Movie Review – Lost World, The: Jurassic Park
Dramatic misfire, The Lost World shoves more dinos, most expendable cast, and a layer of understated depression across what could have been an awesome action film. Technically brilliant, the film’s average story (and Goldblums somewhat scatter-shot portrayal of Chaotician Ian Malcolm) mires it in mediocrity.
– Summary –
Director : Steven Spielberg
Cast : Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard, Richard Schiff, Richard Attenborough, Vanessa Lee Chester, Peter Stormare, Thomas F Duffy, Harvey Jason, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazello, Camilla Belle.
Year Of Release : 1997
Length : 90 Minutes
Synopsis: When a team of research scientists go missing on the sister island to Jurassic Park’s Isla Nublar, Jeff Goldblum must lead a rescue team to locate them: among the missing is his current girlfriend.
Review : Dramatic misfire, The Lost World shoves more dinos, most expendable cast, and a layer of understated depression across what could have been an awesome action film. Technically brilliant, the film’s average story (and Goldblums somewhat scatter-shot portrayal of Chaotician Ian Malcolm) mires it in mediocrity.
No doubt even Beethoven cranked out the odd bit of rubbish every now and then, right? Because if there’s any excuse Steven Spielberg has for letting this one past his keen eye, I’ve yet to be convinced. The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which really tries to build on the pulp-inspired title by incorporating some rubbishy storytelling throughout the film itself, manages to forgo all that made the original great, and instead fixate upon nasty, incoherent villains with commercial greed as the centerpiece for this “Enviro-Jurassic” storyline. Dark overtones of a de-volvement of mankind’s ability not to screw with nature, and one man’s brave battle to save the day, there’s something badly wrong with this film,and to date I’ve yet to find a comprehensive answer for why it turned out the way it did. Was it poor story choices by Spielberg and his crew? Hmm, not ostensibly. Was it shoddy effects or hurried, underdone production values that crippled this films flair and success? Nope, because as with anything Spielberg touches, the production values are of the highest order. Why, then, is The Lost World one of the least enjoyed sequels in recent Spielberg memory, perhaps even more so than the dire 4th Indiana Jones film?
In the original Jurassic Park, we were told (through various bits of science-y talk) that the dinosaurs on the island have a limited lifespan due to their manipulated genetic make-up. What were weren’t told, however, is that there was a second island set up, a feeder island from which the fully grown dinosaurs could be taken and put into the main Park. Considering the time that’s past between films (in terms of their narrative, not their production) it’s reasonable to assume that based on what we were told originally, the dinosaurs on the second island should have died out with nobody to grow/feed them. This hasn’t happened, and somebody’s decided to send a team of research people to “Site B” to find out what’s going on. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the chaotician we encountered in the original film, finds himself summoned to Ian Hammond’s massive mansion to be recruited to find this research team. Unbeknownst to Malcolm, his girlfriend Sarah Harding, a leading palaeontologist, is on the island and in potential danger. Malcolm, who through brief interaction with his adopted “daughter” Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) we learn is something of a player with the women, decides to play the White Knight role and ride to Sarahs rescue, albeit with increased resources than they had in film 1. Although he has competition, in the form of Hammond’s slimy nephew, and current CEO of InGen, the company Hammond founded, Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard, who was awesome in Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket). Ludlow wants to make more money from the failed Jurassic Park, by taking the dinosaurs to the people, rather than bringing the people to them. Inherently problematic in this plan, and something that comes back to bite him later in the film, is the fact that dinosaurs are largely unpredictable creatures, and if they ever escape into the real world, would cause untold damage and carnage. As you’d expect, an extended dino jaunt through downtown San Diego would be expanded upon by Roland Emmerichs Godzilla a year later, but for this film its a little too late to save proceedings.
