[Screen It]

(2001) (Sam Neill, William H. Macy) (PG-13)

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Action/Adventure: After crash landing on a tropical island teaming with dinosaurs, a small group of people tries to rescue a boy and get off the island before being eaten by the genetically engineered creatures.
It's been eight years since Dr. Alan Grant (SAM NEILL) survived the mishaps and chaos that surrounded the now defunct Jurassic Park tourist attraction on Isla Nublar where scientifically cloned dinosaurs ran amok and killed many people. Still working as a low-paid paleontologist on various dinosaur dig sites in Montana with his assistant, Billy Brennan (ALESSANDRO NIVOLA), Grant has vowed that nothing could ever make him set foot on that island again.

Yet, when wealthy adventurers Paul (WILLIAM H. MACY) and Amanda Kirby (TÉA LEONI) offer to fund his work if he'll be their guide as they fly over Isla Sorna, an adjacent island also owned by the corporation, InGen, that ran the first, Grant reluctantly agrees.

Even so, he's shocked when the small plane carrying him, Billy, the Kirbys and their crew consisting of Udesky (MICHAEL JETER), Cooper (JOHN DIEHL) and Nash (BRUCE A. YOUNG) lands on the island. It turns out that Paul and Amanda aren't adventurers after all, but instead are the divorced parents of 12-year-old Eric (TREVOR MORGAN) who's now been missing for eight weeks after an accident left him and Amanda's boyfriend stranded on the isle.

Knowing full well what they're up against, Grant immediately sets out for the coast, hoping to find a way off the dangerous land. As he and the others set out to do so and hopefully find Eric in the process, they must not only contend with the usual dinosaurs, such as T-Rexes and raptors, but also the flying Pteranodons and the massive Spinosaurus, a huge carnivore that's adept both on land and in the water.

OUR TAKE: 5 out of 10
In the natural world, there are predators and their prey, with the latter usually being the unsuspecting victims of the former that are usually active in their approach of getting what they want. Among those predators, there are the hunters as well as the scavengers that take advantage of the efforts of others or just pure luck. In either case, both types are known to gorge themselves on their prey, even if they're not hungry or have no real purpose to do so other than from pure gluttony and greed.

In the world of movies, some people view themselves as the prey and Hollywood studios as the predators who will greedily do whatever it takes to lure in the viewers who are rightly or wrongly longing for what's offered before them.

If there's ever been a good example of just that, it's with Universal Pictures' release of "Jurassic Park III." Essentially just more of the same old, same old, but with enhanced effects, the film pretty much exists solely to make money off the reputation and status of its two predecessors. Granted, most every studio wants to make a gazillion dollars from most every film they release. After the 1993 film and its 1997 sequel, however, is there really any more story to be told from the basic premise?

Director Joe Johnston ("October Sky," "Jumanji") and screenwriters Peter Buchman (making his feature film debut) and Alexander Payne & Jim Taylor (who collaborated on "Election" and "Citizen Ruth") seem to think so. After the first film's global theatrical take of nearly $1 billion and the sequel still holding the domestic record for the best opening weekend box office take ever, there would certainly seem to be a lot of money to be made from another installment. Not surprisingly, the filmmakers have made sure not to stray too far from the formula that made the earlier efforts so successful and appealing to viewers.

Returning the character of Dr. Alan Grant - played by Sam Neill sporting the same mixed look of awe and concern as the last time around - to the dinosaur-infested tropical island after he was conspicuously absent from the second film - that took a detour into the mainland environs of San Diego - the filmmakers offer more of what we've come to expect from the series.

Namely, that's stranding a bunch of people on a deserted isle with lots of hungry and just plain mean dinosaurs, and then offering a number of decently staged cat and mouse sequences designed to goose the audience. With Steven Spielberg - who directed the first two films - deciding just to produce the picture rather than helm it for the third time around, the film both benefits and suffers from the new blood pumping through its veins.

Thankfully gone are the "cute" kids and their "can do anything to save the day" heroics that made those parts of the earlier films annoying, and director Johnston does a decent job of moving the roller coaster-type story from point A to Z without many unnecessary diversions. Yet, he's no Spielberg, and while the latter has often had his momentary directorial lapses, he certainly knows how to stage some effective and taut, suspense sequences.

Such scenes are present here, but they just don't seem to elicit the same reaction as those that occurred in the first two films. Whether that's due to directorial differences or the fact that the novelty factor of seeing dinosaurs and humans interacting in a mostly realistic fashion has worn off is debatable. Yet, the film - while easy enough to watch and probably thrilling for those with low thresholds for such material or anyone who missed those earlier efforts - is noticeably lacking the punch that its predecessors contained.

What it's not missing is a predictable and familiar story that not only naturally stems from those earlier films, but also from "Aliens" from which it liberally borrows certain story elements. In both films, there's a small group of people stranded in a hostile environment who are hunted down by monstrous creatures that kill some of them one by one.

Those "lucky" people find a child who's managed to survive there alone for quite some time, and learn that the creatures are far more intelligent than originally thought in the earlier films. Such monsters even have motherly instincts, a point that comes in handy for the humans down the line in regards to the creatures' eggs. Granted, few expect a sequel - let alone one with the roman numeral of III or higher after the title - to be original, but such theft/borrowing only adds to the film's been there, seen that aura.

Perhaps sensing that, the filmmakers and their various special effects teams - ILM and Stan Winston and his crew - have opted to introduce some new dinosaur species into the mix. There's the Spinosaurus, a large, more Godzilla-type carnivore that's designed to be more frightening than the old standby T-Rex, and the flock of Pteranodons, some fictional flying creatures that will probably remind viewers of the more familiar pterodactyl.

Not surprisingly, the effects are all first-rate and look terrific. Yet, with the "golly gosh gee" allure and novelty factor missing, the various dinosaurs and their near seamless interaction with their flesh and blood human counterparts don't seem as eye-popping or jaw-dropping amazing as they did back in '93 when the first film simply blew away viewers in such matters.

The human performances are generally fine, with Sam Neill ("The Dish," "Dead Calm") reprising his role, William H. Macy ("State and Main," "Fargo") taking the place of Jeff Goldblum as the somewhat sarcastic comic relief character and Téa Leoni ("The Family Man," "Deep Impact") playing the type of person who makes so much noise and does such stupid things that some/many viewers may hope that she'll end up inside some dinosaur's belly before the movie ends. Supporting performances from the likes of Alessandro Nivola ("Best Laid Plans," "Face/Off"), Trevor Morgan ("The Patriot," "The Sixth Sense"), and Michael Jeter ("The Green Mile," "Jakob the Liar") are all solid.

If you can turn off your mind and let the reptilian part of your brain take over, you may just enjoy - to some degree or another - the roller coaster-paced, cat and mouse thrills the film has to offer. On the other hand, if you think about it too much, the film's recycling of previous material and tactics may begin to feel a bit prehistoric to you. Moderately entertaining, "Jurassic Park III" rates as a 5 out of 10.

Reviewed July 16, 2001 / Posted July 18, 2001

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