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16 April 2013

VIOLENCE AND TECHNOLOGY - NOT GOOD BEDFELLOWS

At one point, I suggested on this very blog that 1997's The Lost World: Jurassic Park was "readily the worst thing [Steven Spielberg] has ever made". I will now freely admit that I was speaking those words from a position of fearless intellectual dishonesty: until re-watching it for this review, I had not actually seen The Lost World since the Saturday of its opening weekend in the United States, which would have been 24 May, 1997. That's obviously too big a gap to go around making claims that grandiose, and I shouldn't have done it, and I am very sorry about being that sneaky to my readers. Anyway, I've re-watched the movie now, almost 16 whole years later - more than half of my lifetime - and I am now equipped to make a more considered, fairer, and equitable judgment.

The Lost World is readily the worst thing Steven Spielberg has ever made.

This has a whole lot to do with its sinfully awful screenplay, and we'll get there, but I cannot and will not let Spielberg off the hook by dumping all of the shit in David Koepp's backyard. Four years after using his godlike talents for keeping the pacing high and the thrills electrifying to make Jurassic Park one of the best, if not the best popcorn movie of the 1990s, Spielberg certainly should have known a thing or two about how to spice up a sometimes dodgy script; Jurassic Park is one of the all-time best case studies in how really confident, breezy filmmaking can compensate for continuity errors, plot holes, and thin-to-nonexistent characters, and while I'm certain that The Lost World wasn't ever going to match that film, it probably didn't have to be quite this bad. What happened, of course, was that the only movie Spielberg directed in between the two Jurassic Parks (the gap preceding The Lost World was, though not by a huge margin, the longest break in the director's career) was Schindler's List, and even the most cursory, sidelong glance at his filmography proves that film was the great dividing line, after which Spielberg just plain lost interest in making glitzy, untroubled populist adventure movies like he did so well.

I'll put it plainly: The Lost World was directed by a man who didn't want to direct it. According to some versions of the story I've heard, he only did it because he felt bad about denying audiences the sequel to E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial that they apparently wanted, and felt much less conflicted about making his own follow-up to his other highest-grossing film of all time. According to the other version, he was so aghast at the Jaws sequels, he didn't want to give anybody else the chance to ruin one of his franchises. The "If somebody has to fuck it up, it might as well be me" line of reasoning.

Either way, we end up at the same point: a movie entirely devoid of the inspiration that led to the giddy matinee heights of Jurassic Park, to say nothing at all of the virtually perfect cinematic energy of Jaws or Raiders of the Lost Ark. For many years, I was in the habit of claiming that there were only two shots in The Lost World that reached the same level of prickly-hairs-on-the-neck genre film excellence of the first movie: the camera pointing down through a trailer hanging off the edge of a cliff, and a high angle of velociraptors pressing through a field of tall grass in implacable straight lines, like sharks cutting through water and leaving a wake. I'm willing to upgrade that a bit: in fact, the entirety of the sequence where the trailer is hanging precariously over the void is pretty fantastic filmmaking, with some fairly unbearable tension in the editing and a particularly urgent John Williams cue driving it forward. But that's still only two moments in a fairly lengthy movie where the Spielberg capable of the raptors in the kitchen scene, or the T-rex attacking the jeep scene, or the jeep falling through the tree scene in the first movie appears to have shown up on set.

Everything else is utterly tepid, poorly-paced thrills that aren't in the least bit exciting due to shoddy management, and given the illusion of class by Janusz Kaminski's downright brilliant nighttime photography (this was the first color film he and Spielberg collaborated on). And even that hasn't aged well: there's not much in the lighting that Kaminski didn't repeat, better, in War of the Worlds.

