Allow me to share a memory with you.
It is just after 7:00 PM on a weekday. Huddled behind a computer screen in my parental home’s small study, I’m listening to the clicking and humming sounds of the desktop computer dialing up.
The internet comes to life and I frantically get to work: My parents have allotted me thirty minutes of internet time each night, no more, as dialing up makes it impossible to receive or make phone calls.
These are exciting times: production of the third Jurassic Park film is in full swing, images taken at the set and published to promote the film find their way online. As it is early 2000, the Internet is not yet mainstream, but it is getting a foothold in most households and schools, enabling users to communicate more easily with people all over the planet.
My number one, and only, priority online at this time is Jurassic Park III. For these thirty minutes I am sitting behind the computer with my fingers crossed, hoping the images and discussions on fan forums will load as quickly as possible, saving as much material as I can. Once offline again, I can write down my own thoughts and share them the following night. It is the first time I am able to follow a film’s production in real-time.
As with the original Jurassic Park (1993) and The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), most of the cast and crew attached to the film are unknown to me. But it is now possible to read up on their bodies of work, to find out about the films they have acted in, or produced, or scored the music for.
Details of the third film’s story itself are scarce: there will be redesigned Velociraptors (at one point they are presented as “feathered”), and a new threat, the Spinosaurus. A highlight; pictures of the absolutely massive Pteranodon aviary’s river and ravine set find their way online. While there is no sign of the winged beasts themselves, it’s safe to say I am impressed and most excited for all that is to grace the silver screen a few months on.
Jurassic Park III
Those days of having to dial-up feel as if a lifetime ago.
We now know how the story ended. Jurassic Park III was met with mixed reviews, both professionally and by fans. Seventeen years on, bitter battles are still being fought about that greatest point of contention – the Spinosaurus killing the Tyrannosaurus rex.
In the weeks, months and years following Jurassic Park III’s release, stories about a troubled production surfaced, revealing the filmmakers dealt with far larger problems than two fictionalized, beefed up top-predators duking it out.
The biggest issue the film’s production ran into was the original script being thrown out weeks before filming would commence, forcing the writers to quickly come up with the current story – going as far as whole pages being written on the spot.
This might have been a nightmare for the cast and crew, at times not knowing in the morning what they would be filming that very afternoon; in retrospect it may have been a blessing in disguise for fans. One version of the script saw Alan Grant and Ellie Sattler (Sam Neill and Laura Dern) in the process of separation.
Keeping a notorious scene from Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) in mind, one has to ask: do these writers and filmmakers derive a devilish delight from upsetting fans? Will they stop at nothing to shock devoted audiences?
Luckily, director Joe Johnston felt the story they originally had in mind did not work, thus sparing us from having to actually witness the first film’s most beloved characters going through a divorce. Now, we just get a glimpse of what could have been before all hopes and dreams about seeing Alan and Ellie together are crushed by the revelation Ellie (now Degler – Sattler) has a new man in her life.
It is here the story picks up and continues Alan Grant’s arch, which started eight years before in Jurassic Park.
Jurassic Park III’s story does seem deceivingly simple on the surface. Struggling to generate funds for his research, Dr. Grant is invited by wealthy couple Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni) to serve as a guide for their flight over Isla Sorna. Partially pressured into joining them by his assistant Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola) he reluctantly agrees; believing the money the Kirbys offer to compensate his efforts can keep his dig site open and counting on the promise it is only a fly-over, Alan and Billy accompany the Kirbys and the small crew hired by them.
Once the group reaches Isla Sorna, it turns out the Kirbys have an ulterior motive and do intend to land on the island. They are looking for their missing son, Eric (Trevor Morgan), and Amanda’s missing boyfriend Ben Hildebrand (Mark Harelik). As with every Jurassic Park film, it does not take long for events to take a nasty turn and disaster to strike. The plane is destroyed and the survivors get split up, forced to not just fight for survival; they must attempt to find one another again as well. And, hopefully, Eric.
It comes as no surprise the film has a happy ending, seeing the Kirbys reunited with their son, and a rescue mission, orchestrated by Ellie’s husband Mark (Taylor Nichols), on its way to pick up the survivors.
Jurassic Park III revisited
I must confess I’ve never been the third film’s greatest champion myself. Though I’ve always found it an enjoyable film to pass a bit of time with and appreciated what it has to offer, it never felt as adequately made as The Lost World: Jurassic Park. It did not seem to add much to the larger Jurassic Park story, feeling more as if a spin-off rather than a true sequel.
Recently, I stumbled upon the satirical trailer Screen Junkies created for Jurassic Park III. I deeply enjoy the spoof material the crew at Screen Junkies creates for the blockbuster films we all cherish. They unashamedly make fun of the more ridiculous aspects of these films, but they do so in good spirits and with a proportionate dose of healthy humor.
I laughed at everything their Honest Trailer presented; after all, doesn’t Jurassic Park III deserve a bit of a verbal beating every now and then?
