The Films of 1997: The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Rather, this first sequel dips from the realm of “classic” (like the original) to merely “good.” Bottom line: it could have been worse, perhaps even a lot worse.
The film plays like a tense roller-coaster ride and one crafted with uncommon technical skill to boot. In particular, an incredibly complex, nail-biting set-piece involving a double trailer on a precipice – in a rain storm, no less – reveals Steven Spielberg’s killer instinct and directorial legerdemain.
While some fans and critics may consider this shift in tone lamentable, there was probably little choice. You can only play the “wonder” card once, and Jurassic Park did so superbly. Now the franchise gets down to some brutal, bloody business…
Given what we know of man, and particularly of man as depicted in the film itself, there’s no reason to believe a paradise like this would be permitted to thrive.
John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) summons mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to his home to inform him of some startling news. A Jurassic Park “Site B” exists on an island eighty miles south of Isla Nublar, called Isla Sorna. There, dinosaurs have lived in isolation for four years. In fact, they are thriving.
“An extinct animal come back to life has no rights…we made it…we own it.”
Along with director Spielberg, David Koepp returned to scripting duties for this sequel, The Lost World. Accordingly, the film feels like a legitimate continuation of the first film, right down to the feisty, occasionally corny or schmaltzy sense of humor.
Specifically, the film revives the axiom that the free market becomes ethical only when the cost of unethical behavior becomes too great a cost for the market to bear. Here, Ludlow has no time for ethics until he is on the line for murder and property damage. And even then, he’s still trying to figure out a way to make money…
In fact, all of The Lost World is suffused -- at least thematically -- with a tremendous sense of…responsibility.
We see this idea reinforced and mirrored throughout the film, in both a subplot about reluctant, absentee father Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and his daughter, Cathy (Camilla Beller), and even in the story involving parent Tyrannosaurs and their infant offspring.
John Hammond was certainly misguided in Jurassic Park, but not a villain or a terrible person. But The Lost World requires old-fashioned, mustache-twirling human villains to maintain its momentum, and they aren’t exactly portrayed in three-dimensional terms.
Ludlow’s fate – to be the plaything of a T-Rex child just learning to hunt – is absolutely “just” given his cavalier treatment of the dinosaurs. He believes that because his company created them, he “owns” them.
In the end – at least before he gets ripped apart – Ludlow gets to experience what it feels like to be owned by someone else.
And Dieter, after bullying tiny dinosaurs with a cattle prod, learns there is strength in numbers when the diminutive lizards team up to overwhelm him.
This scene builds and builds, layering on new elements and becoming ever more intense, as if Spielberg is testing the limits of audience endurance, and also his ability to play us like a piano.
At one point during the scene, Sarah falls directly towards Spielberg’s camera through the body of a vertically-tilted trailer, and her body strikes a glass barrier, a window. Soon, tiny cracks in the glass begin to spread and multiply, line by line, and the progression of the shattering glass -- perhaps better than anything we saw in Jurassic Park -- hints at the true nature of Ian’s Chaos Theory. Incident piles upon incident, action upon action, effect upon effect, with surprising results. Pretty soon, we’re putty in Spielberg’s hands, swept up by the progression of terror.
Another great scene in the film involves Velociraptors lurking in tall grass, waiting to strike a group of human passersby.
Spielberg’s camera adopts an extreme high-angle, so we see only Velociraptor paths – like contrails -- moving stealthily through the grass on a trajectory towards the unlucky human pedestrians.
And then the dinosaurs strike and Spielberg cannily shifts to eye level with the top of the high grass, so it looks as though the men are being pulled beneath the surface of a roiling sea. In some ways, it’s the Jaws approach all over again, but once more, I must repeat that I really like Spielberg when he’s in “mean” mode. When we wants to, this director can match Hitchcock or De Palma shot-for-shot in terms of visual aplomb and wicked gallows humors. As a viewer and critic, I appreciate it when Spielberg indulges that not-often seen side of his personality.
Wouldn’t he have agreed to help Ian and Sarah recover the infant T-Rex? Nick’s total disappearance makes the ending feel tacked on after the fact, like it was a second thought, or the result of a focus-group preference.
And finally, after the T-Rex rampage in San Diego, The Lost World culminates with that fairy tale shot.
Now quarantined from the human world, the dinosaurs of Isla Sorna become literally one happy family. By showcasing all the dinosaurs (T-Rex, Stegosaurus and Pterodactyl) within one frame (during a pan, left to right), the impression is of a Kumbaya paradise that, simply put, could never be. It’s an unwelcome return to Steven Spielberg in his most sentimental, schmaltzy mode.
The film entertains…almost relentlessly, and there is a subtext here about protecting the lives we bring into the world, through science or nature. The grueling, edge-of-your set action scenes work like gangbusters as well.
But the script takes a few wrong turns in the end, and closes on a note of such utter fantasy, that you’re left, finally, with a sense that you have witnessed, if not a fall from greatness, then at least a small stumble from the path of greatness.