What The Film?! is a weekly column exclusive to Under The Gun Review that brings to light the plot holes Hollywood hoped you’d never notice. Written by comedy writer Dane Sager, this column shows no mercy to films that try and pull the proverbial wool over our eyes.
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This Week’s Movie: 2001’s Jurassic Park III
I’ve actually been avoiding doing this one for a while, despite getting a lot of requests for it. I mean, Jurassic Park wasn’t a perfect movie, but it’s one of the very few movies I’ve been unable to think of any problems with it. Hell, it’s one of the most important and influential movies of all time, changing the game for every movie made after it. The Lost World: Jurassic Park II wasn’t so praised. The good news with franchises is that the third part is usually the best one! There has never been a disappointing second sequel ever.
Now when Spielberg left the director’s chair to the franchise, he gave it to his friend and coworker Joe Johnston. Joe Johnston worked special effects, design, and art director on various movies such as Star Wars, Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, and directed Jumanji, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Rocketeer. If you don’t think he was qualified or was cool, you should also know that he literally designed Boba Fett. Joe Johnston shaped some of the most iconic imagery every put to film and everyone should be thankful for that, but unfortunately he’s mostly known for what he did wrong with Jurassic Park III.
The movie begins with a father and son para-sailing around Isla Sorna, the second island with Dinosaurs from the franchise. This scene sets the tone for the entire movie, by being very stupid and poorly executed. The father’s shorts change from black to brown seemingly at random and the handful of guys who run the boat get killed off when their boat goes through some thick fog (that disappears in every single shot after this).
Long story short, the biological parents of the child (as he was with his step-dad at the time) enlist Alan Grant (the protagonist from the first movie), his assistant Billy, and several mercenaries go to the island in a rescue attempt to find the assumed dead child. Once they get to the island, they fall into a few action sequences lifted from the two Jurassic Park books that haven’t been used yet, as well as discover that there’s a new undiscovered dinosaur on the island: the Spinosaurus. Because the largest predator that has ever walked the planet would go unnoticed on an island that clearly would be crawling with constant supervision (be it satellite or people flat out illegally going there).
Within the film, Billy assumes that the Spinosaurus is a Suchomimus, but Dr. Grant tells him to think of a larger dinosaur. Billy suggests Baryonyx, which was actually significantly smaller than a Suchomimus. The assistant to the most famous and knowledgeable paleontologist on the planet has an assistant who either doesn’t know much about dinosaurs, or can’t comprehend the differences in sizes very well.
Early in the movie, the Spinosaurus runs into a Tyrannosaurus and kills it immediately without any effort. This scene was supposed to emphasize the Spinosaurus’ might and make it seem as bad-ass as possible. The issue with this scene is that Tyrannosaurus is the king of the dinosaurs. Seriously, it’s the most famous dinosaur for a reason and has been this franchise’s biggest star; it’s on all the posters and merchandise. Hell, in the last scene of the first movie, the Tyrannosaurus saves the day because that’s the dinosaur everyone wants to see come out on top. Introducing a larger “cooler” dinosaur doesn’t work and is a very 1990s styled idea. It’s as if the next James Bond movie opens with James Bond being killed by Vin Diesel’s XXX and then the movie follows him around instead.
Around the time of shooting, it was theorized that Velociraptors actually had feathers, something they incorporated into the movie a little bit. While normal Velociraptors would most likely look like evil seagulls, the movie put the feathers into a mohawk on its head, similar to a rooster. The fun part here is that this now makes inconsistencies about how the Velociraptors look from movie to movie. In the first Jurassic Park book, it’s revealed that the dinosaur cloning was done by taking DNA, putting it an egg, and seeing what comes out of it. While this would explain different Raptor breeds and the inconsistencies between the movies, the Twilight Saga can show you that it’s bad movie making when some parts only make sense when justified by things left in book.
Eventually the child is discovered alive on the island, despite every single force on the island working to kill him. He has a jar of Tyrannosaurus urine. In a scene where Alan Grant is saved from Raptors by a twelve year old boy surviving on the dinosaur island, Alan asks him if he read Ian Malcolm’s book. Because when put in such an intense life or death situation, it’s really important to find out what a tween’s opinion on a colleague from a prior movie. This same scene negates information about the island in the last movie by saying that the larger dinosaurs stay closer to the coast, while the smaller dinosaurs stay inland (the opposite of what was said in The Lost World).
The movie kind of putters along for its 90 minute run time before just kind of stopping. There literally isn’t an ending to this movie outside of the incredibly anticlimactic sequence where everyone is rescued completely out of the blue. It was as if they wrote a much larger movie and just randomly picked a point to put an ending on. You can go through the original Jurassic Park and find a reason for every single scene in it. Every scene furthers the story, even if it seems unimportant to the main plot, it was there for a reason. You may think Alan Grant being in a tree all night, protecting Lex and Timmy doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it furthers Alan’s own character development of getting over his dislike of children. Jurassic Park III doesn’t have this importance to its sequences; it just seems pieced together from various scenes from the books they haven’t used yet. You could rearrange the action sequences in this movie and the plot would be exactly the same. It’s less of a story and more of a series of dinosaur related events.
One of the most important parts of this movie is when Billy decides to sacrifice himself in order to save the rest of the group from the Pteranodons. It’s literally the most significant part of his character arc, being a redeeming moment for his character as he is the reason why the group is being hunted by a pack of Velociraptors for the entirety of the movie (he stole eggs from their nest). This is immediately negated when the abrupt ending reveals that he survived. The army that show up and rescue everyone already have Billy bandaged up and waiting for Alan and the gang despite just arriving on the beach that very moment.
The last shot of the movie is the survivors watching a pack of Pteranodons flying away from the island towards the sunset. Grant says they’re looking for “new nesting grounds” and the family smiles, seeing them fly away (being an homage to the end of the first Jurassic Park which had a pack of birds flying away). No one thinks to notify anyone, just “Yeah, we let some dinosaurs out that tried to kill us, but it’s okay because they’re pretty”.
All the problems (even the poor special effects, CGI, and theme park quality robots) can be traced back to one major choice. When Joe Johnston was given the director’s chair, he was given a script about teenagers that had been stranded on Isla Sorna, another version had Alan Grant living on Isla Sorna to document the dinosaur population, but the most exciting version had dinosaurs escaping the island and attacking people in Costa Rica (a small plot point in the original Jurassic Park novel). This version was set into pre-production with sets, costumes, and props built; and action sequences story boarded. Joe Johnston decided to shoot this version down a month before shooting to go with the “Lets rescue a tween” plot. The change was so close to shooting that they were shooting the movie as it was written not really knowing where it was going to go the next day.
That is not how to make a movie, let alone a sequel to one of the greatest movies ever made.
If there is one thing the history of evolution has taught us, it’s that Dane will not be contained. Dane breaks free, he expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but Dane finds a way. You can follow him on Tumblr and Twitter!