The year 1993 was such a rewarding and exhausting year for director Steven Spielberg that he needed a fair amount of time to recover. After taking home the Directing Oscar for SCHINDLER’S LIST, he embarked on a directing hiatus that would last for four years. During this time, Spielberg was busy shepherding other project as a producer, and the author of the novel “Jurassic Park”, Michael Crichton, had begun working on a sequel novel called “The Lost World”. Obviously, Spielberg had first crack at the material once Crichton was finished, and he was eager to return to the world of JURASSIC PARK as his follow-up to SCHINDLER’S LIST. In 1997, he got his wish and after four long years away from the camera, he returned to the set of THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK as Steven Spielberg, Academy-Award Winning Director.
Four years after the incident on Isla Nublar, control of billionaire entrepreneur and CEO John Hammond’s Ingen Corporation has been wrestled away from him and handed to his own nephew, Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard). In an attempt to staunch the bleeding inflicted by all the wrongful death suits filed by the families of the original film’s victims, Ludlow discloses the existence of Site B—a separate island called Isla Sorna where dinosaurs have been allowed to roam and breed freely. Ludlow plans to send a crack team of mercenaries to Isla Sorna, capture some of the dinosaurs, and bring them back to San Diego where he can exhibit them in a scaled-down facility. Meanwhile, the increasingly-frail Hammond (Richard Attenborough) has sent a team of his own to photograph the animals in their natural habitats for environmental purposes. Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a survivor of the first incident on Isla Nublar, leads this team with the intention of rescuing his paleontologist girlfriend, Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), who has already been working on the island alone for weeks. As the two teams butt heads with each other and the dinosaurs inflict catastrophic damage on their operations, they find they must work together if they’re going to get off this island alive.
Reprising his role of Dr. Ian Malcolm from the original JURASSIC PARK, Jeff Goldblum’s trademark sardonic wit is intact, but mellowed out by age. I initially thought it a strange choice to make Malcolm the lead the second time around and forego Sam Neill’s Alan Grant, but it’s clear that Spielberg was after a very different flavor of adventure here, and Goldblum more than holds his own as a heroic leading man. Julianne Moore plays his girlfriend Sarah Harding, a woman whose toughness, resilience, and intelligence makes her a great match for Malcolm. THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK was the first time I had ever seen Moore in a film, and the same goes with the late, venerable character actor Pete Postlethwaite as Roland Tembo. Tembo is a layered, inherently likeable antagonist, and fills in the “great white hunter” archetype that Bob Peck’s Robert Muldoon so eloquently established in the original. And then there’s a young Vince Vaughn, thrust into the big leagues off of the strength of his performance in SWINGERS (1996). He plays Nick Van Owen, a no-nonsense documentary photographer and environmentalist. I always liked Vaughn’s character and hoped he would return in future installments, but Vaughn’s too established as a comedy star now to make that a likely proposition.
Also reprising his role from the original JURASSIC PARK is Richard Attenborough as John Hammond. Four years on, Hammond is sickly, but Attenborough still has that grandfatherly twinkle in his eye. Vanessa Lee Chester plays Kelly Curtis, Malcolm’s daughter and an aspiring gymnast. Her performance is fine, but she can’t hold a candle to JURASSIC PARK’s Tim and Lex (both of whom make a brief, pleasant cameo early in the film). Peter Stormare of FARGO (1996) and THE BIG LEBOWSKI (1998) fame plays Dieter Stark, Roland’s second-hand man. Dieter is a ruthless mercenary who gets his come-uppance after antagonizing a pack of Compys. Eddie Schiff, prior to his WEST WING breakout, plays Eddie Carr, the blue-collar equipment specialist of the group.
Spielberg brings back SCHINDLER’S LIST’s cinematographer, Janusz Kaminski, to lens THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK– bringing a distinctively darker edge to the JP universe. Kaminski’s style is very different from cinematographers Spielberg has used in the past, opting for a grittier look that favors dark shadows and blooming highlights. Kaminski’s lighting is also more theatrical, favoring evocative shafts of light that give off something of an industrial edge. THE LOST WORLD also sees a return to the David Lean-esque style of filmmaking that Spielberg was known for: big, sweeping camera movements, aerial shots, cranes, etc. JURASSIC PARK’s Production Designer Rick Carter returns, as does editor Michael Kahn. There’s significantly more CGI present this time around, as the technology had developed by leaps and bounds in the intervening years. Unfortunately, this also has the unintended side effect of dating the film more drastically than the original. Maestro John Williams reprises the iconic JURASSIC PARK theme, modifying it to fit Spielberg’s darker tone with a moodier, dissonant sound. Williams also uses a variety of drums and horns to add a primal, tribal nature that reflects Isla Sorna’s foreboding, untouched jungle.
THE LOST WORLD is a return to Spielberg’s bread-and-butter, the blockbuster spectacle genre, after the personal artistic renaissance that was SCHINDLER’S LIST. For the most part, Spielberg falls right back into his comfort zone: low angles, the requisite awe/wonder shots, lens flares, silhouettes, superbly-crafted set pieces (the nail-biting cliffhanging scene), suburban settings (such as when the T-Rex terrorizes a quiet residential street in San Diego), and the estranged father dynamic illustrated by Malcolm’s quarrelling with his daughter Kelly.
However, there’s a palpable edge and darkness that hangs over the proceedings, as if Spielberg had lost his sense of cinematic innocence after SCHINDLER’S LIST. He’s even said in interviews that he grew increasingly disenchanted with THE LOST WORLD during filming because he began to miss the richness of story that a film like SCHINDLER’S LIST afforded him, that a blockbuster monster movie had no need for. People noticed Spielberg’s disenchantment when it was projected on the big screen, and it had a profound effect on how the film was ultimately received.
Financially, THE LOST WORLD was a huge hit, breaking several records when it released in the summer of 1997. However, most critics and audiences considered the film a disappointment. They were put off by the dark tone, and a story that simply wasn’t as compelling as the first one. Of course, a sequel to a towering cinematic phenomenon like JURASSIC PARK was always going to have unrealistically sky-high expectations, but even the efforts of a newly-minted Oscar Winner couldn’t measure up. In the years since, THE LOST WORLD’s image has improved slightly, but only because it status as “Worst Jurassic Park Movie” was usurped by Joe Johnston’s hollow entry, JURASSIC PARK III (2001).
There’s a well-documented phenomenon concerning Oscar winners: usually, their next project after taking home the gold comes out to be a flop, or a disappointment of some sort. Why does this continually happen? Does scoring Oscar gold open filmmakers up to the temptation of indulgence, or even complacency? In the case of Spielberg, it’s a little easier to discern. It’s clear that his experience on SCHINDLER’S LIST fundamentally changed who he was as an artist. He could no longer make the family-friendly popcorn movies that made his name– at least not in the way he had done so in the past. His disenchantment with the genre is highly evident in THE LOST WORLD’s final product, and what should have been a slam-dunk became an off-tone, half-hearted effort.
THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK is currently available on high definition Blu Ray from Universal.
Produced by: Kathleen Kennedy, Gerald R. Molen, Colin Wilson
Written by: David Koepp
Director of Photography: Janusz Kaminski
Production Designer: Rick Carter
Edited by: Michael Kahn
Music by: John Williams