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Jurassic Park III

Running Length: 1:32
Classification: PG-13 (Dino-violence)
Cast: Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Téa Leoni, Alessandro Nivola, Trevor Morgan, Michael Jeter, John Diehl, Laura Dern
Director: Joe Johnston
Producers: Larry J. Franco, Kathleen Kennedy

Relatively speaking, Jurassic Park III is a disappointment of behemoth proportions. With Steven Spielberg gone from the director's chair (replaced by Jumanji's Joe Johnston), the Jurassic Park saga has sunk down to its B-grade monster movie roots. The concept of a human character has been replaced by a cardboard cut-out, each of which serves one of two purposes: to run away from the dinosaurs or to be eaten by them. The "synthespians" of Final Fantasy would have been perfectly at home in Jurassic Park III. There's no need whatsoever for human actors.

The first Jurassic Park was a well-paced adventure movie wrapped in a magical package that used state-of-the-art special effects and digital sound to make us believe that dinosaurs could once again roam the earth. The Lost World: Jurassic Park II, while panned in some corners, basically offered more of the same - tightly-paced action and adventure. Unfortunately, Jurassic Park III not only re-hashes the two previous outings (hapless humans hunted by hungry dinosaurs) but does it with far less style and human interest. This time around, there's no build-up to the first appearance of the dinosaurs - they're suddenly there. Character interaction, never a strong suit in the series, is worse than perfunctory - it's virtually non-existent. Every action piece is staged in a generic fashion, leaving no room for suspense or tension. And the whole movie is over so fast (only about 1 hour, 20 minutes) that it hardly seems to have happened.

The plot, insofar as there is a plot, has palaeontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) travelling to Isla Sorna ("Site B") as the paid guide for Paul and Amanda Kirby (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni), an estranged husband and wife searching for their son, Eric (Trevor Morgan), who is lost on the island. Grant, accompanied by his assistant, Billy Brennan (Alessandro Nivola), soon finds himself in the same kind of life-and-death situation he ended up in during the original Jurassic Park, being chased by Raptors, T-Rexs, and the "new" Spinosaurus. Also along for the ride are a few other individuals (Michael Jeter, John Diehl) who practically have "Dinosaur Fodder" stencilled on their foreheads.

It's a sad observation to note that the best scene in the movie - a reunion between Grant and his former sidekick, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern, in a cameo) - features no dinosaurs. Everything that transpires on Isla Sorna is repetitious and largely uninteresting. Admittedly, there are some new dinosaurs (including a few that fly), but they act in basically the same way that all of the others do. The raptors have been elevated to super-genius status (they now talk to each other, albeit not in English - I was half-expecting subtitles) while our old friend, the T-Rex, has only a brief, ignoble cameo. The special effects, while still impressive, seem to have been done on the cheap - some of the dinosaurs, especially the new ones, look less polished.

Jurassic Park III lacks a legitimate climax - it sort of ends with a big... bang. This is in keeping with the film's overall poor structure. It doesn't have much of a beginning, a middle, or an ending - causing me to wonder if there was a finished script before filming started (according to comments made by two of the actors, there wasn't). The movie vainly attempts to replicate the human relationships of the first two movies: a low-key romance between two adults (Grant and Sattler in Jurassic Park; Jeff Goldblum's Ian Malcolm and Julianne Moore's Sarah Harding in The Lost World) and an adult/child bonding (Grant and Hammond's grandchildren in Jurassic Park; Malcolm and his daughter in The Lost World). In this case, however, there is no chemistry between the couple, William H. Macy and Téa Leoni, and Grant's interaction with Eric simply doesn't work. It is forced and unnatural. The filmmakers obviously hoped that bringing back Sam Neill would lend an air of legitimacy to this production that it might not otherwise have possessed. And, to give Neill support, they have added a group of top-notch character actors - William H. Macy, Michael Jeter, John Diehl, and hunk-in-waiting Alessandro Nivola. The only serious instance of miscasting is Téa Leoni, who is further out of her element than Julianne Moore was in The Lost World. Yet, because the characters are so thinly written, no amount of acting experience can make a difference. Given the material he has to work with, Neill can be forgiven for his lacklustre performance.

It was probably foolish to hope for something new or original to surface during the course of Jurassic Park III - after all, the formula has long been established for this sort of movie - but it shouldn't have been too much to expect a little excitement. Instead, in keeping with 2001's roster of lacklustre sequels, we have been presented with something that is uninspired and obligatory. It fits right in with the likes of Crocodile Dundee in L.A., The Mummy Returns, and Dr. Dolittle 2. At the end, Jurassic Park III leaves the door wide open for a Jurassic Park IV. I can only hope that a justifiably poor box office showing will slam that door shut with a louder thud than the sound made by an approaching T-Rex.

