Review: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) (Another Jurassic Lark?)

the lost world(SPOILERS AHEAD)

“It’s our last chance at redemption”

In preparation for Jurassic World, I thought it wise to go back to the original trilogy. Just to get into the mood for dinosaurs on the big screen! Having watched Jurassic Park, it was time for The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Was it an instance of a sequel equalling or bettering the original? Or just a case of rinse, wash, repeat, to little effect? The story’s a little different the second time around. There’s a second island, Isla Sorna, full of dinosaurs, that John Hammond asks Ian Malcolm and a crack team (unfortunately, the team includes Malcolm’s girlfriend, Sarah Harding!) to investigate. However, Hammond’s nephew, Peter Ludlow is heading an expedition to catch the dinosaurs and set up his own dino zoo. What could possibly go wrong? The answer is: lots! Dino-related chaos ensues…but haven’t we seen all of it before? 

The answer is: yes! Yes we have. The film begins with rogue dinosaurs attacking a child, much like the first one had a velociraptor attacking a worker. The crack team, apart from Malcolm, exhibit the same sense of wonder at seeing dinosaurs, much like the characters did in the first one. When Malcolm, Nick Van Owen (serial nature activist) and Eddie Carter (techno-constructer) find Harding on the island, they encounter a herd of stegosauruses. It’s meant to replicate the first sighting of the brachiosaurus in the first one, but it falls flat. Much of the appeal of Jurassic Park lies in its sense of awe and wonder at these incredible beasts from the past. The second time round, the sense of awe is missing, even with the extended cast of dinosaurs. Even the extended cast of dinosaurs are ignored in favour of the raptors and the T-Rex(es) that we have seen endanger people before.

“Mommy’s very angry”

One of the common problems with a sequel is that it copies the original but with bigger and better action scenes. This is true in The Lost World. There’s a scene where a T-Rex and his wife (well, maybe it’s his girlfriend? Either way they have a child together) attempt to knock off the crack team’s trailer off a cliff. Harding rescued their baby T-Rex from the clutches of Ludlow’s expedition, and the T-Rexes hunted down their baby. The scene feels like a repeat of the similar scene in Jurassic Park, but with a trailer instead of a car, and two T-Rexes instead of one! But bigger does not necessarily mean better (no matter what the ladies tell you!). It’s a half-decent action scene, but doesn’t keep you on the edge of your seat. The same applies to the escape from the raptors towards the end of the film. Didn’t that happen in the original?

The only time the film tries something a little different is the T-Rex invasion of San Diego at the end, but it feels tacked on and rather daft. It’s just a case of the typical blockbuster finale: more destruction, cars being flattened, and an easy and quick resolution. Harding and Malcolm wrap it all up in about five minutes. I suppose, as well, that there is an actual human villain in this film, in the form of Ludlow. He takes Ingen away from his uncle after the dino attack on the child. When he and Malcolm first meet, he oozes the typical English villain that Hollywood love to stereotype on the screen. When Malcolm grabs his arm, Ludlow says “this suit cost more than your education.” Throughout the film, Ludlow’s English villainy is trite and pathetic. There’s nothing more to his character than the stereotype. It’s a wasted opportunity.

Oh no, not the T-Rex...again!
Oh no, not the T-Rex…again!

“Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming”

However, there are some saving graces. Jeff Goldblum, as Malcolm, holds the film together. Like the audience, he has seen all of this before. His quips keep the film alive, rather than falling into an untimely death. “I’ll be home in five or six days,” Harding promises him. “No, you’ll be home in five or six pieces!” Malcolm hits back. He makes the film almost as quotable as the original. It is surprising Goldblum hasn’t headlined any other major films since The Lost World. His performance is perfect. However, his character is tarnished by a similar character arc to Grant’s in Jurassic Park: a distant man who learns to become a father figure in the face of extreme danger (of course, the parallel in The Lost World is the nature of dinosaurs such as the T-Rex. They have a great attachment to them, warding off any danger to their offspring with extreme prejudice.).

Most of the other character are just there to make up the numbers. Harding serves only to set up Malcolm’s quips and give the audience expeditionary dialogue. Carter and Van Owen barely make a dent in the screen. Ludlow, as before, is the awful villain of the piece. The only other character to make much of an impact is Pete Postlethwaite’s Roland Tempo, a big game hunter who only joins Ludlow’s expedition to hunt the T-Rex, the “greatest predator that ever lived.” “Come on, let’s get this moveable feast on the move” is one of his more memorable lines. But, like Bob Peck before him, he is criminally wasted.

After the delight of Jurassic Park, The Lost World is a massive let down. Without Malcolm, The Lost World would indeed be lost, floating among tepid action scenes and cardboard characters. The sense of wonder is long gone, and so is the sense of terror and tension that defined Jurassic Park. Just like Ludlow, Spielberg tries to take stuff from the original and implant it into a new setting, forgetting everything that was special about the original.

VERDICT: 4/10. The few redeemable features do not make The Lost World anything more than a below-average blockbuster. A wasted opportunity…

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