Hollywood loves a good franchise. The movie-going public does too. Horror, action, comedy, sci-fi, western, no genre is safe. And any film, no matter how seemingly stand-alone, conclusive, or inappropriate to sequel, could generate an expansive franchise. They are legion. We are surrounded. But a champion has risen from the rabble to defend us. Me. I have donned my sweats and taken up cinema’s gauntlet. Don’t try this at home. I am a professional.
The Franchise: Jurassic Park — concerning the fallout of billionaire John Hammond’s attempts to build a theme park featuring real-life dinosaurs on a tropical island off the coast of Costa Rica. Based on the 1990 novel of the same name by Michael Crichton, the film spawned two sequels.
The Installment: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Isla Nublar is an island off Costa Rica that had dinosaurs on it. Turns out it wasn’t so special. Cause Isla Sorna (aka “Site B”), another island off Costa Rica, has like totes way more dinosaurs — which is something of interest to John Hammond’s snotty nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard). Not too surprisingly, the board of Hammond’s company InGen weren’t too happy with how shit went down at Jurassic Park. They covered up the events of the first film, which ruined the career of Dr. Malcolm when he went public with his story and wound up sounding like a nutjob. InGen also has essentially benched Hammond in favor of Ludlow, who wants to take dinosaurs off Isla Sorna and build a new Jurassic Park in San Diego. Hammond doesn’t like this idea, so he asks Malcolm to join a team meant to foil Ludlow by gathering footage of the dinosaurs in their “natural” habitat. And Malcolm doesn’t like Hammond’s idea very much either, until he learns that his girlfriend, paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), is part of said team. So he goes. As does his daughter, Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester), who stows away on their ship. Once on Isla Sorna, Malcolm and his team – which also consists of field equipment expert Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff) and documentary filmmaker douchefuck Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) – butt heads with Ludlow’s team, headed up by great white hunter Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite). Dinosaurs happen. Eventually Trembo manages to catch a T rex and bring it back to San Diego where it godzillas the mainland.
This sounds like an incredibly backhanded compliment, but in this context I do mean it sincerely — if all you want out of a Jurassic Park sequel is to see some cool dinosaurs do some cool shit, then Lost World delivers on that most basic of sequel mandates: bigger and more. Though many fans of Michael Crichton’s original novel were disappointed that Spielberg was far less interested in doing a faithful adaptation of Crichton’s adult-oriented story than he was with using the idea to make a family B-movie exploiting the awesome visual of realistic dinosaurs, objectively it worked like gangbusters. The movie was fantastic and people all over the world went batshit crazy for it, largely – let’s be honest – because of the (then) novelty of the dinosaur FX. Jurassic Park was the very definition of “movie magic,” bringing to plausible life something that wasn’t real. In this sense, all Lost World really needed to do to be worthy of existence was give us back the same dinosaurs we loved the first time around, add some new ones, and up the dino ante all around. Lost World does that. John Hammond’s Jurassic Park felt like a zoo. We only had six species of dinosaurs to play with, few of which interacted with each other. Lost World has a multi-species dinosaur stampede. More raptors. More Tyrannosaurus. A massive body count. And a dinosaur running amok in a large American city. The FX are once again spellbinding, so if you’re just looking for a cheesy creature feature to lull you through 2-hours on a Sunday afternoon, Lost World delivers.
Pete Postlethwaite. Every moment that Postlethwaite is on screen (which is sadly no where near enough) is great cinema. The character of Tembo has two qualities that no other character in the film has: he’s interesting and, well, he’s played by Pete Postlethwaite. As I’ll get to in the section below, part of Lost World‘s problem is that all our main characters have forced, boring, or shitty motives. Tembo’s motivations are so unique that I wish he had been our central character. Tembo takes Ludlow’s gig not for money (he refuses to be paid in fact), but because he wants to hunt the greatest predator the world has ever known: the T Rex. Suited in safari khaki, Tembo seems from another time, a character lifted from a Rudyard Kipling story — to boot, he is aided by a loyal and mostly silent Indian friend/orderly, Ajay Sidhu (Harvey Jason). Tembo has the most sense of any character in the film, and despite the fact that his motives are painted as wrong by the reactions of our heroes, they nonetheless are presented as pure by Postlethwaite. Tembo is a roaring success, and the exact sort of character this film needed. The big game hunt scene, featuring Tembo’s crew zooming through a dino stampede looking for specimens to grab, is the film’s biggest FX extravaganza and Tembo’s flustered attempt to identify the dinosaurs he wants is charmingly comical — “The one with the big red horn! The pompadour! Elvis!”