RC


Tomb Raider

Running Length: 1:38
Classification: PG-13 (Violence, profanity, brief nudity)
Cast: Angelina Jolie, Daniel Craig, Iain Glen, Chris Barrie, Noah Taylor, Jon Voight
Director: Simon West
Producers: Lawrence Gordon, Lloyd Levin, Colin Wilson

It's not Casablanca, or even Die Hard, for that matter. But then no one expected it to be. What Tomb Raider can claim is that it's the best computer game-turned-motion picture to date. A backhanded compliment? Unlike nearly every other Hollywood product based on a computer/video game, Tomb Raider seems more like the summer blockbuster that it strives to be than a 90-minute big-screen commercial. (Then again, when it comes to product placement, you can't get any more obvious.)

To date, this small genre has met with disappointing box office returns and an even less enthusiastic critical response. Only Mortal Kombat has been well enough received to rate a sequel. Other entries, such as Super Mario Brothers and Wing Commander, have earned the anger of fans and non-aficionados alike for their laughable scripts, plastic characters, and dull action sequences. The intent with Tomb Raider is to change all that - and, if not to make the computer game-turned-motion picture respectable, at least to make it profitable. It seems likely to achieve a little of both.

For what it is, Tomb Raider does a good job. It's like Indiana Jones meets James Bond with a female protagonist and most of the plot siphoned off. When you consider that Bond movies are not exactly known for their writing, this puts Lara Croft's first cinematic endeavour in perspective. Don't think too hard about the story - it simply won't stand up. Focus instead upon the action pieces, which are all expertly produced. (Although a slightly less hyperactive camera would have been appreciated - are all of those lightning-fast cuts really necessary?) Tomb Raider moves at a fast clip, and represents top notch eye candy. Of all this summer's mindless blockbusters, this is arguably the most fun - it's certainly a cut above The Mummy Returns.

It doesn't take a film critic to ascertain why Tomb Raider works. Her name is Angelina Jolie, and she imbues her character with a third dimension that didn't exist on the written page, where Lara Croft is all height and width with no depth. Jolie does a lot with her stares and her body language. And it's an impressive body, hard and soft, in all the right places. Sometimes as light as a panther, sometimes as violent as a force of nature, Jolie's Lara jumps, whirls, leaps, dodges, and shoots. She's action and sex appeal blended and personified. We even feel for Lara at times - a sure sign that the character has managed to attain a semblance of life. She certainly has as much vitality as Batman or any of the X-Men. Lara Croft may hail from a video game, but her first movie is all comic books in style and approach.

The story sounds like re-cycled "Dr. Who" ("The Key to Time", for anyone who cares). A fabled artefact called the Triangle of Light has been broken into two pieces. Now, as the nine planets are about to align for the first time in 5000 years, a secret society of Illuminati are trying to find these two hidden pieces and bring them together. If they succeed, they will have control over time. In their employ is Manfred Powell (Iain Glen), who oozes the kind of charm that only a villain can. In their way is Lara Croft, who is acting on written instructions from her dead, beloved father, Lord Croft (Jon Voight, Jolie's real-life dad), to stop them. This results in a showdown for the ages, with all sorts of special effects and Matrix-inspired action. It's involving, although not quite exhausting.

Even though Tomb Raider owes a debt to Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lara is more like James Bond than Indiana Jones. She's cool and unflappable, has all sort of neat gadgets, faces danger head-on, and even owns an Aston Martin. There's never a thought that she might be killed; she's as invulnerable as Superman when there's no Kryptonite around. The fact that she's a woman makes her more intriguing, because female superheroes are in short supply. With the exception of Sigourney Weaver in the Alien movies and Linda Hamilton in the Terminator duo, the cinematic American action arena belongs to men. Lara Croft would like to change that.

The film's director is Simon West, who initially balked when offered the project because he was leery of the whole computer game concept. But the screenplay, coupled with his own vision, convinced him that Tomb Raider could break free of the confines of its humble beginnings. West's history behind the camera isn't sterling (previous credits include the made-for-Bruckheimer Con Air, followed by The General's Daughter), but he seems to be the right man for the job. Tomb Raider fans will be salivating over what he has accomplished here. They alone almost guarantee that the movie will be a success. If the film catches on with the general public - and it's loud, wild, and free-wheeling enough that it has the potential to do so - it could be a huge hit. Regardless of its performance at the box office, Tomb Raider is a great way to cure the summer blahs, provided, as always with this kind of film, you short-circuit the thinking parts of your brain.

RC


RC Russell Chambers