Seeing that parody trailer, I felt the urge to give Jurassic Park III a new chance. At first, my idea was to go through it scene by scene and write a funny, but a little scathing, review. Instead, I ended up watching it four times in a single week, falling in love: despite its obvious shortcomings and the troubled production process that could have resulted in a disastrous film, it is charming. It has a genuine heart and soul, ensuring the film succeeds more than it fails, at times reaching highs rivaling events from the second film. It sports some impressive set pieces and marvelous animatronics.
Watching it those four times, I realized it would be utterly unfair to write another damning review of the third Jurassic Park film. It’s easy to ridicule the film for what it does wrong, or is thought to mess up when it comes to the Jurassic Park mythology.
It’s perhaps harder to see or appreciate everything it does right, being, if nothing else, a solid adventure film. This is testament of the skills of the scriptwriters: Alexander Payne, Peter Buchman, Jim Taylor and, not credited, John August, created a story which is simple but with compelling, even complex characters.
After years of being the underdog of the franchise, it simply doesn’t deserve the treatment I was originally about to give it. After all, isn’t the underdog often a quiet, unknown and unsung hero?
The dinosaurs of Jurassic Park III
Paleontologist David Hone wrote the following about the clash of titans in his book The Tyrannosaur Chronicles (2016):
“We know so much about the animals in this group – their anatomy, evolution, behaviour and general biology – but it’s almost impossible to say very much over the chorus of statements about how cool they are or questions as to whether they would win in a fight with Spinosaurus.”
It’s the first that comes to mind when thinking of Jurassic Park III: the infamous fight between a Tyrannosaurus rex and the Spinosaurus. Much to both the bemusement and chagrin of paleontologists, the discussion seems far from over. If the Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom concept art is to be believed, we came close to a rematch between the two behemoths – and a revival of the debate. In all fairness, a follow-up battle has been looming from the moment Jurassic Park III roared into movie theatres and on home release.
Personally, the dethroning of the Tyrannosaurus as the largest carnivorous dinosaur in the franchise never bothered me. The Spinosaurus was a welcome change, not in the least because of its unique physical traits; the sail on its back and the crocodilian jaws, the large arms and three-fingered hands make it impossible to confuse the animal with any of the other carnivorous dinosaurs in the franchise.
Being able to swim, the Spinosaurus offered new, exciting possibilities, this new trait fully utilized in one of the most impressive scenes in the history of Jurassic Park films. The Spinosaurus destroying the barge and thrashing through the river is an absolute highlight not just in the film, but technically too – rain, as has been well documented, was always a concern when it came to the animatronic dinosaurs in the first two films. This time, the dinosaur had to be able to withstand much more than just rain, being placed in the studio’s artificial lake for this final confrontation, facing not just water but fire as well.
The outcome is a small miracle; the impressive work of the Stan Winston Studio crew and the finest digital effects created by the ILM team combined created a heart-stopping sequence.
When it comes to the (re-)design of the dinosaurs, the new “V.2” Velociraptors are an absolute highlight. More intelligent than we’ve experienced them before, the animals interact and socialize with one another, consciously plotting against the humans. There are distinct differences between the males and females – and a matriarch clearly in charge of the pack. The animals are not just portrayed as murderous beasts; they seem to be thoughtful, considerate and even capable of compassion towards their own kind.
The Pteranodons were given an overhaul too. Largely scrapped from The Lost World: Jurassic Park in favor of the San Diego climax, the flying reptiles only featured in the closing scene of that film, reigning the skies above Isla Sorna with an almost regal appearance.
The rulers of the sky were given quite a different look for Jurassic Park III; a little smaller, more vicious and, ironically, with teeth. (Pteranodon means “winged and toothless”.)
That’s not to say they are less impressive. The aviary scenes in which they appear are some of the most thrilling in the film, creating a clear and unique identity that sets Jurassic Park III apart from the other films in the franchise.
Other dinosaurs fulfilled less prominent parts. The Brachiosaurus, Stegosaurus, Triceratops and Compsognathus make brief returns, appearing in the fly-over scene, on the riverbank and, in the case of Compsognathus, not just around the overturned water truck Eric hides in, but during the fight between the Tyrannosaurus and Spinosaurus as well. Keen observers can spot a small flock of Compsognathus fleeing the scene as the island’s rulers battle in the jungle.
New dinosaurs making small appearances are the Corythosaurus, living in a herd with its more famous cousin Parasaurolophus, a pair of male Ankylosaurus lumbering through the forests and along the riverbank, and a single Ceratosaurus deciding against eating Grant and the Kirbys after they retrieved the lost satellite phone from the Spinosaur’s excrements.
Even now, seventeen years on, many of the animatronic and visual effects remain at the top of their game, comfortably rivaling more recent work. Naturally some of it has aged, which comes with the territory and ever changing technology; as a whole, and with the practical and CGI effects combined, the visuals are still solid as a rock, immersing us in that strange, resurrected prehistoric world on Isla Sorna.
The characters of Jurassic Park III
The visual effects are only half of the success of these films. As with Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the true secret of Jurassic Park III’s replay value lies with the characters.
That might not be too obvious at first. The characters in Jurassic Park III are some of the heavier criticized elements of the film. As with the other two films though, the success of a Jurassic Park film stems from the fact it is about quite ordinary, relatable people being thrust into extraordinary and unexpected circumstances. In this case, trying to survive amongst cloned dinosaurs living freely on a tropical island.