It is hard to go wrong with Spielberg and little-kid-encountering-creature shenanigans, and Lost World has two good ones: 1) The film’s opening, featuring a posh British family cluelessly holidaying on Isla Sorna’s beach, where a little girl (future vapid hottie Camilla Belle) is attacked in excellent horror movie fashion by the new tiny baddie, the Compsognathus; reminiscent of an unused scene from the Jurassic Park novel. And 2) Spielberg’s gleeful breaking of the old taboo: killing a dog (as featured in our list Play Dead!), in a darkly hilarious scene in which a little boy living in suburban San Diego is woken by his barking dog to discover the T Rex drinking water from his family’s swimming pool. Then getting a light snack.
Speaking of unused Compsognathus scenes from the Jurassic Park novel… the karmic devouring of Peter Stormare’s unlikable mercenary by a horde of Compsognathus is a regifting of what had been Hammond’s original death from the novel (though, oddly, without any explanation or presentation of the fact that Compsognathus’ bite contains a neurotoxin that paralyzes its victims; which was the creepiest part of Hammond’s death). It is a fun scene, and very dark. The whole film is much darker in its violence than Jurassic Park was. Spielberg approaches this film with a sloppy kitchen-sink attitude, but it does undeniably have some well put together action set pieces. The big mid-movie show down, in which a mama and papa T rex send our heroes’ trailer dangling off the side of a cliff, is a good time, as is the scene in which a group of raptors completely decimate the combined teams of Malcolm and Ludlow in a field of chest-high grass (the birds-eye-view shot of the raptors zeroing in our the teams is fantastic). And of course, seeing the T rex wreck shit in San Diego is good mindless silliness that any giant monster fan will enjoy — I particularly love the shot where a T rex dislodged 76 Gas Station sign-sphere rolls past Goldblum and Moore in their car.
I’m a sucker for fake movie posters/trailers in movies. So, as a minor blink-and-you’ll-miss-it gag, once we’re in San Diego, I love the fake movie posters we see in a video store. Schwarzenegger in King Lear. Robin Williams in Jack and the Beanstalk. And best of all, Tom Hanks in something called Tsunami Sunrise.
What Doesn’t Work:
Overwhelming popular and critical support, an increased budget, another Crichton novel, and Spielberg and the rest of his Jurassic Park team returning (aside from cinematographer Janusz Kamiński replacing Dean Cundey) — this is the sequel sweet spot my friends. Not that Spielberg was the kind of director to be held back by a studio or insecurities the first time around, but regardless, he had the audience hooked already, and the nature of the Jurassic Park world/concept was such that he could have taken The Lost World in any number of creative directions. Yet the project has the vibe of any mindlessly churned out sequel created for no other reason than to net cash. Which is what makes The Lost World an offensively awful sequel. For starters, Crichton was writing his novel at the same time David Koepp and Spielberg were writing their script. Spielberg’s film bears little resemblance to Crichton’s book beyond the Site B concept and some shared scenes. Though that hardly matters. As I noted last time, Crichton’s Jurassic Park was the first book I ever read before it was turned into a movie. Crichton’s The Lost World was another landmark moment in my literary life — it was the first novel that I ever stopped reading midway through and discarded. It is lazy horseshit from a novelist capable of a lot more. Regrettably, though Spielberg was not closely following Crichton’s novel, he does a slavishly faithful adaptation of Crichton’s disinterested “sure, why not” attitude.