All of which is enough to make the film a massive disappointment, though the worst part of the direction is that it thus permits Koepp's truly disastrous screenplay to flourish unabated. Michael Crichton's 1995 novel was a deeply ineffective sequel to his already overbaked 1990 Jurassic Park, and was far too consciously attempting to follow-up the 1993 movie; but it is better (and more cinematic!) in every regard than the extremely free adaptation that Koepp cranked out. Both spring from the same dubiously continuity-bending idea that Isla Nublar, home to Jurassic Park itself, was just the showroom for the armies of dinosaurs being bred at InGen's industrial facility "Site B" on Isla Sorna. For reasons that are frankly a bit foggy, it makes some kind of sense for cuddly capitalist-turned-activist John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) to send Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the most outspoken survivor of the original incident, to Sorna as part of a recon team to document the dinosaur ecosystem now flourishing there, despite being a mathematician and not, y'know, a survivalist, or dino expert. But it's still something to be thankful for, because Malcolm's acerbic sarcasm is frequently the only thing that makes the bland, connect-the-dots storytelling of the first hour palatable. Anyway, what convinces Malcolm is the discovery that his girlfriend, Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore, who tries but can do nothing with her character) is already on the island, so he and Hammond's other hand-picked adventurers - documentary filmmaker Nick Van Own (Vince Vaughn) and equipment engineer Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff) - head off with an unexpected stowaway in tow, Malcolm's daughter Kelly Curtis (Vanessa Lee Chester). Because it couldn't be a Spielberg film if there wasn't a daddy issue to be resolved in the very embrace of death.

Meanwhile, InGen's craven new CEO, Hammond's nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard), has taken his own mission to Sorna: a safari to capture as many animals as possible and bring them back to San Diego to establish a new park there. It's this horribly ill-advised plan that Hammond wants to forestall, and the good guys very quickly switch gears to prevent the removal of dinosaurs, matching wills with the formidable game hunter Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite) and ultimately destroying every last bit of equipment on the island that could save anybody; thus it's time for a trek into the very dangerous interior, where the old InGen facilities are still operational, to radio for help.

All these years later, it no longer counts as a cunning insight to point out that The Lost World has its sides mixed up: the assigned bad guys are certainly unpleasant, venal people (though Spielberg can't bring himself to frame Tembo as a villain, and Postlethwaite gives what is by far the most subtle and interesting performance in the movie), but the assigned good guys are far, far worse. There's not a single human death in the film that isn't ultimately their fault, either because of deliberate tampering, or straight-up, bone-headed stupidity.

The "heroes" in The Lost World are fucking idiots. There's no other way to put it. The biggest idiot of all, by a huge margin, is Harding, who proudly describes her years of experience as a survivalist and naturalist, seconds before putting her hands all over a juvenile stegosaurus whose multi-ton parents are literally just yards away. Or feebly objecting to Van Owen's attempts to bring an injured juvenile tyrannosaur back to their camp for treatment by saying "You're nuts" and helping him get it into the jeep. Because seasoned nature experts always make a point of getting their scent on an infant animal before abducting it from its parents, the largest carnivores in the local ecosystem. Van Own himself, ultimately revealed as a professional eco-terrorist, is almost as dumb, proudly stealing the bullets out of Tembo's rifle after things have gone to hell and the animals have become an immediate threat - and it's specifically because Tembo then tranquilises, rather than kills, a T-Rex, that InGen decides to bring the animal to San Diego, setting up the last run of human deaths.

Even the basic underpinning of the protagonists' motivation doesn't hold up. Hammond is turned naturalist now; Van Owen is an ecology lifer; Harding passionately explains how important it is to leave the animals and their environment unmolested. The clear implication is that the purposes of conservation demand that the animals be left in peace - the movie ends with a robust, hammy speech to that effect, with sun-dappled shots of dinosaurs romping - but it should be fairly obvious that any proper conservationist would be unspeakably horrified by the idea of genetic monsters (these aren't real dinosaurs, don't forget, but dino-frog hybrids) being dropped into an isolated Pacific ecosystem. The movie has the balls to put basically that argument (these aren't real animals, they're genetic experiments and InGen's property) in the mouth of its most dislikable character, perhaps trying to cut it off at the knees, but just because a nasty person acts out of venal motivations, it doesn't follow that people opposed to him will be any more in the right. Frankly, Malcolm is the only person in the whole cast with a lick of sense, and then only in the beginning, during his "nuke the site from orbit" phase.

