The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
(for intense sci-fi terror and violence, and brief language)
Released: May 23, 1997
Runtime: 129 minutes
Director: Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeff Golblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Vanessa Lee Chester, Richard Schiff, Arlis Howard, Peter Stormare, Sir Richard Attenborough
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is another one of those sequels that people tend to dump on. They shrug it off or dismiss it. “Eh, it’s alright I guess.”
People. It’s Jeff Goldblum and dinosaurs. What more do you want from a summer movie?
When it first opened in 1997, the answer to that question was basically “nothing else” as it debuted to a then-record opening weekend of $72 million (a mark that wasn’t topped for another 4 ½ years).
With less focus on science and more on terror, The Lost World’s ambitions were far more streamlined than its predecessor. That simplified approach kept it from reaching a classic status (and contributed to the feeling that it was just a bit too long).
But once you get past the fact that it’s not the equal of Jurassic Park, it’s still thoroughly entertaining in its own right.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is an unabashed monster movie, plain and simple.
It has only one goal in mind: to give us an exhilarating mix of scares, laughs, and gasps through one spectacularly conceived and choreographed sequence after another.
Each and every one of those set pieces deliver. The the epic dino hunt! The T-Rex attack on the science bus! (Splintering glass! I still remember the gasps and shrieks in the theater at that moment.)
There was also that freaky nighttime raptor ambush, which started in the open field of tall grass before moving to the abandoned park facilities.
To name a few.
Spielberg kept shoveling thrills as fast as I could shovel popcorn.
The quality of the actual dinosaurs was also taken up a notch, from the general visual texture of each creature to their seamless real world integration (especially when it came to the physical choreography between them and the real people and things around them).
Visually, Janusz Kaminski’s patented luminous glow intensified Spielberg’s penchant for stark, single-source backlighting, in a way that made the aesthetic of the original Jurassic Park even more majestic and terrifying. In addition, camera moves were longer and more active. Spielberg Oners pop up from time to time, enhanced by real, practical on-set action and destruction that was caused by digital dinos.
Sure, this wasn’t the big surprising game changer that the first Jurassic was, but Spielberg took what we were now expecting and amped it way up.
As a bonus for film nerds, the whole Site B “dino safari hunt” appears to be a clear homage to the John Wayne/Howard Hawks African flick Hatari. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if Spielberg’s pitch for Jurassic Park 2 was “Hatari with Dinosaurs”.
And Jeff Goldblum! Who else is going to deliver dialogue better than him:
Sarah Harding: I’ll be back in five or six days.
Dr. Ian Malcom: No, you’ll be back in five or six PIECES!
Beyond Malcom, the ensemble isn’t as compelling as in the original, although that may be for as much as how they’re written as acted (maybe more). It’s the sequel’s primary weak spot.
Even so, the actors are solid talents who keep things clipping along. At times, I’d even argue that their repartee makes some moments better than the script should probably allow.
This happens, in part, because of Spielberg’s penchant for overlapping dialogue ala Robert Altman. “Dialogue overlap” is actually a frequent technique that Steven loves, one I’ve been remiss to not mention sooner during this “30+ Days Of Spielberg” retrospective.
Sure, the blockbuster breakout roles for Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn didn’t provide much in the way of range, but both indie stars elevate thinly drawn people with the strength of their screen charisma.
The big exception here is Roland Tembo, a character as well-written as he is played by Pete Postlethwaite. A steely big game hunter and real man’s man, Tembo isn’t a one-note macho caricature; he’s intimidating and formidable.
Perhaps the most inspired casting is Malcolm’s African-American tween daughter Kelly, played with spunk by Vanessa Lee Chester. Even Fargo‘s creepy Peter Stormare shows up to get chewed on by a swarm of rodent-sized dinos.
For all the slights this sequel gets, I’ll still take The Lost World over the latest Jurassic World by a fairly easy margin (and I really enjoyed that reboot). This is more clever, fresh and inventive than its detractors give it credit for.
A big part of that: the darker, more primal, percussive approach that composer John Williams takes with the music (as can be heard in the sequel’s new theme, below). For a score he could’ve easily phoned in, Williams gives The Lost World a whole new energy.
And the capper? Letting a T-Rex loose on the mainland!
Many griped that this was one ending too many. Oh contraire! It’s an unexpected and completely satisfying bonus.
Sure, it was selfishly motivated (Spielberg said he wanted to be the guy who brought a dinosaur rampage to the States before anyone else got the chance to do it), but it’s so much fun!
The San Diego set piece is a classic Monster Movie sequence. The T-Rex terrorizes downtown, then the suburbs, and all with people running and yelling and screaming in all directions. What’s not to love?
Plus, seeing that T-Rex roar against the backdrop of a city skyline should put a big fat goofy smile on the face of any movie geek.
Yes, please and thank you, Mr. Spielberg.
- This was Spielberg’s first film in nearly 4 years, following Schindler’s List in December of 1993. It was the longest break of his career, but he wasn’t on vacation. Spielberg spent the mid-90s focused on two major projects: the Shoah Foundation, which documented the testimonies Holocaust survivors from around the world, including interviews with every known living survivor. It was a race against the clock to get as many on record as possible. Also during the mid-90s. Spielberg began to form DreamWorks Studios with partners David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
- Although The Lost World is based on Michael Crichton’s sequel novel of the same name, the the movie bears few similarities with the source. In fact, as my memory serves, Jurassic Park III would pull more inspiration from Crichton’s second Jurassic book than the actual film named after it did.
- Vince Vaughn did not audition for the film. Spielberg decided to hire him after watching Swingers during a break in the casting process. The only reason Spielberg even watching the indie at that time (while it was still in post-production, before its release) was because he needed to approve (or reject) their request to use a clip from Jaws in the film.
- Spielberg originally wanted to cast Juliette Binoche as Sarah Harding, who declined; the role was eventually played by Julianne Moore. It was the second time that Binoche had turned down Spielberg. The first? For the role of Dr. Satler in Jurassic Park, who was eventually played by Laura Dern.
- During the T-Rex rampage of San Diego, the Japanese tourists running for their lives was Spielberg’s homage to “Godzilla” movies. As they run, the tourists are yelling in Japanese, “I left Japan to get away from this!”