So, continuing my renewed obsession in Jurassic Park, spurred on by the stupid Jurassic Park Builder iOS game I keep playing, last night I watched the sequel to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 action adventure masterpiece, released four years later in 1997. This time focusing on the sister island of Isla Sorna and an isolated ecosystem of free-roaming dinosaurs, The Lost World stars Jeff Goldblum, who along with Richard Attenborough, are the only two actors reprising their roles from the first film. Sam Neill would later reprise his role as paleontologist Alan Grant in the exponentially worse Jurassic Park III, released in 2001.
As a ten year old kid, I was obsessed with this movie. I had been a little too young for the first film and had only seen it on VHS, which seriously deadened its impact. I always felt gipped by not having seen the first film in theaters, especially as it was reportedly so intense that moviegoers screamed, fainted and fled theaters nationwide. I was also intrigued by the second film’s setting, an island with no electric fences or constraints of any kind with which to contain the dinosaurs. It also featured a lot more characters and a whole posse of guys with guns. Though sequels are more often than not disappointments, there wasn’t any serious reason to think that The Lost World would be disappointing, and for a ten year old at least, it wasn’t.
However, looking at it now fifteen years after its release with a more analytical eye, it’s hard not to notice the film’s innumerable flaws. It’s still more true to Michael Crichton’s work and the feel of the first film than Joe Johnston’s 2001 disaster, but it falls short of the first film in nearly every regard. It does feature the impeccably choreographed action sequences Spielberg is known for, and one particularly amazing scene involving two tyrannosaurs, but there’s too many of them and they come too quickly, and as the viewer isn’t particularly invested in the majority of the characters, it’s hard to really care about the beautifully lit and shot action moments.The film’s first mistake was shifting protagonists from Alan Grant to Ian Malcolm. Now don’t get me wrong- Jeff Goldblum is an amazing actor and I’m a big fan, and Ian Malcolm is a fantastic character, but he’s not a main character. He’s a supporting player, and elevating him to protagonist status is confusing and strange. Malcolm was effective in the first film because he was this suave, hip, wise-cracking mathematician who acted as a foil to some of the more serious characters like Grant and Muldoon. I wouldn’t go so far as to say he was comic relief, but he played a specific role and the story never centered around him. In fact, I think this why a lot of people I know prefer the third film simply because it features Grant. Plus, it makes a lot more sense to have your protagonist be a paleontologist as you really want someone who knows what they’re doing in a survival situation involving cloned dinosaurs. This is illustrated in the first film by the scene with the T-rex- Malcolm is heroic, yes, but he doesn’t know what he’s doing and it almost gets him killed when he tries to distract the rex with a flare.
So they added a paleontologist girlfriend for him so that someone’s there to give us exposition about dinosaurs. We’re given a piecemeal and contrived backstory as to how the two met (she sought him out in a Costa Rican hospital after the first film to find out if the rumors about Jurassic Park were true). As great of an actress as Julianne Moore is, Sarah Harding is just not as compelling as Alan Grant of Ellie Satler, and she does several clinically idiotic things throughout the course of the film that makes it hard for the viewer to empathize with her.To be fair, Malcolm is the protagonist of Crichton’s second book on which this sequel is loosely based, but his character is also considerably different in the books and the character Goldblum and writer David Koepp created just doesn’t work as a protagonist. Malcolm seems really out of place in this film; he’s petrified of dinosaurs because of the trauma he experienced in the first film and is generally confused. By the time the rex starts rampaging through San Diego in the film’s final act, he’s basically not even the main character anymore because there’s so much going on and the film is actually following the rex, and not the people hunting it. There’s also no arc for him- he’s the exact same person at the end of the film as he is at the start. Jurassic Park- in addition to a sci-fi action adventure film, is also a character study that delves into the psyche of its protagonist, Alan Grant, who has a genuine change over the course of the film. In The Lost World Malcolm is just some crotchety, sarcastic mathematician that’s been publicly humiliated by inGen and is struggling to bond with his estranged and inexplicably black daughter (I’ll get to that later). I suppose you could argue that he learns how to be a better parent, but his relationship with his daughter doesn’t really seem to change and its not the focus of the story. Plus, he’s no fun anymore! He’s still Jeff Goldblum, but now he’s all dark and depressed because he survived a horrific experience four years prior and his life was subsequently ruined. So yeah, Kelly the black daughter. I can’t remember if she’s black in the book, but regardless this was a bad decision. There’s even a joke about it in the film. Now, hypothetically this is possible, however very, very unlikely. There have been cases where an interracial couple have one black baby and one white baby, but it happens once in a blue moon. Now maybe Kelly is adopted, but they never tell us so her presence is constantly distracting because the viewer is confused about her. I had an epiphany the other day that the real reason this is so strange is not that she’s black and Goldblum is white, but that we never see the mother. Now part of the plot is that Kelly’s mom abandoned her and ran off to Paris, but if we’re just given like, a photo or something where we see the whole family together and see that Kelly’s mom is black, or if part of her arc is that she’s insecure because she’s adopted- well then it wouldn’t have been so strange. It’s also weird because in the first film it’s established that Malcolm is a womanizer who’s had several marriages and three kids. Where are the other two kids?!! The film acts like Kelly is his only daughter, when we already know he’s got several. Not a huge deal, just strange.
The truth is, the more I analyzed this film the more it fell apart and the more I began to understand why people hate it so much. Its problems, plot holes and character inconsistencies are so innumerable, that I could not go into them in one post. Come back tomorrow for the second half of my analysis (I promise).
As a final note for today, I’d like to mention that while watching this I realized what would make the perfect Jurassic Park sequel. Hammond mentions early on in the film that Site B was obliterated by a hurricane and abandoned by inGen, which is what led to the rise of the “lost world.” This gave me this brilliant idea for a prequel/sequel set on Isla Sorna. The protagonist could be a scientist hired by Hammond to help genetically engineer the dinosaurs. At first their attempts are horrible failures, spawning hideous mutants that die upon birth. The protagonist starts to question the morality of inGen’s actions. Then the hurricane hits and the island loses power. The protagonist and his/her friends are left behind when inGen evacuates, and now have to fend for themselves on an island infested with dinosaurs. It could either be a basic survive and escape story like the first two films, or could be something more survivalist like that kid in the third film. Wouldn’t that be cool?
Probably not what the plot of JP4 will be, though…