Monday, June 1, 2015

Blast from the Past Movie Review: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

For the special Jurassic Park series leading up to the release of Jurassic World, my friend Nick's podcast Myopia: Defend Your Childhood has just done the film The Lost World, the sequel to Jurassic Park loosely based on the novel of the same name. Here's a link to the podcast. And now my review...

The Plot

After a vacationing family stumbles upon InGen's Site B on Isla Sorna, where most of Jurassic Park's dinosaurs were manufactured prior to being shipped to Isla Nublar to be displayed, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough)'s "unscrupulous" nephew Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard) uses this as a pretext to take control of InGen. In order to foil his bid to capture the dinosaurs (who have been roaming free after a hurricane for years), Hammond contacts the disgraced Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and persuades him to join an expedition to Site B to document the dinosaurs in their habitats. Malcolm agrees once he learns his girlfriend Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), who studies African predators, has already gone to the island. Off they go, to an island with dangerous predators and an InGen team ready to take the dinosaurs to their planned new zoo in San Diego...

The Good

*The opening scene where the little British girl Cathy Bowman (played by Camilla Belle, who is still an active actress) encounters and feeds a compsognathus, only to attract the attention of a swarm of them, is very well-done. The writers did a good job of showing rather than telling the disagreements between her parents (the mother is overly protective and the father objects), depicting Cathy's kindness (she tries to befriend the first dinosaur by feeding it), and her innocence and fear (when the swarm appears and starts behaving aggressively, she tries to tell them there's not enough food to go around, not knowing, she's the food).

*The hunter Roland Tembo (Peter Postlethwaite), one of Ludlow's minions, is more sympathetic than many of the ostensible heroes. He's a lot more competent in wilderness survival than Ludlow (I liked his "base camp or buffet" line when Ludlow ignorantly wants to set up camp on a game trail) and chivalrous toward Sarah Harding, whom he helps up the cliff after the trailers are destroyed (along with her male compatriots too, I might add) and later expresses his concerns about her when he thinks she's injured. There's a deleted scene (which I thought was in a prequel comic) where he gives a slimy customer harassing a waitress a violent lesson in manners. Here's the scene if you want to watch it, which also builds on his relationship with his friend Ajay. He's also the only character in the film I'm aware of who has an arc--he initially wants to kill the male T-Rex like it's another trophy animal and after another character is killed, instead opts to tranquilize it so it can be captured for Ludlow's proposed zoo. He then rejects Ludlow's offer of employment, stating he no longer wishes to be "in the company of death."

I'm not familiar with most of Postlethwaite's career, but I do remember seeing him in some bits of the 1980s television series Sharpe on YouTube. He played the vile Obadiah Hakeswill, a Napoleonic sergeant who abuses his soldiers, sucks up to the officers over him, rapes and steals, and is generally a depraved scumbag. Hell, his introduction to the television series features him attacking Sharpe's girlfriend immediately upon seeing her (and then trying to kill her with a pitchfork when she fends him off), so we know he's bad news. The fact he plays a much more honorable and non-misogynist character shows his range.

*There's a good match cut juxtaposing the screaming Mrs. Bowman with the yawning Ian Malcolm--who has been reduced to borderline hobo status--on the subway early in the film.

*I liked the scene where Malcolm senses the approaching T-Rexes and the water ripples in the puddles on the ground. That's a nice call-back to the original film.

*I liked how the scene where we first meet the raptors is shot. We see them start to stalk a group of InGen employees and then there's an overhead shot showing them closing in from all angles, with the InGen team completely unaware they're there. It's very well-done. Don't go into the long grass indeed.

*I liked the shot where we first meet Sarah. It's very well-done and funny.

*There are some good shots where a character's death is revealed by blood in the water rather than an on-screen gnawing that would get the film rated R.

*The producers of the film clearly remembered the "lysine contingency" (the animals were made deliberately deficient in this enzyme so they'd die within days if not fed properly) from the first film. The herbivores have learned to eat certain foods rich to lysine and the carnivores eat them.

*The film does build on Malcolm's family life, referenced in the first film when he talks about how he has three kids and he's always on the lookout for "the next ex-Mrs. Malcolm." Here we actually meet his daughter Kelly, adapted from another character from the novel. The film shows how he's not the most attentive father, but does give him a really good line about his daughter being (or not being) on the school gymnastics team.

*Kelly is black, but nobody seems to really care other than one person who makes a comment about there not being much of a family resemblance between her and Malcolm. It's not done in a mean way or even in earshot of the characters (where it might offend them), but it does honestly show that somebody might be curious.

*We see an older Lex and Tim at Hammond's home in a brief scene. Good callback to the original movie.

The Bad

*There is a major plot hole when the InGen ship the SS Venture (a nice King Kong allusion there) arrives in San Diego with the crew dead, Dracula-style. There's nothing aboard the ship that could have done it--the dinosaur they're carrying is too big and contained in the hold. I remember reading somewhere that there was this deleted plot (TVTropes claims it was cut from the shooting script) involving a group of stowaway velociraptors, but they either cut it out or never filmed it at all! Seriously, either reshoot the ship's arrival completely or don't cut out the second batch of dinosaurs that killed the crew and made said arrival possible!

*The film starts to drag in the middle. Given how the film is supposed to be entertaining--and quite often is--this is a bit of a problem.

