Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Directed by Steven Spielberg
Starring Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn

As a kid, the original Jurassic Park was one of my favorite movies ever.  It was my first PG-13 movie (I was five or six, at the peak of my dinosaur fanaticism), my first scary movie, and probably my most worn out VHS tape.   I was too chicken to see the original in the theaters in 1993, but I remember having the opportunity, and passing.  So when its sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, came out three years later, it was the first “cinema event” that I remember anticipating.  Like so many other occasions, my dad and I went to see a weekend matinee showing and I left the theater thinking, “that was AWESOME!”  Having cool looking dinosaurs, and lots of them, was more than enough to satisfy my 8 year old tastes.  However, time has not treated The Lost World well.  As I grew older and began to view film with a more critical eye, my memories of the film soured without ever taking the time to revisit the film in the past decade.

So what caused this souring?  It could be the negative reviews I’ve encountered.  It could also be the unfortunate comparisons with the original it will inevitably endure.  And unlike The Lost World, the original is a film I’ve revisited numerous times in adulthood and it holds up amazingly well in every aspect (enough to find its way on this blog’s “Hall of Film Fame”).  The timing felt appropriate to revisit the sequel to make an educated decision on its merits.  Plus, worst-case scenario, the dinosaurs would look and sound incredible on bluray, which would satisfy my inner 6 year old.

Everyone knows that director Steven Spielberg is a master storyteller, and the telling of The Lost World’s story is no doubt impressive.  From a technical standpoint, the 15 years since its release have done very little to “date” the film.  Under Spielberg’s direction, the dinosaurs, of both the CGI-rendered and mechanical puppet variety, beautifully mix with the human actors and sprawling vistas.  Held under the scrutiny of the highest definition in my home theater, these dinosaurs still feel as real as anything we’d see in a 2012 blockbuster (where the digital would definitely outweigh the tangible in CGI/puppetry balance).  Spielberg and his collaborators achieved something amazing when they brought these dinosaurs to life, an achievement that is responsible for making these films timeless.

Spielberg also knows how to create effective action sequences and, though they might not be as iconic either the “T-Rex and Jeep” or “Velociraptors in the Kitchen” scenes in Jurassic Park, there are some intense sequences in The Lost World.  As with many sequels, the filmmakers “up the ante” to make everything much bigger.  This is chilling when a pair of T-Rex parents attack our heroes in a trailer, exhilarating when the ill-willed hunters chase down a dinosaur stampede, and impressive when Jeff Goldblum battles with a group of digital raptors.  There are more dinosaurs in The Lost World and Spielberg is more ambitious with how they are used, such as its famous (or infamous) attack on the mainland.

Though bigger isn’t better, and Jurassic Park has some magic that is missing in the sequel.  One gets the sense that The Lost World’s production was entirely driven by its box office prospects rather than an artistic need to continue the Jurassic Park story.  Spielberg is great at telling the story, but the story he’s telling is lacking.  With only one character returning in a major role in Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the memorable skeptic who cautioned against “playing God,” a lot of weight is given to what was just a supporting role before.  Therefore, character background is hastily written, giving him a semi-estranged teenage daughter and a stubborn girlfriend, Sarah (Julianne Moore), who brings him back to the island in the first place.  Goldblum does his best with the material but it never allows Dr. Malcolm to develop into anything with significant depth. 

The bad writing extends further beyond the lead character.  Continuing The Lost World’s bigger but not better theme, a huge ensemble cast is introduced.  Joining Goldblum and his dysfunctional little family as the “good guys” are a photographer (Vince Vaughn) and an equipment specialist (Richard Schiff, or “It’s Toby from The West Wing!” as I knew him).  There is also a slew of antagonists on the island, led by a master hunter after a legendary “catch” (Pete Postlethwaite) and the greedy corporate face of InGen, which owns the island (Arliss Howard).  Obviously, the supporting cast is even less developed than Dr. Malcolm and you don’t really care what happens to them either way.

The Lost World is one of those films where the story progresses a little too conveniently, usually as a result of some completely illogical decision by one of its characters.  It’s as if Spielberg had great ideas for action sequences and then just threw something together to link those ideas.  Whether its a trailer that’s unnecessarily parked too close to a cliff or the mention of gymnastics skills that may later come in handy, these conveniences really hampered my enjoyment of the film.  Forced comedy, which is never truly funny, is apparent throughout.  No matter how dire the situation, these characters were sure to have a “zinger” ready at their disposal.  In Jurassic Park, more care seemed to be taken to develop its characters and the story progressed more organically.  Even the humor that came through in the original naturally felt like a part of that world, not by some arbitrary effort to add levity.

Now that I have seen The Lost World though a non-nine year old’s eyes, it is clearly a weak film; yet one that is incredible visually.  I might even recommend watching it for the action sequences alone (they are well-done and frequent), if you have extra time and a good system to view it with.  But great special effects can only take you so far.  The film’s weaknesses were great and they were many.  After weighing all of The Lost World’s pros and cons, I cannot say it’s awful but its not very good.  My concluding thoughts remain “just watch the original,” and I’ll actually be able to back up my words.  The original is just about perfect, after all.

Mark it 4.

1 comment:

  1. I have to say, I was enjoying reading this but only from the begging. I have also seen and heard of the comments or like you said the negative reviews about The Lost World but for me, this movie was an adventure all the way. The mistake if any that Spielberg did was either not direct Jurassic Park 3 or just should not have directed that movie at all until like you said how Spielberg is a masterful storyteller, yes I agree, come up with some thing better, then him just producing the third one. I know its still everyone's opinions, you got your own and I have mine, my opinion is that I still love number one and two but with two coming first. Like you, I went and saw The Lost World with my dad when I was a little lad. I remember it very clearly as if it were yesterday. I had a tall box of Hot Tamales and Dr. Pepper and this movie was epic. Sure now 22 I see some flaws with the movie but what do you expect I mean it would seem to me that creating stories about dinosaurs is though. Come on, they really would have been lame movies if it was just about cavemen with spears fighting dinosaurs. I mean would you watch that over and over again? For all we know it could have won best picture. Though I did read some where that Spielberg's name is going to be all over this new Jurassic World movie, just hope to god it will have a good story line just like number one and two had. Now you can start your we page about that.