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, dismiss, or just shrug off with an “Eh, it was alright I guess.” Which leaves me shaking my head. 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 opening weekend record 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 certainly streamlined compared to its predecessor.
That simplified approach kept it from reaching a classic status (and maybe even feeling a bit 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, with 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 delivers, from the epic dino hunt to the T-Rex attack on the science bus (splintering glass! I still remember the gasps and shrieks in the theater)…
…to that freaky nighttime raptor ambush – first in the open field of tall grass, and then at abandoned park facilities – to name a few. Spielberg kept shoveling thrills nearly as fast as I could shovel popcorn.
The quality of the actual dinosaurs was also taken up a notch, from the general visual texture to their seamless real world integration, including physical choreography with real people and things.
In addition, camera moves were longer and more active. Spielberg Oners pop up from time to time, too, enhanced by on-set action and effects that would later be caused by the digital dinos. (Janusz Kaminski’s patented luminous glow, incidentally, continues to enhance and magnify Spielberg’s penchant for stark single-source backlighting.)
Sure, this wasn’t the big surprising game changer that the first Jurassic was, but Spielberg took what we were expecting and then amped it up. As a bonus for true film nerds, the whole Site B “dino safari hunt” construct was an homage to the John Wayne/Howard Hawks African safari flick Hatari. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if “Hatari with Dinosaurs” was Spielberg’s pitch.
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; on balance, the characters are this film’s primary weak spot. Even so, the actors are solid talents who keep things clipping along, and even play off of each other better than the script should probably allow. This happens, in part, because of Spielberg’s penchant for overlapping dialogue ala Robert Altman (a frequent technique Steven employs, one I’ve been remiss to not mention sooner during my “30 Days Of Spielberg” retrospective). The blockbuster breakout roles for Julianne Moore and Vince Vaughn didn’t provide much in the way of range, but these 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 brought to life by Pete Postlethwaite. A steely big game hunter and real man’s man, Tembo makes for a very captivating addition; not a macho caricature, but intimidating and formidable.
Inspired, too, is Malcolm’s African-American tween daughter Kelly, played with spunk by Vanessa Lee Chester. Even Fargo‘s Peter Stormare shows up to get chewed on by a swarm of rodent-sized dinos.
For the slight this movie gets, I’ll still take The Lost World over the latest Jurassic World by a fairly easy margin (and I really enjoyed the reboot). This is more clever, fresh and inventive than detractors give it credit for, plus I particularly dig the darker, more primal, percussive approach John Williams takes with the music (as heard here in the sequel’s new theme).
And the capper? Letting a T-Rex loose on the mainland! Many griped this was one ending too many. Oh contraire; what an unexpected and completely satisfying bonus. Sure, it was selfishly motivated (Spielberg said he wanted to be the guy who brought a dinosaur rampage stateside before anyone else got the chance), but it’s so much fun.
The archetypal Monster Movie sequence, it’s completely in the spirit of the entire adventure: a T-Rex terrorizing downtown San Diego and its suburbs with people running and yelling and screaming for their lives in all directions. What’s not to love? Plus, seeing that T-Rex roar against the backdrop of a city skyline should put a 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. He spent the mid-90s focused on two major projects: the Shoah Foundation, which documented the testimonies of as many Holocaust survivors as possible from around the world, including interviews with every known living survivor. In addition, it was during this time that he began to form the movie studio DreamWorks with partners David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg.
- Although The Lost World is based on Michael Crichton’s sequel novel of the same name, the two stories bare few similarities. 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.
- Vince Vaughn did not audition for the film. Ironically, Spielberg decided to cast him after watching Swingers during a break one day in the casting process. And the only reason he watched it was to approve the use of the Jaws
- Spielberg originally wanted Juliette Binoche for the role of Sarah Harding, that eventually went to Julianne Moore. It was the second time Binoche turned Spielberg down. The first? For the role of Dr. Satler in Jurassic Park, that eventually went to Laura Dern.
- The Japanese tourists running from the rampaging T-Rex in the San Diego scene (an obvious homage to “Godzilla” movies) are saying in Japanese: “I left Japan to get away from this!”