Jurassic-Sized Aisle Seat!
Andy's Review of JURASSIC PARK III
Plus: FINAL FANTASY and more Mailbag
By Andy Dursin
It's big, it's opening today, but is it any good? I'm talking, of course,
about the leaner, meaner JURASSIC PARK III, which opens today across the
U.S. I managed to catch the movie at a press screening Monday night, so
here's my take, along with a look at FINAL FANTASY, LEGALLY BLONDE, and
more responses from the Mailbag...
New in Theaters
JURASSIC PARK III (***): In the days of the Saturday Matinee
serial, audiences would flock to experience the latest adventures of heroes
like Flash Gordon, Buck Rogers, and Tarzan. Viewers loved going back to
see the newest developments in those respective series, even if the "new"
story likely resembled something that came before it in more ways than
one. But, as long as the production was handled effectively and pushed
the right buttons, it would likely satisfy even those so familiar with
the material that they knew exactly what they were getting before buying
JURASSIC PARK III is like a B-movie entry in a long-running series,
dressed up with top-grade special effects and set pieces offering some
fresh twists on its predecessors. It's barely 95 minutes long, but in this
instance, that's not an indication of a weak sequel: director Joe Johnston's
movie rips right into the action from the opening frames, disposes of the
pretentiousness of THE LOST WORLD and turns into an elaborate chase movie
that gives you the meat -- all the action and effects of the first two
films -- without the fat (i.e. Richard Attenborough's preachy, ecological
speechifying from its immediate predecessor).
After sitting through Jeff Goldblum's uneasy turn as leading man in
the tepid LOST WORLD, Sam Neill's reprisal here of Dr. Alan Grant seems
like a breath of fresh air. Suckered into a rescue mission by would-be
philanthropist William H. Macy (at times essaying his "Fargo" part without
the Minnesota accent) and ex- wife Tea Leoni, Grant -- along with grad
student Alessandro Nivola -- returns to Isla Sorna where the dinosaurs
have not only continued to run amok, but also evolved with new species
and forms of communication between them. Macy and Leoni's son (the surprisingly
tolerable Trevor Morgan) has gone missing and it's up to the group to find
him, AND their way out, before being consumed by the island's inhabitants.
PARK III had its share of problems during filming: the script, credited
to Peter Buchman and "Election" scribes Alexander Payne and James Taylor,
was reportedly re-written each day, while the picture's ending was scrapped
and re-shot at the last minute. While the finished film boasts an abrupt
conclusion that should have been more effectively staged, the rest of the
picture is often quite well-directed, with a handful of exciting set-pieces
highlighted by a dynamite escape from a nest of flying Pteranodons.
The ILM effects are as good as you would anticipate, while Johnston's
film features a greenish, daylight look far removed from THE LOST WORLD's
ugly, night-time trappings. Neill and Nivola make for perfectly acceptable
leads, and even if Leoni's at-times abrasive performance boasts one unintentionally
funny moment (her reaction after discovering a corpse), the movie moves
so quickly that you tend to forget she's even in it. Don Davis' faux-John
Williams replacement score, meanwhile, is too much at times, but at least
reworks the original themes effectively enough that most audiences seemingly
won't know the difference.
JURASSIC PARK III doesn't have the novelty value of the first film in
the series, where the groundbreaking special effects alone wowed audiences
around the world, but it does rank as a sequel far superior to the second
film. Like the Saturday Matinee serials of yesteryear, it gives you more
of the same, but that's not necessarily a bad thing at all. (PG-13, 95
FINAL FANTASY: THE SPIRITS WITHIN (**1/2): Alien
"phantoms" are threatening to destroy a depleted futuristic Earth, and
it's up to the military and a scientist with visions to save us all in
this big- screen spin-off of the popular, long-running video game series.
One major thought ran through my mind while watching this film: as much
as the cinema has changed with advances in technology, some things remain
the same -- one of those being that all the special effects in the world
cannot fully compensate for a weak script.
Such is the case with this gorgeously-rendered all-CGI feature, a reported
$115-million production that's already become the latest genre casualty
at the summer box-office (joining the ranks of A.I. and EVOLUTION).
While the design of the phantoms are reminiscent of other "anime" efforts
(why do the Japanese have a fetish for bloated, red, tentacle-laden creatures?),
the visuals ARE incredible, and the film's opening is spellbinding. There
are even times when you really believe that you're watching is live action
-- a tribute to the movie's expansive (and expensive) computer rendering.
Unfortunately, once the plot takes center stage, muddled storytelling
and poor dialogue become all too evident. Characters -- like James Woods'
evil general -- are poorly defined and major plot points either glossed
over or never explained at all (like the origins of the "spirits" the scientists
are searching for), while the movie's finale drags on, boasting a preachy
message reminiscent of "Princess Mononoke." (Perhaps the narrative will
make more sense in the supposedly longer Japanese version, or in an extended
Elliot Goldenthal's score swells with bombastic energy, but it's just
another glossy trimming surrounding a story that ultimately fails to prove
equal to producer-director Hironobu Sakaguchi's visual invention. (PG-
LEGALLY BLONDE (**1/2): Reese Witherspoon tries
valiantly to hold this bubbly but simplistic "Clueless" variant together,
as a SoCal fraternity girl who improbably decides to follow her stuffed-shirt
boyfriend to Harvard Law School to better prove her love for him.