*The problem with the beginning--which as I said was great--is that the dinosaur attack on the little girl would probably be a much bigger deal than a pretext for Hammond's nephew to take control of the company. Seriously, a cute little girl was attacked and injured by dinosaurs. InGen might not find out about it until it's too late, and the family seems wealthy enough that bribes or legal threats wouldn't stop them from making a stink. I imagine it would be a major news story, there'd be media swarming about, etc. Perhaps Costa Rica (which doesn't have a standing military but does have a small security force for border policing, etc.) quarantines the island and Hammond's unauthorized expedition has to sneak onto Isla Sorna in a suspenseful scene? The larger InGen force then comes as a nasty surprise, as they didn't expect the Costa Ricans to let them in. Upon seeing the helicopters and vehicles coming in, Malcolm could then make some nasty comment about money making the world go round, which would answer any audience questions about how they got in.

Instead of trying to pre-empt his nephew, Hammond could send the scientists in as part of a plan to document the dinosaurs in their natural habitat and pre-empt any attempt to exterminate them that might result from the attack on the girl? We can see Ludlow and Hammond arguing (foreshadowing InGen's attempt to capture the dinosaurs), but Hammond never explains what they're arguing about, to make their arrival a surprise. The first film depicts Hammond as being close with his family and the second film continues this by having Lex and Tim visiting him. He might not want to tell Malcolm there's trouble at home, especially if he and Ludlow had once been close (they work together and Ludlow seems to have the same dreams and ambition Hammond once did) and had become estranged. Furthermore, making the arrival of the InGen team a surprise could be suspenseful--the scientists hear the sound of the helicopters and assume it's the military coming to kill off the dinosaurs.

*The movie depicts Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughan)--an eco-terrorist--in a far too sympathetic light. Heck, this movie, like the first, goes out of its way to vindicate Malcolm's insistence that displaying dinosaurs as a tourist attraction will never, ever work (which he has no logical reason to believe--it's all based on his pantheistic version of Chaos Theory) and Nick's Greenpeace shenanigans. InGen's team, rather than capturing a few smaller dinosaurs and leaving the island immediately, instead goes whole-hog trying to capture all of them (or at least most of the major herbivores), which would cause most of the carnivores to starve and destroy the neo-Mesozoic ecosystem completely.

Seriously, Nick and Sarah freeing all of the dinosaurs wrecks InGen's camp and nearly kills Tembo and Ajay. Nick later steals Tembo's ammunition, which would have come in handy when they're attacked by the T-Rex. TVTropes points out that Nick is indirectly responsible for all of the (human) deaths in the film. Honestly, to make Van Owen sympathetic, the filmmakers made Ludlow and InGen (once he takes over) into massive straw-men, even though the film does give him a chance to defend his position (the dinosaurs are InGen property) and gives Tembo a scene where he calls out Nick as "an Earth First bastard." See here for the whole dialogue. TVTropes points out that although he's condescending and unpleasant, Ludlow isn't truly bad and nothing he's doing is illegal.

Another problem with the film is that Van Owen disappears for the last act. Maybe they could depict him getting arrested for what happened on the island? There's a lot of destruction of property, reckless endangerment, and possibly even multiple counts of negligent homicide. If the producers want to gin up audience sympathy, perhaps he claims sole responsibility and takes the fall for Sarah, who was also involved in sabotaging the InGen team. In the event any InGen survivors claim she was there too, he could claim that she followed him into the camp to try to stop him or that even that he somehow coerced her. Given how he claimed to have joined Greenpeace for the women, falling on his sword to protect a woman from jail would be a good arc for him.

*The film does not explain any possible relationship between Sarah Harding and Jurassic Park's original veterinarian Gerry Harding. Hammond references Harding traveling to Costa Rica to meet the hospitalized Malcolm for years before, but how would she know what happened? Some of the games and other material do establish that she's Gerry's daughter, but the movie doesn't. I've theorized on the blog somewhere that perhaps Harding kept the non-disclosure agreement in public but told her what happened on Isla Nublar privately, which would explain her interest.

*Speaking of Sarah, she's incredibly hypocritical. At one point she straight up interacts with (even touching) an infant stegosaur, but then tells the other members of the expedition they're not there to interact with the dinosaurs and to not to bend even a single blade of grass (!).

Also, for someone Hammond thinks is an expert in surviving predators, she doesn't abandon the jacket covered in blood from the baby T-Rex, which is probably what brought Mom and Dad Dinosaur down on them later in the film. Hypocrisy is a character trait, true, and the bloody jacket explains why the T-Rexes found them, but the stupidity of the latter bit in particular undermines her character.

*The fate of most of the InGen team. Yes, they're panicked, but they're still armed. I would have expected them to put up a better fight than they did.

*When Malcolm's crew arrives on the island, finds Sarah's damaged backpack, and assume she's been attacked, Goldblum doesn't sound too terribly upset when he's shouting "Sarah!" His delivery in that scene wasn't very good.

*Some of Kelly's dialogue when she's arguing with Malcolm is too spot-on and verbally advanced for someone who is, at most, in her early teens. Yes, she has Malcolm for a father (and presumably anybody Malcolm would be interested in dating would have to be smart herself), but still.

The Verdict

See it once, especially if you want to get the complete film series in before seeing Jurassic World. 7.5 out of 10.

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