Spielberg: The Lost World: Jurassic Park part 2

As is the case with Jurassic Park, the last half of The Lost World is a cinematic trebuchet of suspense and action set-pieces. Spielberg combines people, landscape, dinosaurs and machines in increasingly humorous and thrilling ways. He’s clearly having a ball here, and thematic elements recede as mechanical elements — how do we get from here to there, how do we evade the dinosaurs, etc — take over.free stats

At the top of Act III, our two teams, the Hunters and the Gatherers, are thrown together in an uneasy heap. They are no longer the masters of nature; now they are at nature’s mercy. The hunters’ urge to exploit and kill is turned around as they are hunted by their prey. But it was the gatherers who got both teams into this mess; if do-gooder Nick had not “rescued” the baby T-Rex and freed the captured dinosaurs, everything would still be going according to schedule.

The two teams take stock of their situation — all their communications equipment is destroyed — and make a plan for getting off the island, which involves hiking across dino-filled jungle to the Site B lab complex, where, presumably, there will be a working radio. Before they set out, the two teams trade barbs about their respective positions. Nick chides Peter for wanting to exploit nature, and Peter responds that an extinct animal has no rights — Ingen created these animals, and has patented them. His argument is that a corporation has the right to own and control the life force itself.

There are, to my mind, a few flaws in the screenplay. For my money, when one is writing a thriller, especially an action thriller with horror elements, the high road is to make all the characters as smart — and as well meaning — as possible. It’s too easy to make characters stupid, beliggerant and short-sighted. The Lost World observes this for the first half of the movie, but in the second half the characters start catching a case of the stupids.

The group stops to rest and Dieter, the Hunter We Don’t Like, leaves the group and goes into the jungle to pee. That’s stupid move 1. He tells another hunter, Carter, that he’s leaving, but Carter, we find, is listening to mariachi music on his Walkman and doesn’t hear. That’s stupid move 2. Dieter gets lost in the jungle and chomped by little dinosaurs, which we saw coming a half-hour earlier. Back at the ranch, Roland asks Sarah about the blood on her jacket. Sarah, the super-smart ace naturalist, replies that it’s the blood of the baby T-Rex. It does not occur to her or ace big-game hunter Roland that the T-Rexes will now be attracted to the smell: stupid move 3. These characters are supposed to be the elite of their respective professions, but put them face to face with predatory dinosaurs and they start acting like teenagers in a Friday the 13th movie — instead of being more alert and careful, they suddenly start slacking off, ignoring protocol and acting like they are in no particular danger.

Night comes. Roland goes off to look for Dieter (he acts as the father to his family group, the hunters) and comes back with a plan for advancement: he’s seen the lab complex and knows how to get to it. The T-Rexes then show up at the group’s campsite, attracted by the blood on Sarah’s jacket. Ian tells everyone in the camp to freeze, but Carter, the mariachi-loving hunter, decides that the best course of action is to stand up and scream: stupid move 4. This gets him squished, in one of the movie’s more humorous deaths, stuck to the bottom of a T-Rex’s foot like a piece of gum.

Roland tries to shoot the rampaging T-Rex with his elephant gun, but do-gooder Nick has taken his bullets. Roland, thinking fast, grabs a tranquilzer gun instead and nails the creature. The other T-Rex chases Nick, Sarah, Kelly and Dinosaur Expert In Cowboy Hat into a cave behind a waterfall. DECH gets an inopportune snake down his shirt, and thus panics, and is thus eaten. Just when we think the T-Rex is coming back, we find that it is, in fact, Ian coming back — he’s learning his “good dad” lessons, he’s come back to protect his child.

The panic at the campsite hurls the characters into the “long grass” sequence, a moment of pure cinematic mayhem, where the chacters are represented onscreen only by the dark paths they cut through the moonlit grass. Some velociraptors cut through the grass and take out a few more hunters, including Roland’s personal assistant Ajay. Another of Roland’s “family” down — because Roland is off trying to bag his T-Rex, his family is getting cut down like, well, like long grass, while Ian, who’s trying to be a good dad, is succeeding, however haphazardly, in keeping his family together and getting them to safety.

Nick makes it to the Site B labs, locates the radio and calls for help. The jungle has taken over the laboratories of Site B; vines choke the computers and electronics of the communications center, a nature-vs-technology beat that feels closer to the first movie than this one.

The attack in the long grass hurls Ian’s family into the Site B compound, where they battle with a bunch of velociraptors in a series of imaginative, well-executed hand-to-hand encounters. The parallel is to the velociraptors-inside-the-compound sequence of the first movie, only now the jungle has claimed the compound and its the humans who are trying to get inside, another classic Spielberg “stand it on its head” strategy.

(This sequence also features a moment where Kelly uses her gymnastics talent to best a velociraptor, a beat only slightly less groan-inducing than the teen girl hacker easily negotiating Dennis Nedry’s absurdly complex computer systems in Jurassic Park.)

