Commentary pieces are longer, stream-of-consciousness style essays about a particular topic. They can and will take many forms, are randomly organized, and are deeply saturated with personal bias. Photos featured here are screenshots from both YouTube and IMDb.
I’m on Netflix, and seeing as I’ve finished The Joel McHale Show with Joel McHale, I have nothing to do. The Last Jedi is available to watch, but I’m still traumatized – it’ll be a long time before I write about that one. I scroll down the page and under “Because you watched: Jurassic Park” is a film I haven’t seen in at least half a decade: The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Oh, yeah, baby. Here we go.
I saw Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom opening night and still can’t sleep soundly knowing the piss-poor condition Colin Trevorrow has plunged the franchise into. Seriously, he made Safety Not Guaranteed (which was charming) and suddenly he’s got the green-light to write and direct two-thirds of the Jurassic Park revival trilogy? Ick.
I’m nostalgic for Jurassic Park in a way that Universal Studios can’t monetize. I want the OG-movies back. The blue-steel, smart-phone, and concrete aesthetic of Jurassic World and its sequel isn’t working for me. Give me the jagged, jungle-infused primary colors of Jurassic Park and The Lost World. Blacks and reds and yellows, musky thickets of dense tropical plants, and tiki-themed huts. Isla Nublar is supposedly 100 miles from Costa Rica, and the closest Jurassic World came to that aesthetic was a damn Margaritaville.
Sorry. We aren’t here to trash the other movies, we’re here to defend The Lost World against the other movies.
I’m typing this up as I watch it, so let’s get to it.
Welcome, to the sequel to Jurassic Park
Can you imagine the hype surrounding this movie? Back in ’97, before Titanic released, Jurassic Park was literally the highest-earning movie ever made. People busted blocks for that movie, and Spielberg grabs Michael Crichton to again help screenwriter David Koepp pen the script for its follow-up. The old team was getting back together. I was a little over four-years-old at the time and I can still remember seeing the rubber r.c. controlled t-rex toys and the lunch boxes and the sit-and-shoot video games at every arcade. Of course, that happens every summer nowadays. Tent-pole blockbusters are everywhere, synonymous with summer movie-going.
Back then, however, fan-boys were either in their infancy or lurking in secluded basements, away from the public eye, so the average movie-going public was allowed to vent their frustration with The Lost World when it didn’t live up to their expectations. Of course, this was back when people were allowed to be disappointed by sequels for sake of the film *glares at The Last Jedi and the ongoing internet-war over the soul of Star Wars*.
I remember liking this as a kid for the same reasons I’m liking it right now. The action is lively, the CGI well-utilized, and the dinosaurs more numerous and with greater variety. You could say the same thing of Jurassic World, but here comes the crucial difference.
We get twenty-some seconds in the beginning of Lost World to introduce this little girl and her rich family, picnicking on the beach of some uninhabited Island (as you do), and every bit of dialogue between them occurs in a real space, playing out as the camera observes the scene from a distance, panning back and forth or rolling up the sand away from them. We don’t have actors spouting decades-old lines of dialogue at the screen in that over-the-shoulder, crisscrossing television-style bullshit way of filming a conversation. We don’t have a back-and-forth here, we have people moving and things being done and characters moving around them. The sets are part of the conversation because people have to move to keep up with their counterpart in order to talk to them.
Damn near every scene of dialogue in Jurassic World is over-the-shoulder, back-and-forth garbage on a set far removed from any of the action. Spielberg introduces his characters as part of a world, and his worlds as part of his plot. He does all of this simultaneously. Lost World may be a monster-flick, undeniably, but it’s still a Spielberg film.
Things are developing around our characters constantly. You know the plot already, Ian Malcolm (played by the endlessly enjoyable Jeff Goldblum) is coerced into an expedition to Isla Sorna, dinosaur Site B, by Richard Hammond, who is no longer in control of the dinosaur-genetics company, InGen. In fact, Peter Ludlow, Hammond’s nephew, has taken control of the company and hopes to finally turn a profit by exploiting the dinosaurs (BOY I WONDER IF THE SEQUELS WILL LATCH ONTO THAT IDEA).
Jesus, this movie moves, though. Within twenty-five minutes we have the reason Hammond loses control of InGen (the little girl getting attacked on the beach), Malcolm is shown to be the victim of a smear campaign by InGen and Ludlow to discredit his criticisms of the theme park of the previous film, and then we have to get ready to go to the island so Malcolm can “save” his girlfriend, Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore).
Can we actually stop for a second and appreciate Julianne Moore’s screen presence? She owned every scene in which she appeared in The Big Lebowski and Children of Men, and does so here. She’s also a stoic and unsettling figure in the two Mockingjay movies. In Lost World she’s clearly the only one in control of the situation; having studied the dinosaurs for a few days before Malcolm, Eddie, and Nick van Owen arrive, she’s technically more qualified to speak of them than Malcolm is.
