Every day, Watch This offers staff recommendations inspired by a new movie coming out that week. This week: With the summer movie season upon us, it’s time to sing the praises of some unsung and underrated summer blockbusters.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)
Released in the summer of 1997, Steven Spielberg’s follow-up to worldwide smash Jurassic Park was also, in a chronological sense, his follow-up to Schindler’s List. Four years had passed since the latter had transformed him into a Serious Filmmaker, succeeding where The Color Purple and Empire Of The Sun had failed; at the time, he’d hadn’t gone more than two years between films since The Sugarland Express, so the long hiatus only fanned the flames of expectation. Rabid fans of Jurassic Park were hoping for more of the same. Readers of Michael Crichton’s The Lost World (which he wrote specifically so that it could be adapted into a movie sequel) were hoping for a reasonably faithful adaptation. Cinephiles were hoping for evidence that Spielberg wasn’t going to retreat to crowd-pleasing fluff. Nobody got what they wanted.
Which is too bad, because The Lost World: Jurassic Park is actually a lot of fun. For one thing, it places Jeff Goldblum’s sarcastic, wisecracking Ian Malcolm front and center, avoiding most of the drippiness that Sam Neill was forced to expend on his reluctant surrogate-parent routine in the original film. (Goldblum also punctures the phony sense of wonder right off the bat, noting, “Ooooh, aaaah, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running, and screaming…”) For another, while Jurassic Park was a landmark in the history of digital effects work, its CGI dinosaurs were still fairly rudimentary; much was refined in the subsequent four years, and The Lost World’s creatures are significantly more convincing. A shot in which two tussling raptors roll over Julianne Moore’s paleontologist, while not as impressive as similar shots in Peter Jackson’s King Kong eight years later, starts to approach the casual awe of contemporary special effects.
Mostly, though, The Lost World is just refreshingly short on pretense. It’s a monster movie, pure and simple, with nothing on its mind except which of the human characters (and even cute animals! Spielberg did retain some of the brutality from Schindler’s List) are going to become dinosaur chow. There are no melancholy conversations over ice cream; no long stretches of patronizing exposition about the vicious nature of a dinosaur we’ll be seeing in action half an hour later; no laughably superficial explanations of chaos theory. There’s just the aforementioned running and screaming, plus some chomping. Furthermore, the film’s big set pieces—the trailer on the cliff, the raptors in the grass, the compys that should have eaten Richard Attenborough in the first film eating a different slimeball in this one—are vintage Spielberg, blessed with a spatial-temporal precision that few of the folks directing today’s blockbusters can muster. (Looking directly at you, Jon Favreau and Marc Webb.) It’s no Raiders, to be sure, but it’s no Hook, either.
Availability: The Lost World: Jurassic Park is available on Blu-ray and DVD, which can be obtained from Netflix, and to rent or purchase from the major digital services.