THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK: From Capitalist to Naturalist in Four Years

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – Directed by Steven Spielberg – Starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vanessa Lee Chester, Arliss Howard, Pete Postlethwaite, Vince Vaughn, Richard Schiff, Peter Stormare, Harvey Jason, Thomas F. Duffy, and Richard Attenborough.

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Water seeks its own level, and eventually, films do, as well.

I hated THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK when it came out. I loved the original film’s mix of wonder and thrills, and so it is perhaps not surprising that I wasn’t as taken with THE LOST WORLD’s darker tone, lesser characters, simpler philosophy, and Vince Vaughn.

Time allows for a reconsideration, of course, and 15 years on, my dislike of THE LOST WORLD has cooled enough that I’ve become much more neutral on the film. I can appreciate what Spielberg is attempting here and there are parts of LOST WORLD that I outright like. The film is not without significant deficiencies, however, in terms of story, character, and philosophy.

I’ll say this right from the start – this is probably going to turn out to be one of those reviews that I don’t really like to write, in that there’s going to be a lot more focus on the negative than the positive. I wrote this same kind of review the other day when I tackled THE MUMMY: TOMB OF THE DRAGON EMPEROR, and there’s a lot of similarities between that film and this one in terms of my overall reaction. Both films are perfectly fine time wasters and both can serve a point – if you loved the first two MUMMY movies (like I did), where else are you gonna go to see these characters or even that kind of story? Similarly, if you love dinosaurs, where else are you gonna go to get better dino action than the JURASSIC PARK franchise?

Whatever problems there are with LOST WORLD, it’s not the dinosaurs. In fact, the combined work of Industrial Light & Magic’s CGI dinos and Stan Winston’s animatronic creatures are individually at the top of their fields and work together beautifully. If you’re a fan of film production, of the art of making movies, then LOST WORLD is a must-see just to appreciate ILM and Stan Winston’s work. And after you’ve watched the movie, do yourself a favor and check out the bonus features; it’s truly gratifying to see people at the top of their respective (and partially competitive) fields working so well together. And that’s to say nothing of the sound technicians who give the dinos such wonderful vocal qualities.

All of which is to say that, production wise, LOST WORLD is high quality entertainment. The dinosaurs look fantastic whether they’re being shot from far away or interacting up close with the humans. There’s a fantastic scene between Julianne Moore and a baby Stegosaurus, and in the bonus features she credits Winston with creating an actual being for her to interact with, making her job easier, and you can see it in the film. The baby dino is all blinking eyes and cuteness, and it’s easy to see how Moore’s character would be drawn in by the baby.

Now, let’s get to the negatives.

The premise of LOST WORLD is a decent enough set-up: John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has spent the four years between JURASSIC PARK and now going from capitalist to naturalist. He reveals to Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) that there’s a “Site B” on Isla Sorna that the Ingen board wants to strip and monetize. Hammond wants the island preserved and believes the only way for him to save the island is to win the public relations battle, so he wants to send a small expedition to the island to take pictures.

Ian wants no part of this endeavor, in large part because he’s spent the last four years being ridiculed for writing a book about what happened in the first film. Hammond, however, has a secret weapon: Malcolm’s girlfriend Sarah Harding (Moore) is the paleontologist Hammond has chosen, and Sara’s already on the island. Malcolm decides he’s going to go (of course) to get her back, and so he joins equipment expert Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff) and documentarian Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) on what he sees as a rescue mission and they still see as Hammond’s PR expedition.

Here’s where the trouble starts: Malcolm has a daughter, Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester), who seems like a perfectly fine kid with a horrible dad, and you just know she’s going to stow away in one of the vehicles and stick around for the entire movie.

Two problems arise at this point in the film. First, our sarcastic, skirt-chasing mathematician philosopher has been entirely de-fanged in the years between films, and we’re left with a broken, frightened worrier boyfriend/husband. It makes perfect narrative sense, of course, but it puts a drag on the film. If LOST WORLD had balanced Malcolm’s descent with another character’s ascent, this would be all well and good, but the film doesn’t do this. I suppose it tries with Nick, but Vaughn is completely miscast as this secret environmentalist warrior and he spends the bulk of the film looking completely out of place.

Second, we’ve got a kid mucking up the film. Unlike Tim and Lex (Joseph Mazello and Ariana Richards, who make a brief appearance during Malcolm’s visit to see Hammond), Kelly doesn’t add anything to the film. I figured she was here so the film can replicate the Grant/Tim and Lex subplot of a man who doesn’t like kids warming to them, but Ian is such a bad parent and the danger starts so quickly that there’s no arc here at all.

Which brings us to the single largest problem with LOST WORLD: the third act comes out of nowhere.

So, act one, everyone gets to the island and sees that Ingen has sent a bunch of professional hunters. Act two has the two camps forced to work together to try and get off the island, and then act three …

In act three, Ingen puts a Tyrannosaurus Rex and its child on a boat and sends it to San Diego where Spielberg can indulge in his Godzilla fantasies.

It works as a visual experience but it fails the narrative because it jettisons everyone but Malcolm, Sarah, and Hammond’s nephew/Ingen usurper Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard). The film front the Malcolm/Kelly subplot but then when they get to the island, Kelly just gets in the way of the action, and then when we get to the final act, she’s completely missing. In the bonus features, Spielberg says he came up with this ending on the fly, that he felt it’s what the audience wanted and needed to see, and he’s right that it’s fun to see, but he didn’t fully take into account what this new ending did to the story he’d spent the previous 90 minutes constructing.

The philosophical angle in LOST WORLD is also a let down. In the first film the question was whether or not you should do something, but here it’s a simplistic “hunters/observers” dynamic and it’s completely clear that the observers are in the right. The hunters are cartoonishly drawn, and while Pete Postlethwaite does his best to play a convincing Great White Hunter, the character never really works. It’s a shame because Roland Tembo actually has the most significant character arc in the film, as he eventually loses his taste for his killing life and turns his back on Ludlow’s offer to come to work for Ingen full-time.

Tembo is a secondary character, however, and the focus is on Malcolm, Sarah, and Nick. Sarah works rather well, but it’s a bit grating to see Malcolm as such a wet blanket, completely grating every time Nick is on screen, and there’s no real arc for any of them.

The action scenes are good but not great. The film’s main scene is a redo of the iconic T-Rex/Explorer scene from the previous film, except with a bigger vehicle and two Tyrannosaurs. It’s not bad, but it goes on way too long and having Kelly along just so she can be sidelined makes me wonder what Spielberg’s ultimate intent with this character was supposed to be. If you want a darker film, fine, but embrace that darkness and keep the kid at home.

On the whole, THE LOST WORLD isn’t a great movie but it’s a perfectly fine watch. The dinosaurs are fantastic, the story is okay, and the ending is fun to watch even if it sidelines some of the characters. Spielberg feels like he’s on cruise control, but he’s still Spielberg and he can still keep things moving. While LOST WORLD is disappointing compared to JURASSIC PARK – there’s just not much hopeful or awe-inspiring here, at all – it’s a semi-enjoyable watch.

LOST WORLD is darker and more simplistic, but it’s still got all those amazing dinosaurs to look at, and that ain’t a bad way to help you consume a bowl of popcorn.

________

JURASSIC PARK Review Index

JURASSIC PARK: We’re Gonna Make a Fortune with This Place
THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK: From Capitalist to Naturalist in Four Years
JURASSIC PARK III: This How You Play God

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