Underrated Movies of the Jurassic Park Franchise: Part Two

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When last I spoke to you about Jurassic Park, it was to illustrate the glory of the oft maligned second movie The Lost World: Jurassic Park. I have gone back and forth over the years, and still waver, as to whether I prefer The Lost World: Jurassic Park or the equally maligned Jurassic Park III. Whilst most I know have the opposing debate, of which is the weaker movie, my love for the franchise has me debating which is the better.

All images property of Universal Studios

You could be simplistic about this and boil it down to the Ellie Sattler conundrum: do you prefer Dr. Ian Malcolm or Dr. Alan Grant? If you are a chaos theory junkie, then you might be inclined to favor The Lost World: Jurassic Park and the brooding tones of Jeff Goldblum. If you are a paleontology aficionado with a penchant for Indiana Jones, you might veer more to the side of Jurassic Park III. As I find both characters equally as delightful and alluring, I cannot let my decision lie solely with the sex appeal of these two academics. I have to go deeper.

If the allure of Dr. Ian Malcolm did not convince you of the merits of the second movie in this franchise, it was hoped that Dr. Grant would pull you back in. Sam Neill slips easily back into character, and even though the discovery that Drs. Grant and Sattler are not still together is highly disappointing, the introduction of Billy Brennan is a welcome addition. To both the narrative and the eyes.

Jurassic Park III has a Rotten Tomatoes rating of 49% which I find only slightly more appalling than the 53% held by The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Where The Lost World: Jurassic Park wins me over with its campiness instead of losing me, Jurassic Park III and its themes of family and connection are what draw me in. Well, that and the dinosaurs of course. 

The second and third movies both begin with a child in peril. But where the young girl in The Lost World: Jurassic Park is attacked by Compies, the boy in Jurassic Park III is a victim of recklessness and something unknown. Much of the third movie is shrouded in the unknown, with new dinosaurs hiding behind every bush and pile of dung.

In my humble dino-loving opinion, the third movie serves as a lens by which we can view the overarching themes of the entire franchise, with many aspects of Jurassic Park III setting up key plot points for the later Jurassic World movies. The early scenes between Alan and Ellie, and the beginning of the adventure with the Kirbys highlights the dichotomy of the Jurassic Park universe; that you can’t help be drawn in by these majestic creatures, at the same time that you are disturbed by the power and danger that the human ego has unleashed. The pure joy in Alan’s eyes when he sees the dinosaurs again while flying over the island, is mirrored in unadulterated disbelief and terror when he realizes they are going to land. That sinking feeling you get in the pit of your stomach when he is hit in the back of the head, never really goes away and echoes throughout each of the movies. One of my favorite lines in the movie occurs in the dialogue between the Kirbys and Mr. Udesky when they are debating how to look for Eric while Dr. Grant is only looking for the coast: “Well, I think we should start searching for your son. In the direction they’re going.” 

Without a doubt, the champions of this movie are the dinosaurs themselves. Where the second movie focused and expanded on the behavioral patterns of the T-Rex and the Raptors, this movie presents us with a whole host of new dinosaurs, prompting Dr. Grant to wonder what else InGen may have been up to that they did not disclose. And right there lies the seeds for a spin-off Netflix show and three more movies. There would be no shiny new lab for Dr. Wu in the Jurassic World universe, without this speculation by Dr. Grant in Jurassic Park III.

The first new dinosaur we are introduced to is the Spinosaurus. Larger than the T-Rex and with a long snout, this dinosaur provides us with our main adversary and one of our greatest death scenes. It’s nice to get away from the likes of Ludlow and have a simple carnivore steering the action again. When mercenary Cooper comes running out of the woods with his gun, yelping out a hopeless “please” before being snatched by the Spinosaurus, you know they aren’t getting out of this easily. Fellow mercenary Nash dies shortly after crashing the plane, but Nash’s part in the story doesn’t end here. In one of the most entertaining parts of the movie, the sounds of the satellite phone can be heard as the survivors are floating down river. They realize that Nash had the phone with him when he was eaten, and surely enough the phone is located within a giant pile of dinosaur dung. In homage to Ellie Sattler’s dino dung scene in the original movie, there are several dung jokes in this third movie that land brilliantly, despite basically being dino toilet humor.

Along with the Spinosaurus, the standout dinosaur introduction in this movie is that of the Pteranodon. The introduction of these creatures gives us not only one of the greatest scenes in the movie, but also the full redemptive arc of new character Billy Brennan. A recurring theme of Jurassic Park and the subsequent movies is that Alan Grant believes that dinosaurs evolved into birds. This is mentioned overtly several times, and hinted at throughout the movies in various scenes and depictions of birds and dinosaurs. However nothing could prepare us for the exhilaration of finally seeing an actual flying dinosaur. Stillness descends in the film as the remaining characters make their way across a metal walkway. Unsure of where they are now, and shrouded in fog, they can hear sounds in the distance, sounds getting closer. As the fog above them starts to dissipate, Alan Grant realizes all too late that they are in a bird cage.

We really should pause here, because that realization is a stunning moment in the history of these movies. Eric Kirby is seized by Mama Pteranodon, who tries to feed him to her babies, much like Ludlow was fed to the baby T-Rex in the previous movie. Gotta love those mamas. Billy, who had taken on the mantle of morally ambiguous Raptor egg thief, uses the parasail to rescue Eric, seemingly sacrificing himself in the process. As the rest of the group then exit the cage the door unlatches behind them, and you know this isn’t the last you see of the Pteranodons. Except it kind of is. The Pteranodons are seen flying away from the island at the end of the movie, but this is never addressed when the series is rebooted with Jurassic World and I do feel that Jurassic Park III lets us down in this way. This was a big opportunity for a fourth movie, perhaps focusing on Ellie Sattler. I mean c’mon, Jeff got one, Sam got one, I think Laura Dern needed her moment too. On June 10, I guess I’ll see if that itch gets scratched a little.

