CINEMA SIGNALS

. "Jurassic Park III"

The odds were against it but this sequel to two immensely popular predecessors (1993 & 1997) actually works... very well, one should add. And, it does it on its own terms. Whereas the success of sequels is generally dependent upon how many of the original stars and key filmmaking personnel such as writer and director, this excellent monster movie would stand on its own.

Not that it doesn't reprise the rolls of at least two very important people: lead actor, Sam Neill and its creator, Michael Crichton upon whose novel these movies were based. He is the only credited writer in this case, so it's a good lesson in what are the important elements in a film. Namely, story, story, story.

Ah, but we leave out one essential: the monsters. While it advances the hypothetical of dinosaur rebirth and evolution and, thereby, the basic concept of the book, it enhances their power and danger. By sticking to the premise in a tight, 90 minute fright-a-minute format, Chrichton ensures the delights of his audience. Wise course of development.

Paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Neill) is brought out of a nice, comfortable land-locked existence and away from the dreaded Isla Sorna, the remote Costa Rican island on which the second InGen dinasaur lab was built by a seemingly very rich executive and his wife, Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni), offering piles of money for Dr. Grant's research program if he'll only be their airborne guide. His expertise will ensure that they see what they want to as they fly over the island.

The possibility of continuing his research is the only thing that would lure him anywhere near that island and Dr. Grant accepts, takes his young assistant Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola), and they depart with pilot and crew. Unfortunately, the good (and wise) Dr. Grant has been deceived and, instead of a flyover, the plane, at Kirby's command, lands on a small airstrip, enraging Dr. Grant.

But the deceptions are only beginning. The money was a ruse and the stated purpose of the trip a fabrication. The real truth is that the Kirby's have lost their son on the island, the result of a tow-gliding accident. Furthermore, Kirby is an executive of a company all right, but not of a corporation as implied. He runs a hardware store. But, such was their desperation to have the best guide possible to locate and rescue their son, they were prepared to stop at nothing to get him and give themselves the best chance possible of finding Eric (Trevor Morgan), their son.

Almost immediately upon landing, the first exploration party sets out, is spotted by a huge man-eating dinosaur, and runs frantically back to the plane for takeoff. One gets left behind and we don't even want to describe what happens to him. But the plane fails its ascent and winds up in a tree, and the party winds up on the island. Just where Dr. Grant told them never to be. But the Kirby's see it as an opportunity to accomplish what they came for.

The dinosaur visits begin with one who thinks their plane some kind of banana with the occupants some kind of warm-blooded delicacy. This quite well executed intrusion upon human life and limb is soon followed by others as the surviving intrepid group wanders through jungle and brush. The action is continuous and cleverly varied though more interesting in its diversity than scary. As expected, sure fire moments of being swallowed or worse result in an escape of one kind or another as the writer stays slightly ahead of his audience. The whole thing comes to a close that should provide closure and a lesson to never try it again. But somehow, with boxoffice success lurking around the corner, we don't think we've seen the end of these islands or these creatures despite the fact that the entertainment value in them is not so slowly becoming extinct.

The director for this monster outing is Joe Johnston who may not have done any prior JPs, but he's no stranger to the animal genre ("Jumanji", 1995), action adventure genre ("Young Indiana Jones" x 2), nor to special effects movies ("Honey, I Shrunk the Kids", 1989). He's proving his capabilities on a number of cinematic fronts. And a pat on the back to all for keeping it to a well-paced 90 minutes -- not a moment more would have been warranted.

Michael Chrichton has no need to prove anything but he does demonstrate considerable mastery in script-making... with one exception. The part of Amanda Kirby, played by Tea Leoni, is a weak link. While the interplay between the married couple is cute, and the source of some of the humor, the character is too shrewish and frantic at times. Had she been sacrificed to a set of dinosaur chops it would almost have been a relief.

The character, that is, not Leoni, we hasten to add. An actress of unique qualities, little use was made of them. She did as well as anyone might in the role, one which could have been played by just about any actress of the right age.

Estimated cost: $92,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $180,000,000.

Rated E, for Eggressive.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  




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