Few movies lend themselves to franchising as unnaturally as 1993’s blockbuster Jurassic Park.
The story’s theme of man suffering the consequences of using science to flout nature inherently involves the creation of a wondrous world—“Jurassic Park”, a theme park where dinosaurs were brought back from extinction to be gawked at by tourists—and then the destruction of that world. But record setting book sales and box office created the market, and Michael Crichton started to work on the first book of his that was written primarily to adapt into a movie. World creation was one of the most fun things about Jurassic Park (exploring the details of how the park worked and how the dinosaurs were created) and despite the fidelity loss of no longer being able to introduce us to the park and the dangers of genetic engineering, “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” managed to be a thrilling page-turner. The book was a B-movie adventure story that resurrected Ian Malcolm, everyone’s favorite Chaos Theory lecturing mathematician, to go another round with John Hammond’s genetically engineered dinosaurs.
Director Steven Spielberg returns for The Lost World: Jurassic Park, as does David Koepp to write the screenplay (though Crichton is not credited with a draft). The film opens with a trio of cameos from Tim, Lex and Hammond who informs Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) about Site B, a second island on which dinosaurs were breed and raised in the wild before being transferred to Isla Nublar. A true lost world, untouched by civilization, in which an entire prehistoric ecosystem has been allowed to thrive. Naturally, Malcolm wants no part of it, but Hammond has already made the decision for him by convincing his girlfriend, paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) to make an exploratory trip with her videographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) and engineer Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff). While there, they run into Hammond’s nephew Ludlow, now in control of InGen, who has formed a hunting party, led by Pete Postlethwaite, to cage the animals and bring them back to the mainland. Ludlow is hardly the childhood dreamer of his uncle.
Goldblum is always fun to watch, but there is a spark missing here. The crackling, acerbic Ian Malcolm, always ready with the one-liner, is now a worried father (because this is a Spielberg film, Malcolm’s daughter stows away for the journey) and frustrated man who just doesn’t want to be where he is. The script isn’t nearly as sharp, the lines don’t zing quite like they did last time and the characters now fall back into safe clichés without the sly undercurrent of backstories slipping through the action that was peppered through the first film. The additions of Moore and Vaughn also fit like a square peg into a round hole.
For much of the movie, Spielberg arranges a very thin plot to line up an encounter with every dinosaur species he can think of, at times simply allowing the film to feel like a prehistoric travelogue. But the film has bursts of genuine fun that proves that even a half motivated Spielberg can still pull off a first rate suspense sequence. The film’s best scene involves a T-Rex attack—to parallel the first film’s—on Sarah Harding’s mobile laboratory, pushing it halfway over a cliff and perching Harding against a window as the glass between her and a cliff drop starts to split and crack underneath her.
The Lost World is a mixed bag of chills and cringes, sometimes darker and more feral than its predecessor, sometimes cheesier and much less focused. As for the whole “No Fences, No Cages” hook—show of hands from those who thought some of the fun of Jurassic Park was the dinosaurs breaking out of their fences and rampaging through a modern setting? If the characters are going to traipse around in a prehistoric jungle, The Lost World might have just as well had been about an eccentric billionaire who commissioned the building of a time machine.
Soon both Malcolm’s camp and Ludlow’s hunting party collide and find themselves on the run from the free roaming dinosaurs. The Lost World fancies itself more a chase film than a thriller, even supplementing John Williams’ insta-classic theme with a driving tribal drum beat as its characters run through the jungle, scream, and get eaten. If Jurassic Park wore its monster movie influences on its sleeve with affectionate homages, The Lost World leans back on them as more of a crutch, settling for one-note characters lined up for the slaughter, clichés that Jurassic Park so diligently avoided.
Toward the end of their time on the island, both parties encounter the Velociraptors, the reptilian Boogeymen of Jurassic Park. The raptors are such great villains that their appearance shocks the film back to life and seems to inspire Spielberg to pull off one more wickedly good sequence in which the hunting party is picked off one by one in a field with the raptors hunting in the tall grass. From there, the movie gets its groove back, and starts to recall the thrilling last second escapes this franchise trades in so well, as Malcolm, Harding, Nick and Malcolm’s daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) fight their way through a Site-B research lab, now torn apart and overgrown by nature in the years since the park fell. Even here the mixed bag is present; moments after that raptor encounter in the grass, the film forces an encounter that has Kelly saving the day by using her gymnastic skills on the parallel bars to defeat a raptor. This is not a joke. It’s easily one of the most cringe-inducing things Spielberg has ever lensed.
But The Lost World: Jurassic Park isn’t over yet. The third act of Crichton’s book has been completely tossed out in favor of a truly bizarre new finale. At the last minute the film decides to scratch its King Kong itch once again, deploying a sequence that is a spectacular work of special effects. But its ambition is greater than it can fully realize in the remaining running time. Without being too cagey, this is an idea that might have made a solid Jurassic sequel in itself, but when tacked onto the end of The Lost World the way it is, it feels rushed and half-thought out. The film ends in a poorly edited swirl of confusion, in which Spielberg seems to struggle with whether Malcolm, Sarah Harding, or the T-Rex should ultimately win the day, and settles on all three.
A disappointment by half, The Lost World carries few of the charms of Jurassic Park, beyond satisfying a post-Jurassic desire to see dinosaurs rampaging across the screen. Here the characters are more black and white, where the heroes that survive are compassionate to dinosaurs and baddies that want to cage them are to be willfully gobbled up with an oddly callous disregard for human life. It’s a cynical Hollywood sequel built by a collective consensus of “what worked” and could be most easily replicated from the first film without a lot of brain strain. There is just too much talent here to let The Lost World completely fall apart without holding interest until the end, if only to see what oddity it will come up with next. It is kind of fun in a strictly B-movie guilty pleasure sort of way, but it’s also hard to take as entirely canon continuation to Jurassic Park.