Friday, May 29, 2015

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

Welcome once again to FlashBack Friday! Today I'm reviewing The Lost World, the next film in the popular dinosaur series. After the amazing experience of the first movie, the world couldn't wait to see those fantastic creatures on the big screen again, including the director. Steven Spielberg was always interested in returning to this world, and was finally able to convince Michael Crichton to complete a sequel to his best-selling novel, Jurassic Park. Of course, if you've read that book you know there are few similarities between the screen and the page... but more on that later. Back in 1997 I was ten years old, and was granted permission by my parents to see this movie when it came out in theaters. I couldn't wait for the day my family took us to see it. I even wrote about my excitement to see The Lost World in my journal, and remember being pretty satisfied with what I saw at the time. Since then, however, it's kind of fallen out of favor with the general public, and I think I only saw this movie once or twice since my theatrical experience. As a result of my relative unfamiliarity with this film, I was probably more interested in returning to this one than any other in the series. Beware of SPOILERS beyond this point...

The Lost World begins with a rich family yachting in the Caribbean. On the shores of an island called Isla Sorna, their daughter wanders into the nearby trees to find a pack of small lizard-like creatures that promptly attack the young girl. Meanwhile, chaotician Dr. Ian Malcolm meets up with John Hammond (CEO of InGen and the mastermind behind Jurassic Park) to learn that the old man is losing control of the genetic technology company, and by extension, the island off the coast of Costa Rica populated with dinosaurs. Hammond's nephew, Peter Ludlow, has plans to pillage the island and create a new Jurassic Park in San Diego, CA. Wanting to prevent another catastrophe, Hammond has hired a team of four to document the existence of these animals living in a natural habitat so that public opinion will stymie the development of the park before it's too late. Malcolm staunchly refuses, until he realizes that his girlfriend, Sarah Harding, has already accepted the offer and is currently stationed on the island. With his stow-away daughter in tow, Malcolm takes the team to the island to rescue Sarah, only to find that InGen is a step ahead of them, already capturing dinosaurs in an attempt to convince investor's of their plans for a park on U.S. soil. The proposal is sabotaged by Malcolm's team, however, and InGen's camp is left without means of communicating with the outside world. After a Tyrannosaur attack leaves them a man down and in the same technologically crippled condition, Malcolm's team must join forces with InGen to navigate through the lost world to safety.

Overall, the story for The Lost World is a little convoluted at the outset, but once the plot is put into motion, it's surprising how much doesn't really happen in this movie. There's a lack of direction in this movie that was never present in the first film, and it really hampers my enjoyment. "Lost" is a good word to describe this film, as it wants to recapture the magic of Jurassic Park while having no clear conception as to how it plans to accomplish this. We start with the attack on the little girl that is supposedly the reason for Hammond's dismissal as InGen's CEO. The scene itself is pretty suspenseful, but the campy scream from the girl's mother followed by the bizarre jump-cut to a yawning Ian Malcolm in front of a jungle-style poster in a subway completely undercuts the tension. Perhaps Spielberg wanted to shy away from children getting attacked by dinosaurs (as they're the target audience for owning the toys), but the juxtaposition of competing tones really makes it hard to invest in the story. Unlike Jurassic Park where we begin with a frightening scene of a Velociraptor eating a park worker before being shot by the onlooking guards, we're completely removed from anything horrific or scary by keeping it all at arms-length. I'm not saying we should have seen the girl getting torn apart by the Compsognathus, but the inconsistency of this intro is just as indicative of the rest of the movie as the first movie's intro was of its story.

Then, we're told the plot of this movie as Ian Malcolm confronts the man with whom he constantly sparred in the previous film, John Hammond. Richard Attenborough is such a welcome presence that I wish his character was a bigger part of this movie, despite him being killed off in Michael Crichton's original novel. But when he's describing what happened between him and InGen, as well as the complicated reasons for why there has to be another group sent to Site B so we can have this story, I found it a little difficult to follow without a great deal of concentration... or subtitles, if you don't mind reading along. So, they're going back to film the dinosaurs in their natural habitat so people will speak out against the new park being built... And he needs Ian Malcolm there... why? In the book it's all about a rescue mission, which is Malcolm's primary motivation here... but that doesn't explain why Hammond wants him to go. He was the one who constantly spoke out against Hammond's plans, not to mention doing stupid stuff around the T-Rex that got Generro killed and almost himself. While it's a pretty flimsy excuse to have another story on the island with a familiar character, I was willing to go with whatever explanation they were offering as long as they could give me something as exciting as last time.

I got pretty excited at the thought of Malcolm travelling to an untamed wilderness ruled by dinosaurs in order to save his girlfriend... until his daughter shows up. Look, I get why this story line is here. Not only did Crichton have two kids sneak aboard the RV so they could tag along, but Spielberg loves inserting kids into his stories (look no further than my previous review of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom for more on that). While Kelly isn't nearly as irritating as Short Round, the drawn-out conversation with her father before his departure is possibly the worst part of the film. If the only reason for slowing down the momentum of this movie to a crawl is to set up how Kelly can do gymnastics against a Velociraptor later (which is completely stupid, by the way), then just cut that scene. We don't need it. In fact, we don't need a kid on this journey at all. Not only does she escape all danger in the "High-Hide" during the T-Rex attack when Tim and Lex were ruthlessly terrorized, but I think her only lines from that point on are "Carry me?" to her dad when they're walking in the jungle. She doesn't even come back in the final act of the movie, and her eating popcorn to John Hammond's closing monologue is just annoying.

