Barney's Revenge

'Jurassic Park III' will leave you dino-sore.

Recently, Britney Spears announced that she was changing her image. She is no longer going to be so pure and innocent, she said, but will be more sexy and daring. The media, oddly, have reported this as though it actually makes sense. Because, of course, when she was dancing around in a midriff-baring Catholic schoolgirl uniform miming sex acts with underage boys, that was basically Little House on the Prairie meets Touched by an Angel.

The same thing is happening with Jurassic Park III. All the stars are going on all the standard talk shows and saying that the dinosaurs are more realistic than ever, and no one is questioning them, but in the film itself the dinosaurs look more like big puppets and/or cartoon images than in the previous two Jurassic Park movies.

But then again, who cares? Shouldn't we be going to see a film because it's exciting and well paced and well scripted and such? Of course not; we don't want smart, we want the most realistic dinosaurs possible. Why else would Strom Thurmond keep getting re-elected?

OK, sorry, but the weird thing is that they're pitching JPIII on its dinosaur effects, when it actually has a much better plot, pacing and dialogue than the last outing, Lost World. Then again, so does the average episode of Teletubbies, but still, you'd think this would be a selling point.

Parts of the script were written by Jim Taylor and Alexander Payne, who wrote Election and Citizen Ruth, two of the best films of the last ten years. It shows. There are funny moments, and there's some subtle gay subtext, and there are big, steaming piles of dinosaur poop. Dinosaur poop is funny. You know, if you stick your hands in it.

And the acting is certainly better in this one than in the last one. Again, the acting in the last episode compared poorly to the average Teletubbies episode, but still ...

Sam Neill reprises the role of Dr. Alan Grant from the first movie, only this time he's wiser and gayer. Alessandro Nivola does a pretty-boy turn as Neill's archaeology colleague and ambiguously catamite-like pal. William H. Macy is particularly excellent, as he always is, and Téa Leoni manages not to be terrible, which for her is the equivalent of scaling Mount Everest in high heels.

Macy and Leoni play Paul and Amanda Kirby, a divorced couple whose idea of good parenting is to let their son Eric go hang-gliding over an island of carnivorous, high-speed, super-intelligent special effects. Surprisingly, Eric's hang-glider crashes on the island, stranding him there and giving the film a plot.

The Kirbys then kidnap Dr. Grant (Sam Neill), a famous archaeologist, to be their guide on the island while they search for their son. Grant seems strangely perturbed by this, what with his having already barely escaped from an island full of man-eating dinosaurs in the first movie. He's all "been there, done that, barely survived, please save me, help help help," which is not exactly the kind of thing the Kirbys were looking for in a guide.

Anyway, Grant, the Kirbys and Grant's lovely assistant Billy then spend the next hour running away from dinosaurs and searching for the Kirbys' plucky and resourceful son, who's been on the island long enough to become some kind of Schwarzeneggeresque supersoldier who can basically kill dinosaurs just by snarling at them. You know, if he's alive. I mean, they have to find him and all ... it could be that he died in the hang-gliding accident, right, and then the movie would be real sad and the Kirbys would cry a lot. I don't want to spoil it for you. It could go either way.

Anyway, the Kirbys basically treat getting threatened by a Tyrannosaurus Rex as the equivalent of couples therapy, and there's some schmaltzy and not particularly well-written stuff where they work out their marital difficulty with the aid of some really sensitive, caring raptors, but for the most part director Joe Johnston (Jumanji) keeps the plot moving along at a good pace, and the film is smart enough to be well under two hours long, which is a wise move when the whole thing is basically a long chase sequence.

The oddest part, though, is how bad the dinosaur effects are. In the last movie, they looked sort of real, though still kind of computery. In this one too many of the dinosaurs are animatronic puppets and they're really awful. Their movements are stiff and unnatural and they don't seem threatening at all. The computer-generated dinosaurs are better, but audiences are so used to computer-generated animation now that even the slightest artifact of the animation process is enough to give away the game, and the CGI dinosaurs basically invoke a response of "nice CGI," rather than a sense of reality.

Anyway, you could do worse than Jurassic Park III. Like, you could rent Jurassic Park II, which really sucked. I mean, I'm not recommending that you actually go see JPIII, but it does suck considerably less.

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