Saturday, June 23, 2018

Saturday Morning Cult-TV Blogging: Sigmund and the Sea Monster: "Is There a Doctor in the Cave?"

In “Is There a Doctor in the Cave?” Sigmund has fallen ill with a stomach ache. This isn’t the first time he has had one, and he tells his friends Johnny (Johnny Whitaker) and Scott (Scott Kolden) that he used to take medicine at the cave.  That medicine consists of melted jellyfish and warm squid milk. 

Realizing they must help their tentacled friend, Johnny sneaks into the cave, only to learn that Slurp also has a stomach ache, and is taking the same medicine. Johnny attempts to steal the medicine for Sigmund, but is captured in the process.

Fortunately, the Wolf Man shows up at the cave, and the Sea Monsters think he is Scott, trying to pull a repeat of last week’s “Frankenstein” stunt. The Wolf Man goes mad with rage, giving Johnny the opportunity he needs to escape with the medicine that Sigmund needs. 

Afterwards, Johnny gets stood up on his date with Peggy, and sings a song.

“Is There a Doctor in the Cave?” to its credit, remembers the series history of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973-1975). By that I mean, last week the Frankenstein Monster visited the sea monster cave, and was proven to be an imposter. This week, when the real Wolf Man appears at the cave (his car broke down near the beach…) he is assumed to be an imposter, instead of the real thing.  

Of course, the real question here isn’t continuity, but why this series has taken a weird turn to feature the Universal Monsters.

This episode features another odd movie reference. The sea monsters’ family physician is named Dr. Cyclops, but acts like Harpo from The Marx Brothers, and has the same type of mop-top.  Another pop culture joke: The sea monsters like the Wolf Man western they watched, titled “High Moon.” Gary Cooper most definitely does not star.

The last act of “Is There a Doctor in the Cave?” comes out of nowhere. Sigmund is nursed back to health, and suddenly we learn that Johnny has a date with Peggy, who was played, two episodes back, by Pamelyn Ferdin.  She stands him for that date, and Johnny sings a sad song, which ends the episode.  This interlude has absolutely nothing whatsoever do with the previous twenty-two minute narrative. It’s just a weird set up for the weekly song.

Next week: “Happy Birthdaze.”

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Jurassic Park Toy Commercials (Kenner)

Jurassic Park Trading Cards (Topps)

Jurassic Park Kenner Toys

Jurassic Park Tyco View-Master 3-D

Jurassic Park Colorforms Deluxe Playset

Jurassic Park Model Kits (Lindberg)

Jurassic Park Board Game (Milton Bradley)

Jurassic Park Lunch Box

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Films of 2015: Jurassic World

The very best quality of Jurassic World?

This is one blockbuster movie that bites the hand that feeds it.

Certainly -- as the fourth installment of a billion dollar big studio franchise -- the obvious path would have been to play things safe, and not feature any kind of embedded social commentary in the film at all.

Instead -- and quite delightfully -- Jurassic World attempts to speak to our time, 2015, much in the way that Jurassic Park sought to speak to its historical context, circa 1993.

The substance of the commentary is entirely different, but both films possess it, and that’s quite possibly the best way to honor the source material.

Jurassic World isn’t about the irresponsible creation of life in the Age of the Human Genome Project, but rather the easy way that our species, mankind, can grow bored by that life, unwilling to treat it as anything other than a not so-exciting attraction.

There’s an old joke about this very idea. It goes something like this:

A person sees God for the first time, and is utterly wowed.

It’s God!  Amazing! Wondrous! Blinding! Fantastic! 

Then, that person sees God on a second visit.

Yeah, God is still cool. Maybe not like before.  But still very cool.

Finally, the same person visits God a third time, and you know what?  God’s no big deal.

Yeah, it’s God.  Ho-hum.

Wait, someone’s texting me….

This is precisely the philosophical terrain that Jurassic World contends with: our constant quest, our ubiquitous desire to find something new, to see something shiny. We can get bored with anything after a short time, even the Divine.

