Review: “The Lost World: Jurassic Park”
Produced by: Gerald R. Molen, Colin Wilson
Written by: David Koepp (screenplay)
Edited by: Michael Kahn
Cinematography by: Janusz Kamiński
Music by: John Williams
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Vince Vaughn, Richard Schiff, Peter Stormare, Vanessa Lee Chester, Arliss Howard, Harvey Jason, Thomas F. Duffy, Don S. Davis
Based on the novel The Lost World by Michael Crichton
This review contains spoilers…
You know when I said in my last review, the one for the original Jurassic Park, that the characters didn’t matter so much, and how the big highlight was the collection of dinosaur sequences? Yeah… I didn’t entirely mean it. Case in point: The Lost World, the sequel to one of the most groundbreaking blockbusters ever. You might think that, given a few years and a bigger budget, the film would be even more magical — better effects, more dinosaurs, larger cast of characters. As is the way with these things, however, the film suffers from diminishing returns.
Gone is the grandeur, wonderment, and methodical doling out of sweet dinosaur action amidst the deceptively thoughtful morality tale of man and the exploitation of nature and science. The Lost World takes for granted the achievements of the first, and it becomes a playground in which the filmmakers, having now broken in their new toy, throw it around with reckless abandon. The resulting film, though ultimately a fleetingly satisfying experience, feels largely like Spielberg and crew
Now focusing on the continuing story of Ian Malcolm, who you will remember as the “rockstar” chaotician and comic relief from the first, The Lost World takes its characters to Site B of Jurassic Park, Isla Sorna, where dinosaurs have begun thriving in their new ecosystem. Seeking to once again raise the question of exploration vs. exploitation, John Hammond’s team of scientists are pitted against opportunistic dinosaur poachers led by Hammond’s nephew, Peter Ludlow, whose less than philanthropic dream is to capture the dinosaurs and bring them back to San Diego, where he hopes to open a new park that enable easier access to the dinosaurs by the paying masses — but will it turn out to be the other way around?
The original novel this film was based on was written by Crichton only after much pestering from Spielberg to create a new source novel that he could adapt into a film. It’s funny, then, that the film bears little semblance to that source material beyond a few shared characters. And while I don’t remember too much from the novel (I first and last read it back in 5th grade), I can honestly say that the pressure under which it was produced is similarly reflected in the quality of the film it spawned. The Lost World features characters who are obviously meant to recreate the same sort of spark as those in the first film, but instead we’re left with quip-spouting facsimiles who, given their circumstances, really seem to be taking this whole dinosaur stalking thing in stride.
Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm, obviously stirred into a more serious and paranoid version of his former smarmy self after nearly being eaten by a once-extinct monster, is still a fairly likeable guy and makes for a mostly affable protagonist, but having otherwise zero previous connection with dinosaurs, the choice to focus on the comic relief sidekick from the previous film over, say, Dr. Grant or Dr. Sattler, is your first sign of where this film is headed.
Julianne Moore plays the justification for his presence as Malcolm’s previously unmentioned animal behaviorist girlfriend, Dr. Sarah Harding (Mary Sue extraordinaire), at the time of the first film. Sarah’s your run-of-the-mill “tenacious” love interest, a woman who can take care of herself, which means she also frequently talks over and down to people she thinks is wrong. Her primary motive is to disprove a fellow scientist’s theory that the T-rex was a vicious beast that would abandon its young, which really only serves to foreshadow the fact that, yes, this second film in the dinosaur series will one-up the previous film’s T-rex attack by having two T-rexes attack at the same time! And yet, somehow, this is perhaps the least riveting dinosaur attack in either of the two films released to this point. Anyway, yeah, Sarah’s hardly an interesting character so much as she is an apparently necessary plot mover — hell, she’s the primary reason the paranoid Ian even agreed to put himself in danger once more.
I’m going to do you a favor and let you know not to get too invested in Vince Vaughn’s documentarian, too. While he’s technically present throughout the film, I’m not really certain his presence is even at all necessary. The fact that the film drops his character completely by the climax without so much as a word as to where he’s gone, I don’t think the filmmakers really thought so, either, and you’re left to make assumptions. And the less said about Kelly, Ian Malcolm’s daughter and the obligatory surrogate for the kids watching, the better. All I’m going to say is this: Freaking gymnastics, man. So dumb. Pete Postlethwaite does at least provide a bit of needed color as the eccentric lead hunter and anti-hero, Roland Tembo, whose primary goal is to hunt down a male T-rex in exchange for leading the expedition to the island. Sure, he’s nothing more than an over-the-top antagonistic parallel to a previous character, Robert “Clever girl” Muldoon, but at least Postlethwaite seems to be having enough fun that we can enjoy the film vicariously through him.
And that’s the thing about The Lost World — it’s not actually entirely awful, but you also have to make a lot of accommodations to enjoy it even a fraction as much as the first, regardless of whether you’re in it for the negligible cautionary tale or the excessive dinosaur attacks. Its assembly was an obviously slapdash effort to cash-in on the success of its predecessor, and this is reflected in all aspects of the film, including the animatronics created by Stan Winston and his team.
It’s also somewhat jarring how mean-spirited this film is in comparison. Perhaps it’s just due to the larger cast of characters and extras, but whereas moments like the toilet kill and dilophosaurus attack were played for laughs using despicable characters in the first, the second has, for one example, a T-rex chasing down and even taking chomps out of horrified random people o the streets of San Diego (cue Japanese business men fleeing the Godzilla-like creature). It’s such a drastic change in tone that you can’t help but feel uneasy about the sharp turn into camp action.
I’ve beat up on The Lost World: Jurassic Park a lot here, but it’s mostly because I just love the first film that much (and even just tonight re-watched it in theatres while I still could). I admit that I feel an obligation to own the sequels, all the same, which is why I refuse to buy the first film on Blu-Ray until I can afford the trilogy pack. I loved this movie as a kid, and even as an adult, it’s still a relatively fun popcorn action flick and has the bonus of serving up a greater variety of dinosaurs while giving you more of the ones you’ve already come to love, but it comes at the cost of likeable characters, intelligent plotting, and that everything else that made the first fascinating. Know what you’re getting yourself into, and perhaps you’ll wring some enjoyment out of it, too, empty-headed though they may be.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2.5 / 5