If Koepp was a craftier writer, or Spielberg less of a populist, I'd almost think they were up to some satire here, poking fun of Hollywood blockbuster tropes by presenting inept, worthless heroes in all the glowing tones of any matinee idol, but no: I think Koepp was just being an idiot and Spielberg didn't give a shit, too busily daydreaming about his return to real grown-up storytelling with that fall's Amistad. There's no detectable irony anywhere in The Lost World, only a vague, lazy contempt.

Anyway, the story is absolutely nothing, just shuffling characters around to put them in the way of rampaging dinos, until the San Diego climax, where it becomes contemptibly stupid and broad, a clumsy King Kong homage that doesn't work. At least Spielberg wakes up; the San Diego scenes (which are, after all, the only ones that aren't basically copied from the first movie) have more of a puckish sense of humor and high spirit than anything else in the movie, and coming after endless scenes of chases, low-impact tension, and raptors being knocked out by the power of gymnastics, some humor and high spirits are greatly appreciated.

The one thing that might have possibly saved this: how about spectacle? Jurassic Park, after all, covered up a lot of its sins with the magic of ohmigod dinosaurs!!!!, and one could hope that The Lost World would follow suit. It doesn't, for at least a couple of reasons; the first is obviously that it's not novel any more. But with 20 years having done nothing to make Jurassic Park less fun to watch, it can't be solely that. It's perhaps the case that the dino CGI isn't quite as good here (the first scene of stegosauruses, plainly the movie's big "ooh, new dinos!" moment, looks appalling), but for the most part the filmmakers copy the same tricks of rain, murky interiors, and nighttime shooting, to mostly the same effect. And if the CGI isn't 100% up to par, the new film's animatronics are arguably better: the shot of a T-Rex poking its head into a tent looks far better than any Rex close-ups in the first movie.

The bigger reason I've already suggested: Spielberg didn't care. In the first movie, the soaring John Williams music, coupled with the director's careful positioning of the camera in a particularly worshipful position, makes the dinosaurs look just damn cool, as damn cool the hundredth time as the first. The dinosaurs in The Lost World don't look damn cool: they aren't being shown off until basically the last scene of the movie, when it's much too late to safe anything, and they're far too often being dragged along a just a plot point, especially the poor raptors, who no longer have the crafty menace of the first movie, instead being plugged in like any old slasher movie psycho.

End result: a boring movie, that goes on for much too long (it is, though by just a couple minutes, the longest Jurassic Park), and runs a collage of characters even blander than in the first movie through less distinctive and colorful environments where they are menaced by less compelling monsters. It is the most vacuously mercenary film in Spielberg's career, and his palapable desire not to be making it cripples it far worse than anything in his other prominent work-for-hire sequel, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, where his discomfort with the material gives it an edge, rather than flattens it into mud. There is nothing inspired nor inspiring here, just a color-by-numbers retread that doesn't even try to understand why the first movie worked so well, instead listlessly throwing dinosaurs and overqualified actors at the jungle, and turning away with disinterest before it even notices that magic has failed to spark.

Reviews in this series
Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1993)
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (Spielberg, 1997)
Jurassic Park III (Johnston, 2001)
Jurassic World (Trevorrow, 2015)

20 comments:

Brian said...

I remember years ago Spielberg saying that he had the script re-wrote to have the San Diego scene, even though it didn't fit the story at all, just because he wanted to shoot a T-Rex in a city. Lo and behold, there's the one sequence he seems to come alive for in the director's chair.

DeeperUnderstanding said...

Yeah I rewatched this after the first one as well, and it was way shittier than I remembered... that terrible opening cut from the woman's scream to Malcolm's yawn pretty much sums up how the film feels about itself. Other issues:

No one is awestruck or even particularly impressed by the dinosaurs. (Malcolm's daughter apparently learns of their existence, processes it and moves on in the space of one cut.) Nor does Malcolm seem overly distraught that his girlfriend has traveled to the dangerous island alone. I mean, he goes after her but the emotional subtext seems to be "Welp. Yeah, time to go rescue her I guess."