Much like The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Jurassic Park III follows a template laid out by the original film. There are elements used in all three films: the main characters are oblivious to or ignorant about the dinosaurs until coming eye to eye with the animals. There is at least one sequence in which a mode of transportation is destroyed by a top predator. And main characters make predictions or observations which come to fruition during the course of the film, for example Alan Grant describing the theorized hunting methods of Velociraptors: Robert Muldoon (Bob Peck) is killed verbatim by the end of Jurassic Park.
While Jurassic Park III does roughly follow the story and character templates as presented in the previous two films, it just as easily deviates from it. The destruction of the aircraft happens quite early on. The main characters’ first true encounter with a dinosaur (not counting the fly-by) is with a large predator. The deaths all take place within the first forty minutes of the film. And unlike its predecessors, the end of the third film does not finish with an exciting climax or big battle between two dinosaur species or dinosaurs confronting the arriving marines.
Either by choice or out of necessity, Jurassic Park III dares to be a little different from what came before, just like its characters.
“This was a stupid decision but I did it with the best intentions.”
Well established in the Jurassic Park films are supporting characters possessing a set of skills they can and will use sometime during the film. From Lex’s (Ariana Richards) knowledge of complex computer systems to Kelly’s (Vanessa Lee Chester) gymnastic skills, the supporting characters are given a moment to shine and save other characters with their wit and knowledge.
Billy Brennan is no exception. En route to Isla Sorna, Billy reveals to Grant his old bag’s strap once saved him from a mishap while hang-gliding in New Zealand. “Survival of the most idiotic,” Grant grumpily remarks before closing his eyes for a nap.
The information about Billy’s misadventure proves valuable when the survivors of the plane crash find the parasail Eric and Ben used. Grant asks Billy, half in jest, if he would be able to fly with it, before suggesting taking it with them to draw the attention of planes that might pass over the island.
As expected (and revealed in the trailers), Billy instead uses the parasail to traverse the aviary’s narrow canyon, attempting to rescue Eric from the Pteranodons’ hungry chicks.
Eric is saved, but Billy falls prey to the adult Pteranodons, eventually giving up and sacrificing himself to allow the others a chance of escape.
Here, the script proves unpredictable, diverging one final time from that template we know and have come to expect; Billy has survived and was found by the navy before the Kirby-family and Grant are picked up. Grant and Billy are reunited on the navy’s helicopter.
It is a chance for Grant to make amends after scolding Billy for stealing two Velociraptor eggs from nests they encountered before the group was separated. Through the course of the film we learn Grant and Billy have a mutual respect for one another. As disaster strikes they must try to survive by utilizing all their knowledge and experience, unwillingly becoming the leaders of the small group.
The friendship between the seasoned paleontologist and the boyishly enthusiastic student takes a punch when Grant discovers the theft.
After Billy has disappeared and the remaining survivors are floating down the river on the barge, we find Grant lost in thought, mourning the loss of his apprentice. Billy, young, curious and driven by a hunger to succeed, might have been more than just a student to Grant; he was not only part of the next generation of scientists, but possibly a reflection of Grant in his younger years as well.
During this brief meditative moment we learn Grant truly appreciated Billy’s company and enthusiasm, his student’s love for the animals he studied resurfacing within himself when the barge passes the dinosaurs on the riverbank. A peaceful scene far removed from the carnage the survivors endured.
“You never can tell about people, can you?”
Grief and mourning are not luxuries awarded to mercenaries Cooper (John Diehl) and Nash (Bruce Young). They only play brief parts, and there is hardly anything in it for them that constitutes as “character development”. They truly are along for the ride as dinosaur-fodder.
Despite their modest appearances, there is a significant shift in their characters. As Cooper, Nash and booking agent Udesky (Michael Jeter) set out to secure the area, they do so with great confidence. Believing it will indeed be a walk in the park, as Udesky assured Paul Kirby over the phone earlier in the film, they seem to expect finding Eric and Ben within a few hours.
It is not long after they have entered the jungle surrounding the abandoned airfield the tables are turned; whatever horrors they faced changed them from experienced combatants into terrified, trembling men trying nothing else but to escape. Nash and Udesky reach the plane safely. Cooper is left behind.
It’s most notably Nash who’s clearly shaken. That fine moment of absolute terror comes across best when he says with a trembling voice, “give me a hand here, Udesky,” trying to get his seatbelt on while firing up the aircraft; it’s spoken with the utmost fear of whatever roams the jungle outside, while still composing himself to ensure the plane takes off safely and in the proper manner. But the way he speaks and the look on his face are all telling. He has one objective: to get the aircraft off the ground and away from the dinosaur they encountered, protecting his employers and their guests.
The acting in this scene is, if nothing else, absolutely solid. With the smallest of hand gestures, facial expressions and verbal commands, Nash and Udesky truly set the moment. It is clear they are not equipped to deal with the monster that lies in wait.
Despite Nash’s and Udesky’s best efforts to make an escape, the plane is downed as the Spinosaurus scoops up Cooper from the runway right in front of the aircraft, forcing Nash to pull up too early. With the fuel cut off the plane crashes, ending up in a tree.
