If you’ve been following my blog over the last few weeks, you may have noticed that I’ve been re-watching and reviewing the Jurassic Park movies, one by one, in order. Most recently, I took a shot at hashing out the worst mistakes of Jurassic Park III. I concluded, to no one’s surprise, that Jurassic Park III is a bad movie–but it’s not without redeeming qualities. Something I didn’t mention in the review, but feel obligated to say, is that for all its flaws, I don’t hate JPIII. I don’t even dislike it. No, I greatly enjoy Jurassic Park III.
I might be sitting a lonely table for one here, but it’s the truth. Despite being bad, Jurassic Park III has a lot of potential, and if anything can draw me to a bad movie like a moth to a lamp it’s potential. JPIII has scenes, whole segments of the script, that hint at the much better movie it could have been. I can’t watch Jurassic Park III without re-writing it in my head as I go along, thinking of ways this scene or that character could’ve been revised into something functional. It actively bothers me to see all that potential go to waste. So, after writing a detailed breakdown of all the movie’s defects, I wanted to write something more constructive. I’m here with a list of five basic ways to fix the script of Jurassic Park III.
(Note: This post contains numerous spoilers for the movie and assumes that anyone reading has a basic understanding of the plot and characters. If you haven’t seen the movie and want to follow along, Wikipedia has a pretty thorough summary of the plot, including the ending.)
Fix #1: Don’t Kill the T. Rex
Jurassic Park III was the first movie of the franchise to move away from using the Tyrannosaurus Rex as its main dinosaur antagonist (a trend that was continued by Jurassic World with the Indominus Rex). JPIII‘s big scary dinosaur is Spinosaurus Aegypticus, a semi-aquatic predator that had a cool fin on its back and might’ve been even bigger than T. Rex. So far so good, right? Bringing in a new predator to inject some variety into the franchise isn’t a bad idea.
Unfortunately, one of the Spinosaurus’s first big scenes in the movie is a knock-down drag-out fight with a T. Rex, a fight that Spinosaurus quickly wins–by killing the T. Rex. This scene was probably written with the intention of establishing the Spinosaurus as even badder than the T. Rex, but it didn’t come off that way. To me this scene reads like the filmmakers trying to replace the T. Rex with a far less iconic dinosaur, one that doesn’t and didn’t have anywhere near the symbolic power of T. Rex. It wasn’t a good look.
This wasn’t the only problem with Spinosaurus, either. The Spinosaurus vs. T. Rex scene happens very early in the movie, ruining what could’ve been a great climactic battle scene. And throughout the rest of the movie, Spinosaurus acts more like the Terminator than a real-life predator, as it relentlessly pursues the human protagonists rather than hunting something closer to its own size, or eating the prey it’s already killed. The Spinosaurus was a good idea in conception, but its execution was poor. Fortunately, the fix would be simple: have the initial Spinosaurus/T. Rex fight end in a draw instead.
This would set up an epic rivalry between the two, a genuinely interesting conflict. It would also create a compelling obstacle for the human characters to avoid, and it would put the Spinosaurus’s behavior into context. An ongoing battle between predator and prey would have given Spinosaurus a much better reason to keep crossing paths with the hapless protagonists.
The death of T. Rex so early on in the film left a bad taste in the mouths of most Jurassic Park fans and turned them off from the Spinosaurus permanently. It didn’t have to be this way. Pitting Spinosaurus and Tyrannosaurus against each other throughout the film would have been much more epic, and more respectful of the original movie’s legacy.
Fix #2: Keep the Focus on Alan Grant
Dr. Alan Grant (played by Sam Neill) returns as the main character of Jurassic Park III, just as Ian Malcolm was the main character of The Lost World. And like The Lost World, JPIII picks up several years later in the life of its main character and finds him down on his luck. As we find out early on in the film, Alan Grant’s paleontology dig is quickly losing funding and his career has stalled, as most people would rather hear about Jurassic Park than about his research. Grant insists that he would never in a million years go back to Isla Nublar or Isla Sorna, but when he does end up going back against his will, his adventure reminds him of the most important constants in his life.
Alan Grant is a good core character for the story to focus on: he has a pre-established personality and familiarity with the audience, he’s likable, and even with his previous character development there are still various avenues for growth that the writers could’ve explored. Unfortunately, basically every other character is underdeveloped and boring, and yet the film keeps trying to get the audience to care about them. With characters as dull and annoying as this movie has, it might have been a better choice for the writers to focus on Alan Grant–a character who actually has depth, pathos, and a fun personality.
Of course, the movie still has to have other characters–Jurassic Park movies traditionally have ensemble casts. With that in mind…
Fix #3: Make the Kirbys the Human Antagonists
Paul and Amanda Kirby are the parents of Eric, the kid who gets lost on Isla Sorna and kicks off the entire story. The plot gets going in earnest when the Kirbys convince Alan Grant to return to Isla Sorna by promising him money to fund his dig site.
The biggest problem with the Kirbys as written is that they’re boring and generic. In the second act it’s revealed, in an attempted plot twist, that the Kirbys aren’t actually rich, and were lying in a desperate attempt to find their son. This “twist” somehow makes them even more boring and more annoying. The Kirbys are so badly written that they drag the rest of the movie down in quality and make it much less fun to watch. But there is a simple way to make them way more interesting, and have them actually contribute to the story: make them villains.
