Spielberg: The Lost World: Jurassic Park part 1

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As should be expected from Spielberg at this point, The Lost World takes many of the ideas from its predecessor Jurassic Park and, yes, stands them on their heads. In the first movie, the dinosaurs were fearsome creatures to run away from, here they are heroic, almost protagonists, creatures to be protected and cherished, not feared. The “teams” in Jurassic Park were “Nature” and “Technology,” here they are slightly different. They are “Hunters” and “Gatherers,” exploitative capitalists who rape and pillage vs kind scientists who wish only to study and protect. These teams are placed in camps that reveal a spirit of class warfare in The Lost World, warm-and-fuzzy environmentalists vs cruel, heartless capitalists, as though the “lost world” of the title refers not to the Conan Doyle novel but to the world of 60s radicalism.

The opening draws the battle lines of the class warfare clearly: an obscenely wealthy British family, drinking champagne, reading the Financial Times and having their yacht crew prepare prawns for lunch, Spielberg does everything but put the father in a top hat and monocle. Family is, of course, key to Spielberg’s work, so the filthy-rich family picnicking on the shore of Isla Sorna must be an unhappy family, with a bored, distracted father and a worry-wart mother and a child who wishes only to break away from her parents’ suffocating world. As it happens, her instinct to wander from the family unit lands her in a nest of little dinosaurs, which incites the plot of The Lost World.

Spielberg puts a mock-shock-cut from the screaming mother to a yawning Ian Malcolm, who is our protagonist this time around. Ian, in contrast to the wealthy family on the beach, is scruffy and unkempt and schlepping through the subways of New York. After contrasting Ian with the wealthy family, in case we didn’t get the point Spielberg then contrasts him with another wealthy family, depositing Ian at the door of John Hammond’s sterile, baroque mansion. There, Ian meets Bad Guy Peter Ludlow, a capitalist so cold and heartless he makes the foolish John Hammond seem like a jolly bumbler in comparison. Ludlow has ruined Ian’s career, taken away his “rock-star” status, by painting him as a loon in the media, exercising his perogative as a capitalist to ruin the lives of those who get in his way. When Ian asks Peter what his uncle John thinks of his cruelty, Peter says that he does not answer to Hammond, he answers to the Ingen board. This lays out the argument of The Lost World perfectly: in this world, capitalism doesn’t just destroy worlds, it destroys families, emphasizing profit over blood.

(Ian is, by the way, I think, Spielberg’s first Jewish protagonist. Richard Dreyfuss and Harrison Ford don’t count, they’re playing goyim. Ian is presented as an almost stereotypical New York Jew — uncomfortable in nature, dressed wrong for the work, intellectual, sardonic and cowardly. He’s practically Woody Allen, who, come to think of it, twenty years earlier, would have been great in the part. Of course, Spielberg was in the middle of casting Woody Allen in another action-adventure movie while shooting The Lost World, but that is, of course, another story.)

Ian goes to meet with John, who has lost control of his company to Peter. What follows is one of Spielberg’s better expository scenes. While cinematically unremarkable, the writing of this scene is full of humor, surprises and twists as the situation slowly is revealed to Ian, and anyone in the business of writing expository scenes for science-fiction thrillers would be wise to check it out. We learn, in it, that the attack of the little dinosaurs on the wealthy British girl has provoked a lawsuit against Ingen and brought a whole host of corporate problems to the foreground, and Hammond wants Ian to go to Isla Sorna to help document the dinosaurs there before word gets out and the public demands them to be destroyed. Another reversal from the first movie, where Hammond was the capitalist, now he is an environmentalist, and, as such, is powerless in the face of the imperatives of business. Ian, who barely made it off the island alive last time, is extremely reluctant to go study dinosaurs; Hammond must tell him that his girlfriend Sarah is already on the island, acting as a paleontological Dian Fossey, before Ian will be convinced to go.

Ian then reports to the staging ground of his expedition, where we meet his other two crew members, techie Eddie and video documentarian Nick. Eddie, short and bald, has “expendable” written all over him, while Nick, with his wily opportunism and leering boyishness, seems to be there to stand as a counterpart to Ian’s goofiness and, later, Sarah’s earnestness. Spielberg doesn’t want us to think that all environmentalists are stick-in-the-mud idealists.

Then there is Ian’s daughter Kelly, who poses an entirely different problem, or at least she did for audiences at the time. For some reason, people were angry and upset that Ian, who is played by Jeff Goldblum, should have a daughter who is black. Some people couldn’t get past the incongruity, others thought she was arbitrarily inserted into the narrative, others saw an affirmative-action agenda being pushed. To me, the choice was obvious and kind of inarguable. Ian Malcolm has a black daughter because Steven Spielberg has a black daughter.

