Revisiting ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’ (1997)

the-lost-world1In the Internet age, we’re usually aware of which big movies are being made years before their actual release dates, particularly if you’re an avid film fan. I do occasionally miss the days when I’d see a trailer in the cinema with no prior knowledge of the film it was advertising, or have a billboard be the first I’d heard of one. Let me go back to May 1997, my Dad was driving me home from school, on the busy city road that began the short journey we passed many large billboards. Waiting at a red light, I looked up to the left, I saw a familiar red and black logo, underneath were three words; “Something Has Survived”. ‘A new Jurassic Park movie?’ I was giddy with excitement; it had been 4 years since the first movie and up unto this moment I had absolutely no idea there was going to be a sequel.

Even as I kid, a remember finding The Lost World: Jurassic Park to be a disappointment, yet it was one I watched a great deal. The first weekend it was available to rent on VHS, I watched it on the Saturday evening, then once again on Sunday morning before having to return it. A few months later I asked for my own copy for my birthday. Later I bought a DVD too, albeit as it was packaged with the first movie. I hadn’t seen it in a very long time though, and as Jurassic World’s gigantic box-office success has me and everyone else talking about dinosaurs again, I thought it was prime time for a re-watch.

This piece contains spoilers.

There’s a lot about this film that I’d remembered correctly it seems, it is still inferior to Jurassic Park in almost every conceivable way, but it’s also not a terrible movie. It goes the typical sequel route in being ‘darker’ than its predecessor, with increased violence, and a more sinister plot. The first film doesn’t really have a ‘villain’, if anything you could say it was all Hammond’s fault, here we have Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard), Hammond’s soulless nephew. He’s seized control of InGen, and wants to capture dinosaurs and bring them to a new Jurassic Park in San Diego. He’s no dreamer, he doesn’t care about the animals, he only wants money.

The movie begins with a scene taken from the original Jurassic Park novel (not Michael Crichton’s sequel, from which this was very loosely adapted without Crichton as a screenwriter). A young girl on a holiday with her family encounters a Compsognathus, which then attacks her. It’s the first dinosaur we see in the movie and one we haven’t seen before. Spielberg then smash-cuts to Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm waiting for the subway. It’s an unusual sequel in promoting one of the first film’s supporting characters to the lead, but Goldblum was arguably the most interesting character in the original. He must have made an impression on Crichton too, as Ian Malcolm dies in the original novel but Crichton retconned this for his sequel.

Goldblum’s opening scene actually reveals a great deal of information about what’s been going on with both him, InGen, and the park since the events of the last movie. InGen have somehow managed to keep everything covered-up, paying off journalists, but Malcolm has still published his side of the story, an effort which has destroyed his academic reputation. After the opening scene, this angle is never explored again though. Also, I have to say that Goldblum lacks some of the eccentric charm he brought to the first film, coming across as more of a straight-forward action lead.

We also get cameos from 3 of the first film’s survivors, John Hammond himself (Richard Attenborough), who’s attitude has changed to more of a conservationist one, and his grandchildren, who I guess are them to show us that they weren’t permanently scarred by the events they witnessed 4 years prior.

They’re going to need a convoluted excuse to get a smart character like Ian Malcolm to go back to the island, and the one they cook-up is having his new girlfriend Dr Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) be a top palaeontologist who’s already contacted Hammond and gone there by her own devices. He sets off there with a couple of field experts (Richard Schiff and Vince Vaughn) with the intention of ‘rescuing her’ only to find a team of hunters led by Ludlow are headed there too to capture the dinosaurs.

Isla Sorna, Hammond’s ‘site B’ where the dinosaurs were originally created is the setting for the majority of the movie. I hadn’t really noticed until this re-watch how reminiscent the action that unfolds there is to Jurassic Park. Not that any of the set-pieces feel copied, but we begin with our leads being awed by a herd of large, herbivorous animals, in this case Stegosauruses, another new dinosaur. Then we have a T-Rex attack sequence at night during a rain storm, a lone bad guy is taken out by smaller dinosaurs, then we have a scary sequence in which people are stalked by velociraptors. All incidents that happened in the first movie.

The hunters trying to capture dinosaurs sub-plot is a reasonably good idea, and the chase sequence when they grab some herbivores displays some creativity as to how they might achieve such a goal. Pete Postlethwaite makes an impression as leader Roland Tembo, a big game hunter who’s grown bored and just wants the chance to hunt a T-Rex. The trouble with him is he’s somewhat derivative of Bob Peck’s Muldoon, but much less likeable. He doesn’t care about animals at all, having no qualms about crippling a baby one to assist his hunt, and doesn’t come to respect them as threats until the end, something Muldoon knew from the start.

