Flashback: “Jurassic Park III,” Reviewed.

Sam Neill in 2001's 'Jurassic Park III.' (Universal Pictures)

Sam Neill in 2001’s ‘Jurassic Park III.’ (Universal Pictures)

I’m off tonight to see Jurassic World – look for a review tomorrow. In the meantime, here’s a review of the last dino-spectacle, from the prehistoric days of 2001….

Steven Spielberg has been voted off the Jurassic Park island, and the survivors are doing pretty well without him.

Jurassic Park III is the first of the series that began in 1993 not to be directed by Spielberg – a good sign for people like myself who thought the first film was inspired entertainment but the second a joyless mess. (Before 1997, Spielberg had never made a sequel that didn’t feature Indiana Jones; since The Lost World: Jurassic Park, I’ve dearly hoped he never will again.)

The new director, Joe Johnston (Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), sets aside Spielberg’s pretentious reverence to produce a slimmed-down movie with few ambitions other than providing 90 minutes of familiar thrills. If ever there were an argument to be made for mediocrity, Jurassic Park III is it.

In the years since his trip to Jurassic Park, paleontologist Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) has enjoyed mixed fortunes: his speaking engagements have made him famous and sought-after, but funding has evaporated for his old-fashioned research digs: why study dinosaur fossils, when the real things are just off the coast of Costa Rica?

Enter the Kirbys (William H. Macy and Téa Leoni), wealthy thrill-seekers who hire Dr. Grant as a tour guide over a fly-over of the dino-infested Isla Sorna. Of course, they promise, they’d never think of landing on the island; of course, we eventually learn, that’s what they had in mind all along. Soon Dr. Grant is guiding a different kind of tour: Over there you’ll see some velociraptors … they’re getting ready to eat us….

Each Jurassic film requires that people rather stupidly go to this remote island, struggle for a while, and escape, making the franchise hardly a hallmark of narrative innovation. This time, the only device more ridiculous than the one that brings the humans to Isla Sorna is the one that facilitates their escape. Jurassic Park III is basically a dinosaur-delivery device; it’s the meaty midsection – in which the humans flee raptors, T-rexes, and a colossal Spinosaurus – that delivers.

Creature guru Stan Winston magnificently breathes life into the dinosaurs for bravura sequences, especially one involving a beast new to the series – a winged pteranodon, trapped with its human prey inside a giant birdcage. Leoni doesn’t have much to do, but Neill and Macy perform admirably against their digital co-stars. They genuinely seem as if they’d rather be anywhere but on that island. Still, for the enjoyable middle of Jurassic Park III, we’re plenty glad they’re there.