But once we see the island looming in the distance, I have to admit that I get a little excited. John Williams has mostly excised this film of its iconic theme from Jurassic Park, opting instead for a more mysterious and far less memorable tune. I still like it for the ominous quality it gives the island this time, but the wonder of seeing dinosaurs on screen is slightly lessened as a result. Since I'm nit-picking, why not point out how cliched it is when their guide insists on not going close to the island, calling that island chain the "Five Deaths"... which serves no purpose except to make us feel tension that we would have already felt based on seeing the last movie. It's a stupidly manipulative line that has all of the weight of your crazy uncle telling a hackneyed ghost story on your family camp-out. The reason I'm pointing this out is that Spielberg is pulling out his second tier of tricks for this movie in a desperate attempt to sweep us off our feet. I can't count the number of times Ian Malcolm looks off in the distance and says something clever before something dramatic happens. He does this to the detriment of logic, however, as the stomping of the T-Rex only seems to happen when we're not supposed to be surprised by its appearance. This movie is filled with stupid, nonsensical action moments that completely take me out of the movie. During the stampede of the InGen camp, one of the trucks somehow gets sling-shot hundreds of feet in the air and lands in a tree! Are you telling me one of the dinosaurs picked up that vehicle and threw it across the island like the Hulk...?

Anyway, there are still some good scenes in this movie, and the best one is shortly after the ridiculous stampede. After the hunter Roland Tembo attempts to lure the male T-Rex into the open by breaking the leg of its infant, Sarah decides to set the bone and return it back to the parents. The only problem is, the territorial Rexes decide to decimate the RV completely to protect its infant from any future threats, pushing it until it dangles helplessly off a giant cliff. One of the most tense scenes I've ever witnessed in a theater was the moment Sarah falls onto the glass window that is cracking more and more every second, and which is the only barrier between her and the rocky ocean hundreds of feet below. Of course, as a scientist you'd think she'd be smart enough to distribute her weight better instead of resting on her hands and knees... but I'm not going to complain too much about one of the few good scenes in this film. What doesn't make much sense, despite the territorial nature of the T-Rex parents, is why they come back for Eddie Carr and tear the poor man in half. It's a gruesome death, and one that probably scarred me a little bit in my childhood, but it doesn't make a lot of sense that both parents would abandon their infant minutes after getting it back just to attack someone that is clearly not threatening them anymore.

One thing that is probably an improvement over the first film is the visual effects, which are a little more enhanced and detailed across the board. Though the animatronics occasionally look fake, the CGI is still pretty advanced for 1997 standards. They were able to get some pretty impressive human/dinosaur interactions that they couldn't really accomplish four years prior, and they had never been able to merge a digital creation with real world surroundings better than in this movie. It's a shame we don't get the same kind of improvement, or even something comparable, when it comes to the acting. I raved about the naturalistic line deliveries of Sam Neill, Laura Dern, and Jeff Goldblum in the last film, but here it all seems so forced that it's hard to take any of it seriously. Even Goldblum seems incapable of selling the comedic lines that came across so effortlessly in Jurassic Park. Of course, none of them are worse than the completely miscast Vince Vaughn. His reactions are so unrealistic and his body language so overt that he almost comes across as a fanboy of the first movie who just wants to be in a Spielberg film. This really hits home when his flashlight falls on a Jurassic Park logo on the wall of a long-abandoned facility and he grins like an idiot and says "Oh man," despite the life and death situation they're in.

Now, I've been holding off discussing the ending of The Lost World because it's one of my major problems with this film. Obviously, this was not something conceived by Crichton in his novel, but added in the script-writing stage by Spielberg. Apparently he wanted to pay homage to the 1925 film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel of the same name, in which a Brontosaurus rampages through London. That makes a little more sense as to the reason it was included, but for story purposes it makes no freakin' sense! First of all, how are all of the people on the boat dead when they say in the film that the T-Rex is the only dinosaur on board? It was clearly enclosed in the cargo hold the entire time, as we see it being released after the boat crashes into the dock. It's then incredibly easy for Malcolm and Sarah to find the Jurassic Park: San Diego amphitheater where the infant is being held, and even easier for them to leave with the creature. They eventually get the infant back on-board the ship, though the sniveling Peter Ludlow tries to recapture it. He then doesn't hear the adult T-Rex climb aboard as well, only seeing the massive dinosaur when it's biting into his leg. Then, having shown no marksman abilities prior to this point, Sarah loads the tranquilizer gun and shoots the T-Rex so they can enclose it and  the infant in the cargo hold. And then, the ship is somehow still sea-worthy to take the dinosaurs back to Isla Sorna and are escorted by an entire Naval fleet to ensure its safe arrival. Ugh, I'm done talking about this film.

To wrap this turd up, I was not entertained watching this movie despite loving Jurassic Park possibly to a fault. The only thing I can give this movie are its terrific visuals and some of the action scenes (like the scary raptor attack in the grass), which are somewhat engaging on the surface but have no depth whatsoever. This should have been an awesome movie, and it had the potential to be; just watch the trailer if you want proof. Spielberg himself has admitted that this movie was devoid of substance, and I have no reason to disagree. I can't believe the drop in quality of this film from its predecessor given the return of most of the creative team, but this is the equivalent of a T-Rex shoving this franchise off a cliff. The only reason why this is escaping an utterly failing grade from me is the nostalgia and the appreciation I have for the dinosaurs on screen. Beyond that, there's nothing you need to see here. I wanted to be a little more forgiving of this film, but I just can't. To compare it to another Spielberg series, The Lost World is the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull of the Jurassic Park films, and I'm giving it the same grade I gave that one; two stars.

THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi terror and violence