It is here Nash perishes in the jaws of the Spinosaurus. The third film doesn’t hold back when it comes to the few death scenes; Nash is being killed in a particularly gruesome fashion, first ripped out of the aircraft’s fuselage, then thrown to the ground and stepped upon. It is all shown in its horrifying glory. The presumed ripping off of his head does happen off-screen, but the suggestion is enough to leave a lasting impression.
With Cooper and Nash gone, only Udesky remains. Having returned to the airplane’s wreck the five survivors try to salvage as much as they can; we are given a brief shot of Udesky amidst the wreckage, holding up a damaged rifle. He throws it aside as it turns out it is beyond repair. It’s a subtle way of letting the audience know why the group doesn’t have any weapons left.
It is Udesky who provides the more natural comic relief. “If we split up, I’m going with you guys,” he tells Billy as Amanda and Paul argue nearby during their trek through the jungle.
Much like Cooper and Nash, Udesky is given little chance to develop beyond being a hired hand. He does get an opportunity to showcase a bit of his talents, succeeding in getting Amanda’s video camera to play the recording made two months before, the footage lending a little more credibility to the idea Ben and Eric might still be alive.
Eventually, Udesky is killed by Velociraptors. Like Nash’s death, his is exceptionally gruesome, a Velociraptor delivering the final blow by planting one of its sickle-claws right into Udesky’s spine.
“Does anyone have a question that does not relate to Jurassic Park?”
As one pair of Velociraptors kills Udesky, Alan Grant, now separated from the rest of the group, studies another. The animals are communicating with each other, snarling and grunting, clearly looking for someone – or something.
Despite his previous experience with the animals on Isla Nublar, Grant can’t help but observe from his vantage point. His curiosity getting the better of him for a moment, he wants to learn more about the creatures that nearly cost him his life years before.
In The Lost World: Jurassic Park John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) tries to sell a journey to Isla Sorna as possible vindication to Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Malcolm flat out refuses, only changing his mind when he learns his girlfriend, paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), has traveled to the island on her own to get a head start.
Grant agreeing to travel to the island after he labeled InGen’s creations “theme park monsters” during his lecture earlier in the film with the only motivator being a financial compensation was met with ridicule by fans, considered a lazy solution to get Alan Grant back into the film.
While I do agree it’s not the most elegant of solutions, it’s not entirely out of bounds either. Paleontology is a branch of science relying heavily on donations. Flying over the island and serving as tour guides is easy money for Grant and Billy, enough to fund their dig site and secure the continuation of their research.
The criticism of the money offered being enough to have Grant change his mind is often accompanied by the complaint Grant doesn’t really have any character development to speak of. We first meet him when he is sitting in the garden with Ellie’s son. He’s still not truly accustomed to being around children, and he again ends up trying to survive on a dinosaur-infested island, including having a kid in tow.
As we are taught early on, Grant publicly expresses nothing but disdain for InGen and their tampering with DNA. But privately, he can’t help passionately discuss the vocal abilities of the Velociraptors with Ellie; she’s one of the few other people having had such a close encounter with the animals, understanding Grant better than most.
Velociraptor vocal abilities become a recurring theme when Grant tries to have Ellie’s pet parrot Jack speak his name. “He used to know me,” he says, pulling away from the bird’s cage slightly disappointed when his attempts prove unsuccessful; the endeavor of trying to make the parrot speak transpires into the nightmare of the Velociraptor saying “Alan” on the empty aircraft.
By the end of the film, Grant uses the cast of the resonating chamber to imitate a Raptor’s cry for help, hoping the familiar sound created by the intruding humans will confuse the Velociraptors enough to prevent them from attacking.
Grant’s character does undergo a change, though it happens quite early on in the film. Once the group reaches the island, an almost lost passion is reignited within Grant while spotting living dinosaurs for the first time in eight years. “My god, I’d forgotten,” he says to Billy as they watch herds of animals pass below them.
The joyful moment is brief: the plane lands on the island. Cooper knocks out Grant as he tries to make his way towards the cockpit, objecting to the aircraft setting down. From that moment on, contempt for his hosts and a fascination with the animals they encounter take tumultuous turns during the journey across the island.
It’s hard to say if, by the end of the film and having survived the dinosaurs once more, Grant has undergone significant, lasting change. An exchange between him and Eric on how both would like to return to the island in years to come was left out of the film. Could it be Grant is never truly able to let go? Would he possibly contemplate one last adventure, properly prepared, to face the animals that are both his livelihood and haunt his dreams?
“I think I can manage the next two minutes without you.”
It’s equally impossible to tell if Eric Kirby would really consider a future return to Isla Sorna after his harrowing misadventure. Having adapted to life on the island and camping out in an old water truck, there is a nice reversal of roles when Eric rescues Grant from the Velociraptors. Much like Grant, the audience is quite astonished the boy has lasted this long. Unfortunately, we learn little about how Eric survived, other than him staying in the vicinity of the old laboratory, hoping a rescue mission would start searching for him in that area.
Neither do we learn how the more unfortunate Ben Hildebrand perished right after ending up on the island, still trapped in the parasail’s harness.
