- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2001

At 92 minutes, "Jurassic Park III" is stripped for perilous action as the principal characters run for their lives from a new batch of ferocious dinosaurs on the infested tropical habitat called Isla Sorna. Given the telltale bloat in "The Lost World," the 1997 sequel to the original, I don't think the streamlining imposed by a new director, Joe Johnston, is out of line.
"Jurassic Park III" retrieves the unassuming but steadfast Sam Neill as paleontologist Alan Grant, again so desperate for funding that he lends himself to near-death exploitation. This time he succumbs to the devious generosity of a married couple, Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni). They purport to be wealthy thrill-seekers intent on a low-level aerial tour of Isla Sorna, a magnet for daredevils despite the terrors it generated in "The Lost World."
There's also an amusing cameo encore by Laura Dern as Grant's erstwhile partner Ellie Sattler, now domiciled in a way that provides the plot with a goofy but entertaining rescue option in the final stages. Steven Spielberg, still part of the apparatus as executive producer, rates a fair amount of genial teasing. For example, the lives of the survivors ultimately depend on a little boy, presumably cast because of his resemblance to Cary Guffey, who played Melinda Dillon's abducted child in "Close Encounters of the Third Kind."
Miss Dern is replaced as a full-time sidekick by Alessandro Nivola as Billy Brennan, an avid young scientist and adventurer. Mr. Nivola is a Yale-educated American whose potential versatility already has been demonstrated in "Face/Off," "Mansfield Park" and "Love's Labour's Lost." Mr. Nivola gets custody of an incisively effective character, although a fabulous heroic interlude that hinges on Billy's willingness to sacrifice himself is weakened to some degree when the movie loses steam in the last few minutes and manages to trivialize even the most hellacious of its menacing highlights.
The screenwriters, Peter Buchman and the team of Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, best-known as satiric specialists in their own right with "Citizen Ruth" and "Election," may be partly responsible for inspiring exceptional scenic design, particularly when the characters try to find refuge in the ruins of sprawling hatcheries and zoos constructed for dinosaur cloning on Isla Sorna.
The grandiose ghost-town wreckage suggests an operation that must have dwarfed Jurassic Park itself over on Isla Nublar. One particularly awesome setting expands from a fog-enshrouded, rickety steel bridge to encompass an entrapment habitat that literally proves soaring. This also is the sequence that rivals the Tyrannosaurus-rex rampage in "Jurassic Park" for optimum strangeness and scariness.
There's a new big guy in the menagerie: spinosaurus, long of snout and fin and evidently massive enough to make T-rex something of a light-heavyweight. I suspect the winged pteranodons may overclass the huge brawlers as nightmare predators. The scariest images may be of baby pteranodons scurrying to peck a victim into tatters.
Naturally, velociraptors are back in force to harass Grant. However, they have begun to present a few conceptual problems. My daughter pointed out that the raptors get such an elaborate buildup as brilliant predators that it becomes virtually impossible to believe human prey stand a fighting chance. The logic seems even more precarious in Part III, where potential victims seem to be encircled by five or six sneering raptors.
One escape device is timed smartly to introduce a pivotal character. A new raptor feature, vocalization, also is used as a potential source of defense, assuming one is lucky enough to be equipped with the raptor equivalent of a duck call. But the trade-offs between severity of threat and expedient cop-out are approaching a point of diminishing, and perhaps painfully silly, returns.
I suspect the movie could be about one scare sequence short of decisive audience gratification. The impression probably reflects the fact that the next-to-last cliffhanger is better than the finale, out of place in a perfect scheme of ascending danger and panic.
The wrap-up is much too blithe and invites a deflating question: With a task force so near and their own terrors so fresh, shouldn't the survivors be a little alarmed at the sight of pteranodons flying past their rescue chopper? Costa Rica may face big trouble in "Jurassic Park IV."

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