And, of course, despite strict teachers (Victor Garber, Holland Taylor)
and obnoxious classmates (Selma Blair), somehow, some way, Witherspoon's
Elle Woods just manages to prove to everyone, and herself, that she's not
quite the airhead she appears to be (something we've all known since the
first ten minutes, of course).
This summer slice of escapism -- last weekend's surprise #1 film --
is agreeably breezy and light, but the script (by Karen McCullah Lutz and
Kirsten Smith, who penned the superior "Ten Things I Hate About You") hammers
you over the head with one-dimensional stereotypes that ultimately give
the movie a somewhat sour taste. Witherspoon's romance with Luke Wilson
-- one of Harvard's only nice guys -- is given noticeably short-shrift,
while the last third turns into a warmed-over rehash of "My Cousin Vinny"
and a seemingly dozen other, funnier courtroom comedies. It's all wrapped
up with a "been there, done that" feeling further accentuated by Robert
Luketic's bland direction.
What holds the movie together is Witherspoon, who isn't quite able to
make a standout impression here like Alicia Silverstone did in "Clueless,"
but still keeps an under-developed ship afloat that ultimately doesn't
produce as many laughs as its premise promises. (PG-13, 98 mins)
Aisle Seat Mail Bag
From Pat Mooney:
The only reasons to see this movie are the performances by Osment
& Law, which were exceptional. But, though I appreciate Osment's performance,
I cared more about Law and even more for Teddy the Supertoy. The parallels
to Pinocchio and even Wizard of Oz were interesting, though, of course,
as regards Pinocchio, "parallel" is far too light a word. But overall,
I just wasn't impressed with the story and I quickly grew tired of Osment's
insistence that he was a boy when even he knew better in the film's context.
It's like one of the mecha's wires shorted to cause this delusion. I liked
Bicentennial Man a lot better; it covered much the same ground.
So, I tell those who ask that they should see the movie for Osment
and Law, but not to expect much else. As I said to my brother (in the seat
next to me), imagine how much worse it would have been in Kubrick's hands.
Many would expect me to be struck by lightning for that heresy, but it
hasn't happened yet. I regard Kubrick as a talented auteur with several
good movies under his belt (The Killing, Paths of Glory, Spartacus, and
Strangelove) but nothing more.
Thanks for your reviews of DVDs and your various other assistance.
From Bill Williams:
I picked up the new "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" DVD today,
and I have to admit, it's one of the most comprehensive packages of the
film to date. Certainly far from the complete package altogether, but the
most complete to date. Years ago when I was into laserdiscs, I bought the
Criterion box set of CE3K, and at that time it was the biggest package
of a movie I'd seen (until Pioneer's excellent T2 SE laserdisc box set).
One of the most surprising pluses I saw is the care and attention
given to the supplements, particularly in the film trailers and the featurette
"Watch the Skies". The biggest surprise is the 102-minute "Making of Close
Encounters" documentary, in which we get to see a really comprehensive
look at the making of the film, a far cry from the 15-minute edited version
of this documentary that was on the VHS release of the film a few years
I have to start giving minuses, though, for the film's deleted scenes
section. The DVD touts 11 deleted scenes, when from obvious memory of both
the original 1977 film and the 1980 Special Edition version, as well as
the Criterion laserdisc, there are other scenes that were omitted from
the film. One such example is the original introduction to Roy Neary (Richard
Dreyfuss) in the 1977 release. It's very short and clipped, as the focus
is solely on him looking at the model train. The 1980 SE expands his introduction
to include a longer interaction with his son and the homework assignment.
Another deleted scene that is not present in the original release, the
SE version, and Spielberg's new edit is a brief sequence in which Neary,
Jillian Guiller (Melinda Dillon), and a third man fight their way out of
the Army helicopter before running through the Army camp. The only home
video source that contains this brief scene is the Criterion laserdisc.
I mention these scenes as examples of scenes that were overlooked for this
The plus side to this section are the ten brand new, never before
seen sequences making their home video debut to the film, with Neary at
the power plant, Neary standing atop his house, a scene with Lacombe at
the airport, and Neary and Jillian stopping for gasoline before being spotted
and photographed by the military. The 11th "deleted scene" is merely the
1980 SE scene of the interior of the Mothership. I've always been fascinated
as to what the star sparkle at the end of the scene was meant to underscore
thematically, and it is possible that this suggests Neary's evolution into
an extra-terrestrial. It's mysterious to this day, nonetheless.
Bill, Spielberg and others have said over the years that the intention
of the Special Edition ending was never to suggest that Dreyfuss was evolving
into an extra-terrestrial. However, the way the scene was shot (not very
well, at that) made some people think that was the case.
