After an absence of nearly four years, Steven Spielberg has returned to the director’s chair, and has chosen to tackle a large, but simple, project. Large in the sense that his original Jurassic Park is still the top grossing film worldwide, leaving some dino-sized shoes to fill. Simple in that he doesn’t have to do much more than recreate the elements of the first film to guarantee solid profits (indeed, by the time you are reading this, the film has already turned a tidy profit in it’s first weekend of release). The result is a movie that’s worth seeing once, but won’t make you want to see it again and again.
Michael Crichton, author of Jurassic Park, wrote its sequel, The Lost World, two years ago. In it, dinosaurs are discovered living in the wild on Isla Sorna, the “Site B” island, where the dinos were raised before being transplanted into the theme park on Isla Nublar. The movie adopts this same premise, and a few situations from the book, but can only be considered a loose adaptation. In fact, the film borrows almost as many scenes from Crichton’s original Jurassic Park as The Lost World.
The central character this time around is Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the chaos mathematician, and the only cast member returning for more than a cameo, from the first film. To give his character more depth, and some motivation to return to the land of the lost, he is given a girlfriend, paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), and a daughter who stows away to the island, Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester). However, if David Koepp (the screenwriter) wanted to add depth to his character, he should have given more consideration to his dialogue, and less to additional characters (of which the film is chock full as it is). Ian’s dialogue is comprised mostly of portentous quips, which, although funny, get repetitive as the film rolls on. Gone are his ruminations on chaos theory, or anything that might serve to differentiate Ian Malcolm from Jeff Goldblum, the actor.
Whereas the first film had a small group of shallow, but identifiable, characters, The Lost World, operating on the theory of “more is better”, has a large number of characters, only a few of which rise from the level of mere dino-fodder to grasp at shallowness. Accompanying Ian, Sarah and Kelly on their fools errand to document dinosaurs in the wild are photographer and environmental radical Nick VanOwen (Vince Vaughn), and gadget-guy Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff). However, there is a second group on Isla Sorna, led by the John Hammond’s nephew, the new head of InGen (Arliss Howard), on a quest to capture the dinos for a new Jurassic Park outside San Diego. Leading the hunt are master hunter Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite), and his second (Peter Stormare). And then there are lots and lots of guys with guns whose sole purpose is to be eaten.
Also in the vein of “more is better”, but this time on the plus side, are the dinosaurs. Technology has advanced a bit in the four years since Jurassic Park, and the result is more, and better, dinos. The computer generated creatures are slightly more defined than in the first film, but the real improvements have come in Stan Winston’s animatronic dinosaurs. In the first film they were good fakes, bridging the gaps between the CGI scenes. In the Lost World, they could (but with plenty of CGI shots, don’t have to) carry the film on their own.
However, by bringing back more characters and more dinosaurs, Steven Spielberg has crowded out the details that enlivened the first film. Gone are the scientific ruminations on chaos theory, dinosaur behavior, and dino DNA. Even the dinosaurs seem to exhibit less personality than the first film. The T. Rexes, and especially the raptors, seem more of a generic menace than fleshed out creatures. Only the new chicken-sized Procompsognathus (aka Compys) have developed behavior and personality.
All of this would be moot as long as the film generates the necessary thrills. In the film’s best sequence, involving the T. Rexes, you are so drawn into the suspense that it doesn’t really matter that the dinosaurs mysteriously disappear, only to reappear and inexpicably vanish again. However in the film’s lesser scenes, the heavy hand of the writer appears more obvious. You can’t help but notice that the characters do incredibly stupid things (like wander off alone and far away into dino-infested woods), and you can’t help but wince when a character’s briefly mentioned talent is laboriously put to use during the raptor attack. The film’s final scenes lack the impact they should have had, as the film lapses into parody (it does provide several very humorous scenes, just not the final punch the film needed).
Steven Spielberg’s directoral skills seemed to be on autopilot during this production. He has proven many times in the past that he can direct a great action scene. The action scenes in the Lost World are good, but never great. Perhaps the pressure to do more than the first film led him to concentrate on adding more dinos and more characters, but overlooking the details that have enhanced his best work. Or perhaps he was simply rusty, using the Lost World to rehone his skills before moving on to Amistad and Saving Private Ryan. Whatever the case, there’s a spark missing. Although the film has more of nearly everything than its predecessor, somehow the result is less.