And dinosaurs too.

Yet in Jurassic World, the so-called attractions (or “assets”) bite back, and demand attention for what they truly are: miraculous, living, individual things. They aren’t just there for our amusement. They have lives, destinies, and desires too.

It's so easy to forget that.

In the era of cookie-cutter, generic blockbusters (see: Avengers 2: Age of Ultron), Jurassic World’s dedicated attempt to focus on this facet of the human race’s genome -- let’s call it a collective “meh” in the face of the wondrous -- renders the film both unique and worthwhile. 

Perhaps not on the same gonzo, jaw-dropping scale as Mad Max: Fury Road, but certainly enough for this reviewer to state the obvious; that a lot of fresh blood has been injected into this particular franchise.

Don’t believe, either, the critics who claim that this genre film is misogynistic. You shouldn't believe that any more than you should believe the sour puss male critics who said that Mad Max: Fury Road was anti-male.

Here’s the context for Jurassic World that the “misogyny” crowd doesn’t provide. 

Every single Jurassic Park film in history has concerned adults learning to parent children in their custody (if not their actual, biological progeny). The character who undertakes that journey in Jurassic World happens to be a woman.  Her name is Claire Dearing, and she is played by Bryce Dallas Howard.

Some critics would like you to see this development as deeply sexist in nature, noting that it is biased and sexist to assume a career woman like Claire must yearn deep down to be a mother. Yet the movie features no such yearning.

Instead, Claire steps up to take responsibility -- a key philosophical touchstone of the franchise -- in a pressure cooker situation. She takes responsibility for the children she must protect, and for the park that has gotten out of control.

She undertakes her parental responsibilities, just as Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill), Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), and even the Kirbys (Tea Leoni, William H. Macy) all undertook the same journey in their respective dino adventures.

This is not a coincidence. This is by design.  

So why repeat the kids, parents and dinosaur mix?

Well, in the Jurassic Park franchise they all go to together in a very specific algebraic equation. 

In the face of cravenly irresponsible scientists, business-men, and military man, other people -- good people like the ones I tagged above -- get a first-hand lesson in the most important and immediate responsibility any of us will ever face: becoming a decent parent.  

Those who can become good, responsible parents are then ready to take on genetically-engineered dinosaurs.

The skill-sets are, in some way, one in the same.

Treat each “beast” (kid or dino…) according to its gifts or nature -- and with care -- and they won’t eat you for lunch.

Jurassic World reiterates the same theme to good effect and is absolutely not sexist “in a seventies” or 2015 way if you actually consider the context of all the Jurassic films.  

Yet I would recommend the film not the basis of how it remixes the old favorites, but rather how Jurassic World makes a trenchant point about the iPhone Era.  

This is a span in which something on our personal screens is always more interesting than what is actually in front of our noses in the real world.

The chaotic events that occur in Jurassic World are a wake-up call, then, for people to unplug -- or log-off -- and look up at the world before their eyes. In doing so, they might see things they haven’t tended to, like out-of-control children...or rampaging prehistoric animals.

“Extinct species have no rights.”

A fully functioning Jurassic World Theme Park will soon debut its new attraction: a genetically-engineered hybrid predator called Indominus Rex.

Meanwhile, a trainer, Owen Grady (Chris Pratt) has been wrangling a team of velociraptors, teaching the pack to respond to his commands. He is their “alpha.”

The park’s harried administrator, Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas 0Howard), meanwhile, must play babysitter to her sister’s two teen boys, Zach (Nick Robinson) and Gray (Ty Simpkins), who are visiting the theme park.

When the Indominus Rex escapes from captivity, an InGen military adviser, Vic Hoskins (Vincent D’Onofrio) believes he can use the trained velociraptors to take down the predator in what amounts to a field study.  

If successful, he believes velociraptors can be utilized in combat situations.

Owen and Claire team up to save Zach and Gray when the boys are reported lost in a gyroscope.   