With this, Eric’s story might well be the most intriguing and adventurous, but the film never takes a moment to explore how Eric spent his time collecting the items stocked in the truck, evading dinosaurs and observing them, ironically making him the least interesting character of the entire film, while at the same time being the reason the entire expedition has been mounted in the first place.
Grant does inquire how Eric endured those eight weeks, but Eric remains quite tight-lipped on this; the conversation then shifts to issues Alan Grant and Eric Kirby have in common – being alive on Isla Sorna and a shared aversion for Ian Malcolm and his theories on Chaos.
“Paul Kirby, Kirby Enterprises.”
Surprisingly, Alan Grant and Paul Kirby have something in common as well. Their fragile professional relationship strained once Grant realizes he has been taken to the island under false pretences, it is interesting to see both have former partners who are now in relationships with other, presumably more successful, men.
In a twist of fate, Paul is unable to save Ben Hildebrand for Amanda, while Mark Degler is the one who, informed by Ellie, eventually intervenes and ensures the navy rescues Billy, Grant and the Kirbys.
While they have this in common, Alan Grant and Paul Kirby differ from one another like night from day. Grant is educated, capable and rugged, whereas Paul comes across as not very proactive, clumsy and even incompetent. Having you wonder if you’d trust him installing a bathroom or a kitchen in your home to begin with.
However, Paul Kirby does possess a poker face and guts. He not only manages ensnaring Billy Brennan and Dr. Grant with the promise of financial support for their dig site, he succeeds in enlisting the mercenaries and chartering a private plane to get them to Isla Sorna: Paul improvises his way through the entire ordeal, finding himself capable of much more than just being a dull salesman.
An ordeal not even his fault to begin with. After all, it was his ex-wife’s new boyfriend who took their son to Isla Sorna. Paul has graciously set aside whatever differences he and Amanda have to help her not just finding their son, but rescuing Ben as well – and he is convinced they will bring both back home safely.
He does so selflessly and in the process nearly loses his own life, trying to distract the Spinosaurus by climbing a gigantic construction crane, giving Grant, Eric and Amanda a fighting chance. Paul Kirby becomes the true, unacknowledged hero of Jurassic Park III.
Paul isn’t entirely blameless, having conspired with his ex-wife to bring Dr. Grant with them by carefully hiding the true nature of their trip. Yet, I can’t help feel for the poor guy. It’s not his fault his son was lost. He perseveres and remains endlessly optimistic, believing they will succeed and the outcome of their expedition will be positive.
Once the Kirbys and Grant make it to the barge Paul takes the lead, starting to plan ahead, trying to think of ways to attract the attention of passing planes or ships once they have reached the coast.
By the end of the film, having found their son and having lived through the experience together as a family, we can briefly see Paul and Amanda hold hands as the navy lands on the beach. Is it possible they have truly reconciled and might try to build a life together again?
“Dr. Grant, you have no idea how important it is to us that you come along. It would make all the difference.”
While Paul is the man wielding the pen and checkbook, Amanda’s invitation is heartfelt and sincere. Minutes before, Grant and Billy joining the Kirbys at the diner, she seemed nervous. After her husband explains they love the outdoors, she interjects they have two seats reserved on the first commercial flight to the Moon; the claim comes off as fabricated.
But convincing Dr. Grant to join them she partially speaks the truth; it truly would make a difference. His expertise is needed to survive. It’s hard to say if Amanda’s personal request or Paul’s offer of a sizeable compensation for his trouble is what eventually convinces Grant; it is clear her entire demeanor changes between the two statements, trying to persuade Grant to join their expedition, the true reason for his desired presence kept well hidden.
As one of the less popular characters in the Jurassic Park franchise, Amanda Kirby is the odd one out: the other leading ladies, Ellie Sattler and Sarah Harding, are both scientists, coming with experience, knowledge and predefined skills. In fact, the children aside, all characters in the previous two films were present on the islands in a professional capacity, either invited by Hammond or as employees of InGen. For the first, and so far only, time in the franchise the lead characters truly are civilians who are entirely out of their depth.
On the surface, this may make Amanda seem a little dull and uninteresting; it also makes her slightly unpredictable.
There lays a more complex character beyond the seemingly clueless, bullhorn-carrying woman. Leoni gives one hell of a performance when it comes to playing the guilt-ridden mother. Once the game is up and Grant and Billy know the true story, the mask falls away and she shows great versatility.
From her disbelief when they are ordered back on the plane by Udesky and Nash to evacuate (will they give up the search?), to the moment they find the abandoned camera and she learns Ben has died, leaving Eric stranded entirely on his own – hope, grief and despair take quick turns. Leoni communicates all these emotions through subtle facial expressions and body language.
Amanda Kirby is, if nothing else, a desperate mother trying to save both her son and partner, no matter the cost.
While Amanda and Paul might be underestimating the dangers they face on the island because their focus is on the safe return of Eric and Ben, they both learn quickly.
Locked behind the laboratory’s cage’s gate with Billy, Amanda thinks fast and takes charge, her action temporarily trapping the Velociraptor hunting them and ensuring the group can make a dash for the jungle. She again takes the lead at the end of the film, having Grant hand her the eggs so she can push them towards the anticipating Velociraptors.
