The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) Movie Review

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Attempting to make any sort of follow up to a great original film is no easy task.  For every Toy Story 2, there is a Son of Kong. For every Empire Strikes Back there is a Dracula’s Daughter. The Lost World: Jurassic Park is also only Steven Spielberg’s second attempt at franchise directing after the Indiana Jones series.

Over the years The Lost World: Jurassic Park has garnered a somewhat unfavorable reputation. I probably watched this almost as much as I did the original Jurassic Park when I was younger. It didn’t quite have the same impact on me as the original movie but I still liked it and enjoyed watching it. I watched it again recently and while it isn’t Jurassic Park by any stretch of the imagination it isn’t the disastrous sequel that it could have been. The Lost World: Jurassic Park has some third act issues but is an overall really fun second installment that stretches the premise out in some interesting ways.

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The Lost World: Jurassic Park [Credit: Universal Pictures]
The Lost World: Jurassic Park opens up on a family vacationing laying anchor on a remote island. Not far from the beach a little girl is attacked by a group of small bird-like Dinosaurs, Compsognathus. The discovery is of the second island of Dinosaurs has sent the company of IGEN into a panic. Seizing control of the board from John Hammond is his nephew Peter Ludlow and plans on sending a large crew of people to retrieve the Dinosaurs and bring them to San Diego to open up a new park. In order to rally public support and stop his former company from achieving this, Hammond gathers a small research team that includes Dr. Ian Malcom (played by Jeff Goldblum). Malcolm only agrees to go in order to get his girlfriend, Sarah Harding (playing by Juliane Moore) back off the island who went ahead of the others.

In terms of sequels, there wasn’t much of a logical way to follow up on the original movie. The park is gone, the Dinosaurs would presumably die without human care (although both The Lost World and Jurassic World found a way around that) and no one in their right mind would go back to that island for almost any reason. Both The Lost World movie and Michael Crichton’s sequel book (which is almost nothing like the movie) needed to invent something new for the second story. “Site B” was the solution. The second island of Dinosaurs that lived without fences.

The story reasons given for the return of Ian Malcolm is smart reasoning. Malcolm goes to save someone and approaches the situation with stark cynicism which wonderfully contrasts the newer characters seeing these Dinosaurs for the first time. This doesn’t have the same awe and wonder that the first movie does but that makes sense. The three newcomers get to have their moment of awe but with no fences, there is less time for it.

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The Lost World: Jurassic Park [Credit: Universal Pictures]
Sarah Harding is wonderfully played by Juliane Moore and is The Lost World’s Dinosaur expert. She isn’t just an Alan Grant replacement, she has her own personality and is a bit more reckless. Richard Schiff is a likable presence and Vince Vaughn is a standout as a much more serious character, Nick Van Owen. The group we follow in Lost World isn’t quite as good as the characters in Jurassic Park and don’t face the same type of moral questions that the original characters do. But, they are still good and worth rooting for.

The villains of the movie are the second group of human characters led by Hammond’s nephew, Peter Ludlow, who is driven by blind greed. Normally I don’t like these types of villains, they are flat and two dimensional. Peter Ludlow does work despite this which is due to the writing and performance of Arliss Howard. Howard and the script characterize him as similar to John Hammond. At times he talks like him and there are glimmers of the character that reminds us of Hammond, but he isn’t Hammond. Ludlow is what Hammond would be if he lacked that childlike wonder in pursuing his dreams. Unlike Hammond, he doesn’t learn which makes him a great contrast to Hammond.

This time around it takes less time to get to the Dinosaur action and there are great scenes of sustained terror and action; a few that do come close to the level of the original. There is an incredible scene involving two parent T-Rexes attacking Malcolm and crew’s RV that is an ever growing escalation of events. The most nerve-racking involves Sarah Harding landing on a window. The window is the only thing that holds Sarah from plummeting off a cliff. Slowly the glass starts to crack underneath her body and it’s a race to get to her before it shatters. The animatronic work in all the Dinosaur scenes is stunning. Like Jurassic Park, this holds up remarkably well and that’s in large part due to the balance of practical and CG effects. The Stegosaurus scene is starting to show its age with regards to technology. Also sometimes when the T-Rex is in the city the environmental layering isn’t always great but outside of that most of the movie looks good (in many respects both of these movies look better than most modern visual effects).

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The Lost World: Jurassic Park [Credit: Universal Pictures]
Part of the plot involves bringing the Dinosaurs back to the mainland, a similar plot point it shares with two Willis O’ Brian films, the 1925 silent film (and grandad of all Dinosaur cinema) The Lost World and the 1933 King Kong. It is rather interesting to see Spielberg take the inspiration for his Jurassic Park films full circle by incorporating this plot point and seeing it take shape.

While this is interesting, it also is part of the main problem with The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The second group is able to get a T-Rex off the island and back to San Diego where it wreaks havoc on the city. The sequence itself is terrific to watch but there are two problems with it. The first problem is the sequence is it jarring and feels tacked on even though it was set up throughout the movie. Part of this is because the movie jumps directly from the island to San Diego without any scene transition. There feels like there are scenes just simply missing from the movie.

The second problem with the San Diego sequence is the more obvious one. When the ship, carrying the T-Rex, crashes in San Diego, the crew has been killed by something. We never find out by what and there is no explanation that can be inferred. It couldn’t have been the T-Rex because of where some of the crew members died.  The term plot hole is often the laziest form of film criticism because of how liberally people the term (often in places where it doesn’t belong). That being said, this is a plot hole. It has been rumored that they originally planned to have Velociraptors on the ship as well with the T-Rex and there was a sequence storyboarded for it. For one reason or another, it never got made. This makes that San Diego sequences much weaker. Thankfully Spielberg is so skilled at creating exciting action sequences that the scene is still able to hold its own weight based purely on entertainment value alone.

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The Lost World: Jurassic Park [Credit: Universal Pictures]
Outside of that (and a really dumb scene involving gymnastics), I don’t have any issues at all with The Lost World. It is well crafted from a directorial standpoint, the character work is solid, and has some incredible special effects and terror sequences. The Lost World does lack the strong moralistic dilemma at the heart of the original instead favoring an easier environmental message. For a follow up to a groundbreaking masterpiece this is pretty good in its own right, sticking to the core of what made the first movie work but also not trying to repeat the same movie. Third act issues aside this remains the strongest of the Jurassic Park sequels thus far, making for a nice double feature with the original.

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