“Kitchen sink” is the best way describe Lost World. Given the high profile and relative sequelability of the franchise, you might assume that Spielberg and Universal would have tried to set up a legit trilogy here, with Lost World serving as the Empire Strikes Back to a hypothetical Return of the Jedi to come. Yes, we did get a third installment, but the uninspired approach to this film kills off the momentum of the franchise and scatters what could have been a tight and interesting mythology to the wind. Really, Lost World failed at the scripting stage. So let’s jam on the basic ways things went wrong before the camera even rolled:
1) Maybe foremost, the whole idea of Site B is unnecessary retconning, and the worst kind of retconning too, as it undermines the first film by reducing a lot of its drama and details to triviality — how small and trifling does Hammond’s Jurassic Park and its meager number of species seem compared to an entire dinosaur ecosystem? Most good sequels expand the world of the first film, but I hate it when a sequel puffs its own importance by revealing that we had no idea what was really going on during the events of the original installment. The objective idea of a Site B isn’t terrible on its own, but its existence renders everything that was said about Jurassic Park in the first film – how it was run, how the dinosaurs were hatched and bred – as untrue. We were lied to? Lost World doesn’t even bother to clarify. We are just told that the dinosaurs come from Site B and the story moves on.
2) And the set-up we move on to is clunky as fuck. There is no logical reason for John Hammond to want Malcolm to be part of his Site B team, other than we need at least one of our main characters from the first film to be our hero. Malcolm has never been to Site B. Not to mention, being a mathematician who was once chased by two kinds of dinosaurs during a single evening hardly makes him an expert who can provide useful information out in the field. And Malcolm’s single motivation for participating in the plot is to rescue his girlfriend Sarah, a character we have never heard of or seen before. Not very compelling for us. It reeks of slapdash sequel writing. But, okay, I’ll bite. Malcolm tells Hammond, “It isn’t a research expedition anymore. It’s a rescue mission.” Of course, when he gets there Sarah doesn’t want to be rescued. So it isn’t a rescue mission. It was just a flimsy way to get Malcolm onto a dinosaur infested island again.
3) Speaking of Malcolm. As I talked about a lot during The Muppets Franchise Me, it isn’t always easy to take a side character and make them a successful protagonist. In the first film Dr. Malcolm was a textbook supporting player. Goldblum’s eccentric rockstar performance was too frenzied and out-there to have been the focus of a film. That’s what allowed the character to be so much fun; he was alleviated from the burden of relatablility. Possibly we could have had a different kind of fun with that Malcolm (like we did with Burt Gummer in the Tremors series), but Koepp and Spielberg give us a new, more protagonist-friendly Malcolm. And this neuters the character. Now Malcolm has a kid to banter with. A girlfriend to banter with. He’s no longer making astute wise-cracks while more leadership oriented individuals save the day. Now he’s making wise-cracks while he is saving the day, which gets a little grating. Supporting characters can be gleefully one-note, because we aren’t seeing them all the time. In Lost World seemingly every single scene features Malcolm delivering a redundant one-liner about how they’re all doomed. And every other scene features him staring off camera at impending doom (in classic Spielberg fashion) and delivering another pithy line about how they need to be “very afraid” or should “run.” His attitude always seemed self-important and smug, but that worked for rockstar Malcolm. Now at times he is actively annoying, his sarcasm morphing into bitchy passive aggression. It isn’t Goldblum’s fault. His notes are coming out right, but they no longer are in harmony with the melody of the film. And in any case, if we had to be stuck with a worrywart single-father Malcolm, it would have been nice to introduce him in a contextualizing scene that illustrated for us what his life is like now, how he has changed, instead of just jumping into the story.
4) Our “heroes” suck. Contriving a scenario where our surviving characters from the first film all return to get chased by dinosaurs once again probably wouldn’t have yielded a very inspired film either, but the batch we get here – Malcolm, Sarah, Eddie, Nick, and Kelly – are a lousy substitute. Eddie is barely even a character. Kelly is little more than a prop that adds hacky “humanizing” for Malcolm, up until she fights a raptor using gymnastics (easily the stupidest thing in the whole stupid movie). And all Malcolm does is nag and fret like a Jewish grandmother, while Sarah and Eddie muck things up in a confluence of their own misguided idiocy.
