Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) and family accidentally land on another island populated by dinosaurs, only this time they're not controlled at all. Cue the hunters (Postlethwaite) and the appearance of a T. Rex in San Deigo.
There was no way, no matter how much Spielberg flounce was imbued in this sprightly sequel, that it was going to be as good as the original. It isn't. By a long shot. But even two thirds of the way toward Jurassic Park is about a third better than your average buster of blocks. The strange thing is, you leave the battered stalls with a mix of contrary feelings - that sheer post-rush rapture and a sneaking, growing suspicion that you have witnessed a Spielberg below par.
It's based very loosely on Crichton's frail "successor" to Jurassic, but clearly Spielberg was busy with his own ideas as the author penned an indifferent re-run and the film expends a lot of effort trying to mould the director's visual ideas to the novel's framework. The conceit is simple. There was another island. A breeding ground where the scaly guys now run loose, unchecked by the fallible containment gear that so memorably shut down in the first (the lycine-in-the-diet problem is waved away cheaply). With total contrivance, a horrified Ian Malcolm (Goldblum) lands, daughter in tow, to retrieve his palaeontologist girlfriend Sarah Harding (Moore) who has already set up shop on Isla Sorna, Site B. As he tries to convince her and pals, eco-nut Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) and field-expert Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff), that it really isn't a good idea to hang around, Pete Postlethwaite and InGen's big game hunters fly in, night falls, and the T. Rexs come out to play.
It's only here, after the most disjointed of beginnings, that you suddenly realise it's Spielberg who's in charge. Master of the set-piece, the bearded genius lets loose a series of spine-rattling "events" where the dinosaurs - and there's 50 per cent more of them - interact with the actors: mummy and daddy Tyrannosaurus push the techno-trailer off a cliff; snidey hunter Peter Stormare nonchalantly provokes a swarm of foot-high Compys (bad idea, really bad idea); the T. Rexs come back for more Homo sapiens nibbles; and as the survivors head for a disused facility at the other end of the island they happen across Velociraptor central. It's a technical onslaught of mind-blowing and exhausting proportions, punctuated with Spielberg's instinct for a captivating, truly original moment - all we first see of the 'Raptors is dark lines of tumbling long grass, homing in on the human prey. Genius.
However, the big send-off - a T. Rex visits San Diego - smacks of foolishness and overplay. The awkward meeting of public demand, special effects hoopla, and lack of fundamental plot coherence leaves the great director bursting the bubble. It's a bridge too far. Finally you just can't believe anymore. Oh, it looks incredible, but the films have striven to show dinosaurs as natural entities not fantasy. The King Kong homage is a silly, extended in-joke redolent of the film's flaws. This is a movie that feels like it's been made from a storyboard not a story, lurching ungainly from one plot development to the next entirely lacking the theme park irony of Jurassic. Thankfully, the next will always include a dinosaur. And you're just kept wanting.
So, in the final analysis, The Lost World has it in spades: more dinosaurs, better dinosaurs, the realms of FX seemingly limitless. It has thrills like no other film. It has moments of directorial mastery, sublime visual notations that catch the breath. And it delivers fun. T. Rex-sized fun. For that any sized queue is worth it. Cinema du gob smackage.
The special effects and dinosaurs are bigger and better and, for the rubbish ending there are lots of redeeming directorial set-pieces. This delivers fun. T. Rex-sized fun. For that any sized queue is worth it. Cinema du gob smackage.