Why Lost World Wasn’t As Good As Jurassic Park: What Went Wrong
Four years after Jurassic Park's blockbuster success, The Lost World arrived. But why wasn't this big budget sequel as good as its predecessor?
The Lost World: Jurassic Park arrived four years after the groundbreaking release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, to much anticipation, but was ultimately a disappointment. Given the degree of expectation heaped upon the sequel by critics and fans, Spielberg had an especially challenging task ahead of him. Though the film was a global financial success, it failed to reach either the monetary or critical heights of its predecessor. Many fans of Jurassic Park were let down by the sequel, and unfortunately, The Lost World marked a swift decline of the franchise’s quality until Jurassic World arrived in 2015.
The sequel involves Doctor Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) travelling to Isla Sorna – the island on which wealthy entrepreneur Richard Hammond first began experimenting on the possibilities of cloning dinosaurs - in order to rescue his girlfriend, Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore). Moore is part of a small group organised by Hammond, whose purpose was to document the natural and unfettered life of dinosaurs. The creatures had been abandoned on the island after a storm, and with Hammond’s company InGen now headed by his nephew, Hammond wishes to ensure that the creatures are given the attention and respect he believes they deserve. Accompanying Malcolm is photographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) and field equipment expert Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff). Trouble begins from the moment Malcolm and the rest of the crew set foot on Isla Sorna, as Malcolm’s daughter Vanessa (Kelly Curtis) reveals she’s stowed away on the dangerous mission, and InGen’s unpleasant crew of mercenaries arrive to capture dinosaurs for a theme park in San Diego.
Because Jurassic Park opened up new possibilities for visual effects and changed the way in which films were made, a sequel seemed like a guaranteed hit. But those who were wanting a return to the same energy, tension and excitement that Jurassic Park had provided were left feeling short changed by The Lost World. It’s slightly unusual for a sequel to bring back a director as renowned as Steven Spielberg, as well as the same writer and some of the same cast, and yet still fail to engage with audiences. Since this was the case with The Lost World, why exactly wasn't it as good as Jurassic Park?
Jurassic Park's Sense Of Wonder Is Gone
A major part of what made Jurassic Park the hit it was can be attributed to the film’s groundbreaking use of animatronics and CGI. Audiences were blown away the first time they saw the likes of a T-Rex or brachiosaurus on screen, and that immediate intrigue enriched everything about Jurassic Park. The Lost World doubled down on this aspect, bringing in more CGI dinosaurs, but by this point, a realistic looking dinosaur on the big screen was old news. At the same time, however, it wasn’t simply the film’s visual effects or life-sized animatronic models that captivated its viewers. The concept of visiting a remote island where actual dinosaurs had been brought back to life was so fresh and harkened back to such a widely shared feeling of childhood wonder, that audiences couldn’t help but become swept away by Jurassic Park. Which dinosaurs would appear next and how they would behave was thrilling, as was the struggle for survival that the film’s protagonists faced when Jurassic Park went from being a place of real-life wonder to one of real-life terror.
All of this changed with The Lost World. A return to a remote island no longer held the same degree of curiosity, simply because audiences had already been there. Sure, the events of The Lost World were set on Isla Sorna rather than Jurassic Park’s Isla Nublar, but the geographical differences between the two islands was minimal. What’s more, the film’s central thrust was instigated by Ian Malcolm’s desire to rescue his girlfriend from what he knew was the extreme danger of Hammond’s dinosaurs. Right from the start, the film was about the fear and treachery of dealing with real life dinosaurs. Audiences did not have the luxury of watching as something that was as fascinating as seeing living, breathing dinosaurs in the 20th century gradually transform into something horrifying, as they did with Jurassic Park. This made The Lost World feel more like a standard monster movie than a well rounded adventure, and by doing so, Spielberg touched on tropes that were already far too familiar to audiences, even back in 1997.
The Last World Has Too Many Rehashed Moments Rather Than Original Ones
One of the biggest problems with sequels is that often, they needn’t be made at all. Some films favor a return to the concepts and characters explored in a previous instalment and enrich them in an entirely different way, but this only works if what the sequel offers is original. In the case of The Lost World, several of its key moments are simply rehashed versions of what came before in Jurassic Park. An example of this is the rather lengthy sequence in which Malcolm, Harding and Van Owen fight for their lives while suspended from a cliff in a research trailer. The unit has been pushed into this position by a T-Rex, in much the same way as one of Jurassic Park’s SUV’s is pushed off the road by a T-Rex and left hanging from a tree in the first film.