Meanwhile, the boys stumble upon the old park, from twenty years earlier…

“You made them and you think you own them.”

The line of dialogue excerpted above marries the two key letimotifs of Jurassic World: parenting kids, and herding dinosaurs, essentially. 

In both cases, we have made “children,” and believe it is our right to control their destinies. They (dinosaurs and human children) are extensions of us, here for our pleasure and happiness, and governed by the rules we lay down. 

But if you’ve ever met a velociraptor, or a teenager, for that matter, you understand that -- in the words of Owen Grady -- this equation is not about control, but about honoring the relationship.

As Jurassic World starts, it’s pretty clear that the relationship between man and dinosaur has not been honored, save by Grady and his cohorts.  

For example, the Indominus Rex has been raised in isolation, without socialization, and Owen points this fact out to Claire. She replies sarcastically that the dino “needs a friend” and that maybe the park should “schedule a play date.”

What we have here is a total lack of honoring important relationships.

This idea is mirrored in the Mitchell family. Gray and Zach have not been told by their parents that they are planning to get divorced. Instead, Mom and Dad have retained lawyers and are taking steps to dissolve the family, but they have not informed the ones most impacted by their decision; their own progeny.

Again, is that any way to parent?  

It is, but it's abundantly selfish.

The theme park under Claire's command, Jurassic World is similarly selfish. The park's runners care more about product placement and profits than they do about the welfare of the animals in the park. 

Those animals, as noted above, are termed “assets.”  

That sure makes them sound like things, not living creatures, doesn’t it?

And it's easier to control a thing, than a person, or an animal.

And indeed, this is why the movie is not in any way sexist.  Claire -- at the start of the movie -- is already a bad mother or parent (like Victor Frankenstein, to provide a prominent literary example). Her children, however, are not human, but dinosaurs. She treats them no better than her sister treats Zach and Gray.  She moves assets around, but she takes no responsibility for the "life" under her authority.

So one can't claim that Claire yearns to be a mother in the movie, as she undertakes her journey with her sister's kids.  On the contrary, she is a mother from the word go. 

Instead, Claire learns to be responsible in her motherhood as she undertakes her journey. See the difference, and why it is significant?

In short order, we see just how empty Claire's world is, in terms of respecting the relationships with the wards. Jurassic World shows us the Samsung Innovation Center, a Starbucks, and reveals the promise that Verizon Wireless will present the Indominus Rex.  Every business worth its salt wants a piece of the dinosaur profits.  

But when those profits falls, the dinosaurs are blamed. Claire notes, for instance, that “nobody’s impressed with a dinosaur anymore.”  

The message?  

That the children are not good enough.  That the assets have somehow failed their parents.

Only a new child, one better than the old children, can fill the void.

And so irresponsible business joins with irresponsible science to engineer a new dinosaur that will spike profits.  Even the name “Indominus Rex” has been audience-tested. And the beast has been engineered to be “cooler,” with more teeth, with more awesome abilities (like natural camouflage) and a bigger “wow” factor.  

The whole idea is that a “normal” dinosaur no longer does it for park visitors.  They're bored.

They need the next fix, the next “cool” thing that can go viral on the Internet. What's the next product? The next thing to consume?

This is a tragic impulse in the human animal, but especially so for children, who lose the love and attention of their parents to siblings, or simply to the next "big" thing.

And don't make the mistake of believing this only happens in science fiction blockbusters. 

I can tell you for a fact that there are many parents out there who believe that by having another child, a new child, they will repair all that's wrong in the family. 

This idea of grasping for new, shiny objects, runs rampant in the film's scenes set at the theme park. For example, there’s a hologram in the Hammond Creation Center, another cool thing to ooh and aah over and draw the eye.

Or consider the stadium seating that can descend to the aquarium level.

But, once again, life finds a way, and before long, there is chaos in the theme park. The forgotten children take back by force the attention they've lost.