And so Ian is, kind of out of the blue, a father, and, in the tradition of Spielberg fathers, an inattentive father. Again, Spielberg takes the accepted notion and stands it on its head: ordinarily, a Spielberg “bad father” is obsessed with work and can’t be bothered with family; here, the father is chastised for being to liberal, and responds by wanting to leave the kid at home in order to protect her from the dangers he knows are out in the world. Ian spends a lot of time in The Lost World trying to figure out what it means to be a good husband (or boyfriend anyway) and father, and the dinosaurs generously respond by providing their own behavior as examples. And I’m guessing Ian is a different kind of Spielberg father because Spielberg was, at the time, becoming a different kind of Spielberg father. Just as Oskar Schindler renounces his dreams of fortune and glory in order to become a good husband to his wife and a good father to his “children,” Ian seems to want to get out of the dinosaur business as quickly as possible to save his patchwork family. And Ian’s fretfulness about parenting echoes the larger argument of the movie. Who, the narrative asks, is a better “parent” for the world? If the dinosaurs represent “nature,” who is a better steward for them, a patchwork team of do-gooders or a well-organized army of expensively-outfitted capitalists?

Ian, Eddie and Nick arrive on the island and find Sarah photographing some Stegosauruses. Ian wants to grab her and get her the hell off the island, but here Spielberg stands yet another Spielbergism on its head — here, it’s Sarah who’s the one too obsessed with work to care about the feelings of her loved ones. Sarah doesn’t want to leave the island until she’s proven that dinosaurs are good parents, which reflects the movies larger concerns of who will be good parents for the dinosaurs. They come back to camp and find Kelly there; she has stowed away in order to be with her father. A family argument ensues between Kelly, Ian and Sarah, in the makeshift “home” of their trailer-science lab.

Their argument is interrupted by the beginning of Act II, which Spielberg announces with the arrival of the hunters. Bad Peter has brought his army of mercenaries to the Lost World, to trap and subdue the dinosaurs and take them back to San Diego to put in a zoo, to save his company and make his shareholders happy. The contrast between the gee-whiz attitudes of the scientists and the smash-and-grab tactics of the capitalists couldn’t be more sharply drawn.

We meet Roland, the big game hunter who wants only to kill a Tyrannosaurus, and Dieter, his second-in-command, who we know is going to get it because he’s played by the psycho from Fargo. Roland’s plan for bagging his T-Rex buck is to kidnap a T-Rex baby, cripple it, and leave it staked out in a clearing — again, an assault on the family from the forces of capitalism.

(Oddly enough, I was watching Syriana last night, another movie that draws an explicit connection between the forces of capitalism and the destruction of families. But I digress.)

Once Peter has rounded up his catch and got them into cages, he sets up a satellite link to broadcast a pitch meeting to the Ingen board, where he explains his Bad Guy Plot. His intent is to sell his board on the profit potential of caged dinosaurs, but the “Gatherers” team sneak in and perform a little hippie-style civil disobedience, freeing the giant reptiles and turning the pitch meeting into a disaster scene. Their actions free the dinosaurs, but set another series of problems into motion, as we will see.

Nick finds and frees the crippled T-Rex baby and takes it back to the Gatherers’ camp. This sets into motion what, up to this point, is the longest sustained suspense-action setpiece in the Spielberg canon, a rather incredible 20-minute sequence of rain, mud, dinosaurs and vehicles, a literal cliff-hanger that only slightly plays fast-and-loose with the laws of physics.

At the end of this sequence, the two teams, the Hunters and Gatherers, are brought together, united in their mutual predicament: they are lost in the lost world, facing the problems of parenthood in a house where the kids have outgrown the parents and the parents no longer have their tools of authority.


27 Responses to “Spielberg: The Lost World: Jurassic Park part 1”
  1. shocka says:

    You write extremely well on this film, which I have to imagine is one of the most unpopular of Spielberg’s vast body of work. How do you feel about it, as a film, beyond this kind of narrative breakdown?

    • Todd says:

      The Lost World is far from Spielberg’s least popular movie.

      In general, while I don’t consider it major Spielberg, it is undeniably well-crafted and a pleasure to watch. Every time I think “Ugh, The Lost World, I put it on and end up enjoying it more than the last time I watched it.

  2. black13 says:

    While I was one of those who, when they introduced Malcolm’s daughter, thought “ah, alibi-African-American,” I didn’t have any problem with the character herself (other than what you point out — WTF is he bringing a kid along?) because it fit in with Ian Malcolm’s character.

    What I wonder — I consider LW a King Kong remake. The similarities are too distinctive. Do you agree, and do you think it’s intentional?

    • Todd says:

      Er, well The Lost World is more like a Lost World remake. I think of King Kong as a King Kong remake, though.

      • black13 says:

        I don’t see it that way.
        – In Doyle’s Lost World, they come to explore.
        – In King Kong, they come to make a movie.
        – In JP2, they bring a film crew along.