The first T Rex scene pettily attempts to one-up the original (2 T Rexes! an RV instead of a Jeep!) but then is too lazy to actually show us most of the action (a lot of "watching people act alarmed as important action happens offscreen").

The cracking windshield scene works well, but the only things I really liked were the compys (effectively creepy) and the San Diego sequence.

Tim said...

Brian- I think I remember something similar. I also seem to recall stories about him overseeing the final cut over the phone on the set of Amistad, which speaks volumes about his investment.

DeeperUnderstanding- The compys worked much better than I recall, though mostly in the scene with Peter Stormare with the little girl (which was such a cheap gesture, I thought: "ooh, heightened stakes because we're will to kill a child!", already pretty damn tacky, and then later dialogue makes it clear that she's actually fine, making it tacky AND pointless).

Great point about Kelly's utter lack of enthusiasm for seeing dinosaurs. She's such a non-character for me that I hadn't even noticed.

Regular GeoX said...

No arguing with this review. When my family saw the first JP in the theater, my younger brothers had to leave midway through; it was too intense for them, and frankly it was almost too intense for me. Whereas when we saw TLW? Well, needless to say, no one had any problems whatsoever. The utter lack of tension is really just incredible. How can killer dinosaurs be boring? It is an abiding mystery. And as for the part with the velociraptors in the tall grass, I didn't find it effective at all; I thought it was unintentionally comical the way people were just sucked down like that.

At least JPIII is ridiculous enough to be amusing-ish.

Benjamin said...

The stupidest moment for me was when Sarah reaches out and touches the baby stegosaurus, and then one or two scenes later kicks out a fire because 'we can't interfere with their ecosystem.'

Do you think the fact that David Koepp gets eaten by the T-Rex in San Diego--complete with a goofy death rattle--is an admission of guilt on his and Spielberg's part?

Jonathan said...

Mind you, I don't like this movie anymore than you do. However, in the pantheon of Speilberg helmed films I will watch this over Hook and Always any day. But semantics and all that jazz.

Great review as always. Love the throw away mention of velocitaptors and gymnastics; it still amazes me that the scene ever existed. When people gripe about Harrison Ford jumping in a refrigerator as being ridiculous I gladly remind them of the Lost World sequence.

Ryan said...

I can't argue this is a good movie, but it genuinely baffles me that anyone would prefer JP3. I just rewatched these out of order (1, 3 then 2) and the unexpected awfulness of the 3rd (I hadn't seen any of them for ages, and just took everyone's word for it that JP3 was the second best) made this one look pretty good in comparison. At least there are a couple memorable set pieces here.

Tim said...

GeoX- I very specifically mean just the one aerial shot; on the whole the raptors come off the worst in the whole movie, not least because, as you've pointed out, they're basically evil clowns.

Benjamin- Yeah, Sarah is a goddamn airhead. If the movie cared about any kind of ironic justice, she'd be the one in that cargo hold at the end.

Did not know that Koepp made a cameo! I strongly doubt that anything half that clever was intended.

Jonathan- I'm badly due for a Hook rewatch, as I largely remember it with nostalgic fondness. But Always is right down there in the cluster, neck and neck for me with 1941 and just a hint better than The Terminal.

Ryan- I'll be turning to JP3 soon enough, but for me they're on about the same level; no good action in the third one, but it's not quite as dumb, and it's blessedly shorter.

Tim said...

Also, I completely forgot to make a point that I wanted to make in re: sloppy writing. At one point, it's said that 3 people died during the disaster at the park in the first movie; it was four (Gennaro, Nedry, Arnold, Muldoon). Also, Hammond mentions "dozens of species", not the 15 specified in the first film, but that can probably be fan-wanked.

Chris said...

You're absolutely right about the aerial shot of the Raptors closing in: far and away the best shot in the movie.

