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"The Lost World: Jurassic Park 2" (Universal 1997) - Fancy Tricks Don't Overcome Lack of Substance

A critical review of "The Lost World - Jurassic Park 2" and it's producer, Steven Spielberg.

Part of the advertisement for "The Lost World" reads, " Something has survived.". With an opening weekend of over $69 million at the box office, it would seem that what has survived is Steven Spielberg's knack for drawing record audiences. And that, regrettably, is all.

With a budget of $73 million, "The Lost World" has nearly made its money back in the first weekend. Once again, movie goers by the millions have been drawn in by the promise of movie dinosaurs. In bestselling fashion, Michael Crichton cashed in on the almost universal appeal of the 'terrible lizards' with Jurassic Park the novel (1990). The science of the novel was exciting, the situations intense, the characters, secondary.

In 1993, Steven Spielberg gave us the film version of the story. The science was exciting, the situations intense, the characters, secondary. The film was all that the novel had been, and a little more. The introduction of computer-generated images (CGI) where we would expect stop-motion animated models was revolutionary. We had seen computer imaging in film before, but never with such inspired application or with such realism. "Jurassic Park" (Universal, 1993) showed us CGI interacting with live action figures and settings in a way that made them seem utterly real.

People flocked to "Jurassic Park" in record numbers. To date it has earned--at the box office and on video--nearly $1 billion. Will "The Lost World" do as well? No. Sequels rarely do the same business. It will do well. It will outsell many of its summer release competition. Sadly, it will not deliver what audiences really crave. It gives us a taste of what we came for but, ultimately, cheats us of our ticket price.

When Michael Crichton's novel, The Lost World, appeared in late 1995, it became obvious that it had been written more as a sequel to the film than to the original novel. Ian Malcolm, chaos mathematician, was back--despite having died at the end of Jurassic Park. This was a blatant setup for the film sequel, giving us back Jeff Goldblum, who played the most interesting character in Jurassic Park, the film.

"The Lost World" is easily the weakest Steven Spielberg effort so far. It has none of the elements that made Jurassic Park, and most of his previous films, so entertaining. It has much of what makes the current fascination with technology and action in film so distasteful--and, ultimately, damaging to film as art.

"Jurassic Park" used filmic language, smooth continuity editing, layers of action and dialogue, a frame filled with detail and information, subtle and creative use of CGI and animatronics. "The Lost World" misuses narrative technique at every turn. The plot setup is dull. The film takes forever to get moving, opting to get cameo appearances (Joseph Mazzello and Arianna Richards as Tim and Lex, and Sir Richard Attenborough as John Hammond) out of the way before settling into a 'story'.

Characters here are even shallower than in "Jurassic Park." Ian Malcolm mumbles confusedly thorough the entire show, thinking out loud and showing none of the energy and determination that originally made him such a formidable opponent of the plans of billionaire crack-pot, John Hammond. Here, he seems lost and without motivation. He reacts with apathy where, before, he would have acted with decisiveness.

Sarah Harding, played capably by Julianne Moore, assures Malcolm that she doesn't need him to come to her rescue. Yet, she is frequently rescued by him. Either she is a strong, independent character, or she isn't. "The Lost World" seems unable to decide.

If you saw "Jurassic Park," you probably liked the character of Muldoon, the gamekeeper, played with straight-ahead machismo by Bob Peck. His death by raptor attack was one of the stronger moments of the film, proving the resourcefulness and cunning of the vicious animals. With plausibility stretched to the breaking point, "The Lost World" could not very easily resurrect Muldoon the way the novel had Ian Malcolm. No problem. It gives us a new character, a completely superfluous character, who is a carbon copy. Roland Tembo, big game hunter, played by Pete Postlethwaite, has all of the hardware, but none of the strength or allure.

The T-Rex attack of "Jurassic Park" is one of the most intense scenes in film--best viewed from the edge of the seat. But the T-Rex is so much overused in "The Lost World" as to become comedic. All the terror and fascination is drained from the appearances of the awesome creature. Alfred Hitchcock set up suspense by telling us what was gong to happen but not when it would. In "The Lost World", Spielberg acknowledges that we know a T-Rex attack is imminent, and then, time after time, tells us exactly when it is coming. There is no suspense here, only gore.

This leads us to one of "The Lost World"'s greatest errors. Computer-generated imaging is a terrific tool for film makers. Creatively employed, it can place characters in impossible environments, or in the company of fantastic creatures. There is no question that "The Lost World" had to use CGI--but that it would over-use it was unfortunate. The temptation was strong, and the makers gave in. To paraphrase Ian Malcolm, they were so preoccupied with whether they could, they didn't stop to think if they should. Over-use of the technology has robbed "The Lost World" of its subtlety and creativity. There is no suspense in the appearance of a magnificent animal, just a feeling of tedium brought on by the reappearance of yet another flashy cinematic trick.

Most significant of the film's shortfalls is the apparent absence of its director. Perhaps the greatest disappointment, is the non-Spielberg flavour of the film. Gone are the wonderfully complex, but smooth movements of the camera and characters. Cutting seems to do all the work. Gone are the rich textural detail of visual and auditory motifs; the patterns that recur linking character and plot with setting. The only element that seems to suggest that Spielberg had any involvement here is his typical theme of the absent father. Ian Malcolm has been so distorted (not developed) as a character, that he has swapped his cynicism and philosophy for haltingly insincere efforts at parenting and partnering. So prevalent is this theme that even the T-Rex father acts the concerned parent!

If Steven Spielberg is going to put his name on it, he should at least leave more of his unique mark there. He has always been associated with the slick, tidy, exciting product that Hollywood makes so well. The best known of his generation of studio film makers, he has created such giants of commercial film as "Jaws" (1975), "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" (1977) and, of course, "Jurassic Park" (1993). He can also render the other variety of Hollywood movie: the intimate character-driven story, i.e., E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982), The Colour Purple (1985), and Schindler's List (1993). Has he lost his touch, or has the machinery of his own career begun to run out of his control? Was it the lure of money that brought him to "The Lost World"?

Whatever the reasons for its failure, "The Lost World" is an interesting artifact of Hollywood movie manufacturing. It is like so much fast food; slick production and clever packaging that leaves only an emptiness and feeling of 'Why did I bother?'


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