Jurassic Park III is a typical case of a great initial concept that was inadequately translated to screen. When this happens, you end up getting a movie with a lot of potential that ultimately fails to deliver what was expected. This feeling is an especially bitter one when the hype is at the level of a Jurassic Park film. I believe the same could be said about Alien: Resurrection (but that will be for another article.) While JP III is a film I enjoyed (it was commercially successful as it grossed $369 million against a $93 million budget), it is widely considered to be the black sheep of the series. It currently has a 50% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The movie had a troubled production as the script was being written as they were filming. That might explain some of its flaws. Here is what went wrong in the movie as well as what should have been done to possibly salvage the film.
Where Are the Bad Guys?
The movie does not contain any real antagonists. The dinosaurs do not count as they are animals and they are expected to behave as such. The only thing they do in this film is continuously chase the heroes. The original Jurassic Park and the first sequel, The Lost World, both contained intriguing human antagonists, whether it was Dennis Nedry or the new board of InGen. There was real drama between those characters and the heroes. The human tale was just as fascinating as the action scenes. Some might argue that the Kirby couple are the obvious villains because they are fooling Dr. Alan Grant and his assistant to go back to Isla Sorna. That is not quite true. As soon as the characters crash on the island, they are attacked by the Spinosaurus. There is no time for any character development between Dr. Grant and the Kirbys. Remember, they lied to him, had him knocked out, and the check they wrote him is worth nothing as they are not really wealthy. Their plan was all a scheme to find their son, who is lost somewhere on the island. So all of a sudden the Kirbys are good guys and this happens very early in the movie. There is never any kind of tension between the characters. What is left is them being chased by dinosaurs until the end, bringing nothing new to the table.
What should have been done: William H. Macy and Téa Léoni are both excellent actors that are usually typecasted as the good guys. They are playing a divorced couple looking for their son on Isla Sorna. They ultimately find their son and get back together. End of story. I think the filmmakers had a great opportunity here to create an unexpected plot twist with the Kirbys revealing themselves as the bad guys. For instance, I think an interesting idea would have seen them looking for the DNA sample left behind by Dennis Nedry in the first film. They can tell Alan that they just want to fly over the island (which would be Isla Nublar), land on it, and tell him they are looking for their son to calm him down. Alan, like the audience, would be fooled. We would ultimately learn that the Kirbys are in fact scientists working for Lewis Dogson's Biosyn (the evil corporation behind Nedry's actions in the first film) and that they want the dinosaur embryos to recreate them on the mainland for further research. Like in the last film, they would be accompanied by a few mercenaries to help them, planning to get rid of Alan and his assistant after he accomplished his role as a guide. The dinosaurs would obviously get in the way and Alan and his assistant would be the only survivors. This is not a flawless idea but I believe it would have made the Kirbys much more compelling characters and give Jurassic Park III the antagonists it badly needed.
Why Is Alan Grant So Naive?
Sam Neill is a very compelling actor to watch and his portrayal of Dr. Grant in the first film was spot on, playing him as a courageous and loving character. In this film, Grant accepts to go to the island with complete strangers (it was obviously needed for anything in the film to happen.) What is frustrating is that he does so for a financial reason. Again. It was money that made him decide to go to Isla Nublar in the first movie. Following those disastrous events, didn't he learn his lesson? Even more disconcerting is the fact that in one very first scenes, Grant says during a conference that he will never go back to the island. He does so within minutes!
What should have been done: This is only a suggestion, but I believe it would have made Grant's characterization more consistent with the first movie if the Kirbys had told him right from the start that they needed him to help locate their son. Remember, Grant seems to have grown a genuine love for children by the end of the first film. He could have helped the Kirbys out of genuine concern. This makes it so that he would not go for the money and look naive by making the same mistake twice. I think this would have made the character much more likeable.
Why Did Alan & Ellie Break Up?
In the first film, Alan and Ellie are a couple and the chemistry between Sam Neill and Laura Dern makes their relationship believable (interestingly, Dern was in a relationship with Jeff Goldblum at the time.) The way the first movie ends lets us think that they are likely to have children in the near future. However, in JP III, we learn that not only are they not together anymore, Ellie actually has a son and is married to someone else. Why? I can't think of a logical reason behind this decision. Maybe Laura Dern was asking for too high of a salary? Her screen time is reduced to a few minutes while she was one of the most engaging characters in the original film. It angers me in the same way that some were horrified that Newt and Hicks are killed off within the first minutes of Alien 3. Completely pointless.
What should have been done: The solution here is simple. The character of Billy (Grant's assistant, played by Alessandro Nivola) should have been replaced by Ellie. The underplot with him trying to steal the raptor's eggs is completely unimportant, except to create more chase sequences. Any mercenary in the group could have still done that. I think audiences would have loved to see Alan and Ellie share some action scenes together as it was a highlight in the first film to me.
That Dinosaur Fight
This is probably the main point of criticism from the fans. The T-Rex is killed within seconds by the newly-introduced Spinosaurus. In the first two films, this dinosaur was depicted as the ultimate killing machine that everyone was afraid of. While not really necessary, I really have nothing against the introduction of the Spinosaurus. The filmmakers must have thought it was needed in order to help make JP III different from the first two. I would have still preferred it if they had kept the Tyranosaurus instead but it is not a big deal. However, what bothers me is how easily it is killed off. That dino fight was hyped up in the trailers and promotional clips before the film's release and it lasts only a few seconds in the final film. What a letdown! I would even say it is quite disrespectful to get rid of him that way, after all that took place in the previous films.
What should have been done: Again, the solution is quite simple. Just make the fight sequence longer! The mighty T-Rex barely defends himself. He deserved a much better ending.
Why Such a Crappy Ending?
The film ends with Ellie calling the army from the mainland. Our heroes escape from the raptors and end up on the beach. Here we see what has to be the dumbest shot in any JP film; commandos arrive Normandy-style while a military version of the main theme plays. That's it, our heroes are saved. We then see them in a helicopter and they are suddenly surrounded by pterodactyls. The same pterodactyls that tried to kill them so violently a few minutes ago! Nothing happens, the characters just stare at them lovingly. Why? It is also worth mentioning that the film is only 92 minutes long, which is way too short. I clearly remember expecting one last action scene at this point, but no. The movie really ends there.
What should have been done: The pterodactyls should have attacked the helicopter and we would have had an awesome aerial fight. The film is already quite action-packed as it is but it should have ended on a high note. Instead, we get a simple and quite nonsensical conclusion.
Jurassic Park III is, despite its flaws, a movie I can enjoy. Sam Neill is back, the action scenes are thrilling, and the special effects mostly hold up well today (except for a few bad CGI shots.) The movie nonetheless deserves its reputation as the worst of the series as those flaws are too important to ignore. Casual fans should stick to the first two films. After the successful release of JP III in 2001, there were plans for another sequel, revolving around human-dinosaur hybrids. This idea always sounded horrible to me and I'm glad it was never made. The planned sequel was stuck in development hell for more than a decade until we finally got Jurassic World in 2015, acting as a kind of reboot and sequel to the first film.