A perfect example of the difference between the TLC of the first movie and the detached filmmaking of the second is the way that the presence of the tyrannosaurs is hinted at. JP: The vibrations of T-Rex's thundering footsteps manifested in the "concentric circles" in the cup of water, concentric circle which Spielberg took great pains to get just right. Clever, ominous, frightening. TLW: JP: Swaying trees. Obvious, unoriginal, ineffective.

Vilsal said...

Maybe Nedry's body was never found?

I don't really know what to think of the story issues you mention. Spielberg clearly isn't doing a Verhoevian stealth satire and the script isn't quite that either. However, you'd think a relatively experienced writer like Koepp wouldn't accidentally create heroes like that. Maybe his script isn't so much satirical as intentionally bad.

Mark said...

Admittedly, I don't hate the film as much as I should--very much in my "guilty pleasure" zone somehow--and I am glad to see you noticed one of the reasons. Pete Postlethwaite is, like always, pretty super to watch here. I have such a soft spot for actors who know damn well they are in an unsalvageable film but refuse to bring anything less than their "A" game. Us working stiffs have to do it everyday, why can't we expect this from our actors? I certainly miss the man...

KingKubrick said...

As an eleven year old kid I remember hating the tall grass scene for the simple fact everyone who gets picked off has a goddamn assault rifle in their hands and none of these trained mercenaries decides to shoot the goddamn raptors. You have an assault rifle!

Johnzilla 2179 said...

Phew. Here we go: this film has a mixed reception at best, but to be honest it's one of those pieces of art I never knew was openly disliked, much less outright HATED, in certain circles until I gained internet access and began looking the film up with regularity. Regardless, I'll do my best to present counters and explain why I think this film is at the very least underrated.

"The Lost World is readily the worst thing Steven Spielberg has ever made."
While I enjoy the wit of your opening statement, Tim, I have to disagree on this one. Even as someone who enjoyed both, I think his work on Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as well as Kingdom of the Crystall Skull is also equally suspect. The latter is mostly obvious for most Indy fans, and the forced nature of the entire affair is palpable. However, I feel like Spielberg channeled that quality into something interesting in Temple and World; it informed the dark edge of both of these films. The only reason the Indy prequel is given a pass is because it's Indy; you're not going to convince me that if we were to switch the plot of that film for Crystall Skull that fans would have been any more enthusiastic about in in 2008 than they were with what they got. Similarities in production notwithstanding,

I've always considered TLW to be the Temple of Doom of the Jurassic Park series: there's the much darker tone, the mean-spirited kills, the annoying character that threatens to single-handedly derail the whole affair by themselves (Willie in TOD, Nick in TLW), the ethnic sidekick with humorous skills for certain situations (Short Round knows karate when it's convenient, Kelly uses gymnastics on a raptor), with the odd endorsement of flawed ideals (blatant racism in TOD, extreme environmentalism in TLW), and also the ending in which the film comes across as cheery and inspired (Indy taking out Mola Ram's whole organization, the San Diego T. Rex rampage). If Temple of Doom's revisionist reception and The Lost World's increasing user score at IMDb (5.5 back in 2005, 6.5 in 2015) are any indication, this one will be looked back on a tad fonder than it is now for what it is instead of what it "should have been" according to some. It's important to note that just like TOD, TLW is a markedly different film from its predecessor: it's not TRYING to reach "giddy matinee heights" like JP, just like TOD wasn't trying that after Raiders of the Lost Ark.

Good call on Janusz Kaminski, but just because you don't like TLW doesn't mean his work on other Spielberg films is suddenly "better." As asserted in the special features on the blu-ray of the film, The Lost World is like dinosaur noir. I've always found the world around the characters to be eerily inviting because of the visuals: the island seems much bigger than it can reasonably be, and there's the impression that just over the next hill is something unexpected, whether it be a new dinosaur or a forgotten establishment. This aesthetic compliments the dark tone perfectly. This isn't "wish fulfillment" like you said the first film was, Tim, it's the second part of the nightmare.

Johnzilla 2179 said...

