There is a point towards the climax of The Lost World, where a displaced T-Rex roars at the brightly lit San Diego skyline. The image is one of pure pulp fantasy. The promise of destruction to come will either tickle your inner child or cause you to check out of the film. Jurassic Park’s first sequel is as divisive a film as they come. Many fans praising it’s darker, more violent style, while others suggesting it’s merely a shadow of the original film.
No matter where you fall on debate, this is Spielberg’s final word on this universe as director. At the time, Spielberg was in the middle of a career transition, in between more “serious” films. I’ve always believed that is the reason the Lost World is much more of a horror film than Jurassic Park. It’s wilder, gorier, and gives far more screen time to it’s scaly monsters. It was as if Spielberg wanted to let his hair down a bit after the harsh reality of Schindler’s List and really make the final word on killer dinosaurs.
Picking up four years after the original Jurassic Park, a SECOND island filled with cloned dinosaurs is revealed. One where the beasties where bred, before they could be released into the park. After a weatlthy family accidentially stumbles onto the island and their daughter is injured, a race begins over the control of the island’s prehistortic inhabitants. The struggle is between a reformed John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) and his corrupt nephew, Peter Ludlow (a slimey Arliss Howard).
On his end, Hammond recruits chaos theorist and original movie survivor Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and his paleontologist girlfriend, Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore). The couple is fun to watch, with quick witted interaction. Moore continues the original film’s tradition of capable female action heroes. Goldblum is also in fine form, but is less fun in this outing, because many of Malcolm’s eccentric qualities have been dialed back in making him the lead character.
Like the original movie, the Lost World has a fine cast with many great actors like Pete Postlethwaite and Peter Stormare shining as side characters. But if the movie has one flaw it’s that its cast of characters is so big, that many of them get lost in the shuffle. Vince Vaughn is built up to be a major character then literally disappears for the last act of the film. Vanessa Lee Chester, a capable young actress at the time of the film, plays Malcolm’s daughter from a failed marriage. A set-up like that could have been mined for interesting drama, but Chester is given little more to do than repeat the annoying kid role from the original film. If I have one complaint, it’s that it’s a shame to see so many talented people assembled in front of the camera and so little is done with all of that acting talent.
Plenty of screen time is given to the Lost World’s villains, but only Postlewaite’s big game hunter really manages to evolve into a multi-dimensional character. Arliss’s Ludlow is often referred to as a poor imitation of John Hammond and the character unfortunately reflects that all too well. One really questions why someone like Ludlow would even be on a dangerous island filled with flesh eating monsters.
Which isn’t to say I don’t enjoy the Lost World. As a pure monster movie, it’s actually more satifying than Jurassic Park in many respects. The dinosaur effects are still jaw-droppingly awesome and there are quite a few tense scenes. Needless to say, no one can quite film an animal attack as well as Spielberg. If nothing else, the Lost World is proof of that.
Also returning is composer John Williams, who surprisingly doesn’t repeat much of Jurassic Park’s iconic score. Instead we’re given haunting, moodier, almost gothic style themes that reflects the more horror orientated nature of the Lost World. This kind of risk taking is another plus in the movie’s column for me. It would have been very easy for Williams to use the paint by numbers approach. Thankfully, he opted for a gutsier route and the movie is a richer experience for it.
Despite being less than perfect, I actually recommend the Lost World. If the original Jurassic Park is high gloss, prestige pulp cinema, this is a nice B-movie style reflection. The aforementioned T-Rex rampage in down town San Diego is one of the best effects driven action sequences of the 1990’s in my opinion. For a brief moment, we’re given Spielberg’s answer to a Godzilla movie and it’s a glorious thing to watch. Monster fans are certainly given their money’s worth. It’s perhaps the last great genre movie from a great genre filmmaker. Seeing it again, really makes me wish that Spielberg would make one last monster movie.