Few films have crushed my soul quite like Steven Spielberg’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park. As the sequel to one of the greatest blockbusters ever produced, disappointment was bound to rear its ugly head. Yet, upon its release way back in May of 1997, after so much waiting and fantasizing, the highly anticipated sequel hit theaters with an enormous thud.
That’s it? We’ve waited four years for that?
Oh sure, the film made money. After posting record opening weekend numbers ($92.7M over the four-day Memorial holiday — yes, it was a long time ago), The Lost World managed to accrue $229M in the United States and $389M abroad for $618M worldwide. Not a tiny figure, mind you, but significantly less than the $912M worldwide tally of its predecessor. The pic dipped -52% in its sophomore frame and all but vanished from theaters at the beginning of October. Jurassic Park, for comparison’s sake, dipped 18.2% in its second week and only saw a decline larger than 30% in December — oh, and it didn’t leave theaters until October of the following year.
I remember the lead-up to the opening weekend. That exciting Super Bowl teaser set to Hans Zimmer’s Backdraft (see below). Dinosaurs graced magazine covers, candy bars, and soda cans. Hell, I remember ditching an early morning class just so I could get a peek of my movie theater marquee where the words THE LOST WORLD stood tall atop the likes of Father’s Day, The Fifth Element, Breakdown, and Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. No other film needed to exist at that point in time. Jurassic Park 2 was all the rage.
And then it wasn’t. No one was really upset with Spielberg’s follow-up. After my first showing, the crowd reaction was just sort of … meh. Everyone quietly exited theaters and went about their day. The sequel remained atop the box office charts for another week and was quickly taken down by Con Air. In fact, for a summer that promised the greatest dinosaur adventure of all time, it was ultimately aliens that ruled the day, as Men in Black made the biggest pop cultural imprint when it landed in July. (1997 was a really disappointing summer movie season, kids. Batman & Robin, Speed 2: Cruise Control, Air Force One … even MIB wasn’t worth all the hype, even if it was still kind of fun.)
When Jurassic Park came out in 1993, I saw it eight times and would’ve gone more if I had been old enough to drive. On our first go, my family waited in line for over an hour to catch it at the now-defunct Sutter Theater in Yuba City, California. The line ran all the way down the block. As we made our way inside, we passed another theater where I snuck a peek and saw the bit where Laura Dern’s character gets attacked by a raptor — you could hear screams and cheers all over the building. It was awesome. I even remember the guy in front of me turning to ask if I could see the screen okay. Once the lights dimmed, the audience laughed, screamed, jumped, and applauded for two hours straight. My parents loved the film so much we went again the following weekend. (Each visit resulted in a calamity. On the first, my little brother threw up all over the car. On the second, we got locked out of our house and had to call the police to help us inside — they broke a window and pushed me inside. Good times!) I was so enamored by the film that I ran out and grabbed the soundtrack, trading cards, magazines, posters — anything that had anything to do with Jurassic Park.
The film didn’t hit VHS until October 4, 1994, and I counted down each and every day until it was in my fingertips. Even then, I had to work on a math assignment before I could sit down and view Spielberg’s masterpiece in all of its glory on our 40-inch TV. The point I’m making is that everything in 1993 revolved around Jurassic Park. It achieved milestones in special FX and practically changed the way we view cinema; it broke box office records, reaffirmed Spielberg as the greatest living director of our time, and rekindled our love affair with dinosaurs.
By contrast, The Lost World was simply another film released in 1997. It wasn’t terrible, but just not what anyone hoped it would be. Like Jaws 2 before it, The Lost World suffers from being a good sequel to one of the greatest films ever made.
Removed from the hype, The Lost World actually works really well as a fun, albeit lazy, blockbuster. Comparisons to Jaws 2 feel appropriate, as both films dutifully get the job done. No more. No less. And neither makes a strong argument for existing beyond dollars and cents. With The Lost World, you keep waiting for that moment that makes you go, “Oh, that’s why they made this movie!” Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp come close with a climax set in San Diego involving a rampaging Tyrannosaurus rex, a scene that effectively relocates the action to the mainland — where the story should have gone all along, if you ask me — but the situation is resolved rather quickly; and doesn’t lead to anything meaningful enough to propel the Jurassic saga forward.
That said, I still think The Lost World is the best of the Jurassic Park sequels, namely Jurassic Park III, Jurassic World, and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. That may seem like faint praise. depending on how much you like/dislike the other films, but Spielberg’s sequel stands out from the pack for a couple of reasons.
While still mostly Spielberg-on-cruise-control, The Lost World looks as good as any of the back half of the director’s catalog of films. Janusz Kamiński’s superb cinematography really pops, particularly compared to the original Jurassic Park. An early scene in the film has Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) talking with Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard), and while the dialogue is mostly expository, Spielberg keeps it interesting with his blocking, lighting and a subtle camera move that shrinks our hero whilst simultaneously enlarging our antagonist:
The darker aesthetic works surprisingly well. I’ve always loved the look of the “high hide” against the night sky just before the big T-rex bit. The entire aesthetic of the scene creates an ominous feeling of dread, and when you hear that first roar, it takes a good deal to remain calm — we’ve seen this all before, but this feels scarier, meaner and more real:
One of my favorite scenes in the entire series is the “high grass” sequence in which a group of survivors are attacked by velociraptors in a large field. It’s a magnificent moment, expertly shot, packed with terror, violence and just the right amount of mayhem. The tail thrashing is a stroke of genius; and I love how we never get a clean shot of the animals or the carnage they unleash. We needed more of this.
