Was ‘Jurassic Park III’ Really That Bad?

As regular readers know, I loathe myself enough to revisit movies in various franchises that the internet has deemed The Worst to see if they really are stinkers or perhaps hold up better than originally thought. With Jurassic World arriving this week, it seems to be a fine time to revisit the red-headed stepchild of the franchise, Jurassic Park III.

There seems to be some debate over which movie is worse: The Lost World or Jurassic Park III. I will actually be taking on both, but I thought I’d start with the latter because it was the cheap cash-in followup and what some argue killed the franchise for more than a decade, despite making money. And it is undeniably a lesser movie in the franchise, but one with a surprising amount of charm.

Jurassic Park III was directed not by Spielberg, but by his friend Joe Johnston, probably best known these days for Captain America: The First Avenger. What’s striking about this movie is that it’s brief: Leave out the credits and it’s less than ninety minutes, a chase movie crossed with a ’50s creature feature, and that turns out to be a virtue. The Curtiz rule is in full effect, and it simply doesn’t have time to let any of its bad ideas fester.

It helps that, thanks to the structure of the story, the idiocy of the cast is swiftly and often mercilessly punished. In fact, that’s the entire end of the first act; the movie is seemingly setting up more of the same, and then yanks the rug completely out from under its characters. Within minutes of landing, the half-assed nature of the whole expedition is not only revealed, it kills half the cast and leaves the rest without supplies or a way off the island in just minutes. Even if they do survive, Grant notes with annoyance, they’re not getting paid.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not perfect. How much you like this movie will depend heavily on how much you can tolerate cinematic cheese; this movie is absolutely unapologetic about its nature. And even with a high cheese tolerance, it’s painfully of its early-2000s time, right down to William H. Macy playing one of a long, long string of nebbishes and the fact that for some reason, a guy who runs a hardware store has a satellite phone.

There is also the occasional poor creative decision we can’t chalk up to the time, like Tea Leoni playing Willie Scott. Or, well, this:

Overall, though, it’s actually pretty charming. Sam Neill turns out to play a grumpy Indiana Jones knock-off quite well, and the ruthless speed it operates at keeps it fun. Is it the best Jurassic Park movie? No. But it’s a pretty fun creature feature, and really, that’s enough.