Our review of Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy (Blu-ray), published October 21st, 2011, is also available.
Something has evolved.
In the summer of 1993, Steven Spielberg's blockbuster Jurassic Park took theaters by storm. Not only was Jurassic Park a hit, but it was also a groundbreaking effects film. Never before had audiences witnessed such realistic dinosaurs as the ones storming across the screens. In 1997, Spielberg returned (along with original scribe Michael Crichton) to direct the hit sequel The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Though considered a disappointment as a follow-up, The Lost World: Jurassic Park still broke box office records and went on to become one of the top grossing films of the year. In the summer of 2001 a second sequel was produced, Jurassic Park III, this time with director Joe Johnston (Jumanji) at the helm and Spielberg executive producing. Also a hit with audiences, Jurassic Park III now lands on DVD care of Universal Home Entertainment.
Facts of the Case
Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill, reprising his role from the first film) swore that he'd never set foot near the islands housing the dinosaurs from the original Jurassic Park. When a wealthy adventurer (William H. Macy, Fargo) and his wife (Téa Leoni, Deep Impact) ask Grant to be their guide as they fly over the island he refuses—until he's given a monetary offer too good to be true.
As the flight over the island proceeds, it becomes frighteningly obvious that a simple tour is not the planned expedition for this couple. After a bumpy ride Dr. Grant, the couple, and a few passengers are soon caught on the fierce Isla Sorna, site B for John Hammond's dreaded "Jurassic Park." The truth comes out as Dr. Grant realizes that this is no vacation but a rescue mission; the couple's child is trapped on the island and they are desperate to find him.
Cut off from the mainland, this band of survivors must match wits with cunning velociraptors (who've learned communication skills), deadly flying pteranodons, and a terrifyingly new dinosaur, the huge spinosaurus. It will take all of Dr. Grant's skills and knowledge to get the group off the island and back to safety!
Jurassic Park III is sheer excitement and fun. I'll be the first to admit that I loved the first two films. Many folks have dismissed The Lost World: Jurassic Park as a cruddy sequel, though I found it to be visceral and exciting—it had dinosaurs eating people, and that's what I really wanted to see. While the first film had genuine wonder and awe, the second film was much darker and scarier (especially for kids). Jurassic Park III finds a nice balance between those two ideas while firmly staying a roller coaster of a movie (as a reviewer I've always wanted to say that).
If Jurassic Park III has any real downfall it's that the movie's story is thin as tissue paper. It's obvious that the writers just threw together a plot to make sure that there was an outline for letting dinosaurs run loose—but hey, it worked! Jurassic Park III felt like it had ten times more dinosaur rampage than the first two films combined. The basic premise is to have humans run from cover to cover as they avoid being a dino-snack along the way. Certainly you can feel the missing presence of Spielberg's talented hand, but director Joe Johnston is so able in his work that he makes up for the missing Spielberg by giving the audience exactly what it wants: action and carnage aplenty. I don't know about you, but when I go to see a dinosaur movie I'm mostly interested in witnessing helpless people being swallowed up by big lumbering lizards. Stan Winston Studios has taken the dinosaurs to the next level and made them as real as you can get. The new spinosaurus' attack in a lake is frighteningly realistic, and the velociraptors are as scary as ever. The blend between computer graphics and real life animatronics is seamless.
All the actors in the film do their jobs accordingly—they either have to run, swim, scream or be eaten. Sam Neill as Alan Grant is strong and sarcastic (hey, since Jeff Goldblum's Malcolm isn't around someone has to recite the funny lines). William H. Macy adds some depth and humor to his character that might not have normally been there with any other actor. Téa Leoni is fine if not bland as Macy's wife, though in all fairness the script doesn't give her much to do beside scream for help and look longingly at her hubby. Everyone else runs around, tosses off their lines, and gets attacked by dinosaurs. What? Like you needed more?
The bottom line is this: Jurassic Park III is THE perfect popcorn movie. Clocking in at around an hour and a half it never wears out its welcome. Sure, the story and characters make the first two films look like Oscar winning scripts, but I argue that in a dinosaur movie you want to see the dinosaurs. Lucky for us the filmmakers have taken this idea to heart and given viewers a thrilling ride—with all the rampaging mayhem you can handle.
Jurassic Park III is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Not surprisingly, this is a very strong looking transfer with nary a defect or imperfection to be found. This is easily a reference quality disc that looks terrific to my discerning eye. Colors looked bold and beautiful with black levels being solid and on the money. Overall Universal has done a fantastic job on this transfer!
Audio is presented in both Dolby Digital 5.1 as well as DTS Surround. There are subtle differences between these two tracks (I found the DTS track to sound just slightly richer than the 5.1 track), but overall these are very well mixed tracks. As expected, both of these tracks are through and aggressive in their utilization of directional sounds. During many of the dinosaur fight sequences (especially the big battle between the Spinosaurus and the T-Rex) all the speakers were engaged to a very large degree. I'm a big fan of thundering, loud soundtracks on action movies, and Jurassic Park III doesn't disappoint. All aspects of the dialogue, effects, and Don Davis' tense score (adapted from themes by John Williams) are all free and clear of any distortion or hiss. Also included on this disc are English captions and Spanish subtitles.
