(Welcome to The Quarantine Stream, a new series where the /Film team shares what they’ve been watching while social distancing during the COVID-19 pandemic.)
The Movie: The Lost World: Jurassic Park
Where You Can Stream It: Netflix
The Pitch: You know, it’s only the sequel to one of the greatest Hollywood blockbusters of all time. And you know, it’s only a Steven Spielberg movie, his first after directing Schindler’s List and winning the Academy Award for Best Director. But The Lost World: Jurassic Park is the kind of stunning act of mediocrity that disappointed at the time but fascinates over two decades later. This is what a genius, with all of the resources in the world, produces when he just doesn’t care.
Why It’s Essential Quarantine Viewing: So, why do I recommend revisiting a movie that most people have recognized as just not being very good? A movie that Spielberg himself has described as “inferior”? Because sometimes it’s valuable to examine a failure and see what we can learn from it. And by taking a look at The Lost World, we can better and more fully understand why its predecessor is such a masterpiece.
Loosely (and I mean loosely) based on author Michael Crichton’s sequel novel, The Lost World reeks of another sub-par Spielberg sequel: Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. Like that film, The Lost World transforms intelligent characters into bumbling idiots. Like that film, The Lost World increases the volume and the chaos while dialing back the mystery and the awe. Like that film, The Lost World replaces excitement with violence and cruelty. Both films represent Spielberg doubling down on what seemingly made the previous film work, only to realize that too much of any ingredient spoils the recipe.
By making everything more, The Lost World just tastes sour. You realize too quickly that Jeff Goldblum’s Ian Malcolm worked in the first movie because he was used sparingly. When you elevate him to bland leading man action hero, you get just that. When you double the t-rexes, you don’t get better t-rex action – you just minimize how terrifying these creatures can be. When you launch a massive raptor attack that tries to up the ante from the climax of the original film, you replace tension with noise. If it wasn’t for Hook, this would be Spielberg’s tackiest film.
Still, even the worst Spielberg movies have their moments. A sequence where a trailer hangs over a cliff is thrilling stuff. The first major dinosaur sequence of the movie, where a family of stegosauruses cross a river, comes reasonably close to capturing the wonder of the first movie. But it’s hard to linger on those moments when so much surrounding them is just so…ugly. I can’t shake the sequence where Peter Stormare’s mercenary is slooowly killed by tiny dinos, because it goes on for so long while literally adding nothing to the film. Of course, it all climaxes in a San Diego-set third act that goes off the rails with such ferocity that it makes the sins of any other Spielberg move feel tame by comparison (“Nuking the fridge” has nothing on “t-rex in San Diego”).
Still, The Lost World is never as unnecessarily cruel and unpleasant as Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, which may be the worst major film release of the past decade. So it has that going for it. But it stands now as a telling reminder of what happens when a genius gets bored, of when a sure-thing proves to be anything but. How can we treasure the actual great movies when we don’t have the disappointments to measure them against?
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