"Michael Crichton's 1995 novel was a deeply ineffective sequel to his already overbaked 1990 Jurassic Park, and was far too consciously attempting to follow-up the 1993 movie; but it is better (and more cinematic!) in every regard than the extremely free adaptation that Koepp cranked out."
Eh, I'm not so sure. Crichton's sequel always came across as weak to my eyes; not just because it felt forced, but also because it felt superfluous. Some would say the same for the film, but I beg to differ. Crichton's whole angle with the TLW novel was a deconstruction of John Hammond's dream of a state-of-the-art park, with the troubles reaching even deeper than had been established when the dinosaurs first broke out. As some have said, it felt like the author was writing a sequel to the film version of his story more than the novel. That "deconstruction" angle works if you leave off at the end of the first film and start the sequel novel, but not if you take the text as the predecessor. Crichton, through Malcolm, deconstructed the myth of the park so thoroughly in his original book that it really didn't need a double dose of "this will never work and never had a chance." Spielberg's film, by contrast, is just what you called it: "wish fulfillment." Crichton's novel was NOT, and that's an important distinction to draw when considering the film adaptations. While it alters the plot to a barely recognizable shadow of Crichton's narrative, I think that Spielberg's version is much more adept at showing the "dark side" of the park through the failed dreams and ultimate wrenching of his own company away from Hammond. TLW is essentially the deconstruction of what was left of the illusion of the first film; in Crichton's text, he had deconstructed the myth so entirely that there was nothing left to work with. Not so for Spielberg.

"Both spring from the same dubiously continuity-bending idea that Isla Nublar, home to Jurassic Park itself, was just the showroom for the armies of dinosaurs being bred at InGen's industrial facility "Site B" on Isla Sorna."
Personally, I've never understood some peoples' problems with the idea of a second island. It makes perfect sense: every manufacturer has a store where they sell the merchandise and a warehouse where it's made. Think of it like a car dealership: the good stuff is on display out front (Nublar), but elsewhere new ideas and models are being toyed with while the current ones are assembled (Sorna). Continuing on with the deconstruction theme, the slicked up version of the cloning process as shown in the first film wasn't the whole story. However, once the lab got on its feet it's perfectly plausible that Site B wouldn't be as essential for the park. But where does everyone think the dinosaurs were housed as the park was being built? Surely the T. Rex wasn't wandering around a half-constructed paddock munching on workers until her fences were erected and jolted? A "factory floor" as Hammond says makes perfect sense. Like my examples above, these dinosaurs were/are just products to InGen, not living things. Why wouldn't they be treated likewise?

Johnzilla 2179 said...

I suppose the one element that really isn't defendable in any capacity is that of Vince Vaughan's Nick Van Owen, extreme environmentalist. An issue pointed out by some about the first Jurassic Park is that it's decidedly lacking in shades of gray. An accurate assessment, but the film didn't really NEED them. As is, The Lost World is where they could have been used. It would have been much better if Nick acted independently of Sarah and ended up being something of an antagonist in his own right as opposed to simply a member of the heroes ranks to the end (Ian even seems to go so far as to somewhat validate his presence by clearly saying "Thank you" to him after he saves Kelly and Sarah in the waterfall). That would have certainly made his character more interesting and much less annoying, in addition to removing the air of ignorance his behavior illicits. Or, better yet, have one of the hunters (Peter Stormare's Dieter Stark or Arliss Howard's Peter Ludlow) clumsily let one of the animals out of it's enclosure, tease it until it breaks out and the others follow suit or something of that sort. Two possible scenarios that come to mind are Dieter using his cattle prod on the Triceratops or perhaps Ludlow stumbling around drunk (as there was a deleted scene establishing him as an alcoholic and him falling and breaking the baby T. Rex's leg, hence why he has coffee in the next scene when he is addressing the board of directors in the tent). The former idea with Dieter would add much more weight to Pete Postlethwaite's Roland telling him "That's the last time I leave you in charge."

