Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Lost World: Jurassic Park II


Norman continues to recover from his recent lobotomy and semi-annual drying out cure. The worst of the DTs seem to be through, as he is no longer running around the house announcing gilded cockroaches are chasing him. We’re down now to bronzed ladybugs. Nurse Tameka, the best sort of private duty nurse, gives him attitude whenever he gets a little too out of line. She's been brewing up some sort of a native tonic in a cast iron pot out on the patio grille that seems to keep Norman happy. Since she began ladling it down his throat, he’s had a truly beatific smile on his face. She says there's a secret herbal ingredient in it; something called ganja that I assume is a cousin of ginseng. All I know is that Norman is packing on the pounds as he downs can after can of Pringles potato chips. We may have to get a wheelbarrow to get him down the drive to the car.

Speaking of identical taste treats, after reviewing Jurassic Park the other day, I decided to pop its sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park into the home theater system for another Spielberg dinosaur fix. This film was the intensely awaited sequel of the first film and was a huge hit with the public, if not with the critics, in the mid 90s. The sequel was based vaguely on a sequel novel of the same name by original author, Michael Crichton. Spielberg and his screenwriter, David Koepp, however, decided to jettison most of Crichton’s plot in favor of one of their own devising.

In the Spielberg universe, it turns out that there were two dinosaur infested islands, Isla Nublar, home to the theme park and the first movie and Isla Sorna, home to the breeding labs. After the disasters of the first film, Isla Sorna was abandoned and the dinosaurs were left to fend for themselves, free from human interference. The intrepid Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), from the first movie, is recruited by John Hammond (Richard Attenborough in a cameo he barely survives) to look into things before his evil nephew (Arliss Howard) can exploit the dinosaurs. Malcolm arrives on Isla Sorna through overly convoluted plot developments to head a team of scientists who are to study the critters. Our heroes constitute Ian, his girlfriend (Julianne Moore), a photographer (Vince Vaughan) an African-American daughter for Malcolm (a whiny Vanessa Chester) and some other stock types. At the same time, the evil Arliss Howard arrives with a team of hunters who want to bag a few of the showier specimens and send them to a zoological park in San Diego. Most of the guys on his side, the villains, don’t stay around long enough to acquire names or identities. Needless to say, it doesn’t take long until all hell breaks loose; soon dinosaurs are chasing humans and feasting on them in all sorts of disgusting ways.

The first film was a minor masterpiece due to its restrained use of dinosaur chase set pieces; there were plenty of intervals for plot and character development. The acting may have been wooden and the characters may have been one-dimensional but we at least knew who these people were and why they did what they did. This film goes from chase to chase in a hyper-kinetic fashion and, despite some very competent actors, no one is given a chance to develop a character other than potential dinosaur din-din or a personality other than hysterical. I've seen the movie several times and I'm still not sure who some of these people are supposed to be; there's no reason to care about any of them when they're chased screaming through the forest. Another major mistake was using Goldblum's Ian Malcolm character as the focal point; he's not a hero, he's comic relief. Lastly, in a nod to the family audience, Spielberg dispatches the children from the first movie in a completely unnecessary cameo; just when we’re breathing a sigh of relief, we get treated to an even more obnoxious child, supposed daughter to Jeff Goldblum, who is completely unbelievable from start to finish.

The screenplay (by David Koepp) is a jumble and looks like it was rewritten mid-production to allow time for an extended set piece where a Tyrannosaur gets loose in San Diego (don't ask). This gives short shrift to most of the supporting players who disappear about three quarters of the way through the movie. Koepp has a brief cameo as a guy who gets eaten by the Tyrannosaur outside a video store. I think that visual is much more apt a metaphor for the whole thing than either he or Spielberg intended. On the other hand, there are some marvelous images in the picture. Velociraptors snaking through tall grass. A Tyrannosaur shoving his head through a waterfall. Little mini-dinosaurs swarming in packs. Spielberg remains a gifted visual storyteller - he was let down by his writer and his theory of bigger, louder, dumber making of sequels. Let us be thankful that there’s no way for him to get a second film out of Schindler’s List .

The DVD has great picture and sound, a 'making of' documentary which is entertaining to watch, and a couple of cut scenes which are really bad and were rightfully deleted. If 'Jurassic Park' is a sleek and ferocious velociraptor of a movie, this one is a lumbering triceratops with a stomach ache.

Warm and fuzzy environmentally friendly capitalist tycoon. Rampaging stegosaurus family. Gratuitous gymnastics. Dangling trailer. Head butted jeep. Rolling ‘Union 76’ sign. Gratuitous hippie paleontologist.

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