Director Steven Spielberg revolutionized special effects with 1994's "Jurassic Park", which brought believably mobile and realistic looking dinosaurs to the big screen. Only a couple of years later though, Spielberg's sequel floundered - the name alone brought record crowds into theaters, but few could stand the relative lack of action and the nearly 40 minute buildup till anything intense showed.
Although the second film dissapointed audiences, its grosses made it obvious that a third picture should be made. Come this year, Spielberg was a bit busy though - not only was he directing "A.I.", but he was about to skip forward onto "Minority Report". Obviously, a few years had passed and the amount of time that was left to make a sequel was starting to drain out. The choice of Joe Johnston ("Jumanji") was made and soon after, shooting began, but this would be a film that would take a different way when it came to storytelling.
Where the other pictures were content to offer character development and a large chunk of buildup, Johnson follows a similar method to Renny Harlin's "Deep Blue Sea" - simply introduce the characters, isolate them and send in the villians. The remainder is simply action scene after action scene, with a little bit of breathing room in-between to not wipe out the audience.
The film opens with Eric(Trevor Morgan) and his stepfather going parasailing off the coast of Isla Sorna, home to the dinos of the first feature. Of course, they're still there and the duo crash land into the middle of the forest. The boy's parents, Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) trick Alan Grant (Sam Neill, from the first film) into being their island guide as they fly over the island - they simply have "forgotten" to tell him that they're actually going to land. The only question is - will they actually get off the island in the plane? The answer is obviously not, and it's only a matter of minutes before we're introduced to the latest dinosaurs to make appearances in the series including a late-in-the-game appearance by some flying friends.
Johnston has taken the approach of simply going all out for 90 minutes, with only the least possible character development. Thankfully, he's able to do quite a wonderful job with the chase sequences, many of which are quite inventively staged - well enough, in fact, to make us care about characters that are almost entirely one-dimensional. Another terrific touch is that Grant has found that the Raptors can communicate with one another, which leads to another very nice layer of tension to the proceedings.
The one element that doesn't work is the addition of the Leoni and Macy characters. Although Macy isn't bad, Leoni is suprisingly irritating, with her character almost constantly yelling her child's name loud enough for the entire population of dinosaurs on the island to overhear. The exasperation of Neill's character at who he's stuck with attempts to play for laughs, but it walks a thin line between amusing and repetitive. The fact that the Macy and Leoni characters act like being chased by dinosaurs is marriage therapy is also rather lame.
Overall though, "Jurassic Park 3" is well-acted, generally passably written (by "Election"'s Alexander Payne and two other writers) and offers up just what it says it will - 90 minutes of solid thrills, well-staged and consistently exciting. It certainly won't go down as one of the year's finer films, but it definitely is a highlight from the Summer season so far.