There is a distinct dividing line between the Fun Spielberg and the Serious Spielberg. Ever since “Schindler’s List” back in 1993, I feel that his fun pictures have suffered in the wake of his desire to be taken more seriously. The last time he achieved greatness with his fun pictures was “Jurassic Park.” And the first of his lackluster “fun pictures” was “The Lost World.”
I remember seeing “The Lost World” on opening weekend back in 1997, and I remember that it left me cold. What I remember is that when I left the theater I didn’t remember much about it at all, and I think I commented that this would not go down as one of Spielberg’s more memorable pictures. I was right and in revisiting that movie I think I have a better idea of why it’s more or less forgotten.
The dinosaurs in “The Lost World” are supporting players in their own movie. They seem to be more or less background filler in a movie where the foreground is filled with a lot of heavy machinery; cages, guns, gadgets, cars, trucks, boats. It’s like a Hot Wheel movie. And the characters aren’t that interesting either, there’s a lot of machismo given to a mostly male cast that looks and sounds basically interchangeable. Jeff Goldblum, whom I consider a treasure, is relegated to the role of “I told you so,” which is a note that he plays over and over.
The story could work. I like the idea of a Jurassic Park safari hunt. We get a little of that but most of the movie is shot at night in the dark with a lot of negligible characters running around in the woods and in the grass.
But the biggest problem is that there is the movie has no sense of wonder. There’s no sense of loving these creatures. There’s no scene here that matches or equals the majesty of the first time we saw the Brachiosaurus in “Jurassic Park.” Everything here is cold and efficient and kind of mean-spirited. Not to mention forgettable. Seeing it again last night I realized that while the movie opens well, it quickly degenerates into a retread of the earlier movie. “The Lost World” feels like a movie that Spielberg was contracted to make. Like “Crystal Skull,” it never feels like a movie that he wanted to make. It’s like his mind was somewhere else.