Yes, I am serious. Jurassic Park III, one of the strangest sequels in film history, has a great audio commentary track – if you like the Jurassic Park (2001) films as well as visual and/or special effects.
I even think the film isn’t half bad. I only saw it recently and didn’t expect much, probably because Jurassic Park was such a defining film for both my youth and my academic work on realism in visual effects and The Lost World was an incredible disappointment. The good thing about JP3 (as the commentary people call it) is that it doesn’t make any pretensions: It’s an old-fashioned monster movie where a group of talented actors hobble from one dino-encounter to the next without too much of a tacky back story. The dinosaurs clearly are the stars and the actor’s don’t try to change that. They just go along with the fun.
The commentary consists of Special Effects Legend Stan Winston together with his visual and practical effects colleagues Dan Taylor, John Rosengrant and Michael Lantieri sitting in the studio and chatting not just about JP3, but about the way the effects developed throughout the whole series. They change between ignoring the action on the screen completely and discussing it very precisely shot by shot.
It’s this change that makes the commentary so interesting. Sometimes you can just lean back and listen to the pros talk about the buildup of digital techniques and, even more interesting, about the progress made in puppeteering. In key scenes, however, the crew switches to pointing out what is real and what is digital in every single shot we see.
The amazing thing, that I would never have believed possible, is that Winston and his chums are sometimes lost themselves about which dinosaur is a practical effect and which is digitally inserted. If even they can’t discern it and don’t remember it, they can be sure they did a pretty good job. I thought that after all these years I would have a good eye for effects as well, but I was equally stumped.
Whenever the filmmakers are lost for words, they start commending the actors’ performances and the genius of director Joe Johnston, which is highly annoying. And while the end credits roll, Dan Taylor reads out and endless list of people he thanks for working on the movie, which is a bit boring.
The early noughties were something of a pinnacle for realistic-looking effects-driven films before Lord of the Rings dragged everyone into colour grading and green screen orgies. Hearing four professionals talk about the way to the top and actually being there when they get confused about their own work is both entertaining and highly educational.