So, I don’t think pacing is too much of an issue yet. They get to the island and we see Stegosaurus within the first half-hour. Spielberg doesn’t linger too long before throwing our characters into some kind of danger – those spiked tails! – but moviegoers aren’t going to be as impressed at the mere sight of dinosaurs now, so let’s just get on with the show. Either by necessity or principle, effects are a blend of CGI and practical animatronics. The dinosaurs, more than any of the sequels, are technically right there in-camera. It feels good. It still looks good.
And look at this! Characters walking and talking! Talking about scientific stuff! Our protagonists are still interested in proving some theory about dinosaurs, studying them with extended research as the goal. Where the hell did that go?
I know people don’t like Malcolm’s daughter here. She isn’t a great addition, but at least it’s easy to understand why she’s here. In that lengthy prelude to the expedition’s departure we get plenty of information thrown at us economically. We learn that Malcolm isn’t exactly a doting husband, but has fathered a few children (in keeping with his character from JP), and that his daughter wants to come along. We’re shown what all of their vehicles look like, included the RV home-base. We know that she knows where it is and can presume she hid inside of it, considering the dialogue even earlier that it isn’t a long trip to get to the island and seeing that none of the main characters were inside the RV on the journey there.
Can we also talk about that? That Spielberg and Co decided to introduce aspects of the narrative long-before they became useful? It’s Chekov’s Gun – level storytelling basics, here. We get the RV, the High-Hide, the tranquilizer gun, the wonky satellite phone, the lucky-pack, and plenty more within the first half-hour of the film. All of it pays off or at least becomes relevant later in the film. Compare that to the fan-favorite Indominus Rex in Jurassic World. It’s understood that we, the audience, aren’t to know much about its abilities due to the genetic-splicing that brought it to life, but come on. It’s a walking plot-mcguffin. Whatever the narrative needs at any given moment, the I-Rex can be, and it’s either explained away with a throwaway line just before it happens – “IT CAN CAMOUFLAGE” – or it’s chalked up to mad-science. Lazy.
The Lost World, whether it works for you or not, is far from lazy.
Look at this Safari-vibe we have going on here. John Williams has returned for the score, and rather than trumpet that old theme-song, he provides a thumping and suspenseful band of music to underscore the darker overall tone of the film. This is far from stock string-pieces that appear at emotional cues; we have melodies and themes for the heroes and villains, key-strikes and percussion for rampaging dinosaurs. It feels tailored to the experience, rather than assembled from a pre-recorded suite of genre-music.
And here comes Roland Tembo and his merry-brigade of profiteers. What a fun character, played with expert pragmatism by the late Pete Posthwaite. These are Ludlow’s guys, under the new InGen, trying to capture these dinosaurs for transport back to the mainland. It’s pretty stupid, but the film realizes this, making the case for saving the animals from people – rather than a fucking volcano. At least here, in Lost World, we have characters with motivations stemming from either a previous film or deeply understood character archetypes. The big-game hunter wants to hunt, the capitalist wants money, the scientists want to science. Spielberg isn’t forcing anything here (not until the fourth act). These are evident in the later films, but…they were derivative to begin with.
If anything, this is where we can cry foul for pacing. Once the second expedition shows up, all hell breaks loose and it’s a race to the end of the film. They set up camp, the original expedition opens some dino-cages, and things literally burst into flames. Moments later we have the bleating baby T-Rex and the beginning of a ninety-minutes chase-scene.
And honestly? That’s where this film commits its resources, which is fine. It does it magnificently. We have numerous peaks and valleys, setting tension and paying it off. The most impressive of which being the RV tumbling over the edge of a cliff. It isn’t just monsters and mayhem, because we wouldn’t give a damn about the stakes if we didn’t care about the characters.
And this movie might have the last moment I’ve felt tension for the approach of a T-Rex. Their presence here is incredible. The camera stays on the fucking ground, leaving the audience to feel as vulnerable as our characters. And I’m beginning to think it might actually give the execs over at Universal an aneurism to invest in animatronics again.
Oh, hold on. Eddie’s about to bite it – or be bitten. What a shame Trevorrow felt compelled to top this unearned character-death with one far more grotesquely-realized in his film – if you remember the poor babysitter being dunked to death by flying dinosaurs until the Mosasaur ate her in Jurassic World. Eddie at least dies quickly. Same can’t be said for this unfortunate franchise.
The Moveable Feast
Well, all the characters are together. And it’s good. We get brief interactions to play these archetypes against one another. The environmentalist vs the hunter, the chaotician vs the capitalist. That the movie is plunging us into Malcolm’s chaos and still stops to remind us of the central arguments forming the narrative is smart. It’s smart, mainly because it works so well. It’s due to that competence that every sequel, save for JPIII, has aped those themes outright and offered no new insight.
Fallen Kingdom wants us to care about these dinosaurs and hope to preserve them, while The Lost World has already exhausted both sides of the debate. This wasn’t some cautionary preamble, this was closing the book. Spielberg’s departure from a directorial role in the franchise should be evidence enough of that. “But he’s stayed on as producer!” Yes, but as with the Transformers franchise, that doesn’t amount to much of substance outside of his bank-account, does it?
Digressions, my apologies.
