The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the sequel to Steven Spielberg's iconic blockbuster, was released to massive commercial success, but critical disappointment. While audiences flocked to see the follow-up to the highest grossing movie of all-time, critics lambasted the movie for failing to live up to the high mark set by its groundbreaking predecessor. I'm here to set the record straight. The critics were demonstrably wrong. The Lost World is one of the most underrated, and over-hated movies of recent memory. Four years after Jurassic Park captivated audiences around the world, Steven Spielberg returned to the director's chair to craft a sequel that matched the original in every area that mattered. The Lost World is as technically accomplished, as thrilling, and as exquisitely crafted as the highly praised, Jurassic Park. Critics be damned!
Michael Crichton's sequel novel serves as inspiration for The Lost World's story, which introduces Isla Sorna, or Site B, as its main setting. This island is the site where Jurassic Park's dinosaurs were bred and raised. After the events of Jurassic Park, the site was abandoned and dinosaurs roam free once again, in a proverbial "lost world". Ian Malcolm, the neurotic chaotician from the first film, is the centerpiece figure of The Lost World, substituting for Sam Neil's Alan Grant, who was left out of Crichton's book. Malcolm's girlfriend, Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) and her team of biologists are sent to Isla Sorna to study the unique animals on the island. Meanwhile, InGen's team, led by great white hunter Roland Tembo, played with scene-stealing gusto by the late, great Pete Postlethwaite, come to capture some of the island's larger inhabitants. Ian Malcolm learns of this news and takes it upon himself to retrieve his girlfriend from the dinosaur-infested island. The Lost World doesn't bother much with exposition (After the pieces are put in place, it's non-stop dino-action), but David Koepp's script is not simple-minded. Here is a story that, in its own way, still develops its characters and encourages engagement. There are ideas present in The Lost World (on greed, nature, human hubris), which is more than you can say about its successors.
One of the criticisms The Lost World often receives is that it lacks the compelling characters of the first film. It's a complaint that holds no water. Moore's wide-eyed, overly enthusiastic Dr. Harding, Vince Vaughn's militant eco-activist, Nick Van Owen, the aforementioned big game hunter, Tembo, and the rest of the new characters are, in the most basic sense, well drawn. What they lack in situational awareness (haters will have you know that there are dumb decisions made by some), they make up for in personality. Love them or hate them, these are real characters. People, with passions and flaws. Not the fleshy placeholders of JP3 and Jurassic World. And that's not to mention Jeff Goldblum, who carries the protagonist load admirably. When you think about it, his role here is not only different from the first film, but different from most anything Goldblum has done. We know he can do quirky, but his understated cynicism here comes off totally natural all the way through. Malcolm is the ultimate grounding force among all the dinosaur chaos; a huge asset to the movie.
The cogent story and memorable characters, as welcome as they are, are only the icing on this cake. The essence of The Lost World is its fantastic dinosaur action. Here is where this movie outclasses nearly all its competitors. The Lost World is Steven Spielberg flexing his cinematic muscles. He takes the set pieces, a trailer dangling off a cliff, a basecamp ambush by territorial T-Rexes, or a raptor hunt in long grass, and weaves from them some real tension, suspense, and above all, thrills. Spielberg knows how to tease an action scene and have it explode to life at just the right time. Even when things move to San Diego in the final act, the richness of Spielberg's action remains. His sense for visual iconography, like glass slowly cracking, shadows streaking across tents, and trails being made in grass, is unparalleled. We've grown used to modern action that numbs the senses, but the satisfaction of Spielberg's action is that it enriches them. At this point, he's just showing off.
But what is dinosaur action without the dinos themselves? If Jurassic Park redefined creature effects for the modern age, The Lost World perfected them. Combining the very best of both animatronics and digital effects, Stan Winston and ILM create dinosaurs even more dazzling than those in Jurassic Park. The intricately detailed large scale animatronics move smoothly with a wide range of motion, and the CGI is as photo real as anything in 1997, or today for that matter, but what separates these dinosaurs from other movie monsters is the way they are treated as characters. The dinosaurs of the Lost World: Jurassic Park are written and directed with a constant eye for realism. The T-Rex parents, the biggest stars of the film, don't chase and eat people just because they are T-Rexes. When they attack, we know why. They exhibit maternal instincts when their baby is taken from them and territorial instincts when the scientists venture too far into their domain (As do the stegosauruses, in a fabulous early scene). It is a credit to writer David Koepp that a film that could have easily devolved into mindless action maintains a certain level of intelligence, even in its most fantastic moments. And we aren't just told that the dinosaurs are "animals, not monsters". They actually behave that way. The T-Rexes sniff the air for signs of their baby, the raptors snap at each other during a hunt, the compys swarm a piece of food dropped on the beach; These moments feel like they were taken from a documentary. Of course this is how dinosaurs would behave. They are given reasons to roar and chase, when the lazy thing to do would be to create dinosaurs that exist only to look cool.
Okay, so the story may not be as fresh as the original Jurassic Park, I can buy that, but The Lost World matches the first movie in nearly every other way. The special effects, action, score, set design, cinematography, you name it, they all carry the same mark of quality as the original Jurassic Park. There is passion behind the creation of The Lost World: Jurassic Park. A novel from Michael Crichton, Steven Spielberg at the helm, ILM and Stan Winston at the top of their respective games, and John Williams providing the music; This is the only Jurassic Park sequel that can stand with the original. It does exactly what a big budget sequel should do. It skips through the requisite set-up and launches full force into the thrills. The Lost World is jam-packed with jaw-dropping special effects and pulse-pounding action, yet it stays smart enough and scary enough to feel fulfilling. It's the very best kind of summer popcorn entertainment, and without question the best sequel to Jurassic Park.