The helicopter arrives to pick up the Gatherers team, while the Hunters pause to assess their condition. Peter is delighted: despite all the losses, he’s got his T-Rex, which he can take back to San Diego, put in his theme park, save his corporation and please his board of directors. Roland, on the other hand, can only think of Ajay, a character we’ve barely met, but who was part of Roland’s family. Roland’s adventure on the island has got him his trophy but lost him family, and he announces that he’s giving up hunting — essentially, that he’s “changing teams.” Peter, who has no concept of family, is left alone with his machines and his capital.

And so Act IV brings the T-Rex on a ship into San Diego, for the movie’s second lengthy, sustained action sequence. I find the “T-Rex loose in San Diego sequence pretty much pure gold, full of wit and invention, the T-Rex lovable in spite of causing death and destruction. As silly as the movie sometimes is, the post-Schindler Spielberg brings new levels of cinematic subtlety to his comic action setpieces, whether it’s the staging of urban mayhem, the casting of his extras (who, from Schindler on out, reach levels of believability not seen since 1977) or his integration of live footage and special effects. On the other hand, one of the jokes of the San Diego sequence involves screenwriter David Koepp getting eaten outside a video store. It’s nice that Spielberg gave his favorite screenwriter a cameo, but watching him get eaten by brutal, unstoppable force is a little too on the nose.

There is also in San Diego another family unit, this one suburban and bickering, to parallel the upper-class and bickering one from the beginning. It’s subtle, but it underscores the principle messageof the movie: good or bad, rich or middle class, hunter or gatherer, the best thing we can do for nature is just leave it alone.

Once the T-Rex is on the loose, Peter has only one plan: destroy it. Ian and Sarah, who have learned something about family during the middle two acts, know that the T-Rex has its own motivations: it will look for its child, and they can exploit its familial urges to get the demon back into its proverbial box. Ian and Sara lure the T-Rex back onto the boat by taking its baby there, and Peter meets his end when the father T-Rex, being a good dad, grabs him and uses him as a lesson in killing for his son — family values of a primal sort assert their perogatives over corporate values. The climax of the movie is driven by the hunters and gatherers in a race to the finish line: will they kill the T-Rex, or protect it? At the last second, Sarah shoots it with a tranquilizer dart as a helicopter with a security officer wielding an M-16 hovers behind her.


15 Responses to “Spielberg: The Lost World: Jurassic Park part 2”
  1. Anonymous says:

    Fun fact: The long grass sequence originated in an old Alien 3 draft, when the film was going to be set on a fusion-powered wooden planet with a 10m-high atmosphere.

    • Todd says:

      I knew Alien 3 had to be good for something.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hey, I read that draft on the Internet back in college. It was a planet full of monks, there was a God/Satan angle…

      William Gibson’s original draft for Alien 3, with Ripley comatose for most of the film and Hicks and Bishop as the protagonists, has gotta be the most terrifying script I’ve ever read. I don’t know how it holds up structurally, since I also read it on the Internet back in college, but the horrific, almost absurd levels to which Gibson jacks up the Aliens’ invasiveness, combined with his uniquely hypnotic, immersive writing style, made reading that script a uniquely queasy experience.

      — N.A.

      • gdh says:

        I just looked up and read Gibson’s script and it’s pretty fun, if very first-drafty.

        It is definitely not the thing to be reading at 2am in an empty apartment when a raccoon starts clawing at the back screen door. As I discovered.

  2. 55seddel says:

    I adored the Animal Control gag in the last act.

  3. stormwyvern says:

    I’m guessing we’re done with this movie, but we haven’t yet touched on one of the bigger problems I had with it when I saw it: the very ending. Now I don’t believe I’ve seen “The Lost World” since it was in theaters, so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong. Here’s how I recall the ending going: Ian and his ladyfriend are asleep on the couch, understandably worn out from their adventures. Ian’s daughter, however, is still up, watching Hammond give his address to the world urging that Jurassic Park ne left as a sanctuary where dinos can live in peace. And as he’s talking, the TV is treating us a to last look at the inhabitants of Jurassic Park, including….the pteradons?

    This raises two questions:

    !) Whose idea was it to include pteradons in the park anyways? Wouldn’t that create a lot more trouble than it’s worth? Of course, Jurassic Park was built by people who think one IT guy is plenty enough and it’s a fine thing to send essential staff off the island because of a storm but let the civilians stay, so maybe they didn’t think this out either.

    2) Did a miss the scene where we negotiate a treay with the dinos, by which humans leave the island alone and the dinosaurs don’t come and eat them and each party’s airspace shall be respected and so on and so forth? Or is there some kind of net made of magic keeping the dinosaurs that can fly from leaving the island to snack on some tasty tourists at a nearby point of interest?

    Unless I’m really missing something here, the ending seems less a fitting finale to a heartwarming lesson on how to parent your protoceratops and more a grim reminder that we really have quite a ways to go before the dino threat is fully contained.

