In Defense Of: “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” (1997)

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Full disclosure: Jurassic Park is my favorite movie. Always has been, always will be. I was born in 1989, and though I grew up on a steady cinematic diet of the usual staples like Star Wars and Indiana Jones, I was, essentially, late to the party. I wasn’t there in 1977 when the world was first taken back a long time ago to a galaxy far, far away. I wasn’t there in 1981 when audiences first met Indy, or in 1982 when a young boy became best friends with a stranded extraterrestrial, or in 1985 when Marty McFly traveled back to 1955. These were the types of stories I grew up on, love, and cherish, of course, but it wasn’t until 1993 that I had the chance to be present as a film became something else, transcending into a cultural event of its own.

Like the countless children before me who took a personal ownership of those iconic films I listed, Jurassic Park became my movie. My mother took me to see it opening day, and after that, everything changed. Even without donning rose-tinted glasses looking back on it, it truly is a great film, a solid piece of entertainment packed to the brim with a sense of real wonder that we rarely see in cinema anymore, and it’s far and away the movie I’ve seen the most in my lifetime. I’ve reread Michael Crichton’s two novels just as many times, played nearly every video game the franchise has spawned, spent a handful of years at the turn of the century on fan sites devoted to the films, and will forever hold Steven Spielberg’s original masterpiece close to my heart no matter how good or bad the future of the franchise itself winds up.

All this is to say that when 1997 rolled around, bringing with it The Lost World: Jurassic Park, I was more than excited. This was my Empire Strikes Back, my Temple of Doom, my Back to the Future: Part II, the follow-up to the film that mattered most to me, and as we settled into the theater to watch it – me with a bag of The Lost World-branded dinosaur egg Reese’s Pieces – I spent the next two hours once again being swept away.

I loved it, though not nearly as much as the first film, and when we inevitably got it on VHS, the one with that 3D insert card of a T-Rex bursting through the logo, I watched it again and again. Even then, I hated very specific things about the film, like the awful gymnastics moment people often remember most about it, but on the whole, I was satisfied, and it wasn’t until several years later as I entered the online world ahead of Jurassic Park III‘s release that I learned that The Lost World wasn’t as loved as I had imagined it would be, a fact that has stayed true over 20 years since its release.

Now, as always, I plan on sticking up for the film, but before I do, here’s a quick refresher on the plot in case it’s been a while: Several years after the events of Jurassic Park, Ian Malcolm is summoned by John Hammond to take part in an expedition to Isla Sorna, aka Site B, an island where dinosaurs were born and raised before being moved to Isla Nublar to be showcased in the park and where they have since flourished after InGen was forced to abandon the island.

Hammond wants Malcolm’s team to document the dinosaurs in their natural habitat so that the island can be preserved as is before Hammond’s nephew, Peter Ludlow, who was able to seize control of the company in the wake of an incident involving a family stumbling across the island and a young girl being injured, can lead his own expedition to the island to capture dinosaurs and bring them to the mainland to be exploited in an effort to save the company. Of course, life finds a way, as neither plan works out as expected.

Right off the bat, The Lost World demonstrates that it’s going to be a much darker film in tone and substance than its predecessor, as a child gets attacked and injured within the first few moments. Unlike Isla Nublar, which we first got to see in full bright colors accompanied by a whimsical score, Isla Sorna is introduced with a larger sense of foreboding. The island itself, shrouded in fog later on when Malcolm finally arrives, is given a personality of its own, one presented not as a place of wonder but as a place of real danger, and the dinosaurs we see on the island aren’t monsters but real animals people shouldn’t be so bold to mess with, whether they’re simply protecting their youth or defending their territory.

The Lost World never once attempts to rehash the first movie, and that’s a notion that seems to be lost when discussing the film with people who hold the fact that it’s nothing like Jurassic Park against it. It doesn’t want to be, nor should it, and honestly, that’s commendable, as the sequel could’ve played it completely safe by trying to be, say, thoroughly kid-friendly in a misguided belief that a lighter product would sell more merchandise. Instead, we get a film with a bit of a mean streak. Aside from a child being hurt, a dog gets eaten, one of the most heroic characters gets violently ripped in half, and even the death of an innocent bystander (played by screenwriter David Koepp) late in the film is darkly played for laughs.

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