The Lost World

(Steven Spielberg, USA, 1997)


The Lost World is a transparent case of a commercially calculated sequel.

It adds nothing to the elements of Jurassic Park (1993), and produces few inventive variations on the established formula. For all its super special effects and wham-bam set-pieces, it has the air of a listlessly contrived package. Jeff Goldblum (wacky as ever) is the closest it gets to star power, and David Koepp's script lazily reworks the simple intrigues and pat environmental messages of the original.

Goldblum is the only real link between this film and Jurassic Park – apart from a cameo from David Attenborough, who sets things going by unveiling the existence of a secret island where various species of dinosaur have evolved, and run blissfully free. Then, of course, scientists, entrepreneurs and sundry other hangers-on land on the island and promptly upset the ecological balance – with the principal result that they must all run for their tiny lives, over and over.

There is an aspect of Spielberg's craft that evokes Hitchcock's practice of pure cinema – thrills evoked solely by the intricate, formal play of images, sounds, lights and bodies in perfect motion. But I suspect only one Hitchcock classic really enthrals and inspires Spielberg: The Birds (1963), that gruesome and cruel horror-mystery which also inspired the cold, steely, somewhat mechanical slasher movies of the contemporary era.

The Lost World is a quasi-slasher movie. The only real plot intrigue is the countdown to gruesome deaths placed serially throughout the film. We see at least an hour ahead which baddies are going to get the chomp they so richly deserve – and we speculate as to which poor innocents are slated to be equally unfortunate. This is a rather tasteless, oddly inhuman premise usually associated with B-budgets but Spielberg, forever the adolescent, gives it his all.

Indeed, this movie truly revs up when an angry dinosaur goes mad in the streets of a large American metropolis – evoking a cross between King Kong and Godzilla. Here Spielberg – so often portrayed as the humble guardian of noble, family values – unleashes his abundant glee at the destruction of all things suburban: cars, homes, domestic pets.

As in Jurassic Park, Spielberg frequently interrupts this awesome devastation for the sake of his favourite little vignette: a group of people standing open-mouthed and petrified before the spectacle of a dinosaur at their window, about to devour them. And if the spectacle of The Lost World petrifies you, then I suppose that Spielberg has done his dirty work well.

MORE Spielberg: Catch Me If You Can, The Color Purple, Hook, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler's List, The Terminal, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Munich

© Adrian Martin May 1997

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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