How I learned to stop worrying and tolerate Jurassic Park III

I’ve never really cared for Jurassic Park III. It’s loud, dumb, and mean. It doesn’t truly do anything new. Once more, people return to an island full of dinosaurs, and bad things happen as a result. Sam Neill’s returning Alan Grant seems as fatigued with the tired cycle as the most cynical audience member, and that fatigue only grows as he puts up with surviving a dino-island yet again, accompanied by idiots. His shock and disbelief at having been tricked back onto one of these islands is matched by my own: it’s quite a contrived narrative that gets him there and in the predicament of once more standing down theropods.

But I’m not here to explain why I didn’t like Jurassic Park III. I’d imagine most people who have seen it could understand that well enough on their own. I’m here to explain how I came to tolerate it within the franchise.

The first step is distance. I return to these movies often enough, but it wasn’t too hard to leave III out of the rotation even as Jurassic World and Fallen Kingdom were added in. Yet I still did return to it, with enough time between viewings that my impression could become more muted and less annoyed.

The second step required me to let go of my frustrations as I gave up on my annoyance. And there were a lot of things that frustrated me: the aforementioned laborious way in which Dr. Grant is brought back, the obnoxious Kirbys, Billy’s fake-out death and abrupt return in the rushed final moments, the lackluster depictions of the dinosaurs, the super-monster version of Spinosaurus, the super-intelligent raptors, the mean-spiritedness of the deaths…Even petty things that aren’t inherently flaws within the film, like the writers’ decision to end Grant and Sattler’s relationship, with Ellie settling down to have kids and Alan refocusing on his digs in isolation. Just let it all go. I had to accept that those things exist in the movie and there’s nothing for me to do about it.

The third step was being goaded to return to the film by people who found things to like about it. And yes, there are things to like about it–it’s a technically impressive film if nothing else. Plus, hearing from people who like it and can re-contextualize some of its less-impressive elements can lead to a little altered, more forgiving perspective when viewing. That leads right into the next step.

The fourth step is reframing some of the things that used to bother me. For instance, it always bothered me that Eric Kirby, a 12-year-old kid, managed to survive alone on the island for weeks; his survival skills appeared to outmatch even Grant’s, whom he rescued, and he appears to have performed a series of death-defying stunts in his parents’ absence, for instance collecting fresh tyrannosaur piss or obtaining a claw from a Velociraptor. But the actual events in the movie can provide an implied narrative that isn’t so outlandish and is a little easier for me to suspend disbelief. Eric was lucky. He wandered onto the InGen site, finding a source of food, water, and shelter. The abandoned tanker truck made a perfectly secure abode that could be sealed from dinosaur threats. He didn’t spend his time becoming a hardened survivalist so much as simply hiding and staying out of the way. Maybe he happened to collect the tyrannosaur urine after having observed one of the tyrants passing nearby with compies scattering before it. Maybe the Velociraptor lost its claw in a fight with a rival or in taking down prey, and Eric just collected it later. When Grant is ambushed by the Velociraptors, it’s not because he screwed up; he was carrying their eggs, and he didn’t know it. They could smell them, surely, and their entire objective was in retrieving their brood. Eric then dashed in with his supply of gas grenades. Once more, it was luck that got Eric through. Clearly, the kid is tough, determined, and smart, but we don’t have to accept the notion that he’s the most badass member of the group.

The fifth step is pure happenstance. As this whole process was taking place, years–now literally decades–after the movie was released, I got really into Jurassic World: Evolution. And some of the coolest dinosaur skins in that game were based off models from Jurassic Park III. Most realistic? No. But coolest. The dinosaurs in that movie are really vibrant. I liked those models. It was a small thing, but it let me come around to their depiction in the movie.

The sixth and final step is to find the things I outright like in the movie and to focus on them. For instance, much of III is a big, fun safari adventure just like The Lost World but with a smaller cast and no rival team. This adventure narrative leads to some very cool action sequences, like the initial Spinosaurus attack, the Velociraptor-induced stampede, the boat attack, or the aviary ambush. And while the movie avoids moments of true wonder that balanced out the first two movies, it does at least have a beautiful aerial sequence when the rescue team first arrives, and there’s the slow-paced moment on the river right after Grant lays out his theory about boys who want to be astronomers versus astronauts. And yes, the raptors are way too smart at this point, and the males’ little fringe of quills was a poor nod to the developing notion that dinosaurs like them would have been feathered, but the elaborate communication was still interesting behavior, and it did serve as a further attempt to present the dinosaurs as animals, not monsters (even as that effort is undermined by the wildly inaccurate and hyper-aggressive Spinosaurus that is fixated on hunting down all humans). And okay, the movie has a mean streak, but it’s okay for the franchise to lean into horror a little more–Fallen Kingdom‘s gothic vibes are great–and anyway, wasn’t I just praising The Lost World for being a darker film?

And that’s how I’ve learned to tolerate Jurassic Park III. Of course, I don’t really need to go soft on a movie in a massive blockbuster franchise. But it’s a franchise I’m otherwise rather fond of, and it’s nice to actually enjoy a rewatch of that third entry.

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