Twenty-five years ago this week, I had a very specific, very disappointing thought: “I can’t believe he didn’t use the music more.” It was my first thought as I walked out of a screening of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the highly anticipated sequel to the 1993 smash Jurassic Park. Four years later, director Steven Spielberg returned to the now-iconic franchise with a movie that missed the mark in a number of ways. But, for me, the biggest one was the criminal underuse of John Williams’ original themes.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park was released on May 25, 1997 to a huge amount of hype and anticipation. Just a few years prior, audiences were wowed by one of the best films ever made. And now, finally, was the sequel. What could happen next? Could Spielberg replicate that magic? He certainly tries, but ultimately fails.
Welcome to Gizmodo’s Jurassic Rewatch. In the lead-up to the June 10 release of Jurassic World Dominion, I’m going through each film in the franchise. First was Jurassic Park and now we’re at The Lost World. It’s a film that I will almost always watch when it’s on because it has big “Wait, did I miss something?” energy. Anytime I think of it I just get this empty sense that it has to be better than I remember it. I must have missed something. Right? Wrong.
Things start promisingly enough. After an intriguing prologue where a little girl is eaten by tiny dinosaurs, we once again meet Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). He’s been summoned by Jurassic Park founder John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) for a proposition. Hammond reveals that actually, Jurassic Park was one of two islands he created (of course it was). The second, called Site B, is where the dinosaurs grew up before coming to the park, and over the past few years, they’ve lived there untouched. In the meantime, we learn that after the events of the first film, most of the characters who survived didn’t speak out about the incident due to non-disclosure agreements. (This includes Hammond’s grandkids, Tim and Lex, who make an infuriatingly brief cameo in the first few minutes, never to return.) Malcolm is the only person who broke that contract in order to speak out against the dangers of the park, and he was publicly ostracised for it.
Those are cheesy but at least semi-interesting ideas. Does the public believe what happened on the island? How do the other characters feel about being silenced? Unfortunately, none of that comes into play. Instead, Malcolm is convinced to go to Site B with a small group of professionals (played by Vince Vaughn, Richard Schiff, and Julianne Moore, whose character just happens to be Malcolm’s girlfriend) to document the dinosaurs and prove to the world they do exist. That group is racing against Hammond’s corporation InGen, now run by his nephew played by Arliss Howard, who want to bring the dinosaurs back to the United States and open a Jurassic Park there.
Again, not the greatest idea, but not a bad one either. A dual between corporate greed and environmental conservation. The public unmasking of this great mystery. Only, again, The Lost World isn’t really about that either. Malcolm and his group’s focus is pulled when his daughter, played by Vanessa Lee Chester, is introduced, and then a whole parenting subplot unfolds. Characters you are obviously meant to hate early on, like InGen’s professional hunter/tracker played by Pete Postlethwaite, become heroic. Full scenes are spent on the deaths of characters we barely care about, like one played by Peter Stormare. And, eventually, the dueling ideologies go away as the two parties are forced to team up to escape the island after a series of dinosaur attacks.
By far the biggest sin The Lost World commits is being unfocused and confusing. Not that it’s hard to follow by any means, but there’s so much going on that you aren’t exactly sure what the point is. Who are we supposed to side with? What is the film trying to say? Is it trying to say too many things? Eventually, the film basically just gives up. Vince Vaughn’s character, who’s clearly supposed to be a hero and symbol of the pro-environment argument, disappears at the end of act two. Same for Malcolm’s daughter, though she at least returns in a brief scene at the very end. Even the big final showdown on the island between the humans and the Velociraptors lacks a sense of doom or purpose. Without any sense of accomplishment or closure, there’s just no real impact.
Then there are the dinosaurs. In the first Jurassic Park, you are in awe but scared of them. In The Lost World it’s kind of both and kind of neither. In one scene, we’re meant to sympathise with the animals. In the next, we’re meant to be terrified. There’s no clear point of view on the subject. The T-Rexs, especially, are an issue in the film. We learn that now there are two adult T-Rexs and they had a baby. Humans then kidnap the child, which is when the T-Rexs attack. At this point, you’re meant to be scared for the humans but you also totally side with the T-Rex. You don’t kidnap someone’s child. That grey area of morality makes an otherwise spectacular set piece with two T-Rexs much less exciting than it should be.
There is, however, a dash of genuine excitement at the end of the film, detached as it may be. Eventually, after a handful of people somehow, miraculously, survive against all the dinosaurs on Site B, the InGen team captures an adult T-Rex and puts it on a boat back to America. This is the moment both films have been leading up to: the dinosaurs are out. On the one hand, it’s the most rousing, propulsive scene in the film. On the other, it doesn’t really make much sense. First of all, we’re supposed to believe that on this boat, a massive adult T-Rex kills everyone on board. How did it walk around the boat and get down ladders and stairs and things? Were there other dinosaurs on board? If so, where are they? We don’t know. But, all the humans are dead so the boat smashes into a dock in San Diego.
The T-Rex quickly escapes and hits the town, resulting in visuals of a dinosaur walking down streets, drinking out of swimming pools, and smashing up gas stations, all of which are imaginative and slightly goofy. However, by this point, that’s all they are: pleasing images. The whole scene is supposed to be InGen’s comeuppance for lying to the public about dinosaurs but that closure never really locks in. Instead, everyone just seems kind of OK with it, the T-Rex goes back to the island, and the movie ends on this wholly unearned positive note.
The Lost World absolutely lives up to that title. It’s lost. The final product is a complete mess of a film that barely gets by because director Steven Spielberg knows how to shoot and edit compelling scenes. In this case though, those scenes don’t add up to much. You truly watch it and get the sense that, even though this is based on another Michael Crichton book, no one was exactly sure how to follow up Jurassic Park’s success. And so, every single idea was just jammed into a blender. We’re left with an overly dense, unclear hodgepodge of a movie that has a few solid moments but more often than not, works against everything that made Jurassic Park good.
That’s when I realised why The Lost World only uses John Williams’ signature Jurassic Park themes a few short times before the end credits. It’s because the film’s emotional content never matches those notes. The movie simply isn’t strong enough to use that music, and it shows.
Coming up next: 2001’s Jurassic Park III which clocks in at a cool 92 minutes. That can’t be good.
Jurassic Park Films, Ranked (Updating as I go through)
1. Jurassic Park
2. The Lost World: Jurassic Park
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Editor’s Note: Release dates within this article are based in the U.S., but will be updated with local Australian dates as soon as we know more.