Another example of this sort of repetition comes when arrogant InGen employee Dieter Stark (Peter Stormare), loses his way and falls down a hill in the jungle. Initially, Stark was pestered by a small dinosaur called a Compsognathus, which he bullied, believing that it posed no threat to him. But after falling down the hill, Stark’s disregard for the creature turns to terror as a large pack of them overwhelm and kill him. This scene strikes a very familiar similarity to the manner in which Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) meets his demise in Jurassic Park. As the greedy programmer attempts to escape the island with dinosaur embryos, his jeep slides off the road. He then encounters a Dilaphasorous and is initially frightened, but acts derisively toward the creature once he’s lead to believe that it isn’t dangerous, costing him his life.
The Lost World’s mimicry of the original film continues with the second act’s central focus on the stranded characters’ need to find their way to the island’s operations building. Again, the trek through a deadly jungle landscape is entirely reminiscent of Jurassic Park’s plotting – from the journey of Doctor Alan Grant (Sam Neill) and the children back to the visitor’s centre after being waylaid by a T-Rex, to Doctor Ellie Sattler’s tense quest to reach the maintenance shed under the stalking eye of Velociraptors. Though these plotting repetitions might not have been immediately recognizable to audiences upon The Lost World’s release, their existence was arguably familiar enough to mitigate a great deal of the intrigue that people wanted from the film.
Less Is More, Bigger Isn’t Always Better
After the massive success of Jurassic Park, Spielberg clearly wanted to repeat the spectacle in an even bigger and better way. As previously mentioned, this resulted in more dinosaurs, more CGI, more characters and bigger (though not necessarily more original) set pieces. There’s certainly nothing wrong with going all out – especially if you happen to be Steven Spielberg – but the film was so laden with these things as to leave it feeling bogged down and overstuffed. This is especially evident during the film’s final 20 minutes, where Spielberg made the decision to bring the T-Rex to civilization.
The inclusion of dinosaur meets city assumed that audiences would be excited by the prospect of old meets new. Perhaps if a major metropolis had been the setting for the entire film this would have worked out well. Instead, the plot point comes across as tacked on, teasing something that never really had the chance to be expanded on or explored in any significant way. After all, dinosaurs suddenly arriving in the middle of modern day civilization is not something that can or should be simply touched upon in a film’s closing minutes. What this portion does succeed in doing, however, is match the film’s overall lack of significant exploration. Preoccupied with trying to be visually engaging, The Lost World suffers from a general lack of depth with regard to its characters and the direction that its plot takes.
The Lost World Has Flat Characters
Jurassic Park offered an opportunity for its characters to make valid transformations while asking philosophical questions about mankind and science. The often cruel and unfair cycle of life was emphasized, as was the beauty of existence. The film’s focus on Dr. Grant’s change from a man who seemed to take more joy in frightening or outright ignoring children than actually caring for them fit in perfectly with Jurassic Park’s general themes. As audiences discovered, the concept of parenthood and the responsibilities it necessitates was not so different from the responsibility involved in bringing back an ancient and extinct species. Watching Grant go from curmudgeon to father figure offered a gentle touch of humanity to the film, making the story all the better for it.
With The Lost World, however, little of significance was learned about the characters and ultimately, the film suffered as a result. Any attempts at fleshing out Malcolm’s relationship with either his daughter or his girlfriend were superficial at best. The film was more concerned with the spectacle of dinosaurs than actually balancing it with real human emotion and feeling. Because of this, audiences were unable to connect with the film in the same way as they did with Jurassic Park. While that film’s components blended together seamlessly for a thrilling and emotional journey, The Lost World’s approach was clunky without the latter’s heart.
The financial success of The Lost World has undoubtedly led many people to conclude that it was a complete success and that it really was a good film. And while The Lost World isn't a terrible movie by any means, one can’t help but feel that it would have been better served by a little more time in its developmental stages. Four years may seem like a lengthy enough period of time between films, but it’s worth acknowledging that Jurassic Park was originally written in 1983 as a screenplay by Michael Crichton before it was eventually published in 1990 as a novel. That’s a considerable amount of time to work through themes, characters, and the story’s overall arc. This isn’t to suggest that Spielberg should have waited 10 years to make a sequel, but it does emphasize just how valuable attention to detail is and how it could have gone a long way in making The Lost World memorable.