Jurassic Park III is the only film in the Jurassic Park series that lacks a human villain. The Kirbys could have filled that void perfectly, had they been written with a little more originality and care. They could have been an echo of John Hammond–rich folks throwing money around to solve their problems–but more reserved, more intimidating, more suspicious. The “twist” that they aren’t actually wealthy is dumb and should’ve been cut. A better story might have seen one or both of them start to grapple with the question of whether the ends justify the means–whether finding their son, who’s probably already dead, is worth risking the lives of several innocent people. The conclusion they come to could define whether they end up heroically surviving the final showdown with Spinosaurus, or dying a well-deserved death.
The Kirbys are by far the worst-written characters in the whole movie, and they consistently drag everyone else down with them. Their sparse characterizations and stilted dialogue could’ve played much better if they were villains. Alternatively, the writers could have put effort into characterizing the Kirbys and writing dialogue for them, and crafted characters that the audience could relate to and enjoy.
But I can see how that might be too much effort.
Fix #4: Give Billy Brennan a Personality
Billy Brennan is a college student who works closely with Alan Grant and is basically his sidekick. On a meta-textual level, Billy is a very interesting character–I could write a whole other post on the role Billy plays in the plot and his marked similarities to certain other characters in the franchise. However, Billy as written in the movie is pretty dull, and doesn’t really have any set personality for the audience to latch onto.
The writers had several options for how to characterize Billy. We first see him flirting with another college student at the dig site; he could have been care-free and impulsive, the exact type of person you wouldn’t want to be stuck with in a survival situation. We also see him using a 3-D printer to further his velociraptor research, so maybe he could have been a contrast to Grant, an up-and-coming young scientist who prefers technology over frustratingly slow digging methods. But the most important thing Billy does, for the plot of the movie at least, is steal a pair of velociraptor eggs in hopes of selling them to fund the dig site. This is a monumentally stupid decision, as multiple characters point out, one that endangers the entire group of survivors. And the movie never earns it.
Stealing raptor eggs is a dumb and impulsive thing to do, but it’s not outside the realm of possibility for a particularly impulsive person, someone who regularly takes insane risks yet always somehow pulls it off. The trouble is that Billy as written is not that person, so the audience doesn’t believe it when he makes that choice. It feels contrived and meaningless. To really pull this off, the writers would’ve had to give Billy a much, much stronger personality. He would have had to be a risk-taker, someone who always leaps before he looks, someone who regularly takes it upon himself to solve problems and never asks for help. (Incidentally, that last trait might’ve set Billy up as in interesting foil to Grant, who goes through his own arc about recognizing and accepting help from others.)
A strong personality for Billy could have fixed not only the raptor-egg plot twist, but other plot problems as well, particularly the movie’s weak attempt at getting Alan Grant back to the dinosaur island. Grant states early on in the movie that “No force on earth or heaven could get me on that island”… but two scenes later he agrees to visit it by plane, for the same reason he visited Jurassic Park: money. It’s a really weak justification for getting Grant back onto the island and it doesn’t make any sense. A better script might have included a scene where Billy–who does kind of want to visit the island–actively talks Grant into taking the Kirbys’ deal, or even agrees to it in his mentor’s absence. Either way, if Billy was going to drive the plot and make the choices he did, he needed a tangible personality. And I love Billy, but that’s not something he had.
Fix #5: Streamline the Plot
It all comes down to this: Jurassic Park III had all the scenes you might expect from a Jurassic Park movie, and it had an overarching story, but those two things never meshed together into a plot progression that made sense.
JPIII feels like what you might get if you boiled any of the other Jurassic Park movies down to its bare essentials. It has character from the original reprising their role, a relentless pack of velociraptors, a scene where a big scary predator hunts the protagonists in the rain, a scene where the characters reflect on the beauty and majesty of dinosaurs, and a plucky kid character from a broken family who somehow survives the entire movie. But none of those characters or scenes feel like they mean anything. The plot sort of shambles from scene to scene, knowing that it needs to include all of them but never quite knowing why.
A good story is a mixture of action and reaction. A good story is set in motion by the main character(s) making an active decision–and the story continues when that decision kicks off a chain reaction that the main character(s) must then find a way to escape or overcome. That is the essence of a story–at least, the type of story that blockbuster action movies deal in.
JPIII technically starts with an active choice–the story begins when Alan Grant chooses to visit Isla Sorna–but that choice that is out of character and weak. The movie goes on with a series of scenes and set pieces that all sort of connect to each other, but never coalesce into a reactive chain. Nothing drives the characters into the midst of the T. Rex-Spinosaurus battle; the two dinosaurs just kind of show up and start duking it out. The Spinosaurus has no reason to pursue the protagonists as relentlessly as it does; it acts completely illogically just so something interesting will happen. Stealing velociraptor eggs is a really bad idea, and Billy knows this, but he does it anyway, because otherwise we wouldn’t have a plot twist.
Jurassic Park III’s biggest problem is its script. It doesn’t have a good story and it doesn’t have good characters. But–like I said in my review–it could have been good. The groundwork is all there. There are some genuinely interesting ideas buried under all of the dull filler. All the suggestions I’ve given are based off of elements that are in the movie, elements that I really like and that I think should have been expanded on. If I can come up with quick, easy fixes for the parts of this movie that didn’t work, there’s no reason that professional screenwriters who are actually getting paid can’t do the same. Jurassic Park III wasn’t good, but it could have been great.