A research team is sent to the Jurassic Park Site B island to study the dinosaurs there while another team approaches with another agenda.
There are a few pressures on a director that can be equal to those facing a pre-Lost World Spielberg. Not only was he making a sequel to the then-highest grossing movie of all time, but his last film, the Oscar-winning Schindler's List, had been arguably his most critically acclaimed, and certainly his most serious work. To follow that with a people-munching monster screamer was both unusual and risky. But it was very Spielberg.
"I want to go back and forth from entertainment to socially conscious movies," he'd said on his last day of shooting Jurassic Park, and by following Schindler with The Lost World (three years later), he couldn't have proved this statement better. Loosely based on Michael Crichton's JP "successor" about a secret dino-populated Site B, The Lost World: Jurassic Park was always going to be a highly-anticipated release. As soon as news of a sequel was out, fans feverishly swapped rumours on the net, their enthusiasm fuelled by tales of on-set secrecy ("Ask any actor involved with JP2 for some inside information and they'll tell you to get lost," salivated magazine Sci Fi Invasion).
Critics were no less interested, but obviously more wary, perhaps torn between expecting a worthless copy-cat cash-in, or a sequel to rival the quality of Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom. They got neither. Firstly, JP2 was a much darker, more brooding affair than its predecessor, in which good guys died and literal armies of bad men — not just the rogue few — marched around meddling with nature. This was not simply a rehashing of the same old formula. But despite going on to become the tenth highest grossing movie of all time, raking in $590 million, it had a mixed reception from both critics and public alike. It was accused of overusing CGI, of lacking suspense, and as being — horror of horrors — "not very Spielberg."
True, the feelgood factor so prevalent in Spielberg's earlier adventure movies was in relatively short supply. But his trademark absent-father-redeemed storyline was played out with both the dinosaur characters (protective parent seeks lost baby T-Rex) and the human ones (Ian Malcolm grows closer to his daughter and to girlfriend/mother figure Sarah Harding). Theme-wise it was certainly Spielberg, focusing on creatures out of their natural habitat (think Jaws, E.T. and Close Encounters as well as Jurassic Park). It also strongly reinforced his don't-mess-with-nature message. In this film, human interference brings the monster dangerously close to home, directly threatening the suburban family unit and by implication the viewers. Significantly, the T-Rex is brought back to the USA by what Nick (Vaughan) calls the "cowboys": men who've violently intruded on (semi) natural territory. Which in a Jurassic Park movie, is the surest way to end up as dino dinner (second only to going to the toilet, it would seem).
As for lack of suspense, this was perhaps a comment better directed toward the arguably less involving plot, than to individual scenes. Take the scene when Sarah, Ian and Nick are hanging over the cliff edge in the jeep. When Sarah falls onto the pane of glass and realises it is all that lies between her and the empty, certain-death blackness below, the POV is incredible, focusing excruciatingly on the slowly cracking glass above the ravine. It is one of those accomplished Spielberg moments I when despite our certainty that the character will survive, we are hanging onto her every move with intense concern.
The biggest, most inevitable problem for The Lost World was that the public had seen the dinosaurs before. Think of the fuss when Jurassic Park came out: it was the CGI dinosaurs everyone was excited about. In Jurassic Park, the characters' sense of awe when first encountering the creatures is palpable and incredibly effective, principally because it mirrors the audience's reaction. In The Lost World, not even different types of creature, a greater use of CGI or new, dino-virgin characters could match that initial marvel that awed an entire world.
Perhaps, the best way to view The Lost World is to not take it too seriously. After all, there are plenty of signs that it doesn't do so itself. Old B-movie tribute gags abound in its King-Kong/Godzilla ending. Ian Malcolm — who we first see here mid-yawn, echoing the roaring dinosaur's jaws — is an enjoyable wise-cracker, quipping sardonically in even the most stressful situations. He serves as a useful summariser of the film, and a postmodern nod to its origins. "Yeah, 'Ooh! Ahhh!' That's how this all starts," he spits sarcastically to his wide-eyed colleagues when they first encounter the dinosaurs. "Then there's the running, and the screaming." And let's face it, as long as they weren't running screaming from the multiplexes, Spielberg could count himself as having done something right. Although, it is significant that Spielberg demurred the opportunity to go back a third time. JP3 was handed over to Joe Johnson, with him as executive producer.
Not as good as the original, but as far a sequel's go, it's way, way above average.