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The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Posted on the 19 April 2015 by Christopher Saunders
The Lost World: Jurassic ParkThe Lost World: Jurassic Park was everywhere the summer of 1997. Not the cultural phenomenon of its predecessor or the same year's Titanic, it was still a triumph of the Hollywood Hype Machine. Eight year old Groggy couldn't get enough: I caught it three times in theaters and countless on video, scarfing up every bit of merchandise, from the Playstation tie-in game to a screaming T-Rex hand puppet. Then again, eight year old Groggy also thought the Spice Girls were cool.
Unsurprisingly, revisiting The Lost World dampens my nostalgia. Many critics have savaged the film's plot holes and skewed morality, but its problems run deeper. Steven Spielberg can't settle on a tone or approach, leading to a messed-up movie. 
Several years after Jurassic Park's events, Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) receives a summons from John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). Hammond tells Malcolm of a wild dinosaur population on Isla Sorna. Hammond's Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) wants to use them for a theme park based in San Diego. Malcolm declines Hammond's offer, until learning his girlfriend Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) is already on Isla Sorna. Along with naturalist Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn), tech guy Eddie (Richard Schiff) and daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester), Malcolm becomes a reluctant accomplice to more dinosaur mayhem.
The Lost World: Jurassic ParkOn paper, The Lost World has everything a dino-obsessed kid wants. Isla Sorna's dinosaurs roam free, no longer hemmed in by electric fences. New dinos join established stars: the majestic Stegosaurus, the tiny, swarming Compsognathus, the ram-headed Pachycephalosaurus. The second half throws up endless gruesome deaths: two T-Rexs pushing a trailer off a cliff, a villain attacked by compies, velociraptors stalking panicked victims through jungle grass. Handsome photography and a pulsing, percussive John Williams score enhance the awe. Sadly, this grandeur is only skin-deep.
Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp (cavalierly ignoring Michael Crichton's novel) play things far more seriously than the first Jurassic Park. The movie opens with a girl swarmed by compies, an arresting opening that sets the darker tone. There's a far higher body count and the deaths are much more gruesome than the original. Nobody's eaten off a toilet here: they're disemboweled, ripped in half or slowly eviscerated by land piranhas. Not exactly kid-friendly.
The Lost World: Jurassic ParkThe darkness might work if Lost World wasn't going for high adventure. The first big set piece is a dinosaur round up out of The Valley of Gwangi. It's exciting and fun, introducing us to the InGen team and new dinosaurs in an impressive action scene. But the dread reaction shots of Malcolm and Co. tell us this is a bad thing. This scene encapsulates The Lost World's schizophrenia: hunting dinosaurs is fun, but a crime. Yes, Spielberg tries to buttress his dinosaur adventure with a misguided environmentalist homily.
Too bad it's our nominal heroes sewing chaos and destruction. They sabotage InGen's camp, destroying their equipment and stranding them. Nick and Sarah rescue the baby Rex, bringing Mom and Dad to trash their camp and eat Eddie. Later, Nick empties Roland's rifle just in time for the next attack. Spielberg forgets that these dinosaurs aren't "nature" but genetically-engineered mutants. We're supposed to root for Malcolm, Sarah and Nick because they murder humans instead of dinosaurs. Noble, progressive sentiments from a director who gave us bug-eating Indian heart-rippers in a 1984 film.
Nothing better illustrates this disconnect than Roland Tembo, Ludlow's chief henchman. An Allan Quartermain for the 1990s, he's a Great White Hunter obsessed with bagging a T-Rex. Pete Postlethwaite makes Roland an imposing anti-hero, brusque and single-minded but possessing a moral compass. But Spielberg can't square his admiration of Roland and the story's Save the Dinosaurs slant. So he cheats: Roland stuns the Rex with tranquilizer darts then bows out, disgusted with Ludlow.
The Lost World: Jurassic ParkWhen not delivering demented Greenpeace lectures, Spielberg contrasts Malcolm's strained relationship with Sarah and Kelly with rock-solid dinosaur family ties. The T-Rex parents team up to save their kid then devour Eddie; the pack-minded compies and raptors make mincemeat of the disorganized hunters. Then the cutesy climax: Ludlow, who gained power backstabbing his uncle, gets eaten by the baby Rex while Mommy watches. The Lost World provides viewers a moral worthy of Vito Corleone or Charles Manson: the family who slays together stays together.
Then that stupid, stupid San Diego finale. Mama Rex murders a ship's crew and sneaks back into the cargo hold for a dramatic entrance. She tiptoes around San Diego's suburbs, unnoticed until she scarfs someone's dog. Cue a tasteless Godzilla joke and Gorgo homage for monster movie buffs, then a dud anticlimax. This scene drags on endlessly, accomplishing nothing beyond crashed cars and dead dogs. Actually, screenwriter David Koepp becomes Rex chow, so something good comes from it.
The Lost World: Jurassic ParkJeff Goldblum has fun reprising his role, but Malcolm isn't substantial enough to carry the movie. Julianne Moore spouts half-baked biology jargon, clearly waiting for her paycheck. Vince Vaughn is as obnoxious playing a straight man as his later comedy roles. Poor Richard Schiff, two years before The West Wing, dies saving his idiot friends. Arliss Howard is a colorless corporate baddie, Peter Stormare psychotic dinosaur chow, Vanessa Lee Chester an obnoxious kid. 
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is such a confused slurry of ideas that it's hard to know what Spielberg wanted. Perhaps alternating family blockbusters with adult dramas (he made this between Schindler's List and Amistad) finally caught up with Spielberg? Either way it's a misguided monstrosity, completely lacking Jurassic Park's simple, breezy charm.

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