The Lost World: Jurassic Park
The original Jurassic Park isn’t Steven Spielberg’s favorite among his movies, and it isn’t mine, either. It had ingenious computer effects — I’ll never forget the first, terrifying appearance of the T. rex — but it took forever to get going, and Spielberg’s timing seemed to be off. He was too awestruck by his creations to deliver a fast, scary monster movie. Well, Spielberg has lost some of his awe. The Lost World is darker, funnier, and more visually seamless than Jurassic Park. It’s Spielberg in fine form, getting down to good old primal terror.
One reason I prefer The Lost World is that Jeff Goldblum, a witty but underused supporting player in the first movie, is here pushed to the center, where he belongs. His Ian Malcolm, discredited and bitter after the debacle on Isla Nublar, is stunned to learn that a research team has been sent to the neighboring Isla Sorna, where the dinosaurs were first created. Among the researchers is Malcolm’s paleontologist girlfriend Sarah (Julianne Moore), so Malcolm must plunge back into the nightmare. Goldblum’s fearful cynicism is a great running gag; he can’t believe he’s going through this again.
Spielberg and writer David Koepp round out Malcolm’s team with sharp casting choices. In place of the original’s two bratty kids (who have cameos here), there’s Malcolm’s whip-smart young daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester). Vince Vaughn (Swingers) turns up as one of the researchers, and Pete Postlethwaite (In the Name of the Father) and Peter Stormare (Fargo) lead a team of dino-hunting mercenaries. Still, this is basically a boys’ club; the usually quirky Julianne Moore gives the same eager, awestruck performance every other woman has given for Spielberg. (It happened to Laura Dern, too.)
The Lost World is Steven Spielberg in his ruthless cat-playing-with-a-mouse mode. A sequence involving a trailer dangling over a cliff (with our heroes inside) seems to be drawn out for the sheer bullying pleasure of toying with us. Spielberg ups the ante on every set piece in the original: two T. rexes instead of one, a gang of velociraptors instead of two (Spielberg comes up with a memorably scary image when the raptors stalk a hunting party through some tall weeds). The beasts are so relentless they’re funny; like the shark in Jaws, they just keep coming at you.
So does the director. Some people (i.e. parents) have grumbled about the increased violence. The movie is no gorier than the first one, but Spielberg works with a borderline sadistic glee. He loves the apocalyptic spectacle of the T. rex bashing into cars or ripping people in half. Yet the creatures aren’t evil; they’re just big, hungry animals — morally neutral death machines. Spielberg has learned to stop worrying and love the raptor. By the time a T. rex runs amok in the streets of San Diego, the movie has given up any pretense of plot or character. Not that it matters. The Lost World is a symphony of suspense and momentum — a perfect guilty pleasure. It isn’t about anything except Steven Spielberg’s hearty appetite for destruction.