Spielberg begins the scene with a birds eye view of the men running into the grass. From our vantage point, they might as well be jumping into the ocean. There’s simply no where for them to go once they’ve entered Raptor Country. A tracking shot reveals a pair of Raptors as they emerge from the grass to inspect their prey. Then, another birds-eye view where we see several raptors closing in on all sides. One by one, each man falls before the money shot: a Raptor lets out its signature roar and leaps onto a victim. It’s a thing of beauty. Kamiński’s dark shadows render the visuals like a nightmare.
Spielberg wastes little time getting to the dinosaur mayhem this time around. Personally, I wish he would have stuck closer to Michael Crichton’s novel and allowed Malcom’s team to study the animals for a time before jumping into the action. There’s very little wonder to be had in the sequel, and the dinosaurs are mostly designed as movie monsters with one purpose: eating people. That said, the eating people parts are executed extremely well.
Case in point, the best scene of the entire film in which Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) and Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) try to remain calm and silent in the face of an angry Tyrannosaur that has stuck its nose in their tent. John Williams’ music is so great, as is the sound design. Naturally, the tension gives way to full-on action as a nearby onlooker freaks out and starts a wild chase through the jungle. This is dinosaur mayhem at its best. (The tongue bit, ripped from the first novel, is a great addition.)
I’ve always loved the scene where Sarah lands on a glass window above the ocean. Her every move creates more cracks in the glass, giving her very little time to reach safety.
There’s also the terrific stampede scene in which an InGen team rides motorcycles and jeeps through a dinosaur stampede.
Of course, your enjoyment of The Lost World might come down to what you think of the finale. Spielberg unleashes a T-Rex on San Diego (in confusing fashion, mind you — how did it eat the crew?) and allows him to roam free down a suburban street without so much as a police car in pursuit. Spielberg goes for comedy rather than thrills and the results are mixed, but still well-executed and mostly fun. My biggest gripe with this whole ending is that he doesn’t push the idea far enough. Really, The Lost World should have ended the way Fallen Kingdom did — with dinosaurs now on the mainland. When that ship hit the dock, Jurassic Park should have literally leaped off the ship and run amok through San Diego.
Maybe some of the animals are captured while others escape, which would have set up the sequel we’d be getting this summer two decades earlier — and moved the franchise in an interesting direction.
I have to highlight the big raptor attack finale as well. Yes, it’s basically just an echo of the original’s finale, and yes, it features one of the worst moments ever put on film (Kelly using gymnastics to kill a Raptor), but there’s still plenty to admire in scene as a whole. Plus, it has the only good scare of the entire movie.
The Lost World has an absurdly talented cast at its disposal, namely Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, Pete Postlethwaite, Vanessa Lee Chester, Arliss Howard, and Peter Stormare. And while they’re not given nearly enough to do (only Postlethwaite is given any kind of an interesting character arc), they still manage to leave a mark in their own unique way. Though, I found it curious that Spielberg didn’t give Vaughn a death scene, particularly since he doesn’t appear in the third act. We follow the man through this long, drawn-out scene where he navigates an abandoned building in search of communications equipment and essentially makes a phone call. I vividly remember audience members bracing themselves for some sort of jump scare and when it didn’t happen, a lot of tension just sort of floated out of the theater. It was weird.
Admittedly, when I first heard John Williams’ score for The Lost World I was underwhelmed. I expected big, heroic themes on par with those in Jurassic Park. Instead, he delivered something darker and more abstract. Quiet jungle rhythms are offset by occasional bursts of orchestra. All these years later, I’m a fan.
Ultimately, even Spielberg’s lesser efforts are better than many movies of the modern era. The Lost World is no exception.
I do enjoy the Jurassic World films to a certain degree but tend to lump them with the Fast and Furious franchise and the Marvel Cinematic Universe as quality productions that don’t go beyond expectations. You want dinosaurs, cars, or superheroes? Here you go. Just don’t expect anything too great.
The Lost World, for all of its flaws, still bears the marks of a talented filmmaker who is at least 85% invested in the product. From start to finish, it delivers the dinosaur mayhem we all wanted and occasionally rises above the bar to give us something unique. This is a film Spielberg clearly felt pressured to make, and he does an admirable job crafting an engaging product, even if he’s mostly connecting the dots.
Personally, I think he should have gone the opposite way. Rather than darker, meaner, scarier, he should have made a film that highlighted the positive characteristics of these glorious animals. He takes that initial step by shaping The Lost World around parents and their offspring, which extends to the T-Rex family, but mostly uses it as a third-act plot device. Imagine if Spielberg had really taken the time to embellish these animals and allowed us to see how they behaved in their natural habitat — the good, the bad, and the ugly — and then suddenly unleashed them upon the world.
That would’ve been an adventure worth taking.