and accessable. There's even a few moments where the four attempt to inject some humor into the conversation. The negatives about the track are few - the team does start to spend a bit too much time discussing how well they did with the effects and other elements. While I agree that the effects in the "Jurassic" films (and especially in this third entry) are excellent, I would have liked them to push ahead with more details. Still, these moments are brief and the majority of the track is well-worth listening to.
The Making Of "Jurassic Park III": This 23 minute documentary is generally a rather superficial look at the making of the picture, as well as a bit of "history" about the two pictures leading up to this one. While there are some interesting interviews and behind-the-scenes clips, there's also moments that seem largely to revolve around selling the story - quite a few clips fill out the running time, as well. Interviews are included with director Joe Johnston, producer Kathleen Kennedy, Neill, the film's effects artists, Macy and others. Worth a viewing, but I'm not sure how much repeat-viewing potential this documentary has.
New Dinosaurs of "Jurassic Park III": This is a short featurette that discusses the new dinosaur entries for this edition of the series, as well as some of the background and research that had to be done for the movie. Interviews with Paleontologist Jack Horner included here are particularly interesting. 7 Minutes/52 Seconds
Tour Of Stan Winston Studios: This is another short, but interesting featurette, which allows the viewer to watch Winston and his crew working on and working with the animatronic creatures. 3 Minutes/13 Seconds.
Trailers: Trailers for "Jurassic Park", "Jurassic Park: The Lost World" and "Jurassic Park III" are offered here in Dolby Digital 5.1.
A Visit To ILM: This section is divided into four sub-sections: "The Process", "Concepts", "Muscle Simulation" and "Compositing". Each section offers an introduction by an ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) member, who gives a general overview. Then, smaller featurettes are offered - "Concepts" has "Spinosaurous", "Raptors" and "Pternanodons"; "Process" offers "Models", "T-Rex vs. Spinosaurus", "Pteranodon Air Attack" and "Raptors: Returning The Eggs"; "Compositing" offers "Definition" and "Demonstration" while "Muscle Simulation"'s only featurette is a demonstration.
Dinosaur Turntables: These offer a 360 degree view of the dinos featured in the film.
Behind-The-Scenes: Included in this section are three featurettes - "Spinosaurus Attacks The Plane", "Raptors Attack" and "The Lake". These featurettes are very nicely edited and offer a mixture of detailed behind-the-scenes footage with the final footage of the scene in the film itself.
Storyboard-to-Feature Comparison: Storyboard-to-feature comparison for three sequences: "The Lab", "The Aviary" and "The Boat Attack".
Jurassic Park Archive: This section is broken up into two smaller ones: "Production Photographs" and "Poster Gallery". The poster gallery is especially interesting, as it has quite a few unused variations that are very enjoyable to browse through.
Montana: Finding New Dinosaurs: This is an extremely interesting (although unfortunately rather brief) featurette about actual honest-to-goodness dinosaur digs and what the group has been able to find, which is amazing.
Also: Production notes, cast & crew bios, recommendations, DVD Newsletter, DVD-Rom weblinks and other features and "Jurassic Park 3 special offers".
The Blu-Ray also offers a new documentary (part of the larger multi-part documentary that stretches over the entire set) regarding the making of the third film, including a discussion of new director Johnston and starting the franchise again after a fairly lengthy time period since the second film.
Final Thoughts: The better of the two sequels, "Jurassic III" still remains a sleek, tense popcorn flick with great effects. The Blu-Ray edition boasts stronger video quality and richer, more detailed audio. Recommended. The film (on Blu-Ray) can only be bought as a part of the trilogy set as of the time of this review.
The Film B+