The first Jurassic Park was a visual miracle even though it started with ideas it didn’t have the courage to see through to the end. The visuals were so good in fact that they stimulated even the most absurd action sequences with a pulse. Yes, the characters dissolved into stock action cliches, but it has to be admitted that Steven Spielberg and his computer effects people ran away with the show and never thought to look back.
Its sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, is even more brilliant to look at. The dinosaurs created in computers seem more ready than ever to leap out from behind the screen, onto our laps with their jaws around our heads like a vice. They have transcended design and exist as natural beings, reincarnated by God.
Consider the scene where the Tyrannosaurus-Rex stomps through San Diego and headbutts a bus. The road cracks beneath him. He takes a bite out of a traffic light and the post waves and ripples like ribbon. In a seamless marriage of visual and practical effects, he slams into the bus and the bus folds inwards like paper, propelling its passengers out the other window. Not once during this entire sequence do we question the believability of an actual T-Rex marching and crushing through an urban street.
Now, if only the same level of skill had been brought to the screenplay. Once again, Spielberg has left his story and characters behind in favour of high-margin profit. Dinosaurs sell, he knows. So do visual effects. So he packs as much of both into this movie. What he also packs in are characters, plenty of them, but they don’t exist to marvel at the dinosaurs, nor do they do or say anything of any real significance. They exist primarily to be chased, and occasionally eaten by the monsters. At one point a man is trampled to death, but instead of becoming food, he is left dead and broken in a muddy footprint so that the dinosaur can continue chasing other pointless characters.
It’s astounding that a group of sentient, seemingly intelligent adults can’t come together to make the screenplay work. This is because no one in the writing department (David Koepp) thought to give them anything to work with. Koepp starts out with a simple basic premise: John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), the self-preserving entrepreneur from the first film, has sent a team of researchers to an island that hosts dinosaurs without cages or fences. One of the team members is Sarah (Julianne Moore), who loves animals and is so awestruck by these prehistoric creatures she forgets to bring along a notepad and a pen to record observations.
What a coincidence — Sarah’s boyfriend is Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). Ian is enraged by the news. How dare John send my girlfriend to this strange, perilous island alone?! “This isn’t a research mission”, He warns John. “It’s a rescue operation”.
And that’s it. The plot engages autopilot from there and embarks on a series of adventures fraught with danger and death and dinosaur chases as Ian chomps through the scenery trying to get Sarah home. Halfway through the film a team of big game hunters arrives, led by the fully capable but under-utlilised Pete Postlethwaite. They want to capture dinosaurs for the new San Diego amusement park, but we all know they’re really there to give the good guys something to disapprove of.
There are some smart characters, like Ian, who knows he shouldn’t be there and is desperate to leave. Others are not so quick, like Sarah and the fellow who runs the San Diego zoo. Never do they grasp the sheer force of their surroundings; at any point they seem fully aware that they are not among dinosaurs, but are in a movie about dinosaurs. They lack the ability to react.
Spielberg has exercised very efficiently that he doesn’t always see the flesh behind the skin. With some of his greater works he has showcased his mastery at fishing out the finer details in an otherwise grand, bombastic scheme. What a tragic hero Captain Miller was in Saving Private Ryan (1998). Abraham Lincoln was made into a humble but determined man in 2012’s Lincoln. Even Indiana Jones was multi-faceted by taking on the double persona of a superhero. What kind of pedestal does Ian Malcolm have to climb on? Does he not feel frail in the company of such icons? Judging from The Lost World, I’d say not. He’s more than content to run around with dinosaurs in the dark, never knowing where he’s going, never bothering about being anything more. For him, life is all about the chase.
Best Moment | The visual effects.
Worst Moment | The gymnastics.