#JurassicJune continues! It’s time for Jurassic Park II, aka The Lost World!
And oh boy. The Lost World. The inevitable sequel to Jurassic Park was four years in the making. Steven Spielberg returned to direct, the script was based on the second book written by Michael Crichton, and Jeff Goldblum was back in his leather jacket as chaos mathematician Ian Malcolm. It should have been just as big, if not bigger, than the first movie. As is the way of the sequel. But here’s what The Lost World did wrong.
Not enough dinosaurs.
And the dinosaurs they do have? They end up in San Diego.
What a waste.
I guess to be fair to this movie, I never saw it when I was wide-eyed and little. I would have watched it if my mother had a VHS copy, but I guess she didn’t like it either because it never graced our shelves, meaning I was never entranced by the holographic cover like so many other 90s kids seem to have been. Movies make more of an impression on you when you’re little but I don’t think I saw The Lost World until I was a teenager? Fifteen sounds about right. Playing on one of the movie channels as a time filler and put on as background noise to possibly entice my little brothers to leave me alone, probably.
Which isn’t to say that I wasn’t the right demographic for it, because that first Jurassic Park movie appeals to literally anybody. The Lost World had a harder time keeping my interest because frankly, it’s just… not as good.
As is the way of the sequel.
The story of The Lost World follows not an eccentric billionaire, a genetic scientist, or a paleontologist, all characters you might assume would have authority and agency in a dinosaur theme park that’s gone to the dogs. Instead we get a story that stars Jeff Goldblum, reprising his role as chaos mathematician Ian Malcolm. Because who better to follow onto dinosaur island then someone who does theoretical and highly speculative math for a living?
Did I hear someone at the back say literally anyone else?
Well… yeah. Duh.
So Malcolm, after the first movie, is kind of a social pariah because he told everyone about Jurassic Park but obviously no one believed him. Now he’s got dinosaur related PTSD and a complex! Though neither are really that important to the story. The important part is that Malcolm is contacted by Hammond to go back to Jurassic Park to get his girlfriend Sarah who’s there doing field work. But it’s not the same island he was on last time. All those dinosaurs died after a week because of a lack of a certain enzyme that only the staff could provide. The dinosaurs on island two (Isla Sorna) somehow evolved and thrived without it and are now ruling the roost.
Now, long story short because you don’t need me to walk you through two hours of this film, Malcolm goes to the island with a couple other guys that Hammond sends with him (dubbed The Gatherers), his stow-away daughter, and a big ass mobile command unit vehicle. They find his girlfriend who is on the island trying to prove that dinosaurs are actually nurturing parents but they also find another large team of people that are rounding up dinosaurs in a cruel fashion. They’re dubbed The Hunters. See what they did there? The Hunters vs. The Gatherers? Yeah, I don’t care either.
Okay, maybe I care a little. Because seriously, there was no need for The Hunters to be that mean to the duckbilled dinosaurs! They’re my favourite herbivore and you’re just being awful to it!
Malcolm’s team was sent in by Hammond because he wanted the island documented and classified as a safe haven. It was his way of starting to make up for his mistakes in the first film. The other team was sent in by the new CEO of InGen who wants to make money. Innit always the way?
By the last act of the movie, most of the CEO’s team is dead but they have managed to capture a T-Rex and its baby. They take the two back to San Diego where the T-Rex somehow manages to kill everyone on the boat that was transporting it and it crashes into the dock, freeing the full grown Tyrannosaurus to go on a rampage to find its baby.
Is that what it’s doing? I know it wants the baby back, but the San Diego scene is such a mess it’s never really shown doing anything besides eating dogs and attacking buses. Which I always thought made this T-Rex into more of a monster than a dinosaur (which comes full circle in Jurassic World but I’ll get to that in two weeks time). The whole first movie spent its runtime making sure that we knew these creatures were animals, not monsters, but then The Lost World comes along and we get a T-Rex that stomps down a main street and attacks a bus.
