[With Jurassic World opening this Friday, I’m looking back at the first three Jurassic Park movies]
Jurassic Park was the first PG-13 movie I ever saw. It deepened my appreciation for Steven Spielberg. It holds up just as well now as it did back when I was too afraid to see Arnold’s severed arm fall on Sattler.
Four years later, I went to see The Lost World: Jurassic Park, and even then I knew it was a bad movie, which is a big deal because I was still a very easy sell at that age. I knew it wasn’t as good as the original, but it also seemed like a bad film on its own merits, not just in how it related to the previous story.
The Lost World is one of Spielberg’s movies that we sweep under the rug even though it’s worthy of discussion for why he even bothered to make it. Michael Crichton went ahead with a sequel novel at Spielberg’s urging and that novel served as the basis for the new movie. But The Lost World is Spielberg making a statement that doesn’t merit a blockbuster feature. It’s barely a short film because The Lost World, for all of its extravagance, boils down to “Big Game hunting is bad.”
Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), plucked seemingly at random among the cast of lead characters from the first movie, is essentially blackmailed into cleaning up John Hammond’s (Richard Attenbrough) mess. It turns out there was a second island, Isla Sorna, where the dinosaurs were bred before being brought to Isla Nublar, which seems kind of dumb since you would have to monitor two islands and then go to the trouble of transporting dinosaurs from one island to another. Also, as The Lost World and later Jurassic Park III show, when you pull a baby dino from its parents, those parents get super-pissed.
Moreover, Hammond’s plan doesn’t make a lot of sense. Since tiny dinosaurs attacked a little girl on Isla Sorna while she was with her family on vacation, Hammond feels that he need to do some damage control, especially since his nephew, Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard), now runs InGen and wants to take control of the island. Hammond’s plan is to send in Malcolm, documentarian/environmentalist Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn), field equipment expert Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff), and paleontologist Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) to show people that the dinosaurs are happy in their natural habitat.
So in John Hammond’s mind, he thinks that rallying support for protecting the island will drive InGen away, which is nonsense. That’s like saying as long as people see photos of lions in the Serengeti, no one will want to go on safari or hunt them. If Hammond really wanted to stop InGen, he would send a team back to Isla Nublar to show what happened when the dinosaurs escaped and how bringing them back would be a terrible idea. Instead, his plan would probably make Isla Sorna more attractive and therefore more profitable for InGen. John Hammond sucks at everything.
Malcolm goes only because he’s basically blackmailed into doing so since Harding is his girlfriend and she’s already left for the island. The reluctant chaotician, Nick, and Eddie set off for Isla Sorna with Malcolm’s daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) stowing away because a Jurassic Park movie arbitrarily requires an endangered child who will become part of a restored family unit. Then the movie just gets sillier from there.
“’Oooh! Ahhh!’ that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming,” says Malcolm to Eddie and Nick when they arrive on the island. Except the “oohing” and the “ahhing” never come in The Lost World because the sense of discovery is gone. The dinosaurs can awe the characters, but for the audience, only the setting has changed, and Spielberg doesn’t do much with it. He’s more interested in the running and screaming, and it’s never as thrilling or as rousing as the first time out.
The set pieces, and in a way the whole film, feel like the work of a Spielberg protégé. All the beats are in place, but it’s an imitation. The trailer scene is a combination/rehash of the Jeep scene from Jurassic Park, but it goes on for too long and has the sour taste of two T-Rexes tearing poor Eddie Carr in half. That’s worse than anything that happens on screen to any character in Jurassic Park, let alone one who’s trying to help his friends.
The Lost World falls into the “More” trap for sequels, and although Spielberg tried to approach the material from a different angle, he still arrives at a disappointing destination. In Jurassic Park, the kids scramble to survive, and their most heroic act is when Lex figures out how to get the computer-controlled locks to work. The sequel has one of the worst moments in the trilogy when Kelly does a gymnastics routine to kill a raptor. It used to take a T-Rex to kill a raptor; now all it takes are conveniently placed double bars.
Perhaps this would be slightly rewarding if I liked Kelly or any of the characters, but whereas Jurassic Park had its characters ponder the thematic conflict, The Lost World is a message movie and people exist to be part of set pieces. Perhaps that’s why it’s best to put a comic relief character like Malcolm front and center since protagonists don’t really matter in The Lost World. The sequel is action scenes and a message, and it all becomes more convoluted as the film continues.
By the time the story gets to San Diego, it’s like we’ve arrived in an entirely different film. Nick and Kelly have been unceremoniously shuffled away from the plot, and it’s up to Malcolm and Sarah to save the day and stop a T-Rex from rampaging through the city. At this point, it feels like Spielberg just wanted to make a fun B-movie rather than try to recapture the spirit of the first film, and he delights in the genre to the point where he even cuts to some Japanese men running away because it evokes Godzilla. Sure, it’s fun to see Spielberg let his anarchic side run wild, but this feels like it’s from a different movie, and perhaps one that would have ultimately been better, if for no other reason than completely departing from the original classic.
Even Spielberg came to feel that The Lost World was a mistake. In an their book of collected interview with Steven Spielberg, editors Lester D. Friedman and Brent Notbohm included the director’s comments on returning to the Jurassic Park franchise:
“I found myself in the middle of the sequel to Jurassic Park, growing more and more impatient with myself with respect to the kinds of films I really like to make. And often feeling that I have stuck myself in Doc Brown’s DeLorean and gone back in time four and a half years, and that I was just serving the audience a banquet, but I wasn’t serving myself anything challenging. I found myself saying, ‘Is that all there is? It’s not enough for me.’”
Spielberg decided to follow up The Lost World with another low point in his filmography, the historical drama Amistad, before moving to one of his best, Saving Private Ryan. He wisely decided that if there were to be a third Jurassic Park movie, he would only serve as an executive producer.
Caught between a retread of the first movie and a wild romp into campy territory (it says something that one of the best moments is seeing the fake movie posters in the video store), The Lost World leads us to ask, “If this is to be a franchise, then what is Jurassic Park movie?” Are they meant to be meditations on science, or are they social commentary? Or are they just popcorn blockbuster disaster movies but with a Spielberg shine? And if you take away Spielberg, then what’s left? Judging by the next Jurassic Park movie, not much.
Tomorrow: Jurassic Park III