The only way to defeat the isolated monster child (I-Rex), in this case, is by pitting it against Grady’s velociraptors, whom he has treated with respect, and -- for the most part -- raised well.  

And -- to audience cheers -- the movie also trots out another old friend from Jurassic Park, one scarred and old, but still gorgeous as hell and ready to go to the mat against the pretender for her throne.  This creature has been forgotten, shunted aside for cooler attractions.  But as we see, she is still magnificent.

In the course of the film, Claire finally recognizes that she has not been honoring the relationships in her life.  

Not with her co-workers, not with Owen, and not even with her sister and nephews. So she makes a change.  She acts...responsibly. She sets the animal in Paddock 9 free.

By contrast, Grady is indeed wise and “a life-force” (as Joss Whedon tweeted...), but his character is monumentally uninteresting in comparison to Claire. 

It is Claire who takes on the Alan/Ian/Kirby role of parent who learns the error of his/her ways.  By comparison, Grady already knows everything he needs to know to be a good parent and a good dino wrangler in his first scene in the movie

 He doesn’t change or grow, accordingly.  He's right in his beliefs at the beginning of the movie, right at the movie's half-way point, and vindicated in his rightness at the denouement.  So, despite Pratt's efforts and inherent charms, Owen is pretty dull and stagnant as a character.

It’s Claire -- not Owen -- who does the changing and growing.  Jeff Goldblum and Sam Neill vetted this subplot too, so perhaps it is actually the opposite of sexist that this time around Bryce Dallas Howard gets to do so.

We have seen men take responsibility for their children and for the genetically-engineered dinosaurs on several previous occasions. Why can't a woman undertake the same character arc?  

And when she does, why do some insist it is sexist for her do so? If a man can take this journey (or men, accurately...), why is it wrong to send a woman on the exact same one?  Isn't that, actually, what equality is all about?

Moving on from these ridiculous social politics, the first hour of Jurassic World is pretty terrific.

It features an amusing tour of the park (including a dino petting zoo…) and plenty of scenes that help us understand how the theme park isn’t honoring the animals.  

And then, one of the best scenes in the film finds Owen and Claire encountering an injured dinosaur in the field, after the I-Rex break-out. 

Claire touches it gently, as it takes its last breaths.  She realizes that she has given too little thought to the idea that these assets are living animals -- with their own thoughts, their own purpose, and their own destinies.  

The scene represents a nice breather in the action that alludes to the original film (and a scene with a sick triceratops), but more importantly, it hammers home this movie's point. When you don’t treat life with respect and reverence, you are doing the opposite.  You are acting in a dishonorable fashion. 

That is exactly how Claire has lived. 

Her most meaningful and indeed heroic act in the last third of the film, involves the release of a dinosaur from Paddock 9, as I noted above.

Claire releases it to rescue her nephews, of course, but also as an act of honoring the animal.  She frees it and allows it to pursue its destiny as king or queen of the jungle.  It has been denied this fate its whole life; its place on the "food chain" (which Owen tags as a key element of dinosaur life).

That destiny becomes the film’s beautiful, valedictory image. The metaphor is thus clear: we can't cage our children, dinosaur or human, and chain them to our expectations . At some point, they must be free to do what they will.  The film's final image really captures that idea in a majestic, emotional way. 

I won’t lie and state that Jurassic World is a perfect film, despite its adroit handling of the franchise's ongoing  parenting/responsibility leitmotif.  It’s not. 

For example, Vincent D’Onofrio’s character is pretty two-dimensional and awful. He is handled in a less human fashion, even, than are the velociraptors…who are fully dimensional, especially Blue.  He does and says all the wrong things, and at all the wrong times.  He is a basic movie villain, and we anticipate his much-deserved death from his very first scene.

Similarly, there’s not enough suspense in the film's last act, after all the dominoes have fallen. The denouement is satisfying, and yet I walked away from a screening feeling that, at least a little, the film had not scared me sufficiently. 

I can understand not being able to repeat Jurassic Park’s sense of wonder.  It's an impossible act to follow.  

