Looking Back On Steven Spielberg’s ‘The Lost World: Jurassic Park’ (1997) – Retro Review

Jeff Goldblum might currently be a TV commercial staple as he promotes Apartments.com, but two and a half decades ago, his iconic character of Dr. Ian Malcolm was asked to put his stamp on something slightly more terrifying—a theme park of genetically engineered dinosaurs. In the original Jurassic Park, a movie that launched a six-film franchise, the mathematician, along with paleontologist Alan Grant (Sam Neill: Perfect Strangers 2003) and paleobotanist Ellie Sattler (Laura Dern: Blue Velvet 1986), are asked by park creator John Hammond (Richard Attenborough: The Great Escape 1963) to give the creatures on Isla Nublar a seal of approval… but only after a Velociraptor killed an employee. It’s a tough film to follow, but Steven Spielberg gives it his best shot with 1997’s The Lost World: Jurassic Park. As the sequel celebrates its 25th anniversary this month, PopHorror looks back to see if it stacks up to its predecessor and the three—soon to be four—installments that follow.

Released on May 19, 1997, The Lost World: Jurassic Park sees Ian fight for his life alongside a new set of explorers: equipment specialist Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff: Se7en 1995 – our retro review), video documentarian Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn: Psycho 1998), his girlfriend, animal behaviorist Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore: The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 1 2014), and his daughter, Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester: A Little Princess 1995), who sneakily joins the trip. They travel to Isla Sorna, a second site of Hammond’s where, after a hurricane, the dinosaurs are allowed to roam free. Their job is to document the dinos in their natural habitat and prevent Hammond’s nephew, Peter Ludlow (Arliss Howard: The Time Traveler’s Wife 2009) from exploiting them for financial gain. Naturally, chaos and death ensue as the group comes face-to-face with a hungry T-rex, clever Velociraptors and the corrupt men of InGen who want to bring the creations to a new theme park in San Diego, California.

As far as sequels go, The Lost World does its job. It centers on a likeable character from the inaugural film, has plenty of enjoyably riveting moments, and doesn’t rock the boat by straying too far from what worked so well in 1993. In many ways, it runs almost parallel to Jurassic Park. Included are the delusional humans who think they can hold dominance over the dinosaurs, the demise of a bad guy at the hands of the cutest, most unsuspecting critters, and, best of all, an intense T-rex chase. This time, Ian and friends must survive not only the beast but a deadly cliff and falling trailer.

Spielberg does bring some fresh elements to The Lost World, most notably the gripping, borderline-comedic ending in San Diego. Though InGen believes its T-rex is fully tranquilized, the dinosaur is soon traipsing through the well-manicured lawns of the California city. It’s brilliantly reminiscent of King Kong climbing the Empire State Building and Jason checking out city life in Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan (1989 – our retro review) but with a fun, west coast twist. It all brings home the idea that Ian stressed in Jurassic Park: “Life will not be contained. Life breaks free. It expands to new territories, crashes through barriers painfully, maybe even dangerously.” This also gives the T-rex one final, shining moment before bigger and badder dinosaurs come onto the scene, such as the Spinosaurus in 2001’s  Jurassic Park III and the Indominus rex in 2015’s Jurassic World.

Of course, there’s a gaping hole throughout The Lost World without the dynamic duo of Alan and Ellie. The character of Ian injects a healthy dose of humor and sarcasm into Jurassic Park, but it’s balanced out with their seriousness and deep passion for paleontology. Aspects of Ian’s life are also thrown at audiences in The Lost World, such as the sudden appearance of his girlfriend who just happens to boast a love of dinosaurs. Ian seems to have achieved the goal he told Alan about four years prior: “I’m always on the lookout for another ex-Mrs. Malcolm.” Thankfully, the trifecta of Ian, Alan and Ellie are reuniting in Jurassic World: Dominion, the forthcoming conclusion to the epic franchise.

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