Like the previous DVD release of Jurassic Park and The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Universal has decided to throw on some interesting extra features on this edition of Jurassic Park III. Also available are all three widescreen films in a box set that includes a bonus fourth disc with lots of extra materials not found on the movie discs. You can pick up the entire set, or if you already own the first two films, you can buy the third and send in a measly $6.95 to get the bonus fourth disc.
Starting off the supplemental materials is a commentary track by some of the effects team, including über-effects master Stan Winston, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor, and Michael Lanteri. This is a very informative track with some light humor (when a child plays with some plastic toy dinosaurs, one of the men quips that "those were the best dinosaurs in the movie"). However, if you're waiting to hear about the script or characters you'll be waiting until the end and beyond; these commentators are the effects guys, so that's the topic du jour. Stan Winston makes a good point: for those thinking the effects in Jurassic Park III are the same from the first two films, think again. Jurassic Park III includes a lot of groundbreaking work and awe-inspiring creatures not seen in the first two movies.
A good number for featurettes are included, the first called "The Making Of Jurassic Park III." This is a 24-minute look at the production of the film which includes interviews with producer Kathleen Kennedy (who also produced the first two films), actors William H. Macy, Sam Neill and Téa Leoni, and director Joe Johnston, among others. This is one of those typical production features where the participants gush over the film, and some behind-the-scenes production footage is included. Not the best documentary ever created, but it's a nice overview of the making of the film.
"The Dinosaurs of Jurassic Park III" is a look at some of the new dinosaurs in the film, including the biggest carnivore ever, the Spinosaurus. Interviews are included with director Joe Johnston, ILM animator Dan Taylor, actor William H. Macy, and paleontologist Jack Horner. Once again, this feature includes behind-the-scenes footage, drawings, and photos of effects people at work, and scenes from the film.
"Tour of Stan Winston Studios" is a montage of the making of the dinosaurs at Winston's studios. After personally touring the studio myself I can say that there is a LOT of work put into the making of these beasts, starting with the molds and rubber foam all the way up to the insertion of the animatronics and replicating the colors and textures on the skin. This is a neat, if brief, look at the productions of the thundering lizards.
"A Visit to ILM (Industrial Light and Magic)" includes four separate sequences: "Concepts," "The Process," "Muscle Simulation," and "Compositing." Each of these are then broken up into separate areas (and even some of those are split up into more sections). This feature looks at how many of the effects were done in the movie, including how the muscles on the T-Rex were designed on the computer, how some of the CGI shots were captured, and so forth. This is a cool look behind-the-scenes, though it's too bad they didn't just produce this as one long featurette.
"Dinosaur Turntables" is just a quick look at each dinosaur as they spin around on a computer screen. While kids might find this interesting, the rest us may want to pass. Three "Behind the Scenes" shorts are featured, including "Spinosaurus Attacks The Plane," "Raptors Attack Udesky," and "The Lake." These shorts consist of watching the scenes inner-spliced with production footage of that same scene being filmed. "Storyboard to Final Film Comparison" is your basic storyboard sequence (three of them) where the viewer is able to watch the movie while simultaneously watching the hand drawn storyboards. "Montana: Finding New Dinosaurs" is a short five minute feature on paleontologist Jack Horner and his group digging up dinosaur bones and fossils. This is what I like to call the "educational" portion of the disc. Now back to the good stuff…
Next up is a Jurassic Park III photo and production still archive. One of the proposed titles for Jurassic Park III was Jurassic Park: Evolution, and a few of the posters show a human baby skeleton around the red JP symbol, possibly hinting that the storyline was somewhat different than what ended up on screen. With over 50 promotional items I thought this was a very neat extra feature.
Finally there are theatrical trailers for Jurassic Park, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and Jurassic Park III, as well as some production notes, cast and filmmaker bios, DVD-ROM features, recommendations for other Universal films, and promos for a Jurassic Park III video game, the Universal theme park and Don Davis' soundtrack to Jurassic Park III.
As you can tell, I really enjoyed Jurassic Park III both in the theaters and on DVD. In fact, I may even go so far as to say that Jurassic Park III is even more enjoyable than the first film—there's more dinosaurs, more action, and better effects. That being said, I think it's time to end this franchise on a high note (though with the open-ended conclusion to Jurassic Park III it doesn't look like that'll happen anytime soon). Universal has done a great job on this disc. Highly recommended!
Both Universal and Jurassic Park III are free to go spread genetically engineered chaos throughout the land!
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Scales of Justice
• Audio Commentary with the Effects Crew
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