The third installment in the Jurassic Park saga came out in 2001, and though Sam Neill's Dr. Alan Grant (returning after sitting out the second film) says early on that nothing whatsoever could get him to another island full of dinosaurs, wouldn't you know it? Life (and the filmmakers) found a way. Ladies and gentlemen, behold— it's Jurassic Park III.
Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer, Captain America: The First Avenger) takes over for Steven Spielberg in this go-around, and he manages to get (the very much over it) Dr. Grant to Isla Sorna, the "Lost World" from The Lost World: Jurassic Park. He is conned into going there by the Kirby family (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni), who need to rescue their son after a really ill-advised parachuting excursion went wrong.
Dr. Grant, Ma and Pa Kirby, Michael Jeter, and a few mercenary types wind up on the island, and it's the classic game of find the kid, get the satellite phone back, and get off the island. Interfering with their plans is the huge Spinosaurus, a dinosaur that is new to the franchise and that for some reason didn't appear in the second movie, which is set on the same island. Raptors make their usual appearance, as do pterodactyls. What could go wrong? Short answer: a lot.
I didn't love this movie when I originally saw it in theaters. I remember thinking that it was fine, but not as good as the previous movie and nowhere close to the original. I liked seeing Alan Grant back in business, though his post-Jurassic Park life is a little sad. I also really enjoyed the scene in the pterodactyl cage, as well as seeing Laura Dern return (very briefly) as Dr. Ellie Sattler.
I did not like the Spinosaurus at all, because I was under the impression that the filmmakers had made it up. When the big new dino in town killed the tried and true T-rex, I felt as though the heart of these movies died too.
After that first viewing, I forgot about this movie. It's the only one that I have never revisited... until now. I deserve what I get. I accept it.
THE OFFICIAL REWATCH
It was very interesting returning to this film so soon after revisiting the second one. Time has not been kind to a lot of the effects here, and for the most part I still think that the movie is just… kind of fine. It doesn't add anything new to the lore of these movies, but at the same time, I didn't hate it. I didn't even dislike it.
One thing that helped (for some reason) is that I have since learned that the filmmakers did not make up the Spinosaurus — it's a real breed, based in science, so therefore I wasn't twitching every time the thing showed up. It's great watching Sam Neill in anything, though I had forgotten how sad his storyline is. He's no longer with Ellie — she married some other dope and has a couple of kids. Grant is still a digger, but he doesn't really like dinosaurs anymore. He's almost become a fossil himself.
The movie is much lighter on bits and gags than the one that precedes it, but it still has some fun. Some of that fun is earned, and some is totally unnecessary. A sense of repetition permeates the entire thing, as once again it's a plot about getting to the island, losing communications, getting them back, then escaping. It's a bit tired, and maybe the movie would have been better served if it took place on the original island of Isla Nublar, and not Site B. Dr. Grant has to remind other characters a few times that he may be a dinosaur expert, but he has never visited this specific island before.
- Hat's More Like It
Hey, Dr. Grant got a new hat! He lost his old one a little too soon for my tastes in the original film, so it's nice to see him get a new one here. He loses it just as quickly, then gets it back, and then loses it again. One of the film's characters appears with it in the end, and the hat's arc is complete. For a moment this becomes a movie about a man and his hat, and it's not called Miller's Crossing. Who turns up with the hat? I'm so glad you asked.
- Billy, Sweet Billy Boy
Alessandro Nivola appears as Billy, a student of Dr. Grant. Or something. To be honest I still don't know who the hell Billy is. The movie thinks that he's really important, but I'm not convinced. Dr. Grant makes much ado about Billy, especially when Billy stupidly steals some raptor eggs. Billy kind of redeems himself (we think he's dead for 20 minutes, heaven help us), but then he shows up with the rescuers in the end. He has Dr. Grant's hat, so I guess he's proved his worth? Take the hat, leave the Billy.
- The Re-Dern
Everyone is rescued in the end thanks to Ellie Sattler, but her appearance is way too brief for my tastes. If you're gonna bring back Ellie, then BRING BACK ELLIE. If you're gonna cast Laura Dern, then use her for something other than a plot device. The hat gets a better deal.
- Barney Bit
While Dr. Grant is trying to get Ellie on the phone, one of her children is watching Barney the dinosaur. Grant and company are being attacked at the same time, and Johnston cuts between the two very different scenarios. It's a fun bit that still kind of works.
- The Birdcage (We Are Fam-il-y)
The pterodactyl scene is still wonderful, though I forgot how much of it is taken up by Billy and a seemingly magical parachute. The pterodactyls themselves are still genuinely unsettling (especially the first time one of them comes out of the fog), and one of them gives Dr. Grant a "don't screw with me" look that could melt a glacier.
- Rappin' with Raptors
One thing that I did remember about this movie was Dr. Grant using a (very early) 3D-printed skull cavity of a raptor to communicate with them. I didn't like it when I watched it originally, but it's aged a bit better after watching Chris Pratt and his raptor squad have their escapades in Jurassic World. The movie even plants an early seed that this is where everything is going — Alan tries to talk to a parrot in Ellie's house, and as we all know, the good doctor believes that dinosaurs evolved from birds. I'm just glad that none of the strangely haired raptors in this movie call him by name, aside from the one in the truly odd dream sequence close to the beginning.
-Astronomers and Astronauts
I don't remember this moment at all, but it is my new favorite part of the movie. Dr. Grant and the reunited Kirby family are on a boat, and Grant takes a moment to talk to the kid about two kinds of people — astronomers and astronauts. Astronomers learn everything from a distance… they are safe, but they never go to space. The moment comes right before the sole "isn't this place pretty" beat, complete with recycled John Williams music (Don Davis was the main composer this time) and it really lands. It's well written, and incredibly well delivered by Sam Neill. It's a buried little gem in this film, and it kind of makes the whole thing worth it.
I think I've been too hard on this movie in the past. It's still my least favorite of the four films we have at the moment (probably), and at times it feels like a cash grab — it lacks a lot of that Jurassic magic, but it's not bad. It's just kind of there, and I don't know whether that is worse.
Still, ever since doing the rewatch, I've been pondering Alan Grant's words. Am I an astronomer, or am I an astronaut? Am I possibly an astronomer who will get duped into being an astronaut by William H. Macy? Which of the two does Dr. Alan Grant consider himself to be?
I really didn't expect the film to inspire that much thought, but it managed to do it with just one little scene. It's the last thing that I expected, so I'm glad that I gave this film another shot.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.