It is true she utters quite a few screams and the bullhorn scene draws as many laughs as it does eye rolls; from the character’s perspective she’s doing what seems both reasonable and out of utter despair.
Amanda Kirby not being experienced and unprepared for what they may find makes it a little easier to understand her plight when she, still clinging to the life jacket Eric wore, is confronted with Ben’s remains. While the reveal of the skeleton, practically falling on top of her, is played for audience laughs, it is a deeply traumatizing moment for Amanda.
Even though she witnessed the death of Nash and possibly saw what happened to Cooper as well, this is the first time she is bluntly confronted with the truth: people die on Isla Sorna, no matter hired hands or loved ones. Despite Paul’s assurances and optimism it could very well be Eric did not make it either.
There is a strange duality to the criticism leveled at Jurassic Park III. While it is regularly considered a lesser work than The Lost World: Jurassic Park, you are at the same time often expected to think of Jurassic Park III as a more entertaining and better film than the first sequel.
As film is a form of art and art is usually not easily judged objectively, it is difficult to say where the third film truly should be placed.
Working against Jurassic Park III are the facts The Lost World: Jurassic Park was adapted from the accompanying novel (though the film’s story was radically changed), had Steven Spielberg at its helm and was the first, highly anticipated sequel to hit sensation Jurassic Park.
A second sequel, no matter how good, would most likely never be able to live up to the original, and perhaps not even its more recent predecessor. With Steven Spielberg taking a backseat as executive producer, the absence of Michael Crichton and David Koepp as writers of the script, and John Williams having other engagements preventing him from writing and composing the third film’s score, some of the magic seems at first sight lost.
However, other people taking over did offer a chance of exploring a different side of the franchise and taking risks with it, introducing some elements and scenes more recent blockbusters might not even have dared commit to paper. One of those being the, at first glance, rather underwhelming finale of the film.
The Kirbys reunited, with Grant having found Eric very much alive and the final hurdle overcome by returning the stolen eggs to the Velociraptors, the survivors find themselves on a beach where a mysterious man in a nice looking suit (Frank Clem) stands alone as if he has simply taken a small break during a leisurely stroll.
Raising a bullhorn to call out for Dr. Grant it quickly becomes apparent this man is not alone at all; he is joined by the navy landing on the beach, the armed forces ready to find Dr. Grant and his party.
The brief history of the Jurassic Park films and film logic itself dictate we should be rewarded with a final battle between man and beast. Originally, several confrontations were considered for the end of the film; ranging from Grant luring the Velociraptors to the river to battle the Spinosaurus (with the Velociraptors eventually killing the Spinosaurus), to Pteranodons attacking the navy’s helicopters, the ideas were nothing short of spectacular.
Instead, having Grant and the Kirbys plainly walk up to them, the troops pack up as quickly as they came. While this may be a disappointing end to the film for fans and viewers who had expected an all-out battle between the navy and the local wildlife, the quiet and quick retreat is a rather realistic approach to the situation. With the mission accomplished there is no reason to engage in a conflict with the island’s rulers and risking the lives of the troops sent to retrieve the survivors.
Against all odds, Grant and Billy are reunited. Having been found by the navy just before Grant and the Kirbys arrived at the beach, Billy is wounded but alive. It’s a surprising step off the beaten path for the film, having a character presumed dead return later on, very much alive – rumor has it Alessandro Nivola himself negotiated his character would survive, giving Billy Brennan a chance to return in a sequel.
With the survivors safely on board the helicopter, the troops leave Isla Sorna behind. Both the characters and audiences are given one last good look at some of the Pteranodons, now free and taking to the skies. No longer monstrous and terrifying but majestic and graciously gliding past the helicopters, they are leaving their former home and prison behind. With both Billy’s survival and the Pteranodons’ escape leaving room for a sequel, the animals’ destination remains unknown once the credits roll.
Jurassic Park III leaves quite a few practical questions unresolved. The film doesn’t always adhere to information established by the previous films, actual science or even simple logic.
Though Jurassic Park III does not concern itself too much with scientific explanations or consciously adding much to the mythology, it does take us to some locations not seen before; the laboratory and the aviary. Both locations were first introduced in the novels by Michael Crichton, albeit in slightly different forms.
When it does momentarily explore science, it is well explained within the movies’ universe and serves a purpose. The film continues Grant’s research on Velociraptor behavior and communication. It gives Alan and Ellie a private moment to reminisce on their shared experience, exchanging observations they made back on Isla Nublar and more recently through the study of dinosaur fossils.
What it lacks in science, it compensates for with human drama. While the pace is fast and the film is short, clocking in under just an hour and a half without the credits, the small principal cast allows us to get to know the characters and their motivations a little better than we do in some of the other films.
As a result of that small cast, he film offers its characters moments to reflect on loss, or to express the fear of loss; to grieve and to reconcile. Given the nature of the film, many of the characters’ responses to the situations they find themselves in feel grounded in reality without the actors’ performances being too over the top.