As for the dinosaurs being injected into an already balanced ecosystem, I think that was more a point established in the first film than anything to do with this one. By now we're four years too late and any damage done by their presence has been done, and the dinosaurs are established on the island in their own groups with a working ecosystem that suits them. It's important to note that Hammond is atoning for his sins. In a way, he's an allegory for God himself. He created a world that was perfect (Nublar) and placed followers there. However, one of them is tempted by the devil (Dodgson and money) to go against him. This ends up with the characters being banished from the island (as Adam and Eve were from Eden), with Hammond (God) looking back in sorrow at what he created, seeing it was no longer good and no one allowed to return. Later, God (Hammond) sends Jesus and his disciples (Malcolm and his team) to save the world he created. Sure, the implications of that latter statement are odd when one considers that one disciple is pretty much responsible for everything bad that happens, but I digress. Also an element is the idea of the danger of certain knowledge and the power it brings (Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil).

Johnzilla 2179 said...

To be honest, I've never understood the vitriol against the gymnastics scene. It's not wholly improbable, and it actually leads to a nice character moment. At the beginning of the film when we're learning just how much of a deadbeat dad Malcolm is, we see Kelly exclaim in angst that she "scrubbed out and got cut from the team." After defending her father from the raptor, he jumps down and asks "The school cut you from the team?" in disbelief after being told earlier that she had been kicked out of gymnastics. Obviously, she was perfectly capable, she just wanted the support of her father. This is made obvious by an earlier scene in which Malcolm is about to get down from the high hide to go warn the trailers that the adult Rexes are coming for their baby. "I'm coming right back" he says, "I give you my word." Kelly then exclaims, "But you NEVER keep your word!" This is a daughter wanting her father to put effort into their relationship, ironically while two very devoted dinosaur parents are about the descend on the humans, in addition to the angry Stegosaurus herd from earlier. It's disappointing that this film offers no resolution to Malcolm or his familial problems, only setting them up to show what a failure he is before the dinosaurs attack. It would have been nice to see him go through some kind of arc, but that's least of the film's problems, I'd say.

Going along once again with that "deconstruction" idea is how the dinosaurs are treated. They aren't being displayed in a theme park or zoo for schmucks to gawk at; they're in their own environment and react accordingly to outsiders who force their way in. As Ellie notes in the first film, "These are aggressive living things that have no idea what century they're in and they'll defend themselves, violently if necessary." We see that with the Stegosaurus herd as well as the T. Rex pair (who, in stark contrast to Malcolm and Kelly's estranged mother, are shown to be excellent parents and the betters of the humans in a nutshell, continuing the theme of parenthood and abandonment in the JP series). As for the raptors, I like how they're given the shaft in this one. Ideally, it should have been another dino in that grass (Carnotaurus, like in the novel?) to give the overexposed raptors a breather, but I like how little attention is paid to them this time out after being the big worry in the first film and ridiculous Einsteins in the third.

Johnzilla 2179 said...

"Also, I completely forgot to make a point that I wanted to make in re: sloppy writing. At one point, it's said that 3 people died during the disaster at the park in the first movie; it was four (Gennaro, Nedry, Arnold, Muldoon). Also, Hammond mentions "dozens of species", not the 15 specified in the first film, but that can probably be fan-wanked."
"Fan-wanked" ain't got a thing to do with it. Firstly, we can ascertain from the scene in which Malcolm confronts Ludlow that he went public with his knowledge of the park; his exact line is "You covered up the deaths of three people." If we're just playing with words, it could be as simple as Malcolm not mentioning more than three deaths and Ludlow not needing to cover up any more than that directly. If we actually go by the first film, five people die including Jophery, the poor worker that the raptor munches on at the beginning of the film. However, it's important to note a very particular fact: Malcolm doesn't know Jophery, nor did he know Nedry. Hell, even Hammond didn't know what happened to Nedry, so why would anyone assume he was dead? Malcolm was just speaking of the deaths he was aware of, plain and simple. Not an error at all.

