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[whitespace] 'Jurassic Park III'
Tonsillorsaurus Rex: Two outstanding bit players give their all in 'Jurassic Park III.'

Raptor Rapture

'Jurassic Park III' is heavy on the teeth, light on the heart

By Richard von Busack

BASICALLY, Jurassic Park III is about cleaning out the rest of the box--it's a garage-sale movie. The action begins with the apparent Darwining of a pair of paragliders, sporting on the waters off Monster Island ("Isla Sorna," a.k.a. Site B). The soon-to-be-eaten pair give the "thumb's up" sign to a souvenir-photo cameraman's lens. This act seals their fate; in movies, "thumb's up" means "We who are about to die salute you." The premise is, so far, sound. If there really were a Jurassic island off-limits to the public, certainly it would be invaded by wealthy versions of the jackass kids who climb into the bear cages at the Bronx Zoo.

We cut to Sam Neill and Laura Dern having a reminiscent dinner, talking about how they miss the enchanting call of the velociraptor, despite it all. But she's just had a baby, which grounds her in civilization. Neill's Dr. Alan Grant goes back to the rounds of a paleontologist's life: dusting off dino bones in Montana and giving lectures. He alienates his students by insisting that the real dinos worthy of study are out there buried in the dust. As for the creature that caused that "incident in San Diego," it is only part of a series of "genetically engineered monsters" contaminated by human contact. Spoken like a true academic. Enter a millionaire (William H. "Good Ol' Charlie Brown" Macy) and his wife (a very peevish Téa Leoni), who write a large check to lure the professor to a fly-over trip to observe the dinos. The plane crashes, of course ...

Director Joe Johnston's movie is 90 minutes long and firmly on the side of the dinosaurs. The velociraptors are good family reptiles with excellent communication skills who go through hell for their children (or at least for their eggs). By contrast, the humans feud, leave each other to die, and snap at one another. In this raptor-friendly movie, Neill is the most interesting presence: firstly, because he is the only one smart enough to evince reluctance at traveling to Isla de los Monstros Lizardos Diablos; secondly, because he brings what I'd call an Eastern European presence to the movie. Neill's face shows defeat and disgust; he has the air of a man who has just recovered from a serious illness. In the usually taffylike atmosphere of the Jurassic Park movies, Neill adds attractive curtness. (The funny part is that he's costumed in an Indiana Jones fedora--no one looks less like a simple American action hero). Boiled down to its dino-picture roots, the movie is as sloppy and mean and unsentimental--well, almost unsentimental: the final shot is an utterly sweet one of a happy family of pterodactyls soaring to the heavens, leaving the sordid humans behind.

Jurassic Park III (PG-13; 92 min.), directed by Joe Johnston, written by Michael Crichton, Peter Buchman, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, photographed by Shelly Johnson and starring Sam Neill, Téa Leoni and William H. Macy, plays at selected theaters.

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From the July 26-August 1, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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