The only film in the franchise not featuring a human antagonist, the tension instead relies on conflict within the group and the characters’ different objectives: Grant refuses to believe Eric could still be alive and wants to push for the coast; the Kirbys don’t want to leave the island without their son; and Billy risks his friendship with Grant by stealing the Velociraptor eggs, endangering everyone as it turns out the Velociraptors are actively hunting them.
All these elements combined create a film that may not be perfect, but make for an adventure film with at its heart two desperate people who will do anything to find their loved ones; and is that not the one element all Jurassic Park films have in common – well written, relatable human characters with a strong desire not just to survive, but to save those they love and care for?
Jurassic Park III’s legacy
Having fully immersed myself in the world of Jurassic Park III for weeks on end, re-watching the film and a plethora of documentaries, making-of material, studying film stills, conceptual artwork, and listening to Don Davis’ soundtrack on repeat, one question remains: what is Jurassic Park III’s true legacy? It seems easy to dismiss Jurassic Park III as just a spin-off, good for a bit of entertainment during a rainy Sunday afternoon, as quickly forgotten as the adventure is enjoyed.
A little uncomfortably wedged between four larger and financially more successful films, the third movie is often blamed for putting the Jurassic Park franchise in the proverbial coma. On the surface it indeed seems to have had little to no influence on what would be to come fourteen years later.
Surprisingly, Jurassic Park III quite literally left a sizeable mark on the films that were to follow: Jurassic World (2015) and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
Whereas both Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park were mainly dominated by the Velociraptors and, in particular, the Tyrannosaurs, the third film’s creators soon realized the Tyrannosaurs’ reign over the islands and theme park was about to come to an end.
Having been the star dinosaurs of the first two films, the Tyrannosaurs would hardly present an element of surprise in any future films. Despite their historic and contemporary popularity, there were not a whole lot of options left to sweep audiences off of their feet with.
Originally, Baryonyx was considered as the new main threat to both the human characters and Isla Sorna’s wildlife. The filmmakers eventually settled for Spinosaurus aegypticus, a dinosaur larger than Tyrannosaurus rex and easily distinguishable from the other predatory dinosaurs seen before in the franchise.
Having done the unfathomable by killing the Tyrannosaurus rex, the act establishing the Spinosaurus as Isla Sorna’s heir to the throne, and the final shot of the Spinosaurus fleeing the river as Grant succeeds in lighting the gasoline floating on the surface of the river, left the possibility of the animal returning in a future sequel wide open.
The return of the Spinosaurus did not become a reality. Jurassic World introduced a new threat that was bigger and more dangerous than both Tyrannosaurus rex and Spinosaurus. This new creature, named Indominus rex, was a fictional animal, made out of the DNA of different dinosaurs. Not only larger than its predecessors, it was capable of camouflaging itself in the jungle, becoming virtually invisible to humans and animals passing by it. This trait certainly gave it an edge over the Tyrannosaurus rex and Spinosaurus.
Jurassic Park III saw the Velociraptors return to their former glory; while an extensive sequence with the animals chasing survivors through the abandoned InGen worker village and laboratory had been planned for The Lost World: Jurassic Park, their screen time was cut considerably in favor of the Tyrannosaurus rex escaping from the cargo ship and terrorizing San Diego.
Looking quite different from their kin in the previous films, the third film’s Velociraptors were given far more time on film, chasing the survivors not just through the old laboratory, but open fields and jungle as well.
It’s this pack of Velociraptors in Jurassic Park III that paved the way for Blue and her siblings; displaying intelligence and highly developed communicative skills, the capability to set traps, the ability to restrain themselves from killing and reconsidering options when Grant tries to distract them with the cast of the resonating chamber opened up new opportunities not yet explored before.
The influence of sequels
Why are the Spinosaurus and Velociraptors from Jurassic Park III of such importance? How did they influence the new films? To answer these questions, we have to take into consideration a rumor that started during Jurassic World’s production.
The rumor was quite simple: Jurassic World was to be the true sequel to Jurassic Park, deleting the other two films from the franchise’s canon.
Director Colin Trevorrow himself quickly dispelled this rumor, assuring worried fans this was never his intention and the first two sequels would remain part of the canon. They simply would have limited influence on the new films.
Had the rumor been true, could Jurassic World directly following Jurassic Park have worked, and would Jurassic World have existed in its current form? I argue it would not have on both counts.
Had Jurassic World truly been the one and only follow-up to Jurassic Park, Indominus rex would most likely not have been brought to life; the jump from an animal that actually lived once, Tyrannosaurus rex, to an entirely fictionalized creature would simply have been too great, especially considering the absolute wealth of real dinosaurs known from the fossil record left unexplored by the films.
As it stands, the Indominus rex is the very product of the previous films going bigger and bolder with each new entry. Spinosaurus truly is the evolutionary step between Jurassic Park’s Tyrannosaurus rex and Jurassic World’s Indominus; the latter animal’s creation catering to a very clear desire of film audiences. They want it bigger, louder, more dangerous and with more teeth.
The same very much goes for the intelligence displayed by the Velociraptors in Jurassic World. Having been raised in captivity by human handlers, the Velociraptors are capable of following verbal and non-verbal commands. They are eventually set free to hunt down the Indominus rex, believed to be under control just enough to do so safely – and out of sheer desperation, every other option exhausted.