But again, this film works as a great spectacle. I've never understood why certain films are given a pass for being nothing but a good time (Avatar, The Avengers) while other films are derided for the same qualities. At least this film TRIES to be something more than the sum of its parts. It has a relevant, if deeply flawed, message about man's nature of taking what he wants with no regard for the consequences, as well as (once again) greed coming before safety. There's also the above explanation of failed human parenting, while the central dinosaur characters in the film (the Rexes) are great parents. There's also an undercurrent of humanity's arrogance and mindset that we're "entitled" to anything we want. Going hand-in-hand with the parenting example, flawed humans enter into an independent environment to remove creatures from it that are living in perfect harmony because they're viewed as "below us," yet subject to our will. Ironic, given that the people leading the two groups into this environment, Malcolm and Ludlow, are both portrayed as having suitable experience with failure. In all, it's obvious we disagree on the film but I enjoyed your breakdown, Tim. Let me know what you think of my counters!

Sacred Dust said...

I agree with this review, for the most part. The movie is all empty dark spectacle--a formula from the late 90's that, in my opinion, has festered and worsened ever since. The direction is just plain dull; I don't doubt that Spielberg was distracted with future projects and no longer interested in Jurassic Park as a whole. The characters are paper-thin and both sides of the film's conflict are too dumb to identify with.

But I may be alone with the opinion that The Lost World could have turned out much better if it were modeled more closely on Crichton's book. The screenplay leaves out fairly interesting characters like Levine, Thorne, and Arby while utterly destroying the ones that are left. The endearingly innocent, geeky Kelly becomes Malcolm's perfect (and perfectly dull) daughter, while the smart and tough-as-nails Sarah Harding from the book becomes flighty, clueless, and thoroughly unconvincing. Just one more level on which Koepp's script was a travesty.

John Smith said...

If there's one thing that might have saved this movie for me, it would be switching the roles so that the heroes - specifically, Nick and Sarah - were the villains and the villains were the heroes, or at least treated as greyer anti-heroes or anti-villains. The biggest problem with this film is that Nick and Sarah never get called out for their horrifyingly dangerous actions or their idiotic "let's conserve the natural genetically engineered monsters that exist out of time and place" argument, while Ludlow's death is treated as whimsical rather than horrifying, is the biggest problem with it.

Another bad moment is the whopper of a plot hole regarding the USS Venture and its dead crew. The leftover hands were so fake and implausible that I remember being utterly confused when I was younger and wondering why there were plastic body parts strewn over the ship.

Everything else is tolerable, though not great. That said, some of the highlights for me were:

- Malcolm's snark, at least at the beginning. He seems to fade into the background mostly during the second half of the film.

- Richard Attenborough as John Hammond. He's just too charismatic to ignore, even when you think he's blackmailing Malcolm into going to the island.

- The technology was pretty cool, like the trailers and that unrealistically deadly toxic dart gun.

- Although you say it's ineffective, I quite liked the Stegosaurus at the beginning. Even the constant snark and silly dialogue choices didn't distract that much. It was like an adventurous safari moment.

- The dinosaur hunt woke me up after the dreary Sarah-Malcolm relationship talk. It's one of the most memorable scenes from the movie, and I found it awesome.

- You say the villains aren't particularly pleasant, but honestly I liked watching the hunters (and even Ludlow at times) more than I liked watching Sarah and Nick, especially when you notice the hunters actually save them once or twice. Even Dieter was a better character than those two.

- Roland Tempo, easily the best character in the film. Even better if you watch the deleted scenes.

- The trailer scene, as you say, was a highlight. Special mention, I think, must go to Eddie Carr, whose rescue instantly made him one of the only heroes to warrant the title "hero".

- The compys introduced a new kind of threat.

- Say what you will about how much less of an impact the raptors have, but I quite enjoyed seeing them as psychos, and the chase sequence had some cool moments.

- The T. rex rampage in San Diego. Yeah, it's kind of silly, but to see dinosaurs stomping around suburbia left quite an impact on me, and (silly death rattle notwithstanding) the civilian death probably affected me more than it should have done.