Tuesday, July 7, 2015

They Don't Move In Herds

Year: 1997
Director: Steven Spielberg
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn
Run Time: 2 hours 9 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG -13

In between the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park in 1993 and The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997, two very important things happened: 1) Jurassic Park became the highest grossing film worldwide, and 2) Schindler’s List. Both of these explain, in turn, exactly why The Lost World exists and why it’s not so great.

Much like Scream 3, which I also happened to review recently, The Lost World is a sequel helmed by an auteur that had, quite frankly, checked out. Spielberg had already mentally moved on to his, arty, Important phase and was only directing the film out of a beleaguered sense of commitment to the fact that – if the franchise had to be screwed up, it might as well be by him.

It’s the popcorn movie version of senioritis.

The Lost World is helmed by returning screw-up Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the rock star mathematician – an oxymoron which could only exist in a Crichton novel. In a scene that’s clunkily written and contradictorily sequelly in the most threadbare, irritating way possible, he learns from the defamed billionaire John Hammond (a palpably bored Richard Attenborough) that not only is there another island of dinosaurs (on which the monstrous creatures have roamed free for four years, only recently revealing themselves by attacking a young Camilla Belle in a desperate attempt to prevent her from remaking When a Stranger Calls), but his girlfriend Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) is already there, part of a crack team that Hammond has put together to study these creatures in the wild.

When Malcolm joins the team along with Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) and Dead Guy (Dino Meat), he only does so to rescue Sarah and get the hell out of there. Unbeknownst to him, his daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) has snuck along for the ride because she feels neglected. The lesson here is the becoming an Important Filmmaker does not make the daddy issues go away.

Once on the island, Ian and the team discover that Hammond’s company InGen, which has been taken over by his nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard), is leading a safari team to capture the animals and take them to the mainland and create a zoo, because that idea worked so well the first time. So it’s Good Science vs. Bad Capitalism until Big Scary Monsters get pissed and start eating everything that moves, leading the groups to band together in an attempt to escape the island intact.

Also, Sarah is studying the parenting habits of T-Rexes because dinosaurs can have daddy issues too.

The Lost World is to Jurassic Park as a paper cut is to an axe wound. It’s much shallower, less visually interesting, and you can make a big deal about it if you feel like it, but it’s just not the same. It’s an utterly flat film. Where the original comes alive and crackles with tension at nearly every second past the hour mark, The Lost World squelches along, reading a newspaper, pausing only at intervals to look up and remember that it’s supposed to be doing something and ramp up the tension once more.

The film is wracked with a profound sense of weariness, going through the motions without ever challenging itself to be something more than a routine popcorn pic, save for two sequences. One of these sequences I have the profound and annoying pleasure of being able to name drop: My father was the film’s liaison from Fleetwood, the company which provided the mobile home that hangs off the cliff in the only truly memorable scene. So you’re welcome. Without him the film would have nothing to recommend itself save a raptor attack so short it could buy ad time on the Super Bowl without breaking the bank.

Industry jokes always kill in these reviews, you’re welcome.

Of course, John Williams has the audacity to score all of this – even the pulse-pounding, genuinely thrilling RV sequence – with some hideously limp, sanctimoniously light bongo music. It is perhaps the single worst tune the man has ever composed, and I’m counting any particularly on-key flatulence. What the film hasn’t already torn to shreds in terms of tension, characters (Ian Malcolm’s behavioral traits are put in a blender and almost completely rearranged for this film), and logic (Did I not mention that they bring a T-Rex to San Diego? Well, they bring a T-Rex to San Diego), are blasted into smithereens by this woeful, dreadful score and flushed straight down the U-bend.

With that out of my system, it must be said that, for all my complaining, this film is only truly bad by the high standards set by Jurassic Park. Except for that John Williams score. Screw that John Williams score and the whimsical island mule it rode in on. It’s a disappointment that The Lost World is nothing more than a popcorn movie, but it’s reasonably diverting and at the very least, it’s not as woefully idiotic as Jurassic World.

Again the film is well shot (this time by long-time Spielberg compatriot/best friend bracelet-sharer Janusz Kaminski), with well placed shafts of lights delicately playing amidst the dusky forest. Again the dinosaurs are well realized, though none have the sheer weight and terror provided by pre-Schindler Spielberg’s keen direction. Only the effects on the raptors are in any way improved from Stan Winston’s master class in animatronics.

And finally we get some goddamn stegosauruses!

The thing about The Lost World is that it’s outrageously uneven, which is why this lumpy review is jerking from place to place like a scooter on a gravel driveway. There’s a dollop of cheery humor here, a dash of undercooked gore there… It’s like Spielberg got out the Jurassic Park mix packets and was busy whisking the ingredients together in the bowl when he noticed the he’d accidentally thrown away the box with the instructions on it.

There’s some jabs at a theme in the beginning (Malcolm is only a good boyfriend/father when he can make dramatic gestures, not in the everyday things) that get completely lost by the finale (a T-Rex visits a swimming pool!), the acting is largely decent but totally forgettable (Moore hasn’t quite yet settled into her talents, and Chester is at least more palatable than the Murphy siblings), and the action is shallow but present.

The most I can say about The Lost World is that it’s there, and I don’t begrudge it of that. It’s an absolutely workable film and sometimes that’s all a film is. It’s not awful. It’s not great. It’s not Spielberg, that’s for darn sure. And that’s why it’s so painful to watch, despite its blandly pleasant qualities. The loss of what could have been is so plainly, palpably there, throbbing behind the screen.

Oh well, at least they never made any more of these.

Ah. Damn.

TL;DR: The Lost World: Jurassic Park is a disappointment after the high standards set by the first film.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 1185
Reviews In This Series
Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1997)
Jurassic Park III (Johnston, 2001)
Jurassic World (Trevorrow, 2015)

2 comments:

  1. Extra generous, B, extra generous.

    People get excited about Kaminski, and sure, why not, and the exteriors on Isla Dorna and particularly the night scenes are pretty, but the interiors in America indulge in my least favorite photographic picadillo, giant bay windows lit to appear as if outside an atomic war of some kind is happening. Also, War of the Worlds is hilariously ugly half the time in its fealty to the God of graininess. Plus, he and Spielberg have a lot to answer for with that shutter angle trickery from Saving Private Ryan, though at least it did lead to The Descent.

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    1. Oh, please don't mistake this for myopic Kaminski love. There's some powerful ugly composite shooting up in the trees and whatnot. There's just nothing I hate more than that John Williams score, so everything else I feel for the film comes out muted.

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