Okay, time to get round to Steve Spielberg’s middling 1997 dinosaur yarn. We loved it at the time (as we were 13), but it’s a bit all over the place.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Looking back, we saw this one at the right age. Still dumb, young, and impressionable, we found it thrilling at the cinema.
Although there was still a sense of slight disappointment with it. However, overall we thought it was bloody great. The reality is, despite a few high points, The Lost World existed for the sake of cashing in.
And that led to an inferior product lacking in genuine creative commitment. Even author Michael Crichton didn’t want to write a sequel to his best-selling book.
But after Steven Spielberg kept pressuring him, he gave in and hastily wrote a sequel. That launched in September 1995.
In the mad, pointless hurry, the screenplay was written in tandem by David Koepp. And Spielberg was announced as director in November 1995.
And so, in September of 1996, filming began! The original film was shot in Kauai, Hawaii, but for this one the crew settled on good old California. Initially it was supposed to be New Zealand, but that was abandoned due to costs (!?).
The corporate bollocks of those decisions is obvious. Here we have a directionless film that lurches from stuff happening to the next bit of stuff happening. Interwoven with plot developments that make little sense.
Anyway, for the record, The Lost World takes place four years after Jurassic Park and the events on Isla Nublar.
Sam Neill and Laura Dern’s characters play no part in this outing, but Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) is back.
Now, that should have been fantastic news. As Goldblum’s character (other than all the rampaging dinosaurs) was the highlight of the 1993 sensation.
But, for some reason, Koepp gave him a character lobotomy. From the flirtatious, charming, lovable swine of the original, to a bland, panicky, boring bloke in the second.
Why? You could argue he had severe PTSD after his experiences at Jurassic Park. And he does show evidence of the life and death experience having changed him.
He even has folks taking the piss out of him on public transport. The poor bastard.
You could even argue he does show a propensity to a serious side in the original, especially when criticising the decision to make the park in the first place.
Some cinema buffs have even said they prefer his personality in the second movie. Whilst others argue it’s consistent with Dr. Malcolm’s tenser behaviour in the second half of Jurassic Park.
But the personality change does come across more as a total character transformation. Just for the sake of meeting protective father familial purposes of The Lost World.
All the Goldblumisms you may know and love aren’t really there (other than the occasional biting sarcasm). Instead, he faffs about his daughter, complains, grumbles, whines, and criticises.
Goldblum’s performance is, essentially, fine. Perfectly natural and you do buy his character and understand his issues.
It just wasn’t an interesting decision by Koepp. It’s a blockbuster movie, not a PTA meeting. We wanted more stuff like this, dammit!
Anyway, after an incident on Isla Nublar’s neighbouring Isla Sorna with some rich toff English folks, Dr. Malcolm is called in to visit less obnoxious rich bloke (Richard Attenborough) John Hammond and his company InGen.
His nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) is now running things, as Hammond is old and looks too much like Santa Claus.
Ludlow wants to capture the animals for financial gain. To stop this from happening, Hammond suggests Dr. Malcolm head out to Isla Sorna to document the animals out in the wild, suggesting this will sway public opinion.
Malcolm rejects the idea, but learns that his girlfriend, Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) is already out there.
So, he rushes out there fearing the worst, with the help of field equipment specialist Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff) and journalist Nick Van owen (Vince Vaughn).
When they get there, they quickly discover InGen’s small army of specialists is there rampantly capturing the dinosaurs to ship back to America.
The plan is to open up a massive dinosaur zoo over there.
Nice! Along with Ludlow, we have big-game specialist Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite on fine form). His hunting partner is Ajay Sidhu (Harvey Jason).
We mention this as Tembo appears to have a close professional bond with Ajay. But there seems to be a fair amount of the actor’s scenes cut from the final film (this happened to Paul McGann’s character in Spielberg’s Empire of the Sun—1987).
So you don’t really spend any time with the bloke, know who he is, or see him get killed off by raptors later on. And yet Tembo seems pretty miffed with it all.
That kind of highlights The Lost World’s big problem—there’s way too much going on and not enough time to cover the developments.
Although it’s peppered with highlights such as Tembo’s speech, with world-class character actor Pete Postlethwaite (1946-2011) clearly really enjoying himself.
Peter Stormare is in the film, for example, fresh from a terrifying performance in Fargo (1996). He’s on screen for about five minutes here—and is bumped off early on.
Jurassic Park worked well because it’s quite a basic plot. Dr. Grant goes to the island, there a select few employees, then the dinosaurs run riot—but the tension and developments are ramped up perfectly (even if they don’t always make sense).
In The Lost World, when everything inevitably goes wrong, the developments are a bit too stupid, all over the place, and you just don’t care.
There’s screaming, dinosaurs delaying slightly before attacking, and one bloke the T. Rex manages to tread on. Lol.
However, the redeeming feature for the film is its big dramatic set piece on the edge of a cliff. Which, we must say, is an absolute masterpiece moment.
This comes about after Dr. Malcolm’s group rescue a baby T. Rex. Dr. Harding adminsiters to the beast, but its wailing draws the attention of its parents.
This part of the film really is brilliant, we must say, there’s a lot of perfectly timed tension—the addition of foul weather is also excellent (see filming in the rain).
Dr. Harding has a fall, Eddie Carr is tragic in his heroism, and Dr. Malcolm, Dr. Harding, and Van Owen battle their way to safety.
But the glass scene is particularly well done—scary stuff, with the creaking and splintering of that sheet proving bloody unnerving!
That’s unquestionably the highlight of the film. But then it gets a bit stupid. InGen’s crew arrive after this and join forces with the others. They split up after a bit anyway.
And InGen ships the dinos off to San Diego. This is where the film goes all Godzilla, as the T. Rex apparently breaks loose on the ships and kills everyone.
This makes little sense as how could it get into, for example, the control room where there’s a human-sized doorway? That’s unless there were some raptors running riot, or whatever, which seems to be the implication. None of that is explained.
Anyway, who cares? The T. Rex runs riot in a city! Hurray! At 13, we thought that was the best possible thing ever. So thanks for including that, Mr. Spielberg.
Although, as adults, we can see why that make look like a corny, lazy development. Anyway, the film wraps up with Ludlow eaten alive by a baby T. Rex and the dinosaurs getting shipped back off to Isla Sorna. Huzzah!
Unsurprisingly, the film was a massive commercial hit. The $73 million budget led to a $618.6 million return.But after the rave reviews from the first film, this one was a big flop with middling feedback.
Spielberg notes this and was highly frustrated during The Lost World’s production. Aware it wasn’t working, he had dreams of a more significant project. To the director’s immense credit, his next movie was Saving Private Ryan (1998).
A masterpiece of modern cinema, in our humble opinions.Well, what can you say? The Jurassic Park series is all over the place these days.
It’s fair to say the original is a landmark piece of cinema. But everything since is a bit underwhelming.
But occasionally entertaining popcorn entertainment. For us, The Lost World represents a childhood film we loved. But, as mature adults (poo poo, wee wee), we see its many and glaring flaws.
For shame? Sort of. But we kinda have nostalgic reverence of ourselves back in 1997. Back when a big, flawed movie like this could still leave us enthralled.