    • Todd says:

      The last shot of Lost World does show the dinosaurs living unmolested, and ends with a pterodactyl of some kind landing on a tree and crowing, but it’s not a live-TV shot.

      The sense that I get is that the US military is working with the Costa Rican government to protect the Jurassic Park islands, to leave them alone so we can see what happens there. And, as we see in just one more movie, that doesn’t work very well.

      As to why they would put pteronodons on Jurassic Park at all, I’m guessing their philosophy would be that the island is too far away from the mainland for them to fly to it. Of course, that doesn’t help the local fishermen.

      • stormwyvern says:

        Ah, OK. That makes more sense than it being a live TV shot. Still, the problem remains. It just seems like such a weird way to end the film, juxtaposing the warm and fuzzy pleas for people to leave the dinos in peace with a shot of a flying dinosaur without the film having ever indicated how such a creature would be confined to the island.

  4. rjwhite says:

    Am I crazy, or do I dimly remember a scene in the latter part of the film, where Spielberg can clearly be seen in the reflection of a television set that someone turns off after watching coverage of the dinosaur rampage?

  5. curt_holman says:

    “This gets him squished, in one of the movie’s more humorous deaths, stuck to the bottom of a T-Rex’s foot like a piece of gum.”

    That reminds me of a scene in another film, but I’m having trouble placing it… 😉

    “he T-Rexes then show up at the group’s campsite, attracted by the blood on Sarah’s jacket. Ian tells everyone in the camp to freeze, but Carter, the mariachi-loving hunter, decides that the best course of action is to stand up and scream”

    During that scene, there’s a brief moment when the T-Rex stands up and has a tent covering its head, as if it’s a villain in a hood. My most vivid memory of the film is that shot and wishing that someone in the camp had yelled “Oh my God! WHO IS IT?”

    The Crichton ‘Lost World’ book includes a complicated, borderline-ridiculous action scene in which one of the men (probably Ian) becomes trapped in one of those Jaws-style shark cages (on land), the key of which somehow ends up around the neck of a velociraptor. The woman character — probably Julianne Moore, but I visualized her as Laura Dern — chases after the velociraptor ON A MOTORCYCLE and they go through a STAMPEDE of brontosauruses, zipping between their legs. I kinda wanted to see what Spielberg would have done with it.

    The T-Rex never goes to the mainland in the book, though.

  6. Anonymous says:

    I am coming in so late on this one, but I’ve been traveling the west, away from computers for some time (like Kwi Chang Cane, I was wandering from town to town, getting involved with people’s lives, solving their problems, while always on the serch for my long lost gunfighter brother).

    But I’ve been waiting for Todd’s autopsy of this film so that I could chime in with my biggest complaint. And now here I go, though now no one will ever likely check back and see this.

    Who is the protagonist of this film? I don’t know — or to be more precise, in this case I don’t care.

    Who is the villain? Nick — the secret Earth Firster disguised as a filmmaker.

    Every single thing that goes wrong in this movie happens as a direct result, or in a few cases, an indirect result, of Nick’s actions. As much as we are meant to dislike them, everything was more or less going as planned with the evil hunters (who would of course have been the protagonists and unquestioned good guys if this were the movie Hatari). Then Nick comes in and frees all of the dinosaurs in camp and the camp goes to hell. By the way — which of the small captured dinosaurs kicked or hurled the flaming jeep across the compound?

    Then Nick brings the baby T-Rex back to the RV and causes all of that death and destruction.

    Then Nick removes the bullets from Roland’s gun and causes more danger to the evil hunters — and to his own team, because they were there too, counting on things like loaded guns. And this is one of those “people acting stupid” moments that Todd overlooked. We see the scene where Roland has conveniently left the gun for Nick to fiddle with. And then hours later that night we see the results of that moment. So, in order for the scene to work, we have to believe that the world’s best hunter never checked the condition of his weapon from that earlier “let Nick sabotage it” moment until when he needs it that night. Even the world’s stupidest hunter checks his weapon frequently — especially after he’s been seperated from it. This could never happen. Never.

    There’s more, butthe crux is Nick did it all. Nick is the villain.

    And how did the T-Rex get to all those people on board the ship and kill them and then get stuck back in its hold and have to break out again on screen? I have no idea, but I bet Nick caused that too.

    • Anonymous says:

      Oops. That was me in the above post. Forgot to add my name.

      Bill Willingham

      • Todd says:

        Nick is there to show that the do-gooders aren’t helping the situation any more than the hunters. He counts as not really a villain, but a misguided protagonist. He doesn’t count as an antagonist because his actions are not counter to Malcolm’s (or are not intended as such — although you are correct, he brings the baby T-Rex to the mobile lab in addition to sabotaging all the hunters’ equipment.

        The T-Rex, I’ve been informed, was helped in his ship-destroying duties by some ghost velociraptors.