But I did hope for a bit more in terms of scares or jumps this time around.  I suspect I may feel this way because Trevorrow does not possess the neo-classicist visual approach of a director like John Carpenter or Steven Spielberg.  The film is smart and witty, but it is not patient, and the visuals don't reflect the story as meaningfully as they could, except in isolated instances (like the film's aforementioned valedictory image).

In short, the visuals simply do not feel as cinematic this time around, and I missed that element. There's not a single scene here as tense, or as meticulously constructed, for example, as the trailer-on-the-precipice scene of The Lost World (1997).

Still, Jurassic World (2015) ably incorporates all the key genetic sequences of the long-lived Steven Spielberg franchise and gives the juggernaut a solid face-lift. 

Jurassic World is better, frankly, than either of the two previous sequels, even if it’s not quite as good you might hope it to be. 

The film's leitmotif about honoring relationships -- whether with dinosaurs or children -- is powerfully-wrought, and a perfect corrective for our busy, eyes-on-iPhone-screens-at-all-times age.

In the final analysis, Jurassic World gets the job done, but without, precisely, the visual legerdemain Spielberg might have provided were he still in the director’s seat. 

It's a good sequel, but Jurassic Park (1993) still reigns in this Jurassic world.

Movie Trailer: Jurassic World (2015)

The Films of 2001: Jurassic Park III

Jurassic Park III (2001) is another step-down in quality for what should have been a durable movie franchise. 

Although Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) featured a troublesome script and some considerable third-act problems, Jurassic Park III pales in comparison even to that sequel. 

In large part, this is because the action scenes featured here don’t seem to escalate or build in any substantive fashion, and because the script – about a rescue mission on Isla Sorna – is distinctly minor league. 

On top of all that, the film features a mawkish sub-plot about a splintered family coming back together over the threats of imminent death-by-dino. About the only arena where the film truly works, and works well (at least from time to time) is in the depiction of the dinosaurs, particularly the upgraded look of the awesome Velociraptors.

Joe Johnston (The Rocketeer [1991], The Wolfman [2010], Captain America [2011]) takes over the directing reins from Steven Spielberg for Jurassic Park III, and it’s not a pretty sight.  

The third film is choppy and episodic instead of grand and spectacular, and even some should-be-great moments such as the franchise’s first glimpse of an Anklyosaurus are presented in half-hearted fashion, in the equivalent of a cutaway or insert shot.  The film ends after only a scant 82 minutes, but even at that short length Jurassic Park III feels over-long because the movie is essentially a plot-less runaround, featuring no significant or meaningful narrative. 

Yesterday, I wrote about The Lost World as a dip or fall from greatness. Jurassic Park III is a plunge from greatness, and precipitous one at that.  I enjoy any fantasy film that features wondrous dinosaurs in action, however, and I can’t deny that Jurassic Park III is entertaining and often amusing, but today it just feels like small potatoes in comparison to the other series entries.  

Accordingly, Jurassic Park III is the franchise’s Son of Kong:  a fun film to revisit on occasion, but really only a shadow of the original.

“This is how you make dinosaurs?

The Kirbys (William H. Macy and Tea Leoni) recruit Dr. Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and his apprentice, Billy (Alessandro Nivola) to act as tour guides for a fly-by of Isla Sorna, Jurassic Park’s Site B.  Grant only reluctantly agrees, having lost both the love of his life, Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) and his love of dinosaurs. He's now a man without "faith."

Against Dr. Grant’s wishes, the Kirbys’ plane sets down on the dinosaur island, and Grant learns the truth about the flight.  The Kirby’s young son, Eric (Trevor Morgan) went down on the island eight weeks earlier during a para-gliding accident, and they are attempting to rescue him.  While the group searches for young Eric, it must also contend with a giant Spinosaurus that is hunting them. 

Even worse, Billy has stolen two Velociraptor eggs, and the dangerous pack-hunters want them back…

“Reverse Darwinism - survival of the most idiotic…”

The film that Jurassic Park III hopes to be is actually one of interest.  

