‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)’ is An Underwhelming Sequel: Throwback Review

Four years after the catastrophic failure of Jurassic Park on Isla Nubla, Dr. John Hammond (Sir Richard Attenborough) sends mathematician and chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) to another island called Isla Sorna (Site B). This island inhabits other genetically engineered dinosaurs and has roamed free with no harm. However, Hammond is in danger of losing his company, InGen, to his nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) and sends a research team, including Ian’s paleontologist girlfriend Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), to document and gather information on the remanding creatures in their natural habitat. Reluctant at first, Ian only agrees to go to save his girlfriend until InGen’s team of mercenaries and hunters lands on the island to capture the dinosaurs for a brand new zoo in San Diego. 

If anybody was alive in the ‘90s, they didn’t miss out on experiencing Jurassic Park in theaters, where director Steven Spielberg brought Michael Crichton’s novel to life extraordinarily. I can only describe a film that brought dinosaurs back to life in a thrilling adventure as unforgettable once it’s over. Of course, that was breaking records at the box office for Universal Pictures and the recipient of three Oscars (Visual Effects, Sound Mixing, Sound Editing). So, it was inevitable a sequel was in order. Successful was the movie was, Crichton wrote a follow-up book published in 1995 that could be turned into the film we have now. The Lost World: Jurassic Park must’ve been the most anticipated movie of the summer movie season of 1997, and I would’ve been excited too if I was 10-years-old. For a sequel for one of the biggest films of all-time back then, I had to believe the hype was real. It was going to be the biggest hit during the Memorial Day weekend. I had to believe the hype was unreal for a sequel to one of the biggest films of all-time back then. It was going to be the biggest hit during the Memorial Day weekend from the name alone. And while it indeed dominated at the box office, the critical reception wasn’t on the same page as its older sibling. Surprisingly, it was mixed, holding a 53% on Rotten Tomatoes and split fans. But fans have come around to his sequel over the years or liked it back then, thinking it’s better and has called it “underrated.” The first time I watched this was probably on TV one night, and it was one of those rare Spielberg blockbusters I didn’t like. After re-watching it again for the first time in years, I still don’t think it’s a terrible movie, but I’m always going to think of this as an underwhelming sequel.

It’s never easy to pull off a follow-up that’ll be on par with its predecessor. And when you’re about to watch The Lost World out of boredom, it should be easy not to expect this to reach the heights of the classic that came before, and we might’ve had the mindset of this being just like it. Not that I wanted this to be the same, but it’s missing the sense of wonder. Four years after the respective wins of the original Jurassic Park and his Best Picture-winning masterpiece Schindler’s List, he needed a deserved break when he helmed two of the best films of 1993. 

Spielberg coming back to this fictional world was exciting enough with a bit of a darker tone. But, to his credit, he made something different from before that works both ways where his eye for filmmaking is never lost as you feel you’re in this dangerous environment trying to survive. With more people and dinosaurs, you already know it will be more furious than what happened last time. But why I’ve never been one to love this sequel is because of the story. You don’t have Crichton co-writing the screenplay; writer David Koepp is the sole writer on this adventure that doesn’t go the same route as the book. It never retained that spark that got somewhat lost in parts without retrieving that fantastic sense of wonder, and that’s why the thin plot never made it feel satisfying. That perfect blend of action, sci-fi, and horror rarely translates well here. Instead, the movie follows the same themes that were carried over of how humans shouldn’t dare to mess with the balance of nature or don’t be near dinosaurs that could eat you after its usual first act setup that takes a while to get to the meat. Or the fact this allows the characters to go back to an island where people died the last time. Compared to another second installment Spielberg doesn’t consider himself a fan of, I personally think Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom is more fun than this, and I don’t understand the shade that has gotten over the years. 

Rarely do supporting characters get to be in the spotlight as the lead in a sequel, but you won’t hear me complain about Goldblum. His performance as Ian Malcolm in the original was a true standout, and he’s still great here, taking on the unconventional action role. I asked why they brought him back because I didn’t think he had an enormous knowledge of dinosaurs, unlike Sam Neill, who returned to the third movie. Better enough, he’s the one character I cared about the most because he actually had development, unlike everyone else. At least they explained his career pitfall after he broke the non-discloser agreement to the public about the park and his reputation ruined. Besides Malcolm, the rest of the characters weren’t as memorable as the ones we’ve grown to love where it would’ve been exciting to see return later on in the franchise. Julianne Moore as Sarah Harding was good, though I didn’t think she got to do much. And despite believing her character is smart, she’s the one who makes the stupidest decisions, resulting in the risks of others on this island—for example, taking the baby T-Rex back to the trailer to fix its broken leg or still wearing the jacket that clearly has its blood on it and the T-Rex can track it. But then you also have Vince Vaughn as Nick Van Own and the late Pete Postlethwaite as hunter Roland Tembo, who were both nowhere to be found in the third act. And it’s always lovely to see great Richard Attenborough as John Hammond, even though he’s basically a glorified cameo.

The Oscar-nominated visual effects provided by ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) and the company of Stan Winston still look quite impressive 25 years, along with more usage of the animatronic dinosaurs shots for the close-ups. Later. The action sequences have always been fine, but nothing too memorable. However, one of the best scenes in the entire franchise involves Ian, Sarah, and Nick trapped inside the RV after the two T-rexes push it over the edge of a cliff. That was the only intense moment to always think of when talking about the movie. There’s even a long shot I never noticed until now of Eddie Carr’s (Richard Schiff) attempt to save the team of him trying to tie this rope from the truck to the trailer before getting devoured. Other than that, it goes about a typical not getting killed type of plot in the latter half that’s not as thrilling as I thought. Honestly, the trailer was more exciting. Not even the sequences with the characters trying to escape the Velociraptors around the InGen base had the same level of intensity as the claustrophobic kitchen scene.

Two moments, in particular, have always bugged me and added to the issues why this movie never clicked for me. The first is the moment of Kelly doing a gymnastic trick to kill one of the vicious velociraptors. But, in all honesty, Kelly, played by Vanessa Lee Chester, is a character who added little to the story besides being a stole away, having father-daughter banter, and letting us know Malcolm isn’t always there for her. The other is just the entire third act, where the Tyrannosaurus becomes unleashed from the ship after crashing into the dock and stomps throughout San Diego at night. That whole sequence felt out of place and wasn’t even fun; it was stupid that didn’t even come close to the thrilling climax prior. Maybe it would’ve been fun to watch a dinosaur terrorize a city as a kid, but the movie was already long enough and I wasn’t ready to see them outside the park yet. A part of me kept thinking this was a reshoot, only to learn the original third act was changed involving Pterodactylus I would love to see.

The Lost World: Jurassic Park benefits from its visual effects and action. But as one of the more disappointing outings in Steven Spielberg’s filmography, it’s a sequel to Jurassic Park that’s definitely inferior, not living up to the expectations. At this point, I can understand those who love this, feeling like a misunderstood movie 25 years later, but you sense there’s a hint of greatness hidden somewhere I never got behind. 

Grade: [C+]

The Lost World: Jurassic Park is now available on home release and currently streaming on HBO Max. Runtime: 127 Minutes. Rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi terror and violence. Studio: Universal Pictures

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