WFTB Score: 11/20
The plot: When chaotician Ian Malcolm discovers that his girlfriend Sarah has been hired to research a second island of dinosaurs, his past experience tells him to get her out PDQ. He’s right too: but the trouble only starts when the real monsters – the company looking to maximise revenues from the prehistoric creatures – arrive, intent on creating a new attraction closer to home.
Poor Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Having lived to tell the tale of Jurassic Park, InGen – the company formerly run by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, briefly reprising his Scottishish accent) have not only denied all knowledge of Isla Nubar, they’ve secretly kept a second island of dinosaurs running. What’s more, after an unfortunate incident, InGen has sent Ian’s partner Sarah (Julianne Moore) to the island to research the diverse range of dinosaur life.
Ian sets off in hot pursuit to get her out before the inevitable chaos starts, but he’s not alone: in addition to engineer Eddie (Richard Schiff), the party includes photographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) and – inadvertently – Ian’s gymnastic but hardly close daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester). They’re soon joined on the island by InGen’s Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard), a small army of workers and single-minded hunter Roland (Pete Postlethwaite), looking to put a Tyrannosaurus Rex on his trophy wall. Ludlow has plans to establish a new Jurassic Park in San Diego and, despite Ian’s predictions coming catastrophically true, he’s determined to get his way at any cost.
Many factors went into making Jurassic Park a wonderful film, not least the simplicity of its plot – essentially, an exciting, two-hour long scramble for safety. While there was a sub-plot in Nedry’s commercial sabotage, it went hand in glove with the main storyline and set the whole thing in motion. The problem The Lost World has is not merely the inevitable backtracking and revisionism needed to make it possible – ‘Oh, did I not mention site B?’; ‘Lysine deficiency? Dinosaurs got round that in a snap’ – but the fact that once all the protagonists have been sent to Isla Sorna, the film goes in several directions at once: Ian’s various relationship difficulties, Nick’s activism, InGen/Ludlow’s corporate greed, callousness and insane plans, Roland’s quest for a showdown.
Unsurprisingly, the dinosaurs chasing after the humans is the least problematic part of the film, since Spielberg is an absolute master of this sort of action; the breaking-glass excitement of the vehicle hanging over the cliff is a particular highlight. However, the mechanisms used to put everyone in place are ungainly at times: so Kelly just sits in that van, with nobody checking in and Ian not wondering where she’s got to?
A contingent problem The Lost World has is that it tries to carve up our sympathies too finely. We know who our five – then four – heroes are, and it couldn’t be more clear that Ludlow is a human monster (What does Spielberg have against bookish men in small, round-rimmed glasses?); but what to make of Roland, seemingly an evil hunter but given dignity (and allowed to live) because he’s a pure predator like the T-Rex?
And what to make of the dinosaurs themselves? Yes, they’re still savage beasties, but hey, they’re parents too. Amongst this confusion, it’s difficult to know what to make of characters like Peter Stormare’s Dieter: on the one hand, he’s boorish and sadistic towards the poor little Compsognathi (if that’s the plural); on the other, does he really deserve his nasty demise?
All this is without the typically Spielbergian father-daughter guff between Ian and Kelly; she’s not overwhelmingly annoying, though Chester’s acting isn’t always the best, and I (unlike many, it seems) don’t have a problem with her ethnicity except to say that it has a whiff of tokenism about it. What I don’t accept is that a small girl swinging on an uneven bar will have anything like the force to kick a ruddy great velociraptor out of a window.
As far as the rest of the leads go, Goldblum and Moore are both fine if unconventional action heroes, Howard’s Arliss is gloriously hateful, and Postlethwaite carefully controls his ambivalent status throughout. There’s nothing wrong with Vince Vaughn’s Nick Van Owen, either, but it’s interesting to look back and see Mr Insincerity having a go at being a regular movie star – with not entirely convincing results.
Of course, what Spielberg evidently really wants from The Lost World is his own King Kong/Godzilla moment, and this second climax is where the film comes alive. The San Diego section is action-packed, immaculately visualised, funny (check out the spoof movie displays in the Blockbuster store) and really helps to make the movie feel less like a re-tread of the original. Even here, however, there’s a downer in the shape of a massive plot hole. If the ship’s crew have been dead for a while, how on earth does it get to San Diego, and why has nobody twigged that there’s a problem? Alternatively, if the crew have only just been killed, what killed them? It can’t have been the Tyrannosaurus safely locked up below deck. Perhaps wisely, Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp* keep the action moving in the hope that we won’t dwell on these things too much.
I never give sequels credit for merely repeating the events of the first film, and it has to be said that more than a few scenes from The Lost World echo Jurassic Park very closely. That said – and despite a surprisingly high number of sloppy writing flaws – the action still works like a charm, thanks to the brilliance of the special effects and the innate sense of rhythm Spielberg possesses for action movies. By no means a monster hit, this movie is still far from beastly.
NOTES: At least Koepp gets his comeuppance in the film. He’s appears – briefly – as a victim of the T-Rex’s wrath, and is credited as ‘Unlucky Bastard’.