It’s the story of Dr. Alan Grant’s loss of faith.  

Dr. Sattler has married another man, and had a child with him.  

And the realities of Isla Nublar and Isla Sorna have totally changed how Grant views the profession of paleontology.  

His whole world has been turned upside down, and he has forgotten how to gaze at it with a sense of wonder.  

Upon seeing the dinosaurs again for the first time, Grant admits “My God, I’d forgotten…” and it’s a nice character moment.  As usual, Sam Neill is terrific in this film, finding every scrap of good material in the lackluster script and augmenting it through his interpretation of the prickly Grant.

Unfortunately, Dr. Grant’s loss of faith is not at the center of the action.  Instead, we waste time with cartoon character, comedy-relief mercenaries who may as well have the words “dinosaur fodder” stamped on their heads.  They belong in another reality, not the hard-earned reality of the Jurassic Park franchise.  

And when the screaming, dopey mercenaries are gone, the movie seeks relentlessly to hammer home the Kirby reconciliation sub-plot, which is handled with extreme schmaltz and sentimentality.  

The Jurassic Park movies have always mixed dinosaurs and families (and kids), but Jurassic Park III wants to consider this “walk in the park” some kind of family psychotherapy, with each Kirby realizing how much they love the others.  After awhile, the loving gazes and heartfelt stares are just a little too much to bear.  If the subplot were handled with a greater degree of humor or subtlety, it might be tolerable, but the sentimentality factor is through the roof.

Even worse, what seems absent from Jurassic Park III is Steven Spielberg’s impressive capacity to transform an action "moment" into something truly epic, an example of multiplying chaos and tension.  

There are plenty of action scenes here to be certain, but they begin without lead up or pre-amble, rumble along quickly, and end before they make a real impression.  

The battle between the Spinosaurus and the T-Rex is one prime example.  It goes by so quickly that it almost feels like a throwaway.  I should hasten to add, complex action scenes with dinosaurs are the reason we go to see these movies.  

Spielberg understood that fact, and in even in The Lost World was able to construct a colossal amount of tension around a scene with a trailer hanging off a precipice.  He was patient and thorough, making us experience each agonizing, chaotic moment.  The action scenes in Jurassic Park III are veritable drive-bys in comparison.

I also must confess that, on a purely personal level, I didn’t appreciate this film’s treatment of the T-Rex. The noble T-Rex saved the day at the climax of Jurassic Park, combating two vicious Velicoraptors and essentially saving the humans.  The mighty T-Rex took center stage and held it magnificently (remember the fluttering banner “When Dinosaurs ruled the Earth?”)  

Then, The Lost World revealed to us that T-Rexs make good parents, and again, there was a sense of sympathy built up for the dinosaur. Like a lion, the T-Rex was the regal king of the jungle 

Well, in Jurassic Park III a T-Rex gets bloodied and killed by the Spinosaurus in a matter of seconds and it seems rather…ignoble.  

I understand that the Spinosaurus is the Big Bad this time around, but it just feels like a cheap shot to treat the T-Rex so shabbily.  Had it put up a more sustained fight, or allowed the human heroes to escape, I might feel differently. 

Is it crazy to feel kinship for a tyrannosaur?  Perhaps so, but that's also what the JP movies are about: making audiences understand (and yes, love...) the dinosaurs.  We don't ever really know enough about the Spinosaurus or its habits (how it sees, for instance...) to identify with it, hate it or love it. It's just a monster chasing the heroes.

By contrast, the Velociraptors – now sporting colorful stripes and small head fathers – are handled very well here.  

Our “dino lesson” in this installment involves the fact that raptors were “socially sophisticated” and could vocalize and communicate with each other.  Grant informs us that Raptors were smarter than whales, dolphins or primates, and could have very well ruled the Earth if not for the asteroid that rendered them extinct. 

