Lost World: Jurassic Park II (1997)
What’s scarier than a hungry Tyrannosaurus rex? An angry mother. Make that mom a T. rex with big yellow teeth and a supernaturally accurate nose, and you’ve got real trouble. So it is in *Lost World: Jurassic Park 2*, where loving, nurturing, caring dinosaurs wreak havoc on any human who so much as *looks* at their kid funny. A wailing baby T. Rex is not the runt you want to shove in the sandbox.
In this epic showdown between family values and corporate greed, mathematician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) returns, this time with his own kid, daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester), in tow. They’re in the misty jungles of Isla Sorna where nutty professor John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) once kept a dinosaur breeding facility. Now those dinos are running free in an idyllic jungle paradise: stegasauri, T. rexes, pterodactyls, brontosauri, velociraptors (villains par excellence of *Jurassic Park*) and many, many others, all born free. Malcolm is there to rescue his girlfriend, paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore). She, of course, doesn’t want to be rescued until she can prove that dinosaurs are really great parents (and, incidentally, help Kelly and Malcolm resolve their familial differences). When evil hunters show up to capture dinos and take them to a zoo, our intrepid heroes must save the lizard kings and queens from corporate greed (now, that’s scary).
The villains this time around are led by Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard), a corporate shark in an expensive suit who calls dinosaurs \\software\\; his latest corporate venture is a dinosaur theme park on the mainland (villains never learn). His dino-hunting expedition is led by big-game hunter Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite), who wants one thing: to kill a T. rex, preferably a big buck. These folks are not above tormenting baby dinosaurs. Neither are their nasty peons, especially Dieter (Peter Stormare), who delights in shocking compies with an electric prod. Compies are cute, tiny little dinos that will nibble a man to death given the chance, and they eventually exact a satisfying revenge on their human tormentor.
The plot is simplicity itself: people bad, dinos good. *Lost World* is a much darker, scarier, and funnier movie than *Jurassic Park*, full of viciously violent, gory moments and nasty, black humor. Spielberg has rediscovered the joys of a good, kid-unfriendly scare a la *Jaws*; In the first moments of *Lost World*, a cute, unsuspecting little girl is set upon by compies -- its obvious from then on that all bets are off and none will be spared, regardless of age, species or cuteness factor. That small element of unpredictability makes for scream-inducing frights and rousing, edge-of-your-seat suspense.
There’s a genuine tension between good and evil in *Lost World*, with morals that are much more clearly defined than in the less satisfying, more vaguely Frankensteinien science-out-of-control *Jurassic Park*. That movie featured beastly dinosaurs with little personality and a mindless, instinctual tendency to kill. In *Lost World*, by contrast, people are the real monsters, and dinos have every reason to kill them, even if they occasionally tear asunder the wrong folks. This is especially true of the T. Rexes, who vigorously defend Rex junior and come to see all humans as a threat, and rightly so. Even the velociraptors of *Lost World* are more fully developed, although they’re still brought in as scary dino ringers -- quick-tempered, jumpy, mean and relentless serial killer dinosaurs. There are enough villains in *Lost World* to sate a herd of velociraptors, although that doesn’t spare our heroes from their share of terror.
The dinosaurs, both the computer-animated and mechanical varieties, are terrifically realistic in *Lost World*. There’s not only a greater variety of dinosaurs, but far greater numbers of them, vast thundering herds of giant lizards, as well as small, nasty packs of little ones. This story is greatly enhanced by Spielberg’s mastery of visuals and sounds -- a night scene in which raptors pick off a veritable buffet of victims uses little more than eerie rustling sounds and dark trails in waves of tall grass to achieve a sense of genuine dread. *Lost World*’s creepy noir jungle, reminiscent of *King Kong*, is alive with sound and movement; a low rumble in the jungle signals the approach of a T. rex long before the massive beast appears, nostrils flaring and thighs thundering. When the dinosaurs chomp a human or two it is done with much screaming and tearing of limbs. (Parents be warned -- *Lost World* earns its PG-13 rating: this is real nightmare fodder for the little ones.)
When daddy T. rex is transported to San Diego, *Lost World* gets a bit lost itself, trading terror for giddy, homage-happy parody, with Rexie smashing cars and pounding the pavement while the citizenry runs in terror. By this point, *Lost World* has already climaxed and petered out -- most of the villains have been dispatched and digested, half the heroes have gone home -- the rest is just pulpy, campy fun, and in a far lighter vein than the nasty, violent and more effective humor of the first two acts of the movie.
Scripted by David Koepp, who penned the original *Jurassic Park*, *Lost World* has some of the same flaws as the original. The human characters are pretty thin, and they conveniently disappear when their storylines peter out. Hunky Vince Vaughn (Nick Van Owen), an environmentalist and dinosaur rights activist, has a prominent role in the film as nemesis to Roland, but both men are jettisoned from the film without any resolution when the movie shifts to San Diego. Ludlow is little more than a prissy Brit stereotype, glasses and all, which is a shorthand way to avoid creating a character with depth. Goldblum is the real human star of this adventure, and he’s got the right touch of Pandora doomsaying mixed with I-told-you-so venom and heroism. Moore and Chester ably perform their share of heroics, although their characters are also a tad threadbare.
Despite its flaws, *Lost World* offers enough fun, fright and effects to fully entertain, and it’s obviously the work of a seasoned filmmaker and cinephile. It is also that rare, rare movie, a sequel that improves on the original with a meaner, leaner story, and more mature jolts and jollies. And for once, I wasn’t the only one cheering for the giant reptiles.