Like you, I commend Columbia for including the full-length CE3K documentary
here. Basically, they just put the entire LD package from 1998 on DVD,
omitting only a large stills gallery in the process.
Along similar lines, I'm still mad at Universal for cutting out over
half of the JAWS documentary from the DVD -- and also leaving out a hilarious
deleted scene with one of Quint's first mates saying he's quitting his
services on the Orca!
Both that scene and the two-hour plus documentary were included on the
MCA Signature Collection laserdisc -- something that's still a must-own
out for any die-hard JAWS fan.
From Roger Hall
I've enjoyed reading your regular Aisle Seat columns on FSM. I was
thrilled to hear about FLY AWAY HOME being released on DVD with an isolated
score and commentary by Mark Isham. Wow, it's finally happening! I never
thought the soundtrack would be available as isolated score. I awarded
both the song AND the score my Sammy Award for best of that year. Beautifully
made film too.
I also agree with you about O BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU? I loved the
film. A very quirky story (typical for the Coen Bros.) with beautiful cinematography
and wonderful music. I chose the songtrack as a Recording of Special Merit.
I just bought the DVD but haven't watched it yet. I'll be reviewing it
soon on FMR.
Keep up your good work on the Aisle Seat column. I'll be reading
it every week.
New on DVD
If the Warren Beatty-Diane Keaton bomb "Town and Country" hadn't turned
into the biggest Revenue Losing Turkey of All-Time just weeks after MONKEYBONE
(*1/2, Fox, $24.98) was released, there's a good chance this expensive
but ill-conceived dark comic-fantasy might have claimed that title instead.
Sam Hamm's script, adapted from Kaja Blackley's graphic novel "Dark
Town," finds comic book artist Brendan Fraser plunging into a nightmarish
world of his own creations -- including a meeting with the stop-motion
title character -- after he falls into a coma.
In return, Monkeybone himself wants desperately to gain entry into the
"real" world, which he does by inhabiting Fraser's body, much to the chagrin
of love interest Bridget Fonda (in a thankless role). Fraser himself then
plunges back into the world of the living by taking over the body of a
dead gymnast (SNL's Chris Kattan, easily the funniest thing in the movie),
and a battle ensues for control of Fraser's body.
"Nightmare Before Christmas" director Henry Selick's picture is not
the worst movie ever made, but it nevertheless turned into a gigantic box-office
turkey that Fox left on the shelf for months while hacking it down to 95
minutes -- without the director's consent -- in the editing room.
It certainly seems, though, that the movie's problems were not limited
to post-production: Selick was hired, obviously, on the basis of his work
on "Nightmare" and "James and the Giant Peach," and MONKEYBONE's original
concept was to have an all stop-motion "fantasy" world paralleled with
the live-action "real" world of Fraser's consciousness.
Unfortunately, producer Chris Columbus and the studio decided it would
be more "real" to eliminate most of the stop-motion elements and use human
actors like Whoopi Goldberg in the "Down Town" world instead -- a terrible
decision that stripped the movie of its potential visual magic, making
the potentially surreal look simply ridiculous. They did allow Selick to
continue making the film, but that, too, may have been a poor choice since
Selick's forte took more and more of a back seat as the production progressed.
That said, MONKEYBONE is still an admirable failure since it's trying
so hard to be so many different things. You can see where the story could
have made for a unique film experience, especially if it was in the hands
of someone like Tim Burton, who would have allowed Selick to make the movie
he wanted to. As handled here, though, the movie isn't strange enough to
be disturbing, and isn't funny enough to sustain itself through the more
Fox's DVD features an abundance of extras, with 11 deleted/extended
scenes totaling some 20 minutes. One cut scene, extending Fraser's arrival
in "Down Town," shows exactly what's wrong with the film -- Selick had
animated several characters which, he says, "were too phony" for the producers
and studio honchos. It's exactly this kind of crazy animation and effects
that the movie needed -- not the fake-looking make-up designs and human
actors often utilized instead.
Selick also delivers a surprisingly honest commentary here, remaining
somewhat impartial at times but obviously disheartened by what happened
at others (he attributes most of the movie's cuts to Columbus and Fox executives).
Still gallery, 16 minutes of FX featurettes (quite fascinating by themselves,
with more deleted gags contained therein), the trailer and TV spots are
also included on Fox's DVD, which features a strong 1.85 transfer and excellent
DTS and Dolby Digital soundtracks (featuring an effective, often Elfman-like
score by Anne Dudley). Oddly, some creatures have been "digitally censored"
(blurred-out) at various points in the deleted scenes sequences (perhaps
some R-rated visual gag that Fox wanted excised from the DVD?).
MONKEYBONE is the most interesting kind of big studio flop, since you
can second guess where the project went wrong at every turn. Fox should
be given kudos for following through on releasing this Special Edition
DVD, since it's clear a lot of effort went into the project, its scant
box-office results notwithstanding.
NEXT TIME: It's Andy's Summer Soundtrack Cooler,
with no-nonsense album reviews of JP 3, A.I., Final Fantasy, and more!
Send all comments to firstname.lastname@example.org
and we'll catch you then. Excelsior!