The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) (part 1 of 5)
Ah, bad sequels. Is there any other category of movies quite as craptacular? For every sequel that equals (The Godfather Part II) or surpasses (Aliens) the original film, there’s a mind-boggling slew of awful follow-ups that take everything that worked with their predecessor films and completely ignores it. Witness our current subject, The Lost World: Jurassic Park. As a huge Michael Crichton fan, what angered me more than anything was how the story was so needlessly changed from Crichton’s original novel. So, occasionally, I’ll take time out during this recap to point out just how different things are compared to the book version.
Things start out, like so many of these bad movies do, with a pan over a body of water, leading to the camera rising up to reveal where the movie takes place. Here it’s Isla Sorna, which a caption tells us is 87 miles southwest of Isla Nublar, the island where the original Jurassic Park took place. Nublar was referred to by name exactly once in the first film, so unless you’ve got a photographic memory, this statement is meaningless.
Filling in as the fictional island of Sorna is the Hawaiian island of Kaua’i, possibly the best looking of them all. This island has appeared in countless movies, even standing in as Africa a couple of times (in Outbreak and Mighty Joe Young). But something tells me the natives don’t talk about this particular movie very often.
A yacht is anchored offshore, and on the beach a British family has set up camp (wood tables, parasols, wine in an ice bucket delivered by a butler, the works). The mother calls to her daughter not to wander off, but her husband tells her not to be so overbearing. We learn two things from this comment: First, that the husband has a particularly stuffy British accent, and second, that his wife has the quintessentially British name Deirdre. So, are we clear on where this family is from? (By the way, the family could have just as easily been from anywhere with no impact on the plot, making this throat-ramming completely pointless.)
The daughter wanders off anyway, skips for half a step, and then continues plodding. There’s a bunch of noises in a bush, then a small dinosaur called a Procompsognathus (hereby referred to as a compy) jumps out. The girl asks, “What are you, some sort of bird or something?” Now, dinosaurs may have been the ancestors of modern-day birds, but this is definitely not the first thing that comes to mind when looking at one that doesn’t fly. She feeds it some roast beef, and then finds herself surrounded by about a dozen compies. The parents start noticing their daughter isn’t anywhere in sight, so they run down the beach and the mother screams at the sight of… Jeff Goldblum?
Well, no. Even though it at first appears that he’s also on the beach, he walks forward and we see he was just standing in front of poster of a palm tree in the subway. This is supposed to be… ironic? Humorous? I’m sure it’s supposed to be something, because the shot was obviously carefully set up.
[Book Version: The movie’s first scene is actually the second scene of the book Jurassic Park, right down to the dad’s line about there being no snakes on the beach. However, there is only one compy in the book version. Well, “bigger is better” is one of Hollywood’s first rules, right?]
Here, Jeff Goldblum is reprising his role of Ian Malcolm from the first film, only this time he’s our hero (cough). When Ian gets on the subway, some guy comes up and says he believed Ian, then starts imitating a dinosaur with some mock roaring. Ian also sees some old ladies staring at him. I guess what they’re trying to say is that after the events of Jurassic Park, Ian went public about the dinosaurs and now his reputation (as much as a mathematician can have one) is destroyed. But how dumb can a “genius” like Ian be? Shouldn’t he have at least talked to John Hammond (the founder of InGen, the company that created Jurassic Park) to see if he would be backed up on this?
At a huge house resembling a museum, the standard creepy butler greets Ian at the door. Ian reveals that he’s come to see John Hammond, and they slowly walk through the house for a while until they get to a stairway. Hammond’s grandchildren Tim and Lex from the first movie run down the stairs and have a short reunion with Ian. Presumably, someone would have complained if the kids completely disappeared, but these useless cameos are even worse. As the two wander off to collect their paychecks, we meet our villain for the first time.
Now, most Hollywood films adhere to the rule that all capitalists are money-grubbing thieves. However, John Hammond can’t fill this role because the audience actually came to like him in the first movie. So here, the role of sinister corporate bigwig is filled by John’s nephew, Peter Ludlow (played by Arliss Howard). Peter is an evil little squirt with a New England accent who loves money and nothing else. (I’m amazed he isn’t given a moustache to twirl.) The worst part is that the audience will frequently find itself sympathizing with him instead of the film’s supposed “heroes”.
This starts immediately with his first scene, where he acutely pegs Ian’s stupidity in coming forward about the events of Jurassic Park with no one to back him up. We learn Ian was even given a generous cash compensation for his injuries (Amazingly, there will be no evidence of the terrible leg wounds he suffered in the first movie). And really, who would Ian have hurt by keeping quiet? As far as he knew, the dinosaurs were all destroyed, meaning he had no reason to think anyone was in any danger.
Ian then meets with John Hammond, and we see that Richard Attenborough has once again been dragged in for the role. Making this even worse is that this was just one year after he delivered the line “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are dead” in Kenneth Branaugh’s definitive version of Hamlet. His only purpose this time is to provide raw, endless exposition.