 I love that idea, and I love how the Raptors are portrayed in all three films.  

That said, JPIII reveals their softer side. They have an opportunity, after recovering their eggs, to kill the human intruders, but don’t take it.  That feels a little anticlimactic, especially since U.S. Marines are about to arrive.  I realize budget must have been a factor here, but imagine a pitched battle between a Velociraptor pack and the Marines…

The pterodactyls are another high point in this sequel  They look absolutely amazing (even more-than-decade after the film was made), and their presence, unlike that of the Ankylosaurs, is well-integrated into the action.  The best action scene in the film involves the Pterodactyls and the giant bird cage aviary where they make a home.

For so many reasons, Jurassic Park III feels like it suffers from sequel-itis.  

The characters are not particularly interesting, and frequently disposable.  

The movie is really short, as though the makers couldn’t be bothered to give us our money’s worth. The Lost World clocked in at two hours and nine minutes.  This one, as I said above, barely gets above eighty minutes.  

And by and large the action of the film feels rushed and choppy. I am an absolute sucker for the dinosaur action as featured in all three JP movies, but this one just feels like it is phoning in the all-important sense of wonder.  The few lines that re-hash the "Playing God" aspect of the film feel old and tired, too.  

We get it.

After three films, we’ve seen enough kids outsmarting dinosaurs to last us a lifetime. Instead let’s hope Jurassic World is a mean, violent, hard-nosed action-packed installment, and one that restores the original’s wicked humor, but also Jurassic Park's Darwinian sensibilities about survival. 

Let's hope the newest sequel, Fallen Kingdom, goes for hard science and hard action instead of hard schmaltz, the path of this 2001 film.

Movie Trailer: Jurassic Park III (2001)

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Jurassic Park Game Commercials

The Films of 1997: The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Each time I pen a review of a sequel that doesn’t quite measure up to the original film, I am reminded of the late critic Roger Ebert’s brilliant opening line from his review of Halloween II (1981): “It’s a little sad to witness a fall from greatness.”

And a fall from greatness is exactly what we witness in the 1997 cinematic sequel to Jurassic Park (1993), The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Fortunately for audiences and fans of the franchise, it’s not a colossal drop.  

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. 

Although marred by a final act that seems utterly disconnected from the body of the film proper, The Lost World remains enormously entertaining.  

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. 

Perhaps the most significant difference between Jurassic Park and its sequel is that The Lost World feels a whole lot, well, meaner.  

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…

Technically astounding, and with protagonists constantly in “the company of death,” The Lost World represents an above-average sequel to Jurassic Park, but in both coloration and thematic tenor, the film feels very dark and even devoid of joy.   There’s nothing wrong with existing on that plateau, but after watching this film you feel more throttled than you do enthralled.

And while beautifully rendered, the final image of the film -- a fantasy-land of diverse dinosaurs dwelling together in peace within a literal stones-throw of one another -- feels piped in from another franchise all together.  

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. 

Even worse, given what we’ve seen of the dinosaurs, there’s no reason to believe they would inhabit this world either, living peaceably in such close proximity to one another.

“Our last chance at redemption…”

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.

However, all that is about to change. The new head of InGen, Hammond’s nephew, Ludlow (Howard) believes that the way to raise his company out of bankruptcy is to exploit the dinosaurs.  Specifically, his plan is to capture the dinosaurs at Site B and bring them back to San Diego as a stadium attraction.

Having learned from his own unique mistakes regarding the dinosaurs, Hammond understands the folly of this course, and believes that the dinosaurs should be left alone to live in peace without the specter of human interference.  But to rally the public to support his cause, he has sent paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) to the island to document life on Isla Sorna. 

Because Sarah is his girlfriend, Ian heads to the island on a rescue mission, along with videographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) and tech-guy Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff).  They are joined by a stowaway, Ian’s daughter, Cathy (Beller).