The film doesn’t waste too much time getting the cast of characters into harms way, thankfully. After a brief set-up in typical Spielbergian fashion, in which you learn all you need to know about the nature of the mission, the people on it, and the tech involved that will all have a bearing on the film’s conclusion, we get down to dino-chomping duty. In the tradition of Hollywood sequels, the follow-up to any majorly successful film must be bigger and more epic than the film that preceded it. Spielberg isn’t immune to this law of film-making, and he tries to accommodate every requested dinosaur that didn’t make it into the first film and rectify that here. It’s a mistake. With almost double the cast of character to introduce, and a vast array of dinosaurs to explain and engage the audience with, Spielberg loses focus on the real heart of the story, which I think is supposed to be Ian Malcolm rescuing his “damsel in distress”, Sarah Harding. The film left-turns midway through from a rescue operation to a “save the whales” styled endeavor when Ludlow decides to capture a T-Rex and transport it back to the mainland, where it will become the centerpiece in his latest themed adventure park. We then have Ian Malcolm, the intellectual with a witty banter to rival Leno, revert to bare-chested, square jawed heroics to try and save the day, something which I believe to be such a contravention to the character as previously introduced, that it takes you out of the film simply in shock. The Lost World should have been titled The Lost Plot for all the inane film time involved in this film: as much as Spielberg tries, he can’t encompass all the story elements that are introduced, and consequently, all of them lack clarity. The relationships between each of the characters seem sometimes forced, a little perfunctory scripting simply telling us what we should feel for these characters, rather than develop them in any realistic, organic way. David Koepp, who wrote the script for the original film, must have had grandiose plans for this film that didn’t pan out, and the result is a script that meanders from light-hearted family friendly banter, to a sinister, almost turgid dread-like march, with character being killed off in a variety of gruesome, heart-pounding ways. The film’s uneven tone and darker nature is at odds with what people were expecting after the first movie’s bright, shiny appearance.
The cast all try admirably here, but are let down by a script devoid of humour or subtlety. Jeff Goldblum struts about like a modern day Indiana Jones, although his verbal stylings don’t lend themselves to the kind of hero this film needs. Goldblum’s stuttery delivery is wearing after a while, and he’s not quite the leading man Spielberg needed for this sequel. Throughout the film he looks confused and bewildered as to why he’s even there, and honestly, as an audience member it’s hard to really care about his plight. His girlfriend, Sarah, played by a rather half-hearted Julianne Moore, seems more like an adrenaline junkie than a research scientist, unless she is in fact the sister of Twister’s Jo Harding (Helen Hunt), another woman intent on killing herself in pursuit of science. Moore looks a little out of her depth here as well, delivering a flat performance that doesn’t allow us to really “get” her character. Vanessa Lee Chester, as Malcolm’s daughter Kelly, is okay, but like most child stars seems more camera aware than naturalistic, something that drags me out of the film each time she’s on screen. She’s poorly developed too, with a ham-fisted background in gymnastics that’s so obviously pointing towards a later dino-related sequence it’s eye-rollingly stupid. The only cast member who appears to be having a good time is Arliss Howard, as the slimy new controller of InGen, and he does the character so well it’s amazing he’s never been seen in a major feature film since! [Edit: of course, to make a liar out of me, he appears in The Time Traveller’s Wife, which may or may not be classed as a “major” feature considering its lack of success!] Add in appearances by a young Vince Vaughn, cameo’s by original film kiddies Ariana Richards and Joe Mazzello as well as Richard Attenborough, and a bafflingly lame Pete Postlethwaite, and an out-of-place Peter Stormare, and The Lost World is all done like last weeks roast turkey.
The main problem with The Lost World is that it’s no fun. The lack of humour and glee that the first film held for audiences is missing altogether here, rather, Spielberg seems intent on taking this film into darker territory than before, and it doesn’t work. Perhaps it’s our expectations going in that the sequel would be more tonally similar to the first film, or perhaps it’s the fact that almost none of the central characters are really able to connect with us as viewers; which ever the case may be, The Lost World doesn’t live up to those lofty standards Spielberg so often reaches. Of course there’s the obligatory “jump” moments, the nostalgic, awestruck “look at that” epic sweeping crane shots, and John Williams ever-present score, but this doesn’t prevent the onset of disinterest from swamping the film fairly early on. Moments of this film shine (the thrilling “humvee over the edge of a cliff, window cracking, person about to fall to their death” scene in particular is vintage Spielberg) and you can see how hard everyone is trying to recapture the magic of the first film, but he can’t. Swamped by a plethora of characters with little personality, and a storyline that doesn’t quite hit the mark thematically (it should have, mind you) The Lost World will remain the lesser of the three current Jurassic Park films.