As with Jurassic Park, I can recall where I saw The Lost World upon its release in 1997, but for entirely different reasons all together. Once again I was excited; however, this time the excitement was tempered with reservations that I managed to push down and ignore until about 15 minutes into the movie when I started to realize that the reviews I read prior to heading to the theater were right, this was a LARGE step down from the first entry in the series. This time, I didn’t have to wait until my parents got home to go and see it; I went right after high school let out (or maybe we were already on summer break, I’m fuzzy on this point) with a good friend and fellow Jurassic Park enthusiast, Jeremy Canter. Once again, Carmike was the best movie house in town (I was located in Asheville at the time) so we drove over, got our seats in the packed-out theater, and waited to be blown away. That wait lasted for 2 hours and 9 minutes. Anger set in as the credits started to roll, replacing the disappointment that had accompanied me for the film’s duration. I could be wrong—it wouldn’t be the first time—but I seem to remember ranting and raving all the way home as I was supposed to see this “film” for a second time in a mere 2 hours, an activity that I now wanted no part of but knew I had no real chance of extricating myself from; after all, everyone wanted to see the follow-up when it came out, they just didn’t want to see it twice. I hadn’t watched Spielberg’s follow-up again until a couple of weeks ago. My hatred for the film had tempered over the decade and a half (Christ, that makes me feel old) and since I had just received the Blu-ray box set for Christmas, I figured now would be as good a time as any to revisit the second entry of the series. Who knows, maybe I would be surprised and enjoy it. Time has a funny way of doing that; turning films you once enjoyed into steaming piles and films you once wrote off start to reveal hidden layers and themes that only the passage of time can unlock.
The movie itself remains decidedly un-onion like, but the film’s tone certainly fits into Spielberg’s output at the time of its release. Schindler’s List was released later in 1993—the same year as Jurassic Park—kicking off a run that would best be described as the director’s “blue” period. Up until that point the auteur was known primarily for his summer movie spectacles and only had two releases at that time that could be considered heavy or to have seriously tackled dark themes–Empire of the Sun and The Color Purple. Of the latter he was attacked in some circles, with his detractors stating that he had softened the homosexuality depicted in the novel and his characterizations served only to stereotyped blacks, especially the men, pointing out that a white man directing the story of African American people limited the depth of storytelling and emotion related to the characters he wished to portray. But nobody could doubt the director’s credentials for directing Schindler’s List and the awards heaped upon the movie were deserved. But the toll for film excellence when telling the story of the Holocaust comes with a price. Spielberg was obviously burnt out professionally and more than likely emotionally as well. I don’t know the man (obviously—I’m sure that came as a shock to those reading this), but anyone just taking a gander at his filmography could figure this out as the man’s output was prolific after the release of Jaws up through the release of his Oscar winner. This time, however, Spielberg would retreat, not releasing a movie until 4 years later, a film that would still carry some of the hard-hitting nastiness that the darkest side of humanity had to offer, The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
When watching the film again, it struck me as a curious choice for the director films of the past 20 years to work so hard to deconstruct everything that made the original so popular. Gone is the feel-good nature and wish fulfillment of the first film, replaced by undercurrents of dread and a strong sense of foreboding. The bright colors and theme-park-ride-feel of the first island are replaced with dim (sometimes flat out dark) filters to appropriately frame the horror found on the second. It seems as if Spielberg wanted to make sure that the audience knows that bringing back dinosaurs would unquestionably have dire consequences that humanity would end up paying the lion’s share of, but the audience already knows this and there really is no reason to rub their collective noses in it. The change in tone is innate in close to every scene. Characters are sadistic in their treatment of not only the dinosaurs but also one another and just in case the audience misses the point, the film has the character of Dieter Stark (Peter Stormare), a particularly brutish thug with a propensity to use his stun gun on what he perceives to be tiny, harmless dinosaurs. The lead bad guy, Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) is nothing more than a composite of well-worn evil dude clichés, backing big business over the safety of humankind and the preservation of a once lost species. The viciousness of the deaths ramp up and the blood splatters more; one bad guy get sqooshed under the T-Rex’s ample foot, only to be brought along for the remainder of the ride, much like gum stuck to the sole of a sneaker. Another person unlucky enough to be caught (this time a hippie-scientist type, making it extra tragic, “I’m just here to save the animals, man!”) gets ripped out from behind a waterfall that begins to cascade bloody water as the victim lets forth a bloodcurdling scream. Hell, even an unlucky pup meets his maker when the Tyrannosaurus Rex gets loose in San Diego. The vibe doesn’t stop there, invading the film’s best sequence—a scene that still serves as one of Spielberg’s most audacious—in which a secondary character is able to save the day, only to get tossed in the air and ripped in two by a pair of livid T-Rex parents, serving to deny the crowd the cathartic release that normally comes at the end of such a tense procession of events.
And then there is the family values thing (you didn’t think he would forget that, did you?), shoehorned in like always. Only this time it leads to the second worst “I CAN’T BELIEVE THAT SHIT JUST HAPPENED!!! DID SOMEBODY BEHIND THE CONCESSION STAND SLIP PEYOTE INTO MY MR. PIBB?!?!?!” moment of the director’s career, second only to those fucking monkeys that show up near the climax of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. If you have seen the movie recently, you know what I’m talking about, when Ian Malcolm’s (Jeff Goldblum, up for round 2) gymnastics-infatuated daughter swings on bars serving as structural pieces of a storage shed-style building, picking up enough momentum to kick a raptor through the wall behind it. If that wasn’t bad enough, she then sticks the landing and Malcolm gets to deliver a cheesy one-liner about how he can’t believe she got cut from the team at school. It’s a moment of pure death, cinematically speaking. It’s almost like Spielberg wanted to destroy everything he built in Jurassic Park in one sequence. I would have rather he filmed himself burning the original print only to put out the fire pissing on the ashes. It somehow seems like that would be less offensive.
Now that all that is out of the way, I can tell you the movie is better than I remembered and not without its highlights. Pete Postlehwaite (he was always amazing, no matter what) is fascinating in the role of Roland Tembo, a big game hunter who remains professionally distanced from the greed and foolishness of his employers. The two main set pieces, especially the one mentioned above, are mostly successes, but the sequence at the end of the film in San Diego*–a total departure from the third act of Crichton’s follow-up novel–could have benefited by being flushed out a bit more instead of feeling rushed and somewhat tacked on like it belongs in another Jurassic Park film. Vince Vaughn does a serviceable job being Vince Vaughn and Julianne Moore will forever be a welcome presence, no matter the film. As much as I disagree with how dark the tone is when compared with the original, I still have to give Spielberg credit; it took balls to move one of the most successful films of all time—one that almost everyone I know holds up on a pedestal—into the uncompromising dark territory of the sequel. He is 100% committed to the nastiness and he doesn’t let the audience think otherwise; its there in the first sequence of the film. Tonally speaking, this is the area he would take up residence through A.I. Artificial Intelligence in 2001, but even his films subsequent to it are tinted with a darkness (to be fair, there are some exceptions) that wasn’t typically present prior to Schindler’s List. This period ultimately made Spielberg’s art more interesting in my opinion; at least as far as the auteur theory is concerned. If he had to make The Lost World in order to create a film as powerful and exceptional as Munich, then sitting through this one twice back in 1997 was well worth it.
*Just an aside, are there no above-ground power lines in San Diego? If there are, the T-Rex is incredible at dodging them. Other woodland creatures should take note of her skills in this area.