Why The Lost World: Jurassic Park Deserves More Credit
Jurassic Park 2 could never match the original. But The Lost World still has many worthwhile lessons for the Jurassic World team…
Well, unless a hastily created girlfriend and daughter could be introduced. That might change his mind. Job done.
It still takes some explaining though. Summoned to see a Dr Hammond no longer in charge of his company, and no longer attempting a ropey Scottish accent (rest in peace Lord Attenbrough), we learn about Site B.
This is one of the moments where the film goes closest to Michael Crichton’s not-very-good source novel (the only book he ever wrote, the late Crichton once recalled, knowing for certain a movie version would follow). And it makes sense: for the dinosaurs of Jurassic Park to exist in the first place, they’d need to be bred somewhere, aware from the glare of a theme park. Hence, neighbouring island Isla Sorna, where it turns out that Dr Malcolm’s key prediction from the first film, “life will find a way”, has come true.
Meet The Suit
Thus, following a brief reappearance (for the fans, natch) by Tim and Lex, we meet Hammond’s nephew, Peter Ludlow, played by Arliss Howard (looking alarmingly like Ben from Lost).
In a scene deleted from the movie, we see Ludlow kicking his uncle off the InGen board, listing some of the lawsuits against the company (including one from the family of Robert Muldoon). He is, to be clear, a corporate bastard.
But we cut to the chase here. Malcolm broke his non-disclosure agreement, Hammond wants to document Site B to give it a chance of surviving, the InGen board wants to make cash from it. It’s the same pieces, being moved in similar places, just not quite by the same people. When Hammond says that he’s not making the same mistakes again, Malcolm retorts “you’re making all new ones”.
Not quite, but you can see his point.
Bottom line: Hammond has sent three people to Isla Sorna so far. There’s Vince Vaughn’s eco-warrior Nick. Julianne Moore’s expert, Sarah. And The West Wing‘s Toby, Richard Schiff, as Eddie, who may as well pop a red shirt on, so obvious a bit of dinosaur food is he. Naturally enough, David Koepp’s script finds a way to get Malcolm’s daughter, Kelly, to the island as well. They need to bond, y’see.
With all this preamble, it takes 21 minutes and 44 seconds of screen time to set foot on the new not-Jurassic Park, and, even without the 45 minutes of education that set up the original film, Steven Spielberg and his team still have some setup work to do. The difference they face is that the audience know the rules this time, and the characters don’t.
Thus, the speeding through storytelling continues. Malcolm fails to convince Sarah to leave, they have a disagreement, we see dinosaurs, all seems well, yadda yadda. The concoction that mixes things up is the sudden arrival of a second team on Isla Sorna, and that’s one that’s been ordered by Ludlow The Corporate Bastard.
Two teams, differing objectives. Our ‘heroes’? They want to document things, or in the case of Malcolm, leave. The InGen team? They’re capturing animals, to take them off the island, and towards Jurassic Park San Diego. We’ll return to that place later in this article, and not with a smile on our faces.
In the bunch of archetypes that form the InGen team, at least there’s the brilliant, late Pete Postlethwaite as hunter Roland Tembo (for this is a film that arguably spends a bit more time characterizing its dinosaurs than it does its humans, making us feel more sorry for the creatures than the people). His character is another victim of a deleted, and very bloody scene, where he beats someone to a bloody pulp. But he’s also the man put there to start out wanting to hunt dinosaurs, who ultimately learns points out that killing is not the way forward.
Hammond – who Crichton originally designed as “the dark side of Walt Disney” (albeit one softened by Spielberg) – never quite gets there, at least if his closing words of the film are anything to go by. Hammond keeps learning lessons, but never the right ones.
When Dinosaurs Attack
As with the first film, the main dinosaurs action in The Lost World kicks off from just after the 45 minute mark, and doesn’t relent much from there. In this instance though, there’s a bit of a daft catalyst to the initial attack. It involves Sarah wanting to heal a suffering baby T. rex.
For the duration of the film to this point, she has shown non-stop intelligence in dealing with dinosaurs. Here, though, she brings the dying baby dino into the posh trailer where Ian and his daughter are. Her plan, seemingly to explain to mommy and daddy killer dinosaur that she’s just trying to help, seems a little nuts, but that notwithstanding, a bit of chewing gum surgery later, and the shit is ready to hit the fan.
Two T. rexes attack, neither – it should be noted – with the impact of that initial single T-Rex rampage in the first Jurassic Park.
Still, this is where Spielberg particularly knows his onions. His best dino attack moments focus on humans, and details, as much as CG creatures. Later in the film, for instance, we get a brilliant overhead shot of humans running through long grass, with the velociraptors darting through. But even accepting that the first twin T-Rex attack doesn’t have the novelty value that Jurassic Park was afforded, Spielberg – by taking his time and not rushing the sequence – finds some brilliant moments.
One in particular, as Julianne Moore’s Sarah is left prone on a slowly cracking piece of glass, is exquisite. Never mind the fact that when the vehicle plummet happens a bit later on, it’s an unconvincing mix of real and CG. The slow cracking pane is top notch tension.
The film’s other big jump involves Moore again, and this time, the animatronic raptors that Stan Winston and his team built. It’s when Sarah is burrowing away under a door to escape, and suddenly, a raptor shoves its head there. It’s when The Lost World does things like this that you remember it’s a better sequel than it’s generally given credit for.
