Cyberlizard goes to the movies

Lost World (1998)

Starring Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Juliet Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Vince Vaughn, Vanessa Lee Chester

"Something has survived...." Just as Crichton brought out the sequel book to Jurassic Park, Lost World, so Spielberg produced a follow-up film. One reviewer (Martin Amis, no less) actually said that the novel read like a film-maker's instructions. There the similarity ends, however, as the film and the book part company fairly radically, although I am not sure that this was the original intention. Instead, the original novel, Jurassic Park, has been combed through again for the bits that were left out first time.

The plot

Lost World opens with a wealthy English family taking dinner on a beach near "Isla Nublar" (scene of Jurassic Park). Their little girl wanders off and is attacked by a pack of small bird-like reptiles (the dinosaur scavenger Compsognathus). Back in the US, we see a disgraced Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) riding the subway to reach the opulent mansion of John Hammond (Richard Attenborough, still playing the role as a cuddly old man). Malcolm is bitter at the way Hammond's creepy nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) has legally bound and gagged him following the disaster in Jurassic Park, and it transpires that the upstart has also taken away control of the company from the now-bedbound Hammond. Hammond tells Malcolm of the hitherto unmentioned "Site B", an island where in fact the dinosaurs were really produced (as many reviewers have remarked, funny how that was never mentioned in either the first book or the film!). But he senses that his nephew is intending to move quickly, and therefore wants Malcolm to take a team of people to document the dinosaur wildlife first and bring it to the public's notice, thus preventing InGen from any high-handed action. Malcolm moves quickly, but the InGen team, led by and the experienced but obsessive Ahab-like Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite) are close behind them.

The film

First the good news: the dinosaurs are still the primary attraction of the film, and they're bigger and better than ever. Thus we see jeeps and motorcycles weaving in and out of stampeding sauropods, and an adult Triceratops charging its way through a packed camp of humans, wrecking all before it. Stegosauri chase off a perceived threat to their young, and a pterodactyl descends onto a branch. This time we also have two T-Rexes plus their offspring, and the attack of these carnivores on the humans is certainly impressive. The velociraptors are also back, although this time they seem a little more subdued and a little less frightening, which is a pity: not that they don't account for a large portion of human casualties. This time, though, the T-Rexes are definitely the stars.

Unfortunately the plot is a little bit by-the-numbers. Thus we have bad guys (led by archetypal Hollywood upper-class English bad guy) coming in to disturb animals, good guys trying to prevent them, then both good and bad guys stranded on the island and trying to get off alive, etc. About a third of the film is a sort of cinematic long march which allows a large portion of bad guys to get bumped off unpleasantly or quickly by their nemesis in the form of T-Rex, packs of compsognathids or fields of velociraptors. One reviewer also pointed out that Spielberg tried simaltaneously to show dinosaurs protecting their own young, resulting in the director having torn loyalties and thus producing somewhat limp action sequences, notably where the fearsome velociraptors are quite easily repelled by Jeff Goldblum and his team despite the ease with which the reptiles slew most of the hunters. Equally the rampaging T-Rex is brought back to its ship and tranquilised simply by being lured by its infant as a sort of bait, and the dinosaurs live happily ever after (having first devoured a few humans). Don't get me wrong, I love dinosaurs, but again the red-blooded, jaw-snapping aspects of Crichton's book are somewhat sanitised (apart from the scene where Eddie Thornton is bitten in half by the two tyrannosaurids). Speaking of parents and young, we also get lumbered with another Spielberg child (Ian Malcolm's daughter Sarah, played capably by Vanessa Lee Chester), although this one is more of teenage years, and to be fair Crichton stuck in another couple of kids in his book.

The cast themselves play competently enough. Jeff Goldblum is more pithy and wise-cracking this time, while Richard Attenborough plays John Hammond pretty much as before despite his turnaround from capitalist to conservationist. Juliet Moore is attractive but, as the same reviewer quoted above said, annoyingly stupid at some points. Arliss Howard gets top marks for his accent coaching but at the end of the day is something of a caricature, although his bravery is never called into question. Pete Postlethwaite hams it up somewhat as the great white hunter but is convincingly intense. I think the resident palaentologist on Postlethwaite's team (Dr Robert Burke, played by Thomas F Duffy), by the way, is a sly dig at shaggy-haired dinosaur "heretic" Robert Bakker.

Should the film have stuck closer to the book? I think in this case an opportunity was missed, since the actor who played Lewis Dodgson in the first film was willing to reprise his role as the corrupt geneticist, and it would have tied up another loose end from Jurassic Park - unless of course Dodgson is being saved for Jurassic Park III. However, Crichton seems to have lost interest in dinosaurs for the moment, and it's difficult to see where the series could go from here without descending into the law of diminishing returns that plagues so many sequels.

In sum, then, a good film, but not a great film. Go see it for the dinosaurs and you won't be disappointed.

For those of you who are interested, click here for a summary of the main differences between the novel and the film.

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