Our characters are bickering, and that makes it interesting. They aren’t just screaming into the camera – not yet anyway. Spielberg is embarking on a journey across the island, and we have to follow. Again the pacing is wonky, like Spielberg is anxiously hustling through these bits to show off the next bloody rampage by the T-Rexes. And that’s just what we get. They lose their luster after a while, I’ll admit. This doesn’t operate on the restraint seen in the original film, but we’re a far cry from the wobbly, weightless CGI of the Jurassic World sequels. We’ve got actual actors, awarded actors, playing bit parts to lend some depth to every encounter – selling those archetypical monologues with flair and conviction.
And let’s take a closer look at those action scenes. After a few more brushes with the T-Rex and some Compies, the “moveable feast” is fractured and leaving the island in their respective groups. The dinosaurs are still cleverly concealed, behind waterfalls or by shadows in the darkness outside a tent.
They are monsters, but as hunting animals it makes sense as well. The raptors are pack-hunting and hyper-intelligent. We see that in their apparent behaviour. Spielberg isn’t going to waste time explaining them to you all over again, we know they aren’t going to be tricked so easily. So the humans have to evade and fight them using their intellect. Or some form of it. Yeah, the gymnastics shit is strange, but at least they set it up earlier in the film.
Nothing is so outlandish here as using live-animals in the military, or having them appear in dreams.
If anything, the film does a pretty good job wrapping up what it lays out on the table. Roland gets his prize T-Rex, but loses quite a bit in the process. Sarah and Ian are finally heading off the island in what can ostensibly be seen as a familial-unit. Ludlow should have learned his lesson, but…no. That pesky greed, it corrupts absolutely.
I can give Spielberg a pass for the idea of the San Diego breakout. It’s a lot of fun and has a plethora of memorable moments. It’s tough to ignore, though, that it throws a wrench in the conclusion of the film and all of a sudden we have a fourth act. It wouldn’t have been enough to keep the action on the island and use the data Hammond’s team collected to change public perception of the dinosaurs living on Sorna.
No. In a silly bit of showmanship, we have a boat with a T-Rex crashing onto American shores. How did the crew of the boat die? Doesn’t matter now, they cut it in post. Boy, Mr. Hammond, this should work well toward changing public opinion of your dinosaurs. The San Diego-scene is where you’re either torn from or galvanized in your support for this film. I can appreciate it for the entertainment that it is, but it undermines so much of…whatever this film was getting at. It never really gets the chance to elaborate aside from a quick bit on CNN by Hammond about the need to leave these creatures alone.
But the T-Rex breaks loose on a major city with a devastating resentment of infrastructure: Take that traffic-signal!
And you, public transportation!
How on earth is the Coast Guard just letting that thing sail back home? It doesn’t make a lot of sense, and in a movie that seemed so adamant in justifying its existence with some kind of forethought, this ending is disappointing.
I can understand when people suggest that this is the worst of the JP films, and then say the end is too nonsensical. Those sentiments, I feel, are mutually exclusive, however. You can’t insist that it’s bad because of its ending and also suggest that it’s the worst of the franchise. The entirety of the drama surrounding the newer films has been pilfered from the two original films. Jurassic World is a soft reboot of Jurassic Park, but with a seriously dumb “use them as dino-soldiers” plot-line. Fallen Kingdom boils Lost World down to its most basic elements: save the dinos, capture dinos, capitalism, greed. Fallen Kingdom, however, insists on a very strange and self-defeating location for two-thirds of the movie – the fucking basement of a really big house – then tosses the dinos out into the real world just like The Lost World did.
How is that better? If anything, it’s exactly the same.
The common argument is that we aren’t meant to analyze these movies, that they are big dumb action-adventure flicks with broad-chested men and women running stupidly from bloodthirsty monsters. Which is fine. It’s disappointing, but it’s fine. The movies can be that way, but don’t ape the imagery and plots from better movies in your own franchise.
For all of the pacing and tonal shifting in Lost World, it’s certainly closer in feel to the newer films than to the original, it still offers dialogue and story-beats worth paying attention to. There are arguments to be had about dinosaur behavior and of observing them as elements of nature rather than theme-park exhibits. We have glimpses of that in Jurassic World, but Chris Pratt’s smoldering at the camera and pinching insects out of the air distracts from anything he’s trying to say about animal behavior.
And Spielberg is just a better filmmaker than Trevorrow. There’s careful attention to detail in sets and in movement. Things are arranged to follow the natural path of curiosity within the audience. We are shown something and it is elaborated on until its function becomes apparent. Action scenes develop as part of an ongoing conflict, and resolve themselves before they wear out their welcome. Dinosaurs are heard approaching, or conflicts with technology are hinted at hours before they become a problem. Dinosaurs don’t just appear in fucking tubes while volcanos are erupting and lava is spewing everywhere. It also doesn’t having a dino-showdown by the ocean as if the dinosaurs carry personal vendettas. Fan-service alone is not good moviemaking.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is not a great movie, but it’s above and beyond the films that followed. It’s shlocky, but tastefully done. Its humor in balance with its mayhem.
In the race for second-place, which is all a sequel in this franchise can hope for, it’s won handily.