        – In Doyle’s LW, they just try to stay alive
        – In King Kong, they want to capture Kong for fun & profits (after rescuing Fay Wray).
        – In JP2, they decide to capture some dinos for fun & profits.

        – In Doyle’s LW, they’re happy to get out alive
        – In King Kong, they bring Kong into civilization to exhibit for profit, Kong breaks out, all hell breaks loose
        – In JP2, they bring the T-Rex into civilization to exhibit for profit, the T-Rex breaks out, all hell breaks loose

        As I said, I see more similarities between JP2 and King Kong than between JP2 and Lost World. JP1 could be considered a Lost World remake, though.

  3. johnnycrulez says:

    Lost World is one of those movies that I saw when they came out and never saw again, but when I saw it I was eight and now I don’t remember anything about it.

  4. boboho says:

    I haven’t seen this in years, but one of the things that has stuck with me was the way Eddie is killed. Not so much that he does die; as you say, he’s expendable. It’s just the way it happens seems unnecessarily cruel to me. I mean, here’s a decent guy, trying to save his friends, and not only does he get eaten for his efforts, he gets ripped apart and played with! Sure, it’s a cool effect, it just seemed more like a ‘villain death’ than a ‘hero death.’ In fact, as I recall, most of the hunters die off-screen.

    That said, “ripped apart by T-Rexes” would have be have to be on my short list of ways to die, if only so I could see a live T-rex.

    • boboho says:

      Err, for a second anyway… from the inside…

    • notthebuddha says:

      Given it’s a dinosaur movie, you have to have spectacularly violent deaths to keep up the tone and pacing. “Why don’t we take some time out of this chase sequence to show Bob suffering from having had no insulin for the last 24 hours?”

    • mattyoung says:

      See, I thought the violence of Eddie’s death makes the heroism of it more pronounced, even as the surviving characters in the film don’t have much opportunity to respond to it (as I recall).

      He’s the embodiment of technology, and he forcasts his own doom in his introduction with the great “technology and violence – not good bedfellows” line. (The “life finds a way” of this flick, in my opinion.) But he’s also the reminder that technology isn’t inherently evil. It’s up to the will of the people who use it.

  5. gdh says:

    Is it ever established why Hammond wants to send a mathematician to study dinosaurs? From what I remember, Ian’s presence makes even less sense in this film than it did in the first one.

    • Todd says:

      Chaotician, please.

      Hammond selects Ian because Ian’s seen the dinosaurs before — which is, of course, exactly why Ian doesn’t want to go. It’s only when Hammond tells Ian that Sarah is on the island that Ian charges into the breach.

      • gdh says:

        He saw them before, and mostly spent the time running away from them. It’s not as if he’s any sort of dinosaur expert.

        Honestly, what with them hiring Chaoticians to do the jobs of paleozoologists and having one-man IT departments, it’s a wonder InGen got anywhere as a company. Who the hell runs their personnel department?

        • Todd says:

          You get no argument from me, I don’t know what Ian was doing there the last time around either. The consensus of the room was that he was the “it-scientist” of the moment, the Carl Sagan or Stephen Hawking of his day, and they hired him because he was famous, not because he had anything in particular to say about dinosaurs. It seems more to me like it was author Michael Crichton who wanted to say things about chaos theory.

          • planettom says:

            I like in JURASSIC PARK III (which is actually a pretty good movie) where Sam Neill’s character asks the kid if he’s read Ian Malcolm’s book, and the kid says, “Yeah, but, it was blah blah blah chaos this and blah blah blah chaos that!”

            • mattyoung says:

              I can never forgive Jurassic Park III for (1.)The silly “slash!” title. (2.)The dumb Peter Pan gag with the phone. (3.)And most of all, for the croc-o-saur fighting and somehow killing the T-Rex (which JP2 makes such a charismatic figure) in a blaringly blatent “Lookit me, lookit how badass I am! Please?” It’s so pathetic.

  6. “Of course, Spielberg was in the middle of casting Woody Allen in another action-adventure movie while shooting The Lost World, but that is, of course, another story.”

    –w-what?! You can’t not tell us about that one!

  7. Anonymous says:

    The Lost World – Cut?

    This was on Bravo this evening and I noticed they cut from the woman screaming on the beach to a guy yawning in a board meeting. I found the cut to be awful as the cut to Goldblum yawning with the subway screeching. Now they go from a quiet line during the meeting to the loud screech of the subway which matched much better with the woman screaming on the beach. What the hell happened

    • Todd says:

      Re: The Lost World – Cut?

      I haven’t seen the cut you’re talking about, but there is a deleted scene from Lost World that takes place in a board room as the bad guy talks about how badly Ingen is doing — they probably cut it into the movie for some reason on Bravo.