Spielberg’s sequel to the thoroughly enjoyable and successful Jurassic Park at times feels like a shamelessly perfunctory and lazy exercise in tent-pole filmmaking using the bare minimum of creative energy to get more dinosaurs onto the screen. But Mr. Spielberg's superb flare for cliff-hanger and action filmmaking overachieves what was on the written page.
The Lost World (1997) dir. Steven Spielberg
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard
By Alan Bacchus
Arguably, Michael Crichton’s novel The Lost World was better than his first book. Sadly, the same inspiration was not put into the movie version. Barely anything from the book makes it to the screen with the exception of Ian Malcolm (Goldblum), who serves as the hero this time around.
But with Ian Malcolm as the protagonist, sadly his character loses all the edge from his unique presence in the first movie. Malcolm is so utterly dull and saccharine, it’s hard to believe it’s the same character from Jurassic Park. Presumably he’s still a slightly deranged mathematician (excuse me, chaotician), who had the best dialogue in the first film – specifically the great exchange about evolution and the metaphor of Hammond's manipulation of DNA being like a kid wielding his father’s gun – but there’s no sign of anything as intellectually challenging from Goldblum's mouth here.
There’s no doubt that the lack of involvement of Michael Crichton in the screenplay has something to do with this. David Koepp, whom Spielberg has gone back to on numerous occasions since (ahem, Crystal Skulls), has no desire to plug Crichton's scientific and technical proclivities into his screenplay.
The setup to get Malcolm to the island wouldn’t even pass muster in a B-movie. In the opening, years after the first Park incident, Malcolm is summoned to park impresario John Hammond’s house where he’s informed of 'Site B', another island full of dinosaurs where the abandoned dinos now run free from their cages. With almost no time to breathe Malcolm and his new cohorts are back on a boat to the South Pacific on their adventure.
Malcolm declares it a rescue mission to save his paleontologist girlfriend (Moore), who is already there. The group, including a journalist (Vaughn), a tech expert (Eddie Carr) and... shriek… Malcolm's young daughter, is soon being chased and nearly killed by rogue dinos. Things finally get interesting with the introduction of a second team sent in by the corporate douchebag, Peter Ludlow (Howard), who wants to bring the dinos back to civilization for his own zoo exhibit.
The most interesting character here is Roland Tembo, played by the great Pete Postlethwaite (who sadly died recently), a South African game hunter who is here for no other reason than to express his domination and shoot a T-Rex. Tembo is a great character because he exists within his world, neither good nor evil – a pragmatist and both friend and foe to all characters.
After the rough patches in the opening act, things kick into high gear when nightfall hits and those awesome T-Rex dinos start attacking. In fact, one of Spielberg’s best ever set pieces involves Eddie’s attempted rescue of Malcolm, his girlfriend and the journalist while they hang over the side of a cliff in their RV. The intensity of this sequence is elevated by John Williams’ magnificent action score. In fact, The Lost World is one of the last great scores by the master and one of the best he’s ever done for Spielberg.
I still don’t know what to think of the final sequence, which takes place in San Diego – a new environment in civilization. It plays like the King Kong scene in New York but without the emotional weight. The liberated T-Rex running wild curiously presents no threat to anyone, but the change of scenery indeed provides an unexpected twist in the story.