We know nowadays that the T-Rex was primarily a scavenger, whereas it was (mostly) still a terrible lizard living up to its name in 1997. But even if it was the top of its food chain, would it just run out into the open and start attacking things that are just as big as it and making noises it’s never heard before: IE an automobile? Just because something has got a lot of teeth doesn’t mean it won’t scout the place for danger and hold back if it’s unsure. A T-Rex should be a little more unsure of itself in San Diego than it was portrayed in The Lost World!
The sequel ends with sufficient damage being done to the city but Malcolm and Sarah eventually getting both the big T-Rex and its baby back on the boat and headed back to Isla Sorna. Can you tell me what this ending shows us in terms of character development or learning a lesson? Was this whole movie just so Malcolm could stop being called a crackpot for saying dinosaurs existed on a secret island? Because that’s all we really get.
And it’s not just a lackluster ending that The Lost World has. It has a lackluster beginning too. Jurassic Park began with a cold open that got your heart pumping for what was to come. Muldoon shouting “Shoot her! Shoot her!” is the hype you need going into movies like this. The Lost World absolutely does not start with enough of a bang. It’s so slow. It opens with a meaningless scream from a rich woman and a yawn from Jeff Goldblum as he rides the subway. Thrilling.
Then there are other bizarre choices that boggle my mind. Like the scene we get where we see Hammond’s team Mad-Maxing a selection of sedans that they’re taking to dinosaur island. Or the whole boat scene? C’mon Spielberg. How’d that fucking T-Rex get into the boat’s tiny, human sized cabin and eat the driver of the boat without disturbing anything else and then get itself back into the cargo hold for a dramatic reveal? And don’t say from the top of the frame!
Also, doesn’t everyone in America have a gun? That’s how it seems as a Canadian looking in, so why is no one in San Diego vying to take down a fucking dinosaur? You’ll shoot a black child because he has Skittles, but not a dinosaur?
On top of these baffling decisions, the exposition is presented in such a weird way. It’s very second hand account-y instead of stuff actually happening. Malcolm is literally handed a stack of file folders and we watch him look at them. There’s nothing more exciting than watching a man look over documents.
Did you know that Michael Crichton didn’t do sequels? He pretty much refused. Then Spielberg requested he write a Jurassic Park sequel and he relented. And it feels exactly like that. Not something written because there was a real spark to do so, but because someone else wanted him to.
And then having parts of the movie be so different from book anyways? The whole ending of the T-Rex in San Diego was Spielberg’s idea/insistence. So why even passive aggressively harass Crichton? I don’t understand your process!
Okay, so here’s the thing. Vince Vaughn is here in The Lost World and he’s not the worst part. Which is kind of shocking given the fact that he’s playing Vince Vaughn if Vince Vaughn were an eco-terrorist.
Those who read my first Jurassic Park retrospective know my least favourite part of the whole affair was Jeff Goldblum. I am not a Goldblum fan. His weird stuttering, his wide, unblinking stares, and laughing when no laughter is called for creep me out more than charm me. I seem to be in the minority when it comes to not liking Goldblum, but it’s just the way it is, okay? So having him come back as the main protagonist of The Lost World does not please me.
Even if you love Jeff Goldblum you have to admit that his character, Ian Malcolm, is not a compelling lead in this type of movie. As a dinosaur lover, I’m upset there’s nothing to learn about dinosaurs from Malcolm besides that they’re big and he doesn’t want to be around them again. And since he already knows he never wants to be around dinosaurs again, out goes any character growth. From the beginning of this movie to the end, Ian Malcolm stays the same as a person, which is also so much of a bland reinterpretation of the character it makes you wonder why they bothered bringing him back at all besides the obvious box office bump.
Other notable characters include Malcolm’s girlfriend Sarah (Julianne Moore), Malcolm’s daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester), the leader of The Hunters Roland (Pete Postlethwaite) and a return of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough). And even though I say that these are notable characters…
Nah. They’re not really.
The daughter is there to do gymnastics and kill a raptor. Sarah is there to be the reason that they go to the island in the first place. Roland is there as the antagonistic force in this story that tries to paint the dinosaurs more sympathetically (even though it fails at that, see above in the story section), and Hammond is there to just be a charming motherfucker. Though gone are the white linen suits so, I mean, even he lets me down!