Aside from the introduction of new dinosaurs, Jurassic Park III paves the way for the intelligence of the Raptors to be harnessed. Without the story line depicted here, the work Owen Grady does with Blue and the team in Jurassic World doesn’t seem as plausible. At this point in our timeline we are familiar with the way Raptors communicate with each other. Both previous movies showcased the subtle ways the pack communicates, but it is Dr. Grant who speculates here that their brain cavities show a far greater degree of intelligence than believed before. In Jurassic Park III we see that he is correct, and one of the best scenes in the movie plays out within this construct. When the survivors of the plane crash stumble upon a Raptor nest they quickly hide for cover in the trees. Mr. Udesky is unable to escape and is seemingly killed by the Raptors. While hiding in the trees they realize that he is not actually dead, and when Billy makes a move to rescue him the Raptors also make their move. They have set a trap. This goes far beyond the mutual stalking of prey that we saw in the first movie, this involves insight and planning. They also follow through with very human-like tenacity as they kill their bait before rushing away at the end of the scene.

While I love the dinosaurs in this movie, and I love the presentation and redemption of Billy’s character. While Eric is not nearly as annoying as he could have been, it is Laura Dern that strikes me most in this movie, despite her shockingly negligible presence. One of the definitive scenes in this movie is the showdown with the Spinosaruas. Once again using water as a narrative tool. Watching the fish swim away from the boat and seeing that spine appear is one of the most terrifying scenes in the movie. But despite the exhilaration of the scene, of the action with the dinosaur, of Mr. Kirby’s bravery, it is the phone call to Ellie that has me jumping up and down in my chair. From her son receiving the call and putting the phone down, to Alan screaming into the phone “REMEMBER.”

The look on Laura Dern’s face when she realizes what is happening is the finest piece of acting in the movie, and she is ultimately the savior in this movie, rallying her husband and his connections to send the navy and the army. Their arrival is in itself a fantastic piece of cinematography. When the group makes its escape from the Raptors and runs out onto the beach, a lone man in a suit is standing there with a megaphone calling for Dr. Grant. It is a striking image, one person in a suit to rescue them from such an island. I’m pretty sure it’s one person in a suit who got them all into this mess. But in mere moments he is flanked by two branches of the U.S. military as landing ships arrive and the full military hops out. It hearkens back to the opening scenes of The Lost World: Jurassic Park and the cruise line that brought the little girl and her family to the island. Beach scenes book ending the two stories neatly.

No discussion of this movie would be complete without talking about Eric’s survival on the island. While there is so much to enjoy about this movie, we cannot forget its central impetus; that of the boy missing and alone on the Island. The scene where he rescues Dr. Grant from the Raptors and the conversations that follow are full of Jurassic Park gold. From how long he has been on the island (not long), to the casual, “You do not want to know,” concerning how he got hold of the T-Rex pee. They throw in a casual reference to the death of Dieter in The Lost World: Jurassic Park by hiding from the Compies. Both Eric and Alan recognizing the danger of that small dinosaur. The movie even uses the relationship between Eric and Alan, who struggled with kids in the first movie, to poke fun at itself in a slight dig at Dr. Malcolm’s book and how he seems a little too into himself. I enjoyed the self referential humor in this movie, it pops up in several other places, but I have to say that at the time I also thoroughly enjoyed the juxtaposition of Eric’s dinosaur knowledge with his parents’ lack of common sense. He is consistently portrayed as being the more adult of the three of them and I found that to be delightful.

There are three family dynamics at play in this movie that really give it some narrative meat. The first being the Kirby family, divorced parents uniting to search for their son. The son having been taken on a misguided adventure by mom’s new boyfriend. The scenes between Mr. and Mrs. Kirby are played out well due to the acting skills of William H. Macy and Tea Leoni. When she declares that the dinosaurs will never find them in Enid, Oklahoma, and we realize they have reconciled, well you know that this is never going to work out. These parents will come together in the greater love of their child, much like Mama and Papa T-Rex in the second movie, but this is not a bond that will survive a return to normality. Their relationship is mirrored in Billy’s theft of the Raptor eggs, in which the whole family of Raptors works together to rescue their missing “infant.” While the Kirbys came together simply for this purpose, the Raptors depict a family unit that lives and works together all the time. The confrontation of Mama Raptor with Mrs. Kirby towards the end of the movie is one of the more chilling scenes in the movie, and adds a depth to these animals that we will see played out in the character development of Blue in the next movie.

The final family dynamic at work in Jurassic Park III is that of the family you create for yourself. Alan and Ellie’s continuing friendship aside, it is Alan’s father/brother relationship with Billy that provides a third counterpoint to the family situations in this movie. If someone disappoints you, really disappoints you, and is not related by blood, is that irreparable? And when faced with a life or death situation, are the morally ambiguous decisions that we humans make on a daily basis really enough to make or break a relationship?

By the time this movie came out I was dating my now-husband, and we went to see it in the cinema with my mom. He graciously sat between the two of us to hold the popcorn, and we just about tore him in half like a sandwich when one of the dinosaurs made us jump. My mom and I have a tendency to do that. He has supported me through many re-watches of the first three movies, and when I was able to share them with my first-born I was over the moon.

As I re-watch the movies in preparation for June 10, I find myself just as enraptured with the world of Jurassic Park as I was thirty years ago. Now I have just to wait for the prequel movies to complete the story.

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