Hammond fills Ian in about how the dinosaurs were actually bred on Isla Sorna, and not on Isla Nublar where Jurassic Park took place. Soon after the events of that movie, there was a hurricane and all the dinosaurs on Isla Sorna escaped. Now there’s a complete social system living on the island with no barriers whatsoever. Ian asks about the lysine deficiency (mentioned in the first film) that was bred into all the dinosaurs, but that question remains unanswered for the time being.
Hammond tells Ian that he’s sending some people in to document the dinosaurs, explaining that his team can safely remain on the outer edges of the island, since all the carnivores’ territories are in the interior. (What about the compies we just saw a few minutes ago? They’re scavengers, but they wouldn’t wander so far out of their territory for something that was still alive.) Ian asks who these “four” people are, even though Hammond never mentioned how many there were. Hammond says he’s sending “field equipment expert” Eddie Carr, “video documentarian” Nick Van Owen, and “a paleontologist”. (It’s pretty blatant that he’s deliberately omitting this person’s name.) He then asks Ian to be the fourth member.
Hammond brings up the incident with the British family from the beginning, saying that his nephew Peter has used the resultant multi-million dollar lawsuit as an excuse to take over InGen. Not only that, but he actually wants to bring the dinosaurs to the mainland and turn them into a tourist attraction. Hammond says his only chance is to sway public opinion against letting the dinosaurs be exploited, so he needs his team to get evidence that they exist. Even after this perfectly rational explanation, Ian refuses and says he’s going to stop the team from going to the island. So, he’d rather risk the dinosaurs being brought to the mainland and killing a bunch of people rather than the lives of four people?
It’s only when the paleontologist on the team is revealed to be Ian’s girlfriend, Sarah Harding, that Ian shows any interest. Ian says he’s going to stop her from going to the island, but Hammond says that she’s already there. The way this scene plays, it seems like we’re supposed to be concerned about Sarah, too, but up until now we had no idea she existed.
Also in this conversation, we learn that this “super secret island” is two hours by plane from San Diego. [!] (Plus, that British family really didn’t have too much trouble anchoring there, did they? There wasn’t even a “Keep Out” sign or anything.) Ian declares that the mission is leaving right away, and after he’s gone, Hammond counts to three on his fingers, pauses, then sticks out a fourth finger. Yes, very impressive.
[Book Version: Even in the terrific adaptation of Jurassic Park, there were signs of PC interference. The most noticeable of these was the changing of John Hammond from a bloodthirsty capitalist to a kindly grandfather figure. This would have resulted in an outcry had he been eaten by compies like in the book, so he was allowed to survive. In turn, this necessitated his involvement in the plot of this movie. In the book, Ian’s student Richard Levine (MIA here) goes to Isla Sorna to confirm his suspicions of dinosaurs there. Ian, with the help of Dr. Thorne (who also doesn’t appear here) figures out where Levine is and decides to mount a rescue mission. Sarah Harding is not involved at this point.]
Ian heads down to Eddie Carr’s workplace to get acquainted and prepare for the mission. Eddie (played by The West Wing‘s Richard Schiff) is the technical guy, and his entire characterization boils down to “he believes you have to love machines”. Ian picks up a satellite phone and starts banging it on Eddie’s van to get it to work. (This will become something of a years-too-late running gag.) Nick Van Owen (played by Vince Vaughn, who would go on to deserve further time in the Agony Booth for being a rather poor replacement for Anthony Perkins in the remake of Psycho) drives up and introduces himself by rattling off his resume of travels from when he was a photographer for Nightline and Greenpeace.
Next to be introduced is Ian’s daughter Kelly (played by Vanessa Lee Chester) who happens to be black [??]. She first appears shouting “Dad” eleven times (yes, I counted). Now, in Jurassic Park, Ian said he had three kids. What happened to that? He breaks the news to Kelly that he’s leaving, then we get something that really surprised me. I didn’t think a movie this recent could be dated, but Kelly does it when she complains that the woman she’ll be staying with while Dad’s gone doesn’t even have a Sega system. During this conversation we learn the two are sort of estranged, with the kicker being that Ian doesn’t know Kelly was cut from her school’s gymnastics team. Hey, a throwaway reference to some skill the kid has. Place your bets now on whether this will end up being useful later.
Ian gets called away, so he brushes off Kelly’s hurt feelings by simply telling her, “Don’t listen to me.” Down in a hangar, Eddie demonstrates to Ian the “high hide”, a box that can carry people up to the treetops so they can observe the dinosaurs easily. Ian quips it would actually put them right at “a very convenient biting height”, although supposedly they’re only going to be interacting with herbivores. Kelly wanders inside the team’s trailer and learns from a map that they’re going to a group of islands called “Las Cinco Muertes”. For reasons unknown, none of them is labeled “Isla Nublar”.