Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite
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“Oooh! Ahhh! That’s how it always starts. Then, later, there’s running. And screaming.”
How do you follow Jurassic Park, one of the greatest movies ever made? By making one of the most underrated sequels ever made.
The Lost World, aka. Jurassic Park II, was always destined to live in the shadow of its gargantuan ancestor. It’s a film that did itself no favours, essentially coming up with a core premise that amounted to Babe II: Pig in the City. But it was a damned if you do, damned if you don’t situation, something that writer David Koepp acknowledged with Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum) knowing description of what would happen in the film, placed right at its front. Prove him right, and you end up with a movie that would offer more of the same; prove him wrong, and you have a film that offers something different and unexpected, also frustrating fans. The Lost World ends up trying to do both, and it’s that decision that makes it inferior to the original Jurassic Park. Get past it, and there’s much to admire and enjoy in the smaller details.
It begins, as all good movies do, with Compsognathus. Lots of them. Pecking a small child to death, while her parents lunch on the beach nearby. It’s a nasty sequence, one that sets the tone for Spielberg’s second dino blockbuster: if you thought Jurassic Park was scary, wait until you see this.
It’s easy to think of Spielberg as the sentimental director of ET, but it’s when he returns to his Duellian roots that some of his most undervalued work occurs, from the thrilling darkness of the War of the Worlds to the bleak realism of Minority Report. The Lost World joins that club with bloody bells on, not afraid to hold back on the gore. When the Compys return later, to nip to death a hunter (Peter Stormare), it’s another shiver down the spine – and an overhead shot of raptors racing through long grass to take out a pack of humans is a properly chilling set piece that’s expertly choreographed.
The visuals, too, are a shade gloomier than the first film, while John Williams’ music adds a layer of complexity to the familiar themes – everything’s just that little bit darker. Just look at Pete Postlethwaite as Roland Tembo, a hunter with a ruthless attitude, a bad-ass hat and no problem when it comes to beating someone else to a pulp (in a deleted scene that didn’t make it to the theatrical cut). A family movie hero, he ain’t.
So where does Ian Malcolm fit in? He’s persuaded by Hammond to go InGen’s Site B, Isla Sorna, the island where all the dinosaurs were developed, designed and grown. He refuses at first, of course, until Hammond reveals that his girlfriend, Sarah (a dino expert played by Julianne Moore), is already on the island, accompanied by eco-warrior Nick (Vince Vaughn). And so he goes after her to bring her back home, only to be accompanied by his stowaway daughter, Kelly (Vanessa Chester). Once there, Hammond’s nephew, Peter Ludow (Arliss Howard doing his best Evil Company Man), also sends in his own team. While Hammond’s group are there to document the island and see what’s there, his nephew’s crew are there to skip the research and kidnap a T-Rex, so they can bring it back and monetise it in San Diego.
The idea of a monster movie reenacting King Kong isn’t a terrible one, but it’s one that could do with a whole film to set it up properly – and what we get here is a 20-minute rushed version that has all the necessary elements (a boy spying a T-Rex in the swimming pool from his bedroom window is a genuinely funny gag), but wraps them up with a surprisingly short list of damage and consequences.
The good news, though, is that this final act is much shorter than you may remember, and the bulk of the movie takes place on Isla Sorna – and while it’s on the island, The Lost World doesn’t really put a foot wrong. Moore’s love interest isn’t hugely developed, but neither is Postlethwaite’s scene-stealing hunter, because this is a monster movie, and the focus is really on the creatures, rather than their dinner. And it’s here that Spielberg is in his element: the first time we encounter the T-Rex sees a pair of them chasing an injured baby dino to a trailer, where Sarah hopes to perform some emergency medical procedures, only to ram it off a cliff. The result is a properly nail-biting 10 minutes, as Malcolm, Sarah and co. attempt to climb up the trailer as it slides into the abyss, with Moore’s hand resting on a cracked pane of glass that threatens to shatter at any point. The sound design is agonisingly suspenseful, and the camerawork superb, both ramping up the very real sense of peril – a tangibility that offsets some of the weaker CGI in the Babe II scenes.
Another standout sees Vanessa Chester’s Kelly use the gymnastics she didn’t get to use on the school team to jump and swing around a barn, before launching herself at a raptor and kicking him out of a window. It’s cheesy, sure, but it gives a nice bit of agency (and character development) to Kelly, while reminding us that Jeff Goldblum’s Malcolm is no Sam Neill, or even Laura Dern: he’s a mathematician and he’s decidedly mortal.
The film took four years to come about, but that time gap gave the production team a chance to step up their effects game: the animatronic dinos on display here have more agility when they attack, able to shove their heads underneath doors, while the CGI creatures let motorcycles weave between their legs. It’s an action film, first and foremost, and while the first and final act are a tad slow and a hurried respectively, the middle section sees Spielberg going with the flow at an enjoyably fast pace, without losing a sense of danger or entertainment: it skips the “Oooh”s and the “Ahhh”s and focuses on the running and screaming instead. It’s no Jurassic Park, but then what is? Put that expectation aside and you find yourself with an uneven but enjoyable sequel that deserves more praise than it gets.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.
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