The Lost World Is Steven Spielberg’s Most Deeply Acceptable Film

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Released four years after its predecessor, 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park is perhaps an even more bizarre sequel than it was originally assigned. Of course, a sequel to the most successful film at the time at the box office was all but guaranteed, but it received mixed reviews and a significantly lower worldwide box office total ($618.6 million, about $300 million less than its predecessor). Even back in 1997, The Lost World was known for being the kind of “less than” Jurassic Park follow-up that, as we discussed in Part One of this series, didn’t materialize by any competitor.

Yet what makes The Lost World oddly fascinating even all this time later is that while it’s arguably a dud, it’s not an outright disaster. No, what makes it such an outlier is that it’s just “okay”, which is exactly the kind of movie that really great directors rarely make.

Join us for the second part of our Jurassic Park and Jurassic World film retrospective!

Sparing no expense but interest

The Lost World being willed to exist solely by the runaway success of the first movie isn’t just true of the movie; this is also true of the novel on which the sequel is (loosely) based. Michael Crichton has made it clear that he had little interest in writing a sequel at first, saying the 1995 book “was really something that came from the readers,” but that he also came together because “eventually there seemed to be a likelihood that there would be another movie and Steven seemed to be interested in it”. Between an adamant fanbase and the looming specter of Hollywood, it seems from the outside that Crichton was essentially coerced into writing the novel. What makes things stranger is that The Lost World would end up being the only sequel in Crichton’s entire bibliography.

This confluence of events that led to the novel and thus the creation of the film is evident in the first 15 minutes of the film. The sequel setup is sloppy at best: Oh, there’s another island (never mentioned before) with dinosaurs? Oh, John Hammond has an (extremely ill-advised) plan to send a team there despite supposedly learning his lesson the first time around? Oh, Ian Malcolm’s girlfriend (never seen before) just happened to be gone already so he could be basically blackmailed into going on a mission? You can feel the creatives involved under the weight of having to fabricate a storyline to facilitate the dinosaur action that audiences (and executives) craved. It’s reminiscent of one of Malcolm’s most famous lines in the first film: “Your scientists were so preoccupied with the fact that they could that they didn’t stop to think if they had to.”

However, while the premise is flimsy in every way, that doesn’t mean you can’t get something worthwhile out of it. A sequel to Jurassic Park isn’t an inherently doomed concept, as some hyperbolic fans would claim. Yet this lingering sense of “obligation” is what jeopardizes the entire enterprise, because it affects so much more than the first act.

Highlands and Lowlands

The Lost World is not without its strengths. The set design is still classic Spielberg, with the cliffside sequence in particular standing out as perhaps one of the best such scenes of his entire career. Seeing Stegosaurus for the first time in this series was a long-awaited treat for dinosaur fans. Pete Postlethwaite ranks things like Roland Tembo, delivering lines (“The one with the big red horn! The Pompadour!”) that no other actor working in the ’90s could possibly deliver with such dignity. The velociraptors engaging in Looney Tunes-style physical comedy while chasing the heroes is hilarious, and as hooked as that sounds, there’s a surface-level delight in watching Spielberg throw caution to the wind and end his sequel to Jurassic Park on a T-Rex goes Godzilla mode in San Diego.

Still, while the film undoubtedly looks big in the way you want a blockbuster to be, it also feels put together in a way Spielberg movies usually don’t. Contrasting exciting or intriguing elements is just as often counter-intuitive, sometimes even within the same scene. Much has been made of the ridiculous gymnastic skill Malcolm’s daughter Chekhov used to kick a raptor through a window, but that’s not even necessarily what we’re talking about here. There’s not much idea what the audience is supposed to get out of the experience other than the fairly routine message of non-interference that Hammond describes at the end, a message that doesn’t really make sense when it’s himself sent a team to the island.

You end up with a handful of really great scenes that lose a lot of their impact when you actually include them in the movie.

There’s little cohesive storytelling or thematic connective tissue that holds any of the film’s sequences together, with long stretches between the good parts feeling largely aimless. Therefore, you end up with a movie with a handful of really good scenes which lose a lot of their impact when you actually include them in the movie. The best parts of The Lost World play better as isolated segments on YouTube than as parts of a complete whole, and it doesn’t even get into the movie’s nastiest sequence (RIP Eddie Carr) or how several important characters simply disappear into the city -final game.

Run and scream

What makes The Lost World shaky is that there are several elements introduced throughout the narrative that seem to point to where this film could have had a stronger thematic core, but which are not exploited. Tembo is a big game hunter who captures the male T-Rex but develops some awareness after doing so, so why doesn’t he factor in the finale where said T-Rex is immediately free again? What about Nick Van Owen, who is portrayed as a literal eco-anarchist (it is specified that he is a member of Earth First!) who is endangering many lives in the InGen camp by releasing silently captured dinosaurs? The movie could have taken a stand on the morality of this act, but it’s something that somehow arrived without much comment and quickly moved on.

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