In Defense Of: THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK

The Lost World: Jurassic Park - source: Universal Pictures

When Jurassic Park trampled onto the scene in 1993, it was a phenomenon. Part horror, part technological warning, and part childhood wonder brought to life, it was the perfect mixture of elements for a summer blockbuster.

It was almost inevitable that its sequel could never live up to the expectations of critics or audiences. And maybe it doesn’t. But The Lost World: Jurassic Park is still an exciting, worthwhile ride that doesn’t deserve its reputation as a lesser entry in the Jurassic saga.

“From capitalist to naturalist in just four years…”

It becomes clear on subsequent viewings of The Lost World that director Steven Spielberg never set out to remake his original film. There are familiar strands: the opening scene gives us another child in danger, an ongoing theme of the series, and the conflict between nature and corporate profit margins runs throughout. The Lost World is darker than its predecessor, though, an adventurous spirit replaced with growing cynicism.

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), owner of the original park, has lost control of his corporation, InGen, and the greedy bastards on its board want to capitalize on its biological attractions. A sister island of the original film’s Isla Nublar is now a functioning ecosystem of wild dinosaurs rife for exploitation. In Jurassic Park, the corporate types were naive and careless, but they weren’t evil. It’s different this time.

Things in this film have been militarized. Humvees are being flown in on helicopters, and if Hammond was upset about the use of guns on the first island, he’d be appalled now. Even our protagonists, a group of photographers and wildlife experts sent to research the behavior of the creatures in order to better protect them, find themselves siding with the dinosaurs over the men of InGen.

source: Universal Pictures

The Lost World is especially underrated in relation to its wonderful cinematography. Janusz Kaminski frames Spielberg’s vision with a thrilling mix of fear and beauty. The image of a T. rex peering through a window will never be boring, but there’s something even more terrifying about its silhouette plastered against the wall of a flimsy tent, the moonlight outside casting a blue glow around its massive skull.

Perhaps Jurassic Park is a piece of popcorn art, whereas The Lost World is just plain fun. But what fun it is. In its most memorable scene, a pair of T. rexes pushes a trailer over the edge of an oceanside cliff, our heroes stuck inside. What follows is Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) crawling precariously over a slowly crackling pane of glass, her watery fate hundreds of feet below, a testament to the power of sound design to unnerve.

“Get this moveable feast under way!”

Fitting the rest of the film, the characters in The Lost World are generally po-faced. This isn’t surprising considering the reprisal of Jeff Goldblum’s Dr. Ian Malcolm, one of the more dour characters in the original Jurassic Park. He’s not as friendly as that film’s Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern) or as wide-eyed as Sam Neill’s Alan Grant. He sets the tone well with his black leather coats and mumbling anger.

The film does fall into one familiar horror trap: upping the body count. This necessitates the inclusion of innocuous droves of background characters, none of whom shine despite attempts at rounding out their personalities. The exception here is Pete Postlethwaite as a big game hunter set on bagging a rex. He chews through some spectacularly villainous dialogue but still stands tough against some of cinema’s scariest beasts.

source: Universal Studios

And yes, the characters do drop like flies. Where the first film was rooted in tension, this revels in the guilty pleasure of watching mercenaries fall to stomping rexes and leaping raptors. Some of these border on uncomfortable (don’t ever kill the dog!), while others are a bit absurd (a man so scared of snakes he runs into the jaws of a rex). This could feel like dumb terror, but when coupled with Kaminski’s rich visuals, it’s a theatrical treat.

“Don’t go into the long grass!”

It isn’t controversial to suggest that Steven Spielberg is a master of film. While The Lost World may be seen as one of his lesser efforts, his cinematic language is undeniable. Even after dozens of viewings, the dangling trailer scene is an action masterclass of conflict escalation and tension.

source: Universal Pictures

Near the film’s first climax (more on that later), the remaining InGen operatives run through the island’s center in hopes of finding refuge on the other side. What they stumble into instead is the territory of velociraptors, the most lethal hunters in the series. As the men cut a large swath through the field, irregular lines of parting grass move in to surround them. The shot is trademark Spielberg horror: simple and chilling.

The only misguided action comes in the form of a T. rex stomping through the streets and sidewalks of San Diego; though even this is thrilling, especially the sudden appearance of an unmanned cargo ship through the ocean fog as it careens toward a dock. From a plotting perspective, the strange epilogue to the main action feels forced and unnecessary. But dammit, is it fun seeing a full-size dinosaur flip cars and smash city buses.

“Life finds a way.”

There was never any reason to expect much from a movie about dinosaurs chasing people. When Jurassic Park turned out to have rich characters, brilliant plotting, and an artistry in its horror, audiences got lucky. If it hadn’t been a direct sequel to such a strong film, perhaps the reputation of The Lost World would have fared better.

Here is a competent, exciting monster movie. If you just want to have fun, that’s what you get. However, if you want to read into the film’s themes about capitalistic militarization or parent/child relationships (the rexes show more affection toward their offspring than Malcolm), a deep-dive is possible, too. Sometimes, that’s what Spielberg is best at.

Ironically, the fourth entry in the series, Jurassic World, chose to ignore The Lost World as part of its canon. They share a number of themes and a surprising amount of imagery. This exclusion probably won’t help The Lost World’s longevity in pop culture, and that’s a shame. It’s a roller coaster of starts and fits that proves as exciting, if not as smart, as its predecessor.

What do you think? Does The Lost World live up to the reputation of the original Jurassic Park? Has it earned its reputation as a lesser sequel?

Graduate of New York University’s Dramatic Writing program. Novelist, short story writer, and podcaster. Batman and Star Wars nerd.
Opinions expressed in our articles are those of the authors and not of the Film Inquiry magazine.