It also has a brilliant score. John Williams’ music to The Lost World: Jurassic Park takes the key themes of the first movie, keeps them there, but generally makes them more complicated. It’s a denser piece of work, and a hugely underrated piece of music in Williams’ near-peerless back catalogue.
A further observation of The Lost World: Spielberg opted to cut back on the blood for Jurassic Park, for a pair of reasons. Firstly it got him a PG rating. But secondly, he didn’t need it. It’s a real surprise then to see, just three years later, how bloody The Lost World: Jurassic Park is. It’s curious how he relaxed his choice. Mind you, he still got his family friendly rating, and the movie made its moolah.
Jurassic Park San Diego
What’s less curious is why Spielberg would go with the contentious ending to The Lost World that he did, though, even if many of us wished he hadn’t. Bluntly: he wanted to try a different movie for a bit.
Many people’s memories of Jurassic Park 2 centre on those last 20 minutes, which undermines the generally good to very good work that the rest of the movie has done. It wasn’t supposed to be like this either. In the original screenplay, as the survivors boarded the helicopters to escape the island, they were set to be attacked by pterodactyls (that were used in the first book, not in the first film, and would only appear – aside from the last shot of The Lost World – in Jurassic Park III).
But at Spielberg’s behest, late in the day, that ending was scrubbed. Instead, Spielberg wanted – by his own admission – the chance to make his very own Godzilla movie.
So we suddenly cut to San Diego, and to Ludlow The Corporate Bastard, the longest-surviving suit in the history of Jurassic Park movies. He’s welcoming investors, as a boat carrying, er, a T-Rex, is heading its way at speed to the harbour he’s stood in front of. The predictable happens, the boat crashes and then, well, it all goes a bit WTF.
There are a couple of problems with the dinosaur rampaging through San Diego ending that we get in The Lost World, and time has not improved it (even if it’s been perfectly kind to the rest of the film). Firstly, Spielberg is trying to squeeze a movie’s worth out of his Godzilla story in 20 minutes. So we get the comedy aside, as the kid goes in to tell his parents there’s a dinosaur in the yard. We get the initial breakout. We get it rampaging through suburbia. We get Japanese businessmen amongst the crowd. And then we get it packed away, beaten, off to recuperate before Jurassic Park III.
Secondly, on a practical note, the CG dinosaurs work excellently against a jungle background. Spielberg himself admits that The Lost World ramps up the computer work over the practical. And it’s when the T-Rex is shown against buildings and streets that it just starts to look fake.
Few moments in special effects cinema can ever equate to seeing that aforementioned T-Rex attack in the first film. It just looked, well, so real. Four years later, it looked less so on the streets of San Diego. There’s presumably a lesson about the progression of computers in there.
Spielberg describes The Lost World as his only pure sequel (the Indiana Jones films instead jumping to different chapters of Indy’s life, in different times and generally surrounded by different characters). As with the first film, he’d move straight on to more ‘serious’ fare after wrapping this one, culminating in a Best Director Oscar. With JP1, that was Schindler’s List. With JP2, that was Amistad, and then Saving Private Ryan.
The difference, though, is that Jurassic Park‘s edit, aided by George Lucas, felt right. The Lost World: Jurassic Park still feels like it could use a bit of trimming.
Not much: it’s still an exciting ride of a film, and on revisiting the film, a better one than it’s generally given credit for. But it is notably a little more bloated (there are an awful lot of digs against capitalism: the point has been well and truly made by the time the credits roll), and another month with Spielberg in the edit room might not have hurt. “It wasn’t as good as the first one. But it was very successful”, Spielberg would go on to say. It’s hard to disagree with that.
But it’s still a really good, really entertaining sequel, and one that perhaps deserves a bit more credit. Jurassic Park III was fun too, but you could feel Spielberg’s hand was missing from it. Here, he has a real skill at slowly building sequences, be it the deserted compound in the middle of the raptors, or the pair of really uncomfortable Compy attacks too.
And even when the film slows a little, there’s always Jeff Goldblum, who plays Jeff Goldblum better than any human being on the planet. He’s terrific value here, delivering cutting one liners with such measure that you almost wish that Colin Trevorrow would go back on his logical thoughts and find a way to weave him into Jurassic World 2. Certainly he comes out of the film well ahead of Vaughn (whose character feels a little too shallow) and Moore (whose character starts doing daft things).
Going back to Spielberg, though, he admitted that he felt unsatisfied making this one, saying “it made me wistful about doing a talking picture, because sometimes I got the feeling I was just making this big silent-roar movie…. I found myself saying ‘is that all there is? It’s not enough for me'”.
That’s a shame. Spielberg has made some of the most wonderfully entertaining family blockbusters of the past 20-30 years, and whilst The Lost World isn’t quite up there, it’s not short of merits. His more recent fare has veered serious, and it’s hard to see him back behind the camera on anything such as this again (the closest we’ll get is his adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The BFG). With The Lost World, he provides a timely reminder that big sequences needn’t be rushed, and small details needn’t be glossed over.
What’s more, we can’t help but wonder if, had he gone with the initial ending, whether The Lost World: Jurassic Park would be held in the slightly higher regard it arguably deserves.
(And let’s end on a geeky spot: just check out the films that Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Hanks and the late, great Robin Williams had been making when the action switches to a San Diego video shop…)