The press junket for Jurassic Park III, which Steven Spielberg was too "busy" to direct, started a little more strangely than most. About three weeks before the junket, the threatening phone calls began.
"You can't review the film because it's not finished yet," said the voice on the line. "If you do, we'll know who did it, and you won't be allowed to come to another one of our screenings."
Even though I'm a young journalist, I'm savvy enough to know "The movie's not done yet" is usually code for the studio not wanting anyone to write ahead of time about how much the movie sucked, lest poor reviews cut into opening-weekend box office. Since I agreed not to review the film—I could only use my screening of Jurassic Park III to prepare me for interviews with the film's stars and crew at the junket—I'll just say that compared with the flick, morning T. Rex breath may possibly be better. Of course, who really knows what morning T. Rex breath smells like? Since I can't review the film lest I suffer the wrath of the Hollywood publicity machine, I don't have to explain myself.
What a relief!
The pre-junket phone calls persisted for the next few weeks and eventually led to e-mails that implored me to: a) not bring ANYONE (in bold, capital letters) to the screening, and b) Do NOT (again in bold, capital letters) review the film. You know, the film where ancient dinosaur droppings might contain more compelling action, but you won't read that in print from me because, like I said, I agreed not to review Jurassic Park III.
The night before the interviews, 40 national journalists and I were "treated" to a preview of the film. Judging from the grumbling heading into the screening room, nobody seemed to believe Jurassic Park II deserved a sequel.
The day of the actual junket, to which I brought no one and had no intention of discussing the film (which I'm not doing here either, mind you), the fun really began. Of course, my name was left off the list at the gate, which happens at just about every junket I attend. That forced me to call security and ask for clearance. Strangely enough, that was a pretty simple thing to do.
After a brisk 10-minute walk through the Universal lot, I arrived at the nearly pitch-black Stage 5. It was festooned with various tropical plants and, of course, fake dinosaurs. I was greeted by what appeared to be a horde of Secret Service men—complete with little plugs in their ears—but they turned out to be Dreamworks' public-relations minions. They hooked me up with my free stuff (two shirts, a hat and the movie's soundtrack) and pointed me in the direction of journalistic Valhalla: a long table covered with free food.
The food line itself looked like a scene out of Jurassic Park III. Journalists from all over the country pounced on the salads, rolls and cold cuts as if they'd been stuck on an island for the past couple of years.
As I began to partake of the complimentary refreshments provided by the studio in a not-so-subtle attempt to buy favorable coverage, I noticed the lady ahead of me piling food on her plate and then stuffing it into her face just about as quickly while she continued through the line. As she turned to talk to the person behind me, a piece of what appeared to be turkey flew out of her mouth and smacked me on the cheek. Besides the disgust I felt as a vegetarian at being subjected to a surprise aerial meat attack, I began to seriously question the direction my life was taking. Did I really want to wind up like this lady, spitting turkey at some unsuspecting cub journalist in 10 years?
Finally, the festivities began. We were seated, five journalists at a time, at a round table in eight different dark, shanty-like rooms. My room had a raptor with red shoes on and a vent the size of a black hole blowing air directly on top of us. As the arctic blast kicked in, the first interview began.
I would love to write all about it and tell you what this person's role in the film was and how he felt about not working with Spielberg, but I didn't even catch the guy's name. Since he was so long-winded—ignoring every question on any topic and instead reciting his preapproved spiel—we only got out two questions in 20 minutes.
And so it went for the next two hours. People involved in the project came in and out of the interview stables gushing about how fabulous the movie is and how much they loved working on it. But you could tell, deep down, that most of them were lying.
At this particular junket, the studio offered up everyone but the best boy and the gaffer, which made the day a little tedious. There were some highlights: William H. Macy of Fargo fame actually treated us to an electrifying conversation; director Joe Johnston (a Spielberg protg and former Cal State Long Beach student) was very kind; and Sam Neill, the Aussie actor who's been stuck in all three Jurassic Parks, put the crowd to sleep with his lack of wit and slow speech pattern. (I list that as a highlight because by that point, I needed a nap.)
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But the interview of the day had to be with young Trevor Morgan, who plays Eric Kirby in the film. Now, Trevor was a sweet kid and all, but I think he set a new record for gas during an interview, burping during every question. My unofficial tally was 10, shattering the previous record set by Wilford Brimley. My suggestion is to not give the kid so much Coke next time (the beverage, of course; he's not that big a star yet).
Finally, after a journalist from who knows where got into a little tte--tte with the film's producer, Kathleen Kennedy, about why Stanley Kubrick didn't get any credit for Spielberg's new flick, A.I., we were excused. Nice question, numbnuts!
I would be remiss if I neglected to mention that back at good old Stage 5, they decided to rev up one of the old dinosaurs for the crowd. If one were writing a review, one might mention that this private dinosaur show was better than the movie. Of course, since I'm absolutely not reviewing Jurassic Park III, I won't.
Jurassic Park III was directed by Joe Johnston; produced by Steven Spielberg; written by Alexander Payne, Craig Rosenberg and Jim Taylor; and stars Sam Neill, William H. Macy, Ta Leoni, Michael Jeter and Alessandro Nivola. Now playing countywide.