In short order, a squad of hunters arrive on the island too, and commence a vicious dinosaur safari at Ludlow’s behest.  When one of the hunters, Roland Tembo (Peter Postlethwaite) captures a T-Rex infant, it’s worried parents come looking for it, and the dance of death begins anew…

“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. 

In terms of narrative depth, however, The Lost World offers something a lot scarier than science run amok, the chosen terrain of the first film.  In short, the follow-up concerns capitalism or big business run amok, and in that regard is indeed frightening.  

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…  

Another way to parse the difference between first and second film in the JP series: If Jurassic Park concerned the wonder of dinosaurs brought to life via the auspices of science then The Lost World dramatizes the crass, inhuman exploitation of these DNA-created animals…for profit.  

In fact, all of The Lost World is suffused -- at least thematically -- with a tremendous sense of…responsibility. 

Because modern, technological man created the dinosaurs of Isla Sorna in the first place, the argument goes that man is responsible for what ultimately happens to them, and must treat them with respect and dignity.  

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.

Warm-blooded or cold-blooded, we all struggle to be good parents, and preserve the future for our children. We can’t abandon our children, or we risk turning them into monsters.

Given this leitmotif, the film’s villains come under the camp of vulture capitalists like Hammond’s nephew, Ludlow (Arliss Howard) and irresponsible, merciless hunter, Dieter (Peter Stormare), a man who views every new dinosaur as a thing to bully, hurt, or beat down.     

Metaphorically bad parents, Ludlow and Dieter are concerned only how they can “strip mine” the island for profit, or for personal gratification.  It’s one thing to create new life, to play Frankenstein, but The Lost World travels further down the road and asks, how does Frankenstein treat his monster once it is here, for good? 

With humanity and grace?  Or as something to be controlled and used up?

The downside of this storytelling approach is plain.  

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. 

The up-side of featuring such cruel, villainous human antagonists, however, is that audience members experience a vicarious sense of justice meted out when the dinosaurs strike back and kill them.  

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.

In terms of the “sequel effect,” The Lost World features more gadgetry, more guns, more victims and more leaping lizards than its processor did, so it’s carnage candy galore. Even better, Spielberg seems to be in a nastier mood than usual and dispenses with his characteristic sense of sentimentality.  The film’s opening sequence reveals dinosaurs surrounding and attacking a cute-as-a-button little girl, for instance.  Later, one of the film’s most likable characters, Eddie, gets viciously ripped apart by two angry Tyrannosaurs.  And this comes after after working his ass off to save Malcolm, Sarah and Van Owen.

Overall, the impression is that this sequel absolutely means business, and isn’t pulling any punches.  So obsessed is Spielberg, it seems, with the film’s action, that he stages an impressive (but also strangely obsessive…) action scene set in a trailer dangling over a high-cliff.  

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. 

And…I like it. I like a "meaner," Spielberg, one relying on his chops and sense of visual classicism.

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.

Again, this scene is gloriously nail-biting, and literally the last word in cliffhanging action.  Through cross-cutting, fast-cuts and an unmatched sense of visual placement and geography, Spielberg transforms what might have been a short or perfunctory  moment into an extended dance with terror as man grapples with nature, technology and monsters too.  I’d give this sequence the nod as the best (and most technically complicated…) action sequence in the entire JP trilogy.

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.

The last act of The Lost World is the one that, as a critic, I have trouble with.  The tyrannosaurus looks small and inconsequential compared to the gas stations, high-rise skyscrapers and suburbs of San Diego, and so the final urban scenes don’t quite work as they should. 

Furthermore, Nick Van Owen – the daring “Earth First” crusader of the film – disappears completely from this final act.  

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. 

Make no mistake, the valedictory shot of The Lost World is absolutely gorgeous and brilliantly rendered, but would carnivores and vegetarians really mill about peaceably together for a Sunday afternoon in the park?  

Not likely…

I know a lot of critics hated The Lost World: Jurassic Park.  I’m not one of them.  In Horror Films of the 1990s I rated it 3 stars out of 4, and I stick by that assessment.  

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.