The T Rex that ate San Diego
The first film bearing the title The Lost World was made in 1925, and it represented the cutting edge in cinematic special effects for that year. 1997’s The Lost World, both a quasi-remake of the first and a sequel to Jurassic Park, can share that distinction. Never have dinosaurs been portrayed with such absolute realism, and there are hundreds of them running, leaping and biting from one end of the film to the other. The film’s star T-Rex is the most impressive movie monster ever. The sheer spectacle of these wondrously created beasts makes this film, like its predecessor worth watching over and over. Stan Winston, Dennis Muren, Michael Lantieri, and all the artisans working under them deserve heaps of praise for their efforts.
Why then does the film leave me feeling a bit empty? The shame of it is that director Steven Spielberg and scripter David Koepp have failed to do all they could in the story department – or is it that they’ve done too much? The Lost World contains almost everything from Michael Crichton’s novel, plus a few things left out of Jurassic Park – plus an additional extended final act which pieces together parts from Conan Doyle’s original story, King Kong, Gorgo, Dracula, and a slew of gags and shots that pay tribute to the entire giant-monster-on-the-loose genre. All of which is hastily packed into one 134 minute film. This means all of Crichton’s careful exposition is dashed off in dialogue spoken on the run by sketchy characters who step into the film with only the barest introduction before they get chomped by hungry raptors and such.
It should help that Jeff Goldblum, returning as cranky scientist Ian Malcolm, is made the central character this time around, but he’s been transformed for his role as cranky hero (and father to the requisite stow-away kid) and is barely recognizable as the same man. Crichton’s explanation for the existence of Site B (another island where dinosaurs were being raised for the park) is skimmed over so briefly that it seems like a cheap gimmick, like a dead character’s twin brother returning for a sequel. An inordinate amount of time is spent on the death scenes of minor villains that we hardly know. Spielberg and DP Janusz Kaminski make things more confusing with some extremely mobile camera work – adding to the realism of the f/x while messing up their storytelling.
The Lost World, like Dante’s Peak, adds considerably to the evidence that Universal is more interested in their theme park business than they are in their cinema business, readily green-lighting any film concept whose title can be amended with ” – the Ride!”.