So a little while back we watched Jurassic Park with The Kid, a bit apprehensively as we thought she would find it a bit intense and scary. No dice; she just made fun of us for our worries! But she also insisted on watching the sequel, so I got it from the library and we watched it, after some warnings from me that while she might not find it scary either, she also might find it not as good. This because I distinctly recall my disappointment in The Lost World: Jurassic Park back when it came out, and I hadn't seen it in its entirety since.
Well, having watched it again at long last, I conclude that it's better than I remember it, but it's still not all that good.
The Lost World opens with a family setting up lunch on the beach of a tropical island off which they're moored their yacht. Their little girl wanders off and finds an adorable little reptile thing that acts all cute when she feeds it. This brings out its brethren. Lots and lots of them. Cue the screaming of the little girl, the running of her parents to her side, and the wailing of her mother when she sees what's happening (offscreen). This is actually kind of intense, and I remember wondering, "Jeebus, did Spielberg actually open his movie by killing a kid?!" That would have been a dramatic departure from Spielberg's previous efforts with children in his movies.
But no, the kid is later indicated to have been merely injured. That's good. It turns out that while the original Jurassic Park island was pretty much destroyed (along with all the dinosaurs) in a hurricane, the island next door wasn't -- and that's where they were doing the actual breeding, or something -- all of this explanation stuff whips by really quickly and it's not all that interesting anyway.
The only character from the first movie who really returns for any length of time is Jeff Goldblum's Dr. Ian Malcolm, the quirky mathematician from the first movie who was forever telling people what a bad idea cloning dinosaurs is. Since he's the only returning character, we have to spend some time meeting all of the new characters, some of whom we like and some of whom we don't. Malcolm is dating a stunningly beautiful paleontologist (Julianne Moore), who just happens to already be on Jurassic Park II. He also has a techno-whiz friend (Richard Schiff, yay!) and a documentary filmmaker (Vince Vaughn) who seems to have ulterior motives. Oh, and he has a kid. Who is all pouty because she's just been cut from the gymnastics team. And who is also pouty because Malcolm tries, but he's never quite there for her. And who stows away on the boat to the island. Oy.
Of course, there are the industrialists who want to capitalize on dinosaurs to make money, only they're a lot more bent on their dino-riffic get-rich-quick scheme this time out (meaning, they bring a lot of guns with them). Other than that, the movie involves a lot of the same tropes of the first one: humans trapped on an island with dinosaurs. This time the dinos get angrier (owing to people messing around with their young), and the set-pieces get more creative. I've got to give the movie credit: if seeing people suffer grisly demises at the hands of dinosaurs is your thing, The Lost World has a lot more going for it than Jurassic Park.
Of course, there are some mis-steps as well. I know whom I would place money on in the matchup of a velociraptor versus a teenage girl with some gymnastics skill, but apparently Steven Spielberg feels otherwise.
Watching the movie again, I was disappointed that it's not really a story; rather, it's a series of set-ups and pay-offs. Meet people; send them to island. Cut them off from the mainland; release the dinos. Escape dinos; run into more dinos. Lather, rinse, repeat, until the end, when it turns out that the entire movie is just one big set-up for the last giant set-piece, when the stupid dino-capitalists carry out their brilliant plan to bring a T-Rex to the mainland. And not the coast of Peru, either. Nope, their dino is coming to San Diego.
The first film had characters that it was easier to care about, which is part of what makes the second a bit harder to take. Ian Malcolm was the least developed of the characters in the first movie, and yet he has to carry the show this time out, so we have to spend time getting to know him and aside from his quirkiness and the fact that Jeff Goldblum is all kinds of nifty, he's just not that interesting a guy. And what stood out horribly for me this time is that the movie totally wastes its most interesting new character.
Well into the movie, we meet a very intriguing guy. I don't remember his name, but he's a hunter played by Pete Postlethwaite. This guy is calm, cool, deeply smart, wickedly observant, and he's itching to bag a T-Rex. He's also mainly used as a villain and a counterpoint for the "more enlightened view" of nature that the film is trying to underline. We only meet him about a half hour into the film, and when we see him last, we still have a half hour of film to go. The way the movie creates this highly intriguing character and then treats him about as disposably as a character can be treated is the most disappointing thing about the movie.
I ended up imagining an entirely different Jurassic Park II. What if we don't have any of the Ian Malcolm stuff, any of the dumbass-dino-exploiter stuff, and of it -- what if instead we have this old hunter who is tired and bored and can't find any more challenges? And what if we have this hunter hear whispers of an island somewhere? An island where some company was doing some genetic experimenting on animals, experimenting of an indeterminate sort, that resulted in the creation of the toughest big game on the planet? And what if our hunter takes a few friends to go see what's up, and finds, beyond his wildest imaginings, that he's hunting -- and being hunted by -- dinosaurs? That could have been a gripping movie, instead of a movie that gives gripping set-pieces alternating with dull exposition.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is fun to watch. Great action, and I really did like the T-Rex-in-San Diego bit. But the movie is still a misfire. It's a shame.
(Of course, I may just be a tad bitter toward the film because the T-Rex's first meal in the movie is poor Richard Schiff. I don't care if this was several years before he played Toby Ziegler on The West Wing; you don't get to feed Richard Schiff to the T-Rex! Especially not when he's gallantly risking death to save his friends!)