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A Study in Spielberg: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

17 Apr

LostWorld

After Schindler’s List in 1993, Steven Spielberg got busy promoting the film, raising awareness about The Holocaust and becoming the founder of The Shoah Project.  It was, everyone would agree, a more noble effort then jumping head-first into a new entertainment film, but when he came back four years later there seemed to be some sense of passion that was missing from his work.

In 1997, he returned to directing with two films that one might think were attempts to repeat his brilliant success from four years earlier.  As he had before, he made a big-budget summer movie – a sequel to Jurassic Park – and then followed it with a serious and sober epic about inhuman mistreatment of African slaves in the mid-19th century.  Neither film could match the awesome experience of either Jurassic Park or Schindler’s List, but then again what film could?

The Lost World: Jurassic Park never feels like a movie that anyone really wanted to make.  It feels like a
pressure-sequel, a movie put into production by pressure from the studio in the same way that Michael Critchton was pressured to write the book.  With that, the passion is gone and so is the sense of wonder.

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 why.

The dinosaurs in The Lost World are supporting players in their own movie. They seem to be 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 movie brought to you by Hot Wheels. 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.  Julianne Moore plays his girlfriend, a paleontologist but she’s given little if anything to do.

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.  Most of the scenes take place in the dark and the death scene all seem to deal with characters that we don’t care anything about.

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.

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