Nick could have been a dynamic character, one well suited to Vince Vaughn’s talents, had he been used differently or even just set-up better. Nick sets himself up by telling Malcolm that he’ll jump to whatever cause pays him well and that he joined Greenpeace because of the women. But he behaves like a radical environmentalist, the sort of guy who would sink a whaling ship in order to save a whale or firebomb a lumber mill to stop logging. He’s reckless and he cares more about his ideals than the lives of humans who don’t share those ideals. He is a dogooder anti-hero and kind of an assclown. Of course, this is my version of Nick; Spielberg never presents him as such a complicated presence, or even as morally questionable. Nick and Sarah release all the dinosaurs that Tembo captured, and the animals destroy Ludlow’s base camp. The only reason no one dies is because Spielberg is telling us that Nick and Sarah did the right thing. Are Tembo’s men supposed to be bad people? Stormare’s character is, but the rest seem like normal guys doing their job: capturing wild animals to put in a zoo. Preventing these animals from being put in a zoo is more important than potentially killing these men? I wouldn’t imagine so, yet the movie never calls out Nick or Sarah. In fact, the moment is treated as somewhat humorous comeuppance for Tembo’s team. And Nick even has the gall to get livid when Trembo talks casually of Eddie’s death, even though Eddie’s death was caused by Nick and Sarah stupidly taking an injured baby T rex back to their trailers!
The movie seems to be telling us that all these misfortunes are because Ludlow and Tembo’s men are messing with things they shouldn’t be messing with on Site B, trying to remove the dinosaurs when they should be left alone. But really everything is caused by Nick and Sarah’s interference. Tembo takes a baby T rex so he can use it as bait to kill an adult T rex. I guess that’s kind of messed up, but he’s a big game hunter and it’s no more messed up than what happens to all the animals we eat on a daily basis. From what we’re shown in the movie, I think Tembo would have easily killed his T rex, with no human lives lost had Nick and Sarah not fucked shit up. But Nick and Sarah release all those dinosaurs, destroying all of Ludlow’s equipment, then “rescue” the baby, which gets Eddie killed and their own equipment destroyed. Then, later, again because of the baby T rex rescue, a T rex kills a bunch of Tembo’s men. Now stuck without equipment, both teams must unite to reach the Site B headquarters elsewhere on the island. On this unplanned journey almost every single remaining person gets killed! And it doesn’t stop here. Nick also takes the bullets out of Tembo’s gun. This prevents Tembo from killing a T rex. Instead Tembo drugs it, allowing it to be brought back to the mainland, and killing dozens more people. Let’s keep in mind that Tembo’s team wasn’t even trying to bag a T rex before (unless I missed something). All this shit is the fault of Nick and Sarah! Not our “villains.” Hell, the movie almost feels like a statement against animal rights activism. Yet, Spielberg presents Nick and Sarah as virtuous and Tembo’s team as idiots or villains or both. But Sarah and Nick are idealistic and cluelessly impulsive (a combo of traits I’ve always found dangerous in real life). It could have been a dramatic twist to portray Nick as a villainous force himself, maybe posing as a cameraman, but really he’s there to act out environmental terrorism even if it gets him and everyone else killed, pitting him against both Ludlow’s team and Malcolm.
5) Dinosaurs rampaging through a major metropolis is a great fucking idea for the sequel. And it works great too. I even loved the cheesy Dracula-esque bit with the ship arriving soaked in blood and devoid of a crew. It doesn’t make tons of sense how the T rex could, say, eat the pilot who was inside the tiny steering room, but I laughed all the same (probably didn’t hurt that I mostly hated the movie up until this point). It is oft noted that this scene contains a humorous logic-hole: how the T rex got out of the hold if the doors were closed. But Malcolm and the others find a corpse clutching the remote for the cargo doors and the cargo doors are malfunctioning in an attempt to close all the way. Seems to me that the T rex got out, attacked the crew, then when it went back in the hold to chill this mortally injured crew member closed the doors on it. In any case, we only get fifteen minutes of dino rampage in the big city, which only serves to show how completely wasted the scenario is here. It seems apparent that Spielberg had no interest in doing Jurassic Park III, and little respect for doing Jurassic Park II, so he just slapped every bit and scene that sounded fun to him into one film — sort of a director’s bucket list. Good for him, bad for us. We didn’t necessarily need an entire Jurassic Park: Dinos in da Hood but fifteen minutes tacked onto the end of a 2-hour movie feels almost insulting. Especially to fans of Crichton’s Jurassic Park who were mad that Spielberg excised the cliffhanger of raptors reaching mainland South America from the first film.
