The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
It was easy to imagine a sequel to JURASSIC PARK: since the film adaptation omitted many memorable set pieces from Michael Crichton’s novel all that was needed was some plot device to get the characters back on the island and then stitch together the unused material. However, this method was rendered unnecessary when Crichton wrote his own sequel, THE LOST WORLD. Based upon this book, which does a fine job of creating a new story, the film had a good chance of standing on its own; unfortunately, director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp adopted the former method as much as the latter in making THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK. Although it borrows plot elements, scenes, and (sometimes composite) characters from its namesake novel, the film is essentially a grab bag of sequences tied together by a minimal storyline that allows several abandoned scenes from the first book to reach the screen.
Koepp’s clunky screenplay displays considerable difficulty over linking these scenes together and requires a surprising amount of leaden exposition just to jump-start the story. Crichton’s novel was structured as a mystery, which gradually revealed the connection between the Lost World and Jurassic Park; the film explains everything thing up front, which doesn’t leave much story to tell. As a director, Spielberg again proves his inconsistency. Four years after the double triumph of JURASSIC PARK and SCHINDLER’S LIST, he has turned in a derivative film that features some dynamic staging but also betrays his penchant for inappropriate cuteness. He knows how to generate adult-frightening thrills; but in a sop to family audiences, he cannot resist having an adolescent gymnast dispatch a velociraptor with a flying kick from impromptu parallel bars — a moment worthy of a Disney kiddie flick. At least the film has one grisly glimmer of black humor: a family sees their pet’s dog house dangling by a chain from the T-Rex’s mouth — the dog presumably being at the other end of the chain. (Now, if only the unfortunate pup had been named Rex – that would have been really funny!) This is not to say that the film has nothing to recommend it. The dinosaurs, as envisioned here, are such magnificent animals that it is impossible to be bored. As before, Dennis Muren and Stan Winston’s visual effects (augmented by marvelous sound work) achieve equal levels of awe, beauty, and terror. Human characterization is serviceable, but the cast work overtime to imbue some humanity into the underwritten roles. In particular, Jeff Goldblum brings an eccentricity to Dr. Ian Malcolm that goes a long way toward keeping the character alive, even though his function has been seriously diminished from the novel (in which he solved the riddle of the Lost World’s existence). His asides and comments even help gloss over some plot devices, as the character continually comments on the recklessness of what’s happening (which is of course contrived in order to get dino-bait to the island).
Although JURASSIC PARK gave only a Cliff Notes summary of Chaos Theory, that was better than what we get here. All Crichton’s theorizing about the cause of extinction has been dropped, rather than condensed. Instead, the film offers weakly developed notions of parental love and conservationism (the latter is somewhat hypocritical coming from Spielberg, whose DreamWorks company was planning to pave over a large area of wetlands in Playa Vista to build facilities for a studio).
The “Save the Dinos” attitude is disappointing, because the film actually seems to be onto something when hunters and scientists first confront each other (Pete Postlethwaite even manages to make something out of his character, the big game hunter with dreams of taking down the world’s most fearsome predator). But this conflict is short circuited by the dinosaurs, who eat the characters before their philosophical differences can reach any dramatic resolution. Likewise, having an adult T-Rex rescue its captured offspring from civilization is interesting — we’re supposed to admire the creature’s devotion even as we fear its attacks — but this San Diego sequence seems tacked on (it is — the scene is not in the book), rather than climactic.
But the script really isn’t the problem. What is lacking here is not so much plot as mythic undertones. What was needed was more visual imagination to make the impact of these scenes truly memorable. Even a scenario of fairy tale simplicity can stir up considerable artistic power through clever imagery: King Kong’s ascent up the Empire State Building is a good example; an even better one in this context is the climax of GORGO, in which icons of the patriarchal British Empire (London Bridge, Big Ben, etc) fall before a monster’s maternal rampage.
Unfortunately, San Diego hasn’t many memorable icons to destroy. In any case, Spielberg keeps the angry Rex confined to suburbia. The sight of this Saurian striding down the nighttime streets is worth the price of admission, but it’s not enough to elevate the film to classic status, and having him munch on anonymous extras reduces the movie to an “ain’it-it-cool” level – there’s no real horror or suspense, just a cheap thrill at the sight of some gratuitous carnage.
The sequence also betrays the weakness of computer-generated imagery, which cannot achieve the kind of full-scale destruction possible with miniatures. These new dinosaurs are far more interactive than the ones in JURASSIC PARK, and they do a nice job of smashing through windows and tearing up hapless humans, but you’re not going to see toppling buildings and massive explosions. You might be better off watching GORGO again. At least that entertaining 1960 effort expanded mother love to Godzilla-sized proportions for a truly stunning climactic confrontation.
Michael Cricthon’s novel takes its title THE LOST WORLD from a 1912 novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes). Doyle’s book was an adventure story about a lost world on top of a jungle plateau, where dinosaurs and primitive men continued to live, cut off from evolution. In Cricthon’s book, the concept of a “Lost World” is used as a theoretical jumping-off point for a discussion on the subject of extinction. The late Ian Malcolm returns (he explains that he was only “slightly dead” at the end of JURASSIC PARK) to offer theories on how Chaos Theory may explain the reason for the extinction of the dinosaurs (he considers the popular doomsday meteor theory an irrelevancy). A rival colleague suggests that the possible existence of “lost worlds” might afford an opportunity to actually study the process of extinction; he has even gathered evidence to suggest that some dinosaurs may have survived to present day in far off places. Malcom, of course, immediately recognizes that these dinosaurs are actually survivors not from the Mezazoic Era but from Jurassic Park.
After the long opening section, the bulk of the novel is set on Isla Sorna, where leftover dinosaurs that were engineered for use in Jurassic Park are still alive and running wild. The characters attempt to use the island as a sort of living laboratory, hoping it will provide evidence to help solve the riddle of why the dinosaurs became extinct. Complications arise in the form of the dinosaurs themselves, who inevitably get out of hand, and in the form of a rival group from a company that wants to capture one of the dinosaurs for reverse engineering purposes, hoping to pick up where John Hammond (the mastermind behind Jurassic Park) left off.
Besides the thrills inherent in facing dinosaurs on an isolated island, without recourse to the army or other high-tech firepower for protection, the novel has three elements in its favor that make it a worthwhile read: First, the discourse on the topic of extinction is fascinating. Second, the plot is an amusing parody of sequels, recreating familiar situations from the first book but then providing completely different resolutions. Cricthon tips off his strategy early, opening with an epigraph by Ian Malcolm: “Sequelae are inherently unpredictable.”
Finally, the author uses his sequel as a means of answering critics who picked apart the scientific explanation behind the genetic engineering in JURASSIC PARK. Inconsistencies in the methodology are acknowledged and used as clues indicating that the birthing process seen in the first novel was merely a show put on for the tourists, leading to the conclusion that Isla Sorna is the place where the dinosaurs were truly engineered.
As a result, Crichton’s novel works on a number of levels: a horror story about dangerous prehistoric beasts; a thoughtful piece of science fiction exploring the subject of extinction; and as a sly self-referential satire on the nature of sequels. It lives up to its predecessor and manages to stand on its own, in a way that the dismal film adaptation utterly fails to achieve.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by David Koepp, based on the novel by Michael Cricthon. Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Richard Attenborough, Vince Vaughn, Arliss Howard, Peter Stormare, Richard Schiff, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards.