By Ben Dower
When Jurassic Park hit screens in 1993, the film not only wowed audiences with its realistic looking dinosaurs, but also made a fortune at the box office. Almost immediately it seemed that a second Jurassic Park film would be inevitable, but there was a big challenge facing the writers: what could possibly happen next?
Author Michael Crichton was initially not too keen on writing a sequel for Jurassic Park, but he eventually decided to write a follow-up, titled The Lost World after the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle book of the same name. Crichton’s The Lost World novel was loosely adapted to film by director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp, and was released to movie theatres in May 1997 as The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The film was an instant hit upon its release, smashing several box office records.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is a mixed bag. The core of the film’s story is that two rival teams – the hunters and the gatherers – have arrived on Isla Sorna. The hunters come from InGen and they want to trap some of the dinosaurs to take them to a new Jurassic Park facility in San Diego. This would allow InGen to recoup some of the money lost by the failure of Jurassic Park on Isla Nublar. The gatherers, meanwhile, were sent by John Hammond in an attempt to thwart the hunters and allow the dinosaurs to live free on Isla Sorna. The gatherer team is meant to be our heroes and consists of Dr. Ian Malcolm, Dr. Sarah Harding, Nick Van Owen, and Eddie Carr. Kelly Curtis, Ian’s young daughter, also joins the gatherers after she stows away on the ship to Isla Sorna to be with her dad.
Jeff Goldblum returns to the role of Dr. Ian Malcolm for a second time. The character was very well- liked by audiences in the first film, with his funny but insightful philosophical musings helping to carry the key messages of the film. Crichton wisely resurrected the character for his The Lost World novel, and Spielberg and Koepp had the good sense to follow Crichton’s lead and keep Malcolm as the protagonist of their film adaptation.
Another standout from the cast is Pete Postlethwaite who plays Roland Tembo, an experienced hunter who has been hired by InGen to run their expedition to the island. The reason Tembo took the job is because he wants the chance to hunt the ultimate predator: Tyrannosaurus rex. Postlethwaite is fantastic in the role, and the character of Roland Tembo has become a fan favourite, even getting a new toy in 2022 as part of Mattel’s Jurassic World Legacy Collection line.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park also manages to keep the dinosaurs on screen looking just as realistic as they did in Jurassic Park, even with more screentime and more reliance on CGI. The film is bolder than the first in how it pushes the envelop of CGI effects, with the scene where the InGen hunters trap several herbivorous dinosaurs on a game trail being a highlight. Several new dinosaur species appear in the film: Compsognathus, Stegosaurus, Mamenchisaurus, and Pachycephalosaurus, as well as the pterosaur Pteranodon.
There are a few little homages to earlier dinosaur-related media sprinkled throughout The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The ship used to transport the adult Tyrannosaurus rex to San Diego is named the S.S. Venture, a call-back to the ship in King Kong (1933). The T. rex rampage through San Diego is an homage to the film The Lost World (1925), which has a sequence where a Brontosaurus escapes captivity and rampages through London. There is also a little wink at the Godzilla films in that scene as well.
Unfortunately, The Lost World: Jurassic Park also makes quite a few misteps, particularly with its handling of its characters. Perhaps the most poorly handled character by the script is Dr. Sarah Harding, who is portrayed by Julianne Moore. Though Dr. Harding is supposed to be very knowledgeable about research methods and animal behaviour, she foolishly interacts with a baby Stegosaurus. Dr. Harding also brings an injured baby Tyrannosaurus back to base camp, leading its parents to attack the trailer and kill Eddie Carr. After surviving that attack, she walks through the jungle with the infant’s blood on her clothes, which results in the adult Tyrannosaurus pursuing her and killing several members of InGen’s team.
Also problematic is the script’s handling of Nick Van Owen, played by Vince Vaughn. Though he is supposed to be one of the “good guys”, Nick Van Owen sabatoges InGen’s camp, allowing the dinosaurs they’ve captured to go free, and takes the injured young Tyrannosaurus rex to Dr. Harding. This ultimately leads to both groups being stranded on Isla Sorna with no way to contact rescue teams. Later in the film, he deliberately removes bullets from Roland Tembo’s gun so that he won’t be able to hunt a Tyrannosaurus. When the group is attacked by the two adult Tyrannosaurus, Tembo is forced to use a tranquilizer, which leads to the Tyrannosaurus being taken to San Diego and several lives lost on the U.S. mainland.
Then there is Kelly Curtis, Ian Malcolm’s daughter, played by Vanessa Lee Chester. As there really is no place for a child in this particular story, Kelly’s inclusion feels forced into the plot to provide a point of identification for younger viewers and to raise the stakes in a few scenes. Unlike Lex and Tim in the previous film, Kelly seems to get carried around by the plot as opposed to being an active participant in key plot points.
Lastly, there is the final act of the film, which features the adult male Tyrannosaurus loose in San Diego. Though a fun idea on paper, on screen it is a little silly and filled with ridiculous sight gags. It doesn’t really fit the darker tone of the island-set portion of the film.
In the end, The Lost World: Jurassic Park is a worthy attempt at a sequel to one of the greatest movies ever made. It was never going to be able to live up to its predecessor, but considering how self- contained and outright spectacular the previous film was, it’s a testament to Spielberg’s skill as a filmmaker that The Lost World: Jurassic Park turned out so well and managed to recapture some of the magic from Jurassic Park.