Though I’ve had someone say that Roland has an arc because he seems to be in love with his Indian friend/teammate, and when he dies, Roland seems to step down from big game hunting. I wasn’t looking for the gay ships, so maybe this is true. It’s an interesting headcanon at the very least.
Where does acting stand if the characters fall flat? Everyone at least felt like they wanted to be there (unlike Jurassic World) so they had that going for them. I wasn’t sure why the daughter needed to be there, but Chester and Goldblum play off each other well. Moore is probably the most enthusiastic to be part of this wacky Gatherers team, but I think that was because she went out for Ellie in Jurassic Park but didn’t get it. She got some dinosaurs in the end though, good for you girl!
So you know how the effects in Jurassic Park still hold up today? Meeting the T-Rex as it bursts from its enclosure or the stampede of the Gallimimus on the wide open plains? Both CGI. 1993 CGI at that. But still incredible to this day. Especially the nighttime T-Rex attack. The same can’t be said for The Lost World.
What’s presented isn’t as remarkable. Take for example the scene where we meet Sarah for the first time. She has distressed a large herd of stegosaurus and is in the middle of them as they flip their shit. It looks just awful. It’s so flat and lifeless. So ugly. She’s obviously just flailing around by herself on a green screen. It just doesn’t look right.
Something nice I can say about this movie though is that they still had the good taste to use animatronics when they could. I love to see the detail of an animatronic. The immensity of it never gets old and since animatronics are actual, physical things with weight and dimensions, they’ll always hold up better than CGI. Computer animated sequences are evolving all the time, but puppets, be it worn like a suit or gasoline powered with engines, have hit their perfect peak!
So it’s like I said before, use practical efforts, people! Gasoline powered dinosaurs are kind of infinitely cooler than computer generated ones!
The one thing about The Lost World that I absolutely love is the idea of going to a second, secret site that also had dinosaurs. This second site was the nursery island where eggs were hatched and the young were reared until they were old enough to go into an exhibit on the main island. There are questions raised with this, like why there was an egg hatching facility during the tour that park guests would see. Are those dinosaurs then shipped back to the nursery island to be raised for a few months before being sent back to the first island? This is a lot of time wasting, Hammond!
Unfortunately, Site B just didn’t feel like a Jurassic Park island. There were no remnants of fences and the only building they go into has a few rusting cars out front and a warehouse-esque building to hide in. Not explore, not look around. Hide. The building is dark, it’s dreary, and yes, it’s been abandoned for four years and the jungle is fast to reclaim land, but it didn’t feel like Jurassic Park technology was anywhere around.
Honestly this whole island really just felt like a dinosaur island where we had never before noticed there were dinosaurs. Might as well just read Arthur Conan Doyle’s story The Lost World.
And by this point in the retrospective you sure as hell know how I feel about the San Diego scene! It was a bad idea that Spielberg added in, like how Jaws wasn’t supposed to end with the shark exploding but he was all like “nah, it’s gonna ‘spolde” and then it did. I’m nearly surprised the T-Rex, San Diego, or both didn’t ‘spolde at the end of The Lost World!
I’m not bitter! You’re bitter!
The Lost World is such a waste of potential. Just a bunch of pieces that could have worked if all the other pieces had worked. Going to site B is a great idea, but having the dinosaurs end up in San Diego? Focussing on two teams of people, each with different goals, but then one of those goals is to take a dinosaur to San Diego?
Pretty much anything to do with San Diego just doesn’t gel with me.
And the biggest reason why it doesn’t gel with me (besides my general bitterness) is because of how limited the movies becomes in terms of other dinosaurs, or having the unexpected happen in the narrative. Sure, maybe taking a T-Rex to San Diego is unexpected, but what happens there is not. Of course it was going to go on a rampage. Of course it was going to eat a dog and fight a bus because Spielberg can’t resist things like that.
Having the T-Rex battle with the raptors at the end of the first movie? Now that’s unexpected as hell and it’s one of the greatest movie endings because of it! What The Lost World gives us is the unexpected in a very expected way and it just doesn’t it do for me, folks. It just doesn’t.
So now the question is, does Jurassic Park III do it for me? The next retrospective will reveal all!