The Lost World: Jurassic Park is a Rare Instance of the Movie Being far Better than the Book

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

The original Jurassic Park (1993) is an all-time classic work of art, and Jurassic Park III (2001) is… not my favorite film. What about the oddly titled The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)?

While this sequel to the '93 classic is not at the same level of genius, it's still a fun movie with a lot of greatness. All of the disparate parts don't always add up, but for me, one thing is certain — it is leaps and bounds better than the original book the film is based on.

When does that happen? Very rarely. When it comes to movies adapted from books, the familiar refrain can almost be played by memory: "The book was better." The second Jurassic film and its corresponding novel are an instance in which the opposite is true, and some of that might be because of how weird and meandering the original Michael Crichton sequel is.

The original Crichton novel Jurassic Park (1990), the book that started all of this, is a book so hot with ideas and action it'll burn your hands. Many characters have different fates than they do in the film — Grant, Ellie, and the kids still survive, but Ian Malcolm and John Hammond don't live through it. Instead, Muldoon and the lawyer Gennaro share that helicopter ride to safety at the end of the story.

This is why it's particularly odd that Crichton's Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World (1995), features Ian Malcolm as a main character. It begins with a paragraph that amounts to Crichton saying, "psych! He's not really dead, here he is, he's fine," and then having Ian go on his adventure to Isla Sorna, aka Site B.

Dennis Nedry's benefactor Dodgson (nice hat) is the book's main antagonist, and the aimless read ends with an extended chase on the island that features one of the book's two (new) children rolling around in a metal cage-ball for what seems like a million pages.

Steven Spielberg and writer David Koepp kept very little of the book's meager plot. Ian Malcolm (thankfully) survived in the movie world, so his return isn't an issue. Visiting Site B is still the focus, and the book's character of Sarah Harding is utilized and played wonderfully by Julianne Moore. Instead of two tech guys like in the book, they use just one, in the form of a pre-West WingRichard Schiff. Vince Vaughn's Nick Van Owen is a total cinematic invention, as is everything having to do with the (not dead in the movies) John Hammond, played again by the great Richard Attenborough. The film also kept the sequence where two chained together trailers slowly get pushed off a cliff... and that's about it.

A great many of the sequel's scenes are taken from moments in Crichton's first book that didn't end up in the first film — the two biggest examples being the opening on the beach featuring the little girl and the Compsognathus (Compys), as well as the Compy-swarm death of Peter Stormare's jerk of a character. The latter scene is a riff on how Hammond dies in the first novel.

The rest? Pure invention, with more than a little bit of King Kong thrown in the mix. While Ian Malcolm's daughter doing a gymnastics act to defeat a raptor is very low on my list of classic moments in cinema, there's still a lot of great stuff here.

The storyline of Ingen (now under newer, sillier management) trying to capture the island's dinosaurs leads to some great set pieces. The corporation's first landing on the island and their little dino-parade of capture and swarm is majestically shot, and bringing these creatures to a large city on the mainland is just another bad idea "in the long history of bad ideas," as Ian Malcolm would say. The aforementioned truck-trailer scene is wonderful, as is the velociraptor scene (DON'T GO INTO THE LONG GRASS!) in the infamous tall grass. John Williams gives us another fantastic score, which features an iconic jungle-trek theme. The entire third act with a T-Rex set loose on the mainland is nuts, but it's a weirdly logical place for this series to go. The book has no climax at all, let alone one this bonkers. Surely these Ingen suits will get the message now! They didn't.

The thing that really puts this movie over the top for me, though, and makes it something worth revisiting time and again, is Pete Postlethwaite's Roland Tembo.

Wholly new to the series in The Lost World, Tembo is the diamond of the film. This professional game hunter means business, and he makes that clear in his pitch-perfect introduction; he doesn't care about cloning or profit, he just wants to hunt a T-Rex. He's not all bad, as he helps Malcolm, Sarah, and the rest after the truck-trailer attack. He's got some warped morals, but they get put right by the time this fantastic character leaves the film (way too early), telling corporate stooge Ludlow (Arliss Howard) that he's spent "enough time in the company of death." His deleted opening scene is also a thing of beauty.

The aforementioned gymnastics moment may be the silliest moment here, but, truth be told, it's not the only one. There's a lot of silliness, and though the movie doesn't end by packing 13 dinosaurs into a clown car, it skirts that line. The magnificent performance by the greatly missed (and dearly departed) Pete Postlethwaite gives the movie a grounding that it would not have otherwise. The book really could have used him.

Though Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom can't possibly use the character, it will use Ian Malcolm. And thank Ingen for that. He's wonderful in The Lost World, from the poster-match jump cut onward. Dinosaur movies with Jeff Goldblum are just so much better than dinosaur movies without him, so here's hoping that the good chaotician has more than just a little scene in the new film.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (seriously, what is with that title) is, for my money, the second-best in the cinematic canon Jurassic. If the movie had stayed true to the book, it would be the worst by a mile. Again I ask, when is that ever the case?

Here's to adventures with real dinosaurs, before they started making up new ones in both labs and in scripts. As the great Roland Tembo would say, "Oh you're breaking our hearts. SADDLE UP, let's get this movable feast underway."