Going from Jurassic Park, where the Velociraptors lived in a heavily fortified and well-guarded pen, straight to Jurassic World, in which they interact far more closely with their human caregivers, would have been too large a step to be believable within the films’ universe.
Herein lies Jurassic Park III’s true inheritance the future films are indebted to, the film naturally bridging the two trilogies: introducing a menagerie of more dangerous and more intelligent dinosaurs than we had seen before, Jurassic Park III cleared the path for those far more outrageous avenues explored in both Jurassic World and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.
In defense of the underdog
For now leaving Isla Sorna behind with Dr. Grant and his companions having made it safely off the island, how do I feel about the film as it recently celebrated its seventeenth anniversary?
I have certainly found a new appreciation for it. Despite a tumultuous production time and the looming deadline, Joe Johnston and his team delivered a film that’s tight, action packed and entertaining. It doesn’t waste much time on explaining in detail what we are seeing when the unwilling explorers find the laboratory or the giant barrier standing in the way of a true reunion between Eric and his parents; while possibly a missed opportunity to expand the mythology, it retains a slight air of mystery as well – and it’s this mystery that infuses the entire film. Much like the travelers, we see only those parts of the island they explore. None of them have an idea of what they might run into, there is no one telling them beforehand what they should expect or might possibly stumble upon.
In short, the film leaves a lot to the imagination while at the same time rewarding its viewers with some of the finest animatronics, visual effects and set pieces the franchise has to offer.
For a long time, Jurassic Park III was my third favorite film in the franchise, after Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
The second and third film traded places on that personal list recently. The Lost World: Jurassic Park undeniably is the bigger, more ambitious film with higher stakes for its characters and dinosaurs, serving as a renewed warning on the unpredictability of tampering with genetic material and the short-sighted belief nature can be controlled and molded to our own specifications and desires.
Jurassic Park III is a continuation and result of both Dr. Malcolm having breached his NDA by revealing InGen successfully resurrected dinosaurs and the film’s spectacular finale. The secret now out, it shows us how thrill seekers, tourists and adventurers might attempt to get to Isla Sorna to catch a glimpse of the dinosaurs.
As a film it is smaller than its predecessor, at times more claustrophobic and a little simplified. At its core there are big ideas and action sequences the other two films did not get around to incorporating; these are not simply rejected elements not deemed good enough for the original films – at the time those first two films were made some of these scenes, such as the river attack, were technically too challenging to be executed in a believable and satisfying manner.
As such the film should not just be measured by its financial gains or records broken. It should be measured, too, with an understanding of the effort put into the project, the awareness of a difficult job fulfilled under tremendous odds against the endeavor.
To me, the films traded places (not by a large margin, I greatly appreciate both) because, despite all the troubles it faced, it works. It tells the endearing story of two estranged people who try to find their son, willing to do anything to succeed, even if that means inadvertently taking everyone else down with them in their attempt.
It sounds like a dreadful concept for a Jurassic Park movie but the film pulls it off with a fresh spark and flair; while short, it manages to be more than just an endless rollercoaster ride – it gives both its characters and the audience a bit of room to breathe and reflect at various points throughout the movie.
Appealing too is the aforementioned mystery. The characters have no true guide across the island; they are not even in possession of a map. While The Lost World: Jurassic Park gave alcoholic Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) the benefit of the doubt because he had knowledge of the village and operations building (and the way leading to it), the characters in Jurassic Park III are entirely left to their own devices. They truly represent the audience; they are unprepared and inexperienced when it comes to dealing with the new dinosaurs and trying to find their way around and off the island.
It’s this mystery and these new characters that ultimately won me over again. Paul and Amanda Kirby, Udesky, Billy Brennan and, of course, Dr. Alan Grant returning, form an odd bunch to go tramping around Isla Sorna with; the story, the performances, the characters’ different motivations and objectives, the astounding visual effects, locations and sets make for an achievement that is nothing short of sensational, an adventure I now keep returning to – Amanda Kirby’s request having become the invitation I can never decline.
There are several people I would like to thank for their help, both directly and indirectly, in the writing of this article. Without them, it would have been a far lesser work.
First of all, Justin. Two years ago, Justin graciously let me publish an article called “From Jurassic Park to Jurassic World: the influence of sequels” on his personal Jurassic Park fan blog. Parts of that article formed the basis for the conclusion of this renewed visit.
You can find Justin’s blog here.
Daniel for his encouragement, offering to proofread and our discussions on The Meg (2018). Entirely unrelated to Jurassic Park, our ongoing conversation on both the book and film about the Megalodon is a joy.
Last, but absolutely not least, John. John’s continuous help and tireless encouragement have proven invaluable; not only did he proofread the entire article several times, he created the new background for the logo accompanying this article and helped find several of the images used.
Our discussions helped me gain a better understanding of the Jurassic Park films in general, and Jurassic Park III in particular.
John passionately writes about Jurassic Park, games, music, books, comics and Tomb Raider on his own personal blog, which can be found here.
As we so often affectionally joke about the Kirbys: “still the best.”
Pictures courtesy of Universal Studios, Amblin Entertainment and Ed Verreaux