The T-Rex attack is the film’s most celebrated sequence, and rightly so. We have 2 T-Rexes this time round, and Spielberg frames some terrifying shots upon their arrival. The sequence when they knock the trailer containing our heroes off the side of the cliff, and Julianne Moore falls down to only have a slowly cracking pane of glass break her fall is brilliantly intense. Likewise, in the introduction of the raptors later on, as they stalk the hunters through the long grass, Spielberg uses a wonderfully scary technique of showing the lines they make in the grass, then only their tails as they attack before givingus a full shot of one jumping towards us.

lost world 5One thing I do recall from my first viewing of this, and that’s still quite true now, is that it’s surprisingly nasty in places. I’m shocked that this managed to pass with a PG rating in the UK (Jurassic World got a 12A). When the rival palaeontologist is killed, the waterfall turns into blood. There are far more disposable characters on the island, and most of them are taken out by the raptors. When Ludlow finally meets his fate, deserving as he may be, the adult T-Rex first turns his legs into a bloody mess before dumping him for the baby to finish off. The most disturbing scene for me as a child was the death of Dieter (Peter Stormare) . He’s established immediately as being rather incompetent, confrontational and a general bastard; he encounters a curious Comsognathus and electrocutes it for giggles. He later finds himself stranded by a river and encounters a pack of these chicken-sized dinosaurs, they slowly pursue him, increasing in number until they eventually overcome him. I remember finding this painful to watch, as he tries to fight them off but they keep on coming, we get close ups of animatronic dinosaurs biting repeatedly at his face. It’s a drawn-out sequence that, while appears a little sillier now, is still quite unpleasant for a supposedly kid-friendly film.

And then there’s Richard Schiff’s death that occurs during the T-Rex attack. He’s an unquestionably nice guy, after getting Malcolm’s daughter to safety and seeing everyone else is in trouble, he wastes no time doing everything he can to try and save them. We see him valiantly struggling against the odds in a protracted sequence, and while he ultimately does save them, he’s rewarded by getting ripped in half on screen. Up until a controversial death in Jurassic World, it was without question the series most brutal moment.

lost world 2One aspect I was more impressed with this time around was the pacing of this film, I’d somehow remembered it being much longer than it was (It’s about the same length as Jurassic Park) and dragging in places. I didn’t get that impression much now. I also want to single out Dr Sarah Harding. This was definitely the film that introduced me to Julianne Moore, who I’ve been a huge fan of ever since. Jurassic World’s caught a lot of flak for its female lead being supposedly a regressive stereotype (something I found to be only partially true) but this movie really gets its female lead right. She’s a competent scientist, shown to be better in her field than anyone else, she’s capable of surviving by herself, even though Malcolm wants to ‘rescue’ her, she’s never reduced to being a damsel in distress. She and Malcolm are portrayed as equals throughout, and it’s her who has the plan on how to capture the rampaging T-Rex, and her who fires the final tranquilizer shot.

Smart as she may be, the film still requires her to make a few stupid decisions to move the plot along, such as hanging on to her baby rex blood-soaked jacket, leading the adults to the camp. And it’s this kind of silliness, in contrast to the darker tone of the movie that often drag it down. Something every Jurassic sequel has felt the need to do is put at least one kid in peril, maybe just because the first movie did. Here we meet Malcolm’s grumpy daughter from a previous marriage near the start. He’d never be so irresponsible to actually bring her along so she stows away in one of the trailers. How exactly did she manage this? Were there no security inspections? She’s not completely insufferable but her primary purpose is to be an extra worry for Malcolm. That is until a ludicrously embarrassing sequence in which she defeats a raptor using gymnastics.

And then of course, there’s the ending. I remember finding it ridiculous even as a child, and that hasn’t changed. After the aforementioned gymnastics scene, everyone’s rescued from Isla Sorna. If the movie had just ended there it would have probably felt anticlimactic, but it could have done something else. Anyway, Roland’s achieved his goal of capturing an adult Tyrannosaurus but appears to show regret. Ludlow’s over the moon, and arranges for it, and the baby to be transported to San Diego.

Upon the cargo boat’s arrival, we learn that the T-Rex has managed to kill everyone on board, despite being a huge creature in the cargo hold. Just how on earth did it kill the captain and leave his arm on the steering wheel? It couldn’t possibly fit into that section of the ship. Anyway, the dinosaur of course escapes the dock and goes on a Godzilla-inspired rampage in the city.

I guess the sequence could possibly be seen as fun if isolated but it clashes desperately in tone with the rest of the movie, and indeed series. It’s a tremendously silly sequence, including the likes of a cutesy kid informing his parents that “there’s a dinosaur in the back yard”. Bare in mind that if the InGen cover-up was as successful as it appeared to be at the start, none of these civilians are even aware that dinosaurs exist until this moment. There is at least one hidden piece of intentional comedy in the sequence, as ScreenCrush recently pointed out, when the T-Rex destroys a video store, we can briefly spot a couple of fake movie posters that include this beauty.

For 'William Shakespeare's 'King Lear' no less

For ‘William Shakespeare’s ‘King Lear’ no less

1993 was an incredible year for Steven Spielberg. He managed to release both Jurassic Park, his most financially successful film, and Schindler’s List, his most critically adorned one within months of each other. After taking a rare sabbatical, he returned in 1997 and attempted to replicate this with The Lost World and slavery drama Amistad. By nearly all accounts they both turned out to be much lesser efforts.

Even though the majority of the main players returned for this sequel, it still feels inferior in almost every way. John Williams himself provided the score, only using his recognizable themes at the beginning at end and substituting a far more forgettable new one for most of the film. David Koepp’s script contains barely a single memorable line, and even though there are more dinosaurs their handling is less skillful. There’s only about 15 minutes of dinosaur footage in Jurassic Park and it’s the perfect amount.

lost world 4

He did ultimately express dissatisfaction with this movie, but no Steven Spielberg film is ever going to be completely disposable (I say having not seen Hook for many years), so there are still some moments of interest to be found in The Lost World. However, it’s also true that even this film’s very best moments pale in comparison to their equivalents in Jurassic Park.

Advertisements

2 thoughts on “Revisiting ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’ (1997)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s