(Photo by © Universal)
With a pretty atrocious 36% Audience Score, and an only slightly better 50% Tomatometer rating, it’s fair to say that this 2001 triumvirate-completer is the most dubiously received of the franchise. (Even the famously loathed The Lost World has a slightly better Tomatometer rating of 53% and Audience Score of 51%.) With a new Jurassic movie about to hit theaters, I sat down to ponder why the third Jurassic try wasn’t quite the charm.
There are some obvious offenses: the script encourages Tea Leoni to scream way too much, and includes the franchise-favorite “Bipeds Have Dino-Mazement” shot with humans staring agape at Brachiosaurus… that doesn’t quite inspire that JP wonder. But it’s still a fun ride, if you watch it the right way. In fact, it can be very fun, if you stop thinking of it as a Jurassic Park movie, and start thinking of it as a pure horror flick.
Hear us out. There are so many classic horror tropes used in JP3 that, when viewed through a certain lens, you can see that time has been kind to the film. (As has the internet, spilling over as it is with JP3 defenses.) Join me on a journey through story beats (warning: spoilers ahead) where we will ultimately land on the other side of the electrified fence, celebrating JP3 for the brave genre departure it made from any of the other films in the Jurassic Park franchise.
Paul and wife Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) tempt Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant with funds for his latest paleontology project in exchange for his presence on their airplane. Their shadiness is off the charts, which makes it clear that Dr. Grant must be wicked poor if he fails to notice vague phrases like “we have permission to fly low,” and “it’s pretty much whatever we want.” And then Paul says he’s in the “Import/Export” business, which is movie code for smuggler. And it turns out that they’re actually going to land illegally on the island to find their lost son, and they just needed a Dino-sherpa.
Also used in The Boy: OK, the idea of being lured into a trap is super common in horror, but we recently saw it play out in a very similar way to JP3 in The Boy. Lauren Cohan thinks she is showing up for a standard nanny job in a remote location… without anyone telling her that her charge is a pale dolly in a little suit! And both she and Dr. Grant are screwed since there’s basically no escape from either situation.
I used the word “wife” liberally in the above paragraph. Even that was a ruse. Macy and Leoni’s characters broke up and her new boyfriend became dinosaur food, paving the way for Macy to show some bravery born out of love for his family (like climbing construction machines, taunting Pteranodons, etc.)
Also used in The Ring: Rachel (Naomi Watts) turns to her ex-boyfriend, Noah (Martin Henderson), to help her figure out the genesis of the troublesome VHS tape. All of a sudden, she doesn’t mind his messy industrial loft with an abundance of video equipment, which I can only assume was part of their conflict when they dated.
Going into Jurassic Park 3, we see Michael Jeter as Udesky, a guy who looks good in a utility vest and has a penchant for rallying tough-looking dudes who shoot large stationary objects with bazookas. It takes exactly :50 for him to realize that he’s made a terrible mistake, as is customary in the world of freelance. When the raptors finally get him, it’s sad.
Also used in Jaws: All Robert Shaw had to do was sing us a little sea shanty to make us really hate Bruce for eating him… that heartless piece of overgrown cartilage.
The Spinosaurus was being positioned as the new T-Rex, a title which he/she never lived up to, since there was no character arc built into the script (we can’t only defend the film!). But what the Spinosaurus lacks in personality, it makes up for in persistence. It snaps a T-Rex’s neck and then stands on his head in a real d–k move. Then, at every point in the film with a down moment, it pops up again, apparently impervious to fire or any other makeshift weapon. Also: the Spinosaurus’ death is never confirmed.
Also used in Halloween and nearly every other slasher movie. Remember in the original Halloween, when Michael Myers pinned Bob to the wall with a knife while he stared at him with his head cocked to one side? D–k movie. He’s the Spinosaurus of Horror Movie Psychos. And he too never seemed truly affected by anyone fighting back, and definitely didn’t die, since a new Halloween movie is coming out later this year.
Isla Sorna is totally abandoned and screwed up, so when Tea Leoni picks up a phone, it’s no surprise that there’s no dial tone. When the family is reunited at the paddock fence and they hear a cute early-era cell phone ring, you’re left with a sinking feeling that culminates in the dang Spinosaurus charging around (probably angry that he’s going to have to pass the phone, like my great uncle when he had a kidney stone).
Also used in Black Christmas: Yes, and When a Stranger Calls and Scream, but let’s focus on the holiday horror flick for now. The sorority girls have been getting weird calls just when they start getting bumped off. Every time we hear its old-school jangly ring, it just gets scarier and scarier (until we realize that it’s coming from inside the house – aghhhh!).
Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola), the genius who stole raptor eggs so he could sell them and continue to fund their digs, sacrifices himself to save the poor kid who’s been stuck on the island for eight weeks (solid move man, but still… raptor eggs?). Luckily at the end, his life has been spared and he’s nice and comfy on a military stretcher.
Also used in War of the Worlds: Justin Chatwin, who plays Tom Cruise’s headstrong movie son, decides in a valiant snap decision that he’s got to fight for our species. He runs off into the middle of the siege and we don’t see him until he is at his grandparents’ house at the end of the film, drinking cocoa.
When you add in an incredibly ominous score (even in bars or when people are discussing usually happy things) and dinosaurs, you’ve got a solid heart-pumper that employs classic horror scares to surprise and delight audiences that have already sat through two miraculous big lizard experiences. For that, we say give it a chance – if you dare.