Retrospective: Spielberg unleashed darker, scarier dinos in The Lost World

Before a new batch of dinosaurs invade our screens (and streets) in Jurassic World: Dominion, Eliza Janssen revisits Spielberg’s bleak sequel (bleaquel??) The Lost World: Jurassic Park.

If you’ve been around since dinosaurs walked the earth (1993), you’ll know that the upcoming Jurassic World: Dominion isn’t the first time the ancient predators have visited our nice, shiny, very destructible burbs. That would be The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Its cold open shows a little rich girl almost getting pecked to death by some reptilian stragglers on Isla Sorna, to quickly remind viewers of the food chain situation there.

The Lost World is best remembered for its scenes of a T-Rex (an undeniable A-lister of the palaeontology world) rampaging through San Diego. We enjoy the carnage of the scaly killing machine drinking out of a pool, bodychecking a city bus, and chewing a family’s dog right off its chain, kennel dangling from its lips like a grotesque cocktail garnish.

Which is an understandably catchy premise, after your first movie becomes the highest-grossing film ever made upon its release: instead of people going to the dinosaur land…what if dinosaurs came to the people land?? Alas, those moments only take up the final fifteen minutes of the sequel, and Spielberg threw ’em in as a seeming act of desperation when he realised the remainder of the movie was simply not fun enough as is.

There’s a few big factors to account for Steve’s rightful anxiety. Jurassic Park is one hell of an act to follow, taking the time to introduce us to bright and funny characters before building to that initial, ecstatic dinosaur sighting. In The Lost World, we’ve seen a whole movie of the beasts already and when they do show up, it’s predominantly in the form of CGI rather than those winning, world-class practical effects that still astound today.

Beyond the special effects and tensely-directed action scenes, there’s something unusually sombre about the very aesthetic of The Lost World, too. Straight off their collaboration on Schindler’s List of all projects, Spielberg and cinematographer Janusz Kamiński chose a nocturnal look for the film that strongly contrasts with the original movie’s vibrant, creamy visuals.

Amblin’s creature characters get in on the darkness, too. As with Temple of Doom, Spielberg was seemingly determined to scare the shit out of any kids who slept a bit too soundly after seeing the first film in the franchise: going more adult, more bloodthirsty, and more morally bleak. These dinosaurs use team work to make the dream work, ripping a guy in half at either end between two sets of jaws. In another gnarly moment, a fool runs through a waterfall into the maw of a waiting T-Rex; he screams, we hear wet bones crunching, and then his blood spills through the curtain of water.

Unfortunately, also like Temple of Doom, the bold decision to go darker results in beloved characters losing their well-drawn edge. It’s kind of a bummer to have Goldblum’s formerly free-thinking, rebellious character Ian Malcolm (you know, the one who compared Hammond’s experiments to rape of the natural world?) instead become an obedient heavy for InGen, a steely man on a fairly obtuse and badly organised mission. Vince Vaughn wears a Peaky Blinders hat and Julianne Moore is strangely one-sided as Malcolm’s giddy girlfriend, with whom he has absolutely no sexual chemistry.

This all speaks to the same reason that there’s never been a good sequel to Jaws: both original films are relatively straightforward creature features with genius production and pacing, where we feel the monster’s impending arrival and destruction rattling in our bones. There are no such moments in The Lost World to invoke that childlike, Spielbergian look of reality-shattering euphoria. Once you’ve seen the big frickin’ shark or the big frickin’ dinosaurs, it’s near impossible to build up that same level of wonderment or suspense.

And yeah, it’s still pretty goofy when Malcolm’s daughter Kelly (he has a kid?? ok I guess) uses gymnastics to kick a raptor through a barn window. Hopefully Jurassic World: Dominion can at least restrain itself from recycling that scene.