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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
As a fifth grader in 1993, it was my duty and obligation to love all things Jurassic Park, the iconic Steven Spielberg summer movie masterpiece that became a cultural zeitgeist and kind of ruined many blockbusters that came after it simply by being so damn good. Jurassic Park dominated the cultural conversation in America in the summer of 1993, and coupled with a massive marketing effort (via toys, videogames, and McDonald’s promotions), it was damn near inescapable outside of movie theaters as well. Jurassic Park wasn’t just a film that lived up to its lofty heights – it is the lofty heights themselves. Few films have come close to matching it in sheer quality of entertainment in subsequent summers (off the top of my head, maybe only Men in Black, Spider-Man 2, and The Dark Knight came anywhere close for me, with TDK coming closest), and for good reason: Jurassic Park is a goddamned masterpiece.
When Michael Crichton wrote a sequel novel to Jurassic Park, titled The Lost World (an obvious homage to Arthur Conan Doyle), the rumor long stood that he wrote it at the behest of Spielberg and Universal, who wanted to make a sequel film to the ultra-successful original. The Lost World novel was released in 1995, and film development immediately followed. The film adaptation, titled The Lost World: Jurassic Park, met with an absolute wave of gigantic hype in the months before release. Analysts expected the film to break box office records, and new lines of merchandising were introduced to coincide with the release of the eagerly anticipated blockbuster. Though it did break several box office records upon opening over Memorial Day 1997 (including one record that stood for over four years), The Lost World: Jurassic Park ultimately failed to live up to its predecessor, both critically and commercially. It was also one of my most disappointing cinematic experiences, and an event that continues to shape my movie-going habits some 16 odd years later.
To simply begin: there are massive problems with The Lost World. For starters, the plot isn’t nearly as interesting this time around, and neither are the characters. Jeff Goldblum is back as Dr. Ian Malcolm, the “chaotician” with a rock-star personality, but he worked far better as the third lead in Jurassic Park than he does as a main character in The Lost World. Other characters seem haphazardly thrown into the film, including Vince Vaughn as environmentalist Nick Van Owen (whose idiotic actions lead to the deaths of several characters as well as mass chaos for a large portion of the movie’s running time) and Julianne Moore as Dr. Sarah Harding, a paleontologist who just happens to be Malcolm’s ex-girlfriend (can I just say that I hate little plot coincidences like this?). The worst character in the film, hands down, has to be Malcolm’s would-be adorable moppet of a daughter, Kelly Malcolm (Vanessa Lee Chester). The only good thing about her performance in the film is that it eventually gave us this video:
There are cool characters introduced in the movie, however. I love the idea of Pete Postlethwaite (RIP) playing the “great white hunter”-style of character Roland Tembo. The Lost World probably would have been a hundred times better if it was just Postlethwaite hunting dinosaurs for an hour and forty-five minutes and nothing else. I also like the idea of Peter Stormare playing a crazy hunter as well with Dieter Stark. Stormare, largely cast because of his turn as a psychotic killer/kidnapper in the previous year’s Fargo I assume, just isn’t given very much screen time to be a truly great villainous character. Just the idea of a man hunting dinosaurs is incredibly badass to me, and probably the reason why Muldoon (Bob Peck), the ill-fated game warden of the first movie, was one of my favorite original characters when I was a kid. Stark parallels the cowardly Nedry in some ways as well, but again his lack of overall screen time (as well as the incredibly poor script) don’t give the audience much of a chance to hate him the way we hated Nedry.
The execution of the direction in The Lost World isn’t very compelling either, and Spielberg’s direction could be aptly described as being completely uninspired. Jurassic Park contained a veritable sense of awe, wonder, and danger. Its sequel is just ridiculous and infuriating. I remember sitting in a packed theater on opening weekend, my entire family (sans my older brother, who was probably at work) along for the ride. Even my dad, who very rarely ventures out to the theaters, was there. I didn’t like the movie from the start, and the audience wasn’t into it either. By the time the girl started doing gymnastics, and the idiot environmentalist let all of the dinosaurs loose, and the dumb guy sacrificed himself for almost no reason, I had completely checked out. My mom left the theater and caught a showing of Austin Powers. I wish I had joined her. After the film was over, my dad, siblings, and I were in a kind of stunned silence. We couldn’t believe that the man who brought us one of the finest pieces of summer entertainment ever committed to celluloid could have made such a shitty movie. And The Lost World was exactly that, a gigantic piece of shit, the cinematic equivalent of a massive bowel movement.
Though pretty much the entire running time of The Lost World is completely inessential, special “praise” must be heaped upon it for the sheer lunacy of its closing act. Echoing the “King Kong terrorizes New York” segment of the classic film King Kong, The Lost World features a T-Rex randomly causing wonton damage throughout greater San Diego, including menacing a family and killing their dog (seriously, fuck you for that Spielberg – you had to go and kill the dog? Really?). The entire San Diego course of destruction culminates in the film’s ultimate big bad, a devious but completely uninteresting business tycoon played by Arliss Howard, getting his just desserts in a totally predictable way. Of course Ian Malcolm, who is now apparently an action hero in addition to being a scientist, and Dr. Harding are heavily involved in reuniting the rampaging T-Rex with its offspring (aww, all it wanted all along was to be back with its baby – how adorable). And then the film ends with a cheesy speech by John Hammond, who paraphrases Malcolm’s “Life finds a way” line from the first film. Yuck.
The Lost World is not a well-liked movie by any means. Some people say it is better than the oft-forgotten Spielberg-less third film, but those people are communists. At least we were prepared for part three to be crappy. Part two’s crappiness just confounded and pissed us all off. I was the first of my friends to see the movie, and as such it was up to me to break the bad news to them. They did not take to it kindly, intimating that I was either wrong, stupid, a spaz, a moron, or all of the above for thinking so. I ended up being vindicated once everyone actually saw the movie, of course. The Lost World was nominated for several dubious end-of-year awards from journalists and organizations, including several Golden Raspberry Awards (its awful adapted screenplay, from Spider-Man scribe David Koepp, should have won). Though I’m often the first person to condemn the Razzies for their over-reliance on tabloid fodder rather than actual quality, I have to agree with all of their The Lost World noms.
This wasn’t the first or last time I was ever let down by a movie (screw you, I am Legend!), but it is one of the most significant. I’ll leave the other experiences for later columns, of course. It was also the first time I was let down by a big Spielberg summer blockbuster, especially one serving as a sequel to one of the most beloved movies of all time (as well as one of the highest grossing movies ever at that point in history). It is obviously difficult to expect lightning to strike twice. Films like Jurassic Park are so few and far between as it is. However, if Jurassic Park is lightning, then its sequel must surely be an ignited fart by comparison. One an awesome example of summer entertainment and still some of the best use of special effects on film, the other a stinky, illogical mess of dumb action scenes and poorly scripted exposition. Damn, even thinking about it now pisses me off. The Lost World – what a disappointment.