First things first: I hate that stupid title.
It’s incredibly appropriate that the first time we see Jeff Goldblum’s character Dr. Ian Malcolm – the mathematician/chaos theorist who was so brilliant in the first Jurassic Park – in The Lost World, he’s yawning. He spends the rest of the movie seeming as disappointed as the audience are with how this movie turned out; it’s far from the weakest of the Jurassic Park movies, but it’s a long way from the highs that the series has turned out so far (though the decent ones are in the minority now, with two good films out of five).
As the first sequel to one of the most exciting, hyped and still most enjoyable summer blockbusters of all time, anticipation for The Lost World: Jurassic Park was at fever pitch. The trailers did a great job of selling the dinosaur action and it was great to see Goldblum returning to a role that remains iconic even today.
Yet that opening yawn lingers in the mind; it’s hard to escape the feeling that it was Spielberg himself signalling as soon as he could that he was dreadfully bored with returning to a concept that he didn’t have much more to contribute to. Commercial and audience pressures led to the book receiving an unnecessary sequel which the creator – in this case, Michael Crichton – wasn’t particularly interested in revisiting; the film, mostly unrelated to the book it’s named after, was in a similar position with Steven Spielberg.
So the setup is this: a young girl from a wealthy family, enjoying a break on a ‘private’ island, is attacked by a flock of tiny dinosaurs. We’re whisked away to Ian Malcolm (who’s tried to warn the world of the genetic threat on Isla Nublar, but been met with a cover up by inGen and NDA-enforced silence from the other survivors) being summoned by an ailing John Hammond, who reveals that the island the child was attacked on is Isla Sorna – ‘Site B’, the true breeding ground for the dinosaurs seen in the first film. He asks Malcolm to visit Site B with a team to document the animals, with a view to allowing them to live and thrive without intervention, as they have been in the years since the abandonment of Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar. They’ve formed a perfectly balanced and territorial ecosystem – and Hammond believes that they should now be free to live without human involvement.
Having barely survived the dinosaur rampages of the first movie, Malcolm initially declines to return to the fray; however, Hammond has already dispatched the mathematician’s girlfriend, Sarah Hammond, to the island – so Malcolm reluctantly heads out with the sole purpose of rescuing her.
Upon arriving, Sarah is quickly found by Malcolm and his companions – and it’s soon revealed that his daughter has snuck along on the trip too. It’s not long before a rival team is also on the island, with an entirely different motive: they’re intending to capture the animals and take them back to the mainland, for display in Jurassic Park: San Diego, a zoo facility being built as the operation is underway.
The set up of there even being a Site B frustratingly retcons a number of details in the first film – and is particularly unnecessary, given that there was a perfectly viable sequel already set up, with the lingering shot on the canister of embryos trapped in the mud when Dennis Nedry failed to escape Isla Nublar; not to mention the fact that if Site B existed, the rival corporation that Nedry was selling the embryos to could have just taken all of the animals they needed from the less secure facilities on the ‘second’ island in the first place.
Though the set up is lazy, Spielberg and the returning screenwriter, David Koepp, tie themselves in knots trying to give themselves reasons for the carnage to kick off again. Characters act in stupid ways, have ridiculous motivations (Pete Postlethwaite tries his best in a really bizarre role as a big game hunter who wants to hunt a T-Rex until he doesn’t) and there are entire scenes that fail to stand up to even basic logic – there’s a supposed T-Rex attack on a boat which leads to all kinds of completely impossible carnage, given where the animal is being kept, that we only see the aftermath of (the hand on the wheel is particularly illogical, let alone all of the bodies dotted around outside the hold, which the T-Rex is bafflingly trapped in). The final act’s T-Rex city rampage is ridiculous and devoid of much in the way of peril, shoehorning the protagonist characters back into the action where they’re not needed.
A number of scenes feel like retreads of stuff we already saw – but better – in the first film, and in some cases the overly ambitious nature of the CGI results in effects that look worse than those in the original Jurassic Park. It’s not just the dinosaurs that suffer from this; there’s a sequence with a truck, a cliff and three idiots on a rope that is terrible from an effects point of view, at least at the climax of the scene.
That said, there are some dinosaur effects – both practical and CGI – that still look very impressive even now. Though Janusz Kaminski’s cinematography is very bright and gives the film an oddly desaturated look (in contrast to the much more vibrant visuals of Jurassic Park), the dinosaur safari sequence benefits from this approach, with the CG dinosaurs looking brilliant at several points – despite their age at this point in time.
The raptors are the star of the show here, it has to be said. They’re central to one of the most cleverly shot sequences – with them stalking humans through long grass – and looking pretty impressive throughout. The biggest issue I have with the raptor attacks isn’t their fault; it’s the inclusion of a cringeworthy gymnastics sequence, in which the raptor just patiently waits to be knocked out of a window by Malcolm’s daughter. That aside, the raptor sequences are definitely the best scenes of the film; exciting, well choreographed and shot, with some brilliant – and consistent – creature effects.
Overall though, it’s clear that there was no reason for this sequel to exist. Everyone seems baffled or bored – characters talk over each other at several points, there’s a cameo by Tim and Lex Murphy in which both the children and Jeff Goldblum seem confused as to why they’re there and we even have a number of characters abruptly change their stance or motivation, often with hard to swallow explanations. It feels lazy and convoluted, which is some trick. The careful way in which the science is set up in the first movie is completely ignored here, with pterosaurs appearing out of nowhere for a money shot in the closing moments, sans any explanation whatsoever about how and why they’d stay on the island.
This was Spielberg’s last – to date – directed entry in the series (given the gap between the third Indiana Jones movie and the disastrous fourth entry, Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, however, never say never) and is definitely one of the most disappointing films in his entire oeuvre. It’s technically proficient in most areas, as you’d expect, but even the John Williams score is unmemorable, aside from the original Jurassic Park theme. I remember enjoying it upon release in 1997 – so much so that I saw the film multiple times on the big screen – but its flaws are all too apparent now, and perhaps exacerbated over time.
Did things improve in the first Spielberg-less entry, with Joe Johnston’s Jurassic Park III? From memory, unfortunately not – but I’ll be back with my thoughts once I’ve had the chance to rewatch it.
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