Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Summer School: 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park' (1997)

With so many summer franchises returning this year, I'm catching up on previous installments.

Apart from the Indiana Jones movies, The Lost World: Jurassic Park is the only sequel Steven Spielberg has directed, but his presence behind the camera doesn't do much to enliven the inconsistent material. Neither Spielberg nor screenwriter David Koepp (working very loosely from Michael Crichton's sequel novel) seems to have any idea of how to move the story forward and recapture the wonder of the first movie. The idea of a dinosaur-filled theme park gives way to an island on which dinosaurs roam free, an homage to the Arthur Conan Doyle novel of the same name but not a particularly successful expansion on this franchise's main hook.

The premise is built on a whole bunch of retcons and newly revealed back story. It turns out that there were actually two islands, one with the theme park and one as sort of a nature preserve full of dinosaurs. It turns out that John Hammond has an unscrupulous nephew trying to take over his company. It turns out that Ian Malcolm has an annoyingly precocious tween daughter and a girlfriend who conveniently happens to be a paleontologist. And it turns out that a bunch of people, including Malcolm himself, who should really know better, are willing to travel to an island full of free-range dinosaurs despite what happened to the people on the supposedly controlled island with the theme park.

Jeff Goldblum was a great supporting player in the first movie, but here he becomes the main character, and Malcolm basically turns into an action hero, with lots of snappy one-liners and both a daughter and a girlfriend to save. Goldblum is still fun to watch, but Malcolm was better in a supporting role, and the new characters played by Julianne Moore (as Malcolm's paleontologist girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding) and Vince Vaughn (as nature videographer Nick Van Owen) aren't nearly as memorable. From a plot standpoint, the movie is seriously disjointed, starting as a mission to study the dinosaurs on the second island, then turning into a stand-off between the scientists and a team of mercenaries led by Pete Postlethwaite's single-minded hunter, then eventually turning into a Godzilla riff as a T. rex gets loose in the middle of San Diego.

The only part that's particularly interesting is the idea of dinosaurs as the ultimate game to hunt, but that falls by the wayside pretty quickly once the scientists and the mercenaries have to team up to avoid being eaten. Malcolm's daughter is the most annoying kid character in a series full of annoying kid characters, and the scene in which she uses her gymnastics skills to defeat a velociraptor is as laughably bad as anything in Gymkata. The third-act T. rex rampage is similarly silly, representing both the lopsided plotting and the tonal inconsistency. Spielberg has admitted that he basically checked out at some point during production of this movie, and it suffers from his lack of engagement. Without the masterful control he brought to the first movie, it's just a cash-in sequel that never justifies its own existence.

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