Steven Spielberg Couldn't Resist Doing Some Directing Behind The Scenes Of Jurassic Park 3

You either die a hero or you live long enough to see yourself become one of the better-received "Jurassic Park" sequels.

Such is the legacy of director Joe Johnston's "Jurassic Park III." To be fair, the 2001 movie was far from a failure financially, grossing nearly four times its $93 million budget at the box office. Creatively-speaking, however, the film was hampered by a chaotic pre-production process, forcing Johnston to enter production without a finished script. Having to figure out a story on the fly didn't do the movie any favors, either, as evidenced by its middling critical reception. What's more, it led to the "Jurassic Park" franchise going dormant (don't you mean extinct?) for 14 years, only to be revived with "Jurassic World" in 2015.

In the wake of the not-so-beloved "Jurassic World" sequels, "Fallen Kingdom" and "Dominion," Johnston's dino-film now finds itself undergoing a bit of a reappraisal. Be it the way the movie embraces the campy B-movie qualities inherent to the property or the way it succeeds purely as a stripped-down thrill-delivering machine, there are plenty of things one could admire about "Jurassic Park III." There's even a little of Steven Spielberg himself in the filmmaking, if you know where to look for it.

'If you decide not to do the sequel, keep me in mind'

"Jurassic Park III" picks up with Sam Neill's (no longer kid-hating) paleontologist, Alan Grant, in real-time after the first two "Jurassic Park" films. Content to study fossils but struggling to secure the funding he needs, Grant accepts an offer to join a wealthy couple on an aerial tour of Isla Sorna. In reality, though, Grant's employers are secretly middle-class divorcees planning to land on the island and search for their son, who vanished there weeks earlier. One thing leads to another, and, before he knows it, Grant finds himself trying to stay alive in a dinosaur-infested land he's never encountered before.

Interestingly, Joe Johnston originally had his eye on directing the second "Jurassic Park" film, 1997's "The Lost World." Speaking at a roundtable interview in 2001, Johnston said he caught Steven Spielberg at a screening for the first "Jurassic Park" movie back in 1993 and told him, "Hey, I liked your movie, if you decide not to do the sequel, keep me in mind." Six years later, Spielberg finally got back to him with an offer to helm "Jurassic Park III," which Johnston accepted.

Johnston would later come to refer to production on "Jurassic Park III" as a "living hell" due to the lack of a completed script. At the same time, he admitted two of his favorite previous movies as a director, "The Rocketeer" and "October Sky," were well-reviewed flops. "I think the problem with those two movies is that I had too much fun making them," said Johnston, laughing. "I've realized that when I have fun doing something, it bombs at the box office. Go figure."

'Steven had this idea'

Although he passed on directing, Steven Spielberg still served as an executive producer on "Jurassic Park III" and would make his way over to the film's set while working on "A.I. Artificial Intelligence" (which also came out in 2001). In an interview with Jurassic Outpost in 2020, "Jurassic Park III" cinematographer Shelly Johnson noted Spielberg "almost can't resist directing" whenever he visits a set. He went on to recall the time the filmmaker helped out with a scene in the movie — one that involved a character searching for an item with a flashlight in a "closet":

"So Steven had this idea. The camera was on one side of this box she was searching, and she was on the other side of the box, and he had this idea: Well, if she ducks down and we see the beam of the flashlight come up first and then she rises, so we see the flashlight kind of like a lighthouse and then we see her, which was kind of a very Spielbergian vocabulary. And so he made that suggestion and they're like great, and then the actress – I was kind of there taking my light reading – and the actress whispered to me, she said, 'Can you show me what he's talking about? Because I don't want to mess this up.' And I'm like, 'Yeah, sure!' And so I showed her how to hold the flashlight so the camera could read the beam of light and kind of wave it around a little and then come up then bring your head up after that, you know how it goes. 'Okay, thank you, thank you.'"

It's not much, but let it never again be said "Jurassic Park III" is completely devoid of Spielberg's touch (whichever way one feels about it).