6) The first film took the stance that we shouldn’t meddle with nature. Dinosaurs went extinct for “a reason,” and no matter how hard we try to plan accordingly and safely, “nature will find a way” and things will go wrong. Playing God will just raise Satan, essentially. But the deed was done. And Hammond didn’t firebomb Site B. Dinosaurs exist now. Ignoring Malcolm’s attempts to simply leave Site B, our heroes are trying to protect the dinosaurs, while our villains are trying to exploit them. I can dig it, but doesn’t this completely contrast with the message of the first film? Shouldn’t Malcolm want to destroy all the dinosaurs? Also, just from a storytelling stance, this doesn’t mix well with the fact that the dinosaurs are also our villains — Tembo and his crew aren’t the ones eating people. (I’m not saying we shouldn’t protect polar bears because they would eat us if they could, I’m just talking about Lost World as a movie.) The first film has a very simple and relatable approach to conflict: dinosaurs got out of their cages, so our heroes need to run away and stay safe. Now our heroes are the ones letting dinosaurs out of their cages and kidnapping T rex babies. Were this the only flaw in the film, I wouldn’t even have brought it up. It’s not a big deal, but when added to the overall mess it is certainly part of the problem. Point is, I don’t feel all that bad for any of our characters. They chose to mingle with dinosaurs out in the wild. They’re like the guy from Grizzly Man.
Overall it just doesn’t feel like Spielberg cares. Lost World is a dud idea executed with fickle enthusiasm. One has to wonder why he even made the movie. He was coming off the one-two punch of Jurassic Park and fucking Schindler’s List. It is not like he had to make Lost World to get the greenlight for Amistad. It seems like he only directed the film because his ego wouldn’t let him hand it over to someone else. It was a great opportunity for a great film, and instead we get a repetitive series of set pieces strung sloppily together with characters delivering detachedly grave one liners to each other at all times. And the B-movie tone Spielberg brought to Jurassic Park doesn’t work here. Now it just feels like a bad movie. The first film built and built and built to the moment when Dr. Grant enters Jurassic Park. The Act I portion of Lost World is almost embarrassing at times — I just felt bad for poor Richard Attenborough, seeing him put all his talents into such ridiculous exposition; though, I suppose, I didn’t feel bad for his bank account.
This is also a lesser complaint, but on an intellectual level it bothers me that there is no middle ground presented in the film. We have no character who pragmatically thinks it would be wonderful to bring back dinosaurs and let regular slobs like us get a look at them. Anyone who wants this is in it for soulless monetary reasons. Even John Hammond is against it now. Lost World is a boringly black and white film, morally and philosophically.
Body Count: 13 on-screen, and at least 20-30 off-screen or otherwise implied.
Best Kill: The random, unnamed member of Tembo’s team who is stepped on by a rampaging T-rex. Poor bastard sticks to the bottom of the dinosaur’s foot like chewing gum and thus gets stepped on a few more times.
Best Line: After Tembo returns from searching for a missing member of his crew.
Malcolm: Did you find him?
Tembo: Just the parts they didn’t like.
Best Line About How Badass Raptors Are: After stating that the daylong hike required to reach the island interior isn’t the real obstacle…
Ludlow: Velociraptors. Our infrareds show that their nesting sites are located on the island interior… which is why we planned to keep the island rim.
Best Self-Righteous Nick Line:
After Tembo rightfully points out that it is Nick’s fault that all their equipment got destroyed.
Nick: Hey, we came here to watch, you came here to stripmine the place!
Should There Be a Sequel: I guess. No more Spielberg though. His heart and brain just aren’t in it. He was presumably day-dreaming about all the kick-ass scenes he was going to do for Saving Private Ryan while directing Lost World.
Up Next: Jurassic Park III