Hindsight: ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’

Hollywood owes a great deal of gratitude to director Steven Spielberg. Along with Francis Ford Coppola, George Lucas, Martin Scorsese and Brian de Palma ushered in a new group of auteur directors and these men created some of the greatest films ever made. Spielberg in particular would enjoy commercial success with Jaws, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Raiders of the Lost Ark and E.T.: The Extraterrestrial in the 1970’s and 1980’s and his success would continue into the 1990’s with Schindler’s List and one of the most beloved films of all time, Jurassic Park. It would go on to become the highest grossing film ever and a sequel was released in 1997 to record setting box office numbers but lackluster critical success so what happened to The Lost World: Jurassic Park? In this inaugural entry of UrbanMatter’s new Hindsight series, let’s answer that question.

In a departure from most formulaic sequels, most of the cast from the original film is notably absent. Aside from cameos from both Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards as well as Sir Richard Attenborough, Jeff Goldblum reprises his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm but Goldblum’s typical charm is not found on screen. His experience from the first film has clearly haunted him and has lost some of the prestige he enjoyed as well-renowned chaotician. Goldblum’s trademark stammering, rambling and free flowing dialogue are replaced with a pseudo-strong, silent type that feels better suited for Harrison Ford. Goldblum also led a cast of relative unknowns at the time; Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore would later star in their own successful films after The Lost World but Goldblum has never been able to carry a film on his name alone in spite of how beloved he was and has become in recent years. I’d also be remiss if I did not mention the dearly departed Pete Postlethwaite whose mere presence made every film more enjoyable. There is also the inclusion of Peter Stormare but he one of a number of unlikeable characters in the film and winds up being the victim of a swarm of little ravenous dinosaurs.

The Lost World also has a major difference in tone and setting from its predecessor. While the original Jurassic Park showcases a sort of dark Disney Land, The Lost World shows off Site B, a breeding ground for the dinosaurs who would then be transported to the park. Site B was evacuated and abandoned after a hurricane destroyed the facilities and the dinosaurs were allowed to roam free and reclaim the island. Jurassic Park was able to capitalize on the mystique of showing dinosaurs for the first time while in The Lost World, we all know that our heroes are going to an island full of dinosaurs for adventures to ensure. The Lost World is also darker than Jurassic Park as the dinosaurs are portrayed more as monsters and less as conniving villains. There are certainly more velociraptors on screen than in the previous film but more isn’t always better as they are glossed over in favor of showing off a new dinosaur and their scenes are just not as terrifying as the iconic scene of the raptors hunting the children in the kitchen. The T-Rex also does not receive the same treatment it enjoyed in the original film as it saved the group as the music swells and the group escapes the island. In The Lost World, a pair of T-Rex are seen eating poor Eddie in brutal fashion, they trample and devour mercenaries and even make it to San Diego to terrorize the town by eating a dog and a poor dork who’s just trying to get inside. There is a ton of death in The Lost World but the conflict itself is not man vs nature, it is more man vs man with dinosaurs present as the corporation behind the original film has returned to pilfer Sit B for all it contains but perhaps the biggest element that has been changed between Jurassic Park and The Lost World is the soundtrack by John Williams. The wonder from the original film is gone and, in its place, contains a more adventurous theme with tense strings and low tones to underscore the mystery and unknown terror of the new island. It is impossible to levy criticism at the genius that is John Williams but The Lost World’s soundtrack simply does not evoke the same feelings of awe and wonder from the original.

Director Steven Spielberg has levied his own critique of his film. Prior to The Lost World, he had not been known for directing sequels with the only notable exceptions being Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as well as Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. Temple of Doom was controversial at the time of its release as being overly violent and even helped to usher in the PG-13 rating we all love and appreciate today. After the success of Jaws in 1975, Universal Studios immediately approached Spielberg to produce a sequel. While Spielberg kicked around several story ideas one of which included the sons of the original characters hunting the offspring of the previous monstrous shark and another story that centered on Quint’s haunting monologue of the U.S.S. Indianapolis but the ideas were rejected and Spielberg would leave the project. The Lost World is Spielberg’s first true sequel after years of avoiding them and by all accounts, he does follow the rules for crafting a Hollywood sequel; it introduces new characters, it expands the universe and/or setting and make the story darker than the previous one. This formula has worked time and time again from The Godfather Part II, The Empire Strikes Back and Spider-Man 2 and everyone assumed it would work for Spielberg but not quite. While moving the setting to Site B offers a wilder and more unpredictable world, the new characters are not onscreen long enough to be noteworthy and are forgotten for the sake of having a Godzilla adjacent climax through the streets of southern California. The dark tone of The Lost World would mark the beginning of an odd obsession with making future installments in the series even darker than previous films. Spielberg himself has said that he was too focused on what was done during production of Jurassic Park that he couldn’t properly focus on making The Lost World the worthy follow up that should have been made.

In spite of the criticism, The Lost World would continue Spielberg’s domination of the box office during the 1990’s. It would set the record for the four-day Memorial Day weekend and became the first film to crack $70 million during its opening weekend. Keep in mind that during the 90’s, tickets were not nearly as expensive as they are now, IMAX 3D and/or IMAX or plain 3D were not readily available in every theater and the Internet culture of who can spoil the movie first simply did not exist and if you wanted to know how a movie ended, you had to pay the price of admission. Even though it was an immediate success, ticket sales would drop sharply in its second weekend but would wind up being the second highest grossing film behind Titanic which would become the first film to cross the $1 billion mark at the box office. The Lost World would face off against other stiff competition during 1997 but that is a retrospective for another time.

So, is The Lost World the steaming pile of dinosaur doo doo critics though it was in 1997? The film was more misguided than terrible as Spielberg should have vacated the director’s chair in favor another artist to bring their vision to the franchise. While the special effects are a standout aspect of the film, the overreliance on spectacle rather than story building and character development would become a dark hallmark of the several future installments including Jurassic Park 3 and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Inevitably, any sequel that followed up Jurassic Park would have been a disappointment and The Lost World may have best been left on the shelf of Spielberg’s numerous unrealized projects. 

Featured Image Credit: IMDb

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