Our review of Jurassic Park: Ultimate Trilogy (Blu-ray), published October 21st, 2011, is also available.
Something has survived.
After the phenomenal success of Jurassic Park it was a natural for Steven Spielberg to want to do a sequel, and for the studio to rub their hands together in glee at the thought of making another busload of cash. So Memorial Day of 1997 saw the release of The Lost World, a darker picture than the first but just as lacking in story. Keeping the kiddie factor, the film never took hold of the American fascination to the degree of its predecessor, though it certainly did make the desired busload of cash. There are plenty of things the film lacks, but great special effects and dinosaurs attacking outmatched humans are not among them, and the film still works as a pure action thriller. Universal has paired the release of this film with the first Jurassic Park with another great collectors edition DVD. If you liked the film, you will love this disc.
Facts of the Case
Four years after the fiasco that happened at the attempted Jurassic Park, the dust is only now settling for InGen, the corporation who brought back dinosaurs from extinction and could find nothing better to do with them besides open a theme park. Heavily in debt after all those nuisance lawsuits (relatives are so petty when it comes to their loved ones being eaten by the park's main attraction), the corporation is taken over by the smug nephew of John Hammond, who created the original park. You might assume that the new corporate head would have learned from the mistakes of his uncle, but you'd be wrong. His brilliant idea is to bring back live carnosaurs to the mainland and make them a sideshow attraction. This is in direct contrast to John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), who has seen the light and now wants to keep "Site B," a second island where the dinosaurs run free, safe for naturalistic study rather than exploitation.
To further this worthy goal Hammond summons Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), the mathematician from the first film, and wants him to accompany a group of ecology minded folks to get a visual record of the dinos in their natural habitat. Of course Ian is the only sensible person in the film and wants no part of it, but has to go when he finds out his girlfriend, paleontologist Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), is already on the island. So Ian, along with video photographer Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) who apparently plans to record the dinosaurs with a cheap Radio Shack camcorder, and equipment expert Eddie Carr (Richard Schiff).
The intrepid environmentally friendly folks don't have long before a lot of evil corporate environment-raping villainous sorts show up intending to cage up the dinosaurs and ship them off to a zoo. So we have the story of the humans battling the humans over how we will treat these creatures, along with the creatures considering both sides lunch. Expect plenty of things to go wrong, people to become dino-fodder, and finally an insipid third act right out of King Kong.
It might appear from my opening statement that I'm not a fan of this film. That's not entirely true. As a plain old dinosaur romp it works fine; and there are several scenes that rekindle the old tension and excitement of the original film. If anything, the dinosaurs are even more impressive in this sequel, as ILM had four years to improve the technology. You see dinosaurs from all angles, they move more realistically, and you see more of them at once. As a testosterone junkie I was happy that there was more carnage and opportunity for the undeveloped characters to become human pate de foie gras.
Most of the dinosaurs from the first picture are back, including not one but two T-Rexes to rampage and get all too close to our main characters. There are a few others new to the sequel, and I give high marks to the stegosaurus scene. This scene takes the place of the first breathtaking moment where the characters see the dinosaurs in the first film, and also did a fine job of showing that even the herbivore varieties of dinosaur were dangerous. This scene gave the new characters (and new viewers) the chance to ooh and ah at the wondrous creatures and looked extremely lifelike. I could say that about most of the dinosaurs in the film as well; they moved and seemed like real creatures rather than special effects, and in some ways outdid the first film for realism.
"More" would be a word to describe the sequel. There isn't a lot you haven't seen before if you've seen the first film, but there is certainly more of it. More dinosaurs, more attacks, more elaborate action set pieces. The film takes a while to really get going, but once it does it is a thrill-a-minute. Some of these scenes are very well done; notably the scene where a trailer hangs over a cliff and only a rapidly cracking sheet of glass is between a main character and certain death below. It captures the suspense and intensity that rivals the best scenes from any Spielberg film. So if you look at the film as more of the same and like that idea, then this is the film for you.
I've mentioned the dinosaurs already, but just a word about their creators, Industrial Light and Magic. They'd already earned their reputation for cutting edge special effects, but they maintained it well here; with seamless CGI work meshing with live action scenes. I'd have to say that ILM was the real director and star of The Lost World.
Both the original film and the sequel are being released at the same time, either separately or boxed together in several varieties. Again I am reviewing the widescreen Dolby Digital version, which is likely to be the biggest seller. There are also DTS versions (with fewer supplements) and full frame versions on the way. The full frame versions will be open matte; which means that the bars on top and bottom will be removed rather than using the awful pan and scan. However, the special effects scenes were done with the mattes and you will lose information from the sides during those shots. Of course you also lose the extra resolution the anamorphic widescreen offers on 16x9 displays.
This 1.85:1 anamorphic transfer is nearly flawless, just as with Jurassic Park. Great colors, especially the dead-on blacks that predominate more in the sequel. The film print used was nearly free of speckles or nicks; only a very few were detectable. Contrast levels were excellent, there was no edge enhancement applied, and in general the level of detail and clarity were excellent. There were again a few scenes that seemed softer and slightly hazy in comparison, but these moments were rare and not distracting. The film itself has a more stark and severe look through much of it than the original, but it looks terrific here.
Again Universal has provided a top-notch Dolby Digital soundtrack. My only complaint is in comparison to the original Jurassic Park, in that the subwoofer didn't have quite the intensity as the first disc. That is a very minor complaint; there is still plenty of low frequency to go around. Again we have a very aggressive use of all channels with a spacious, even spherical listening environment. Dialogue is perhaps slightly better integrated across the front than in the first film, and fortunately Jeff Goldblum doesn't mumble or stammer as much here. Despite my one small complaint, this is still one of those soundtracks to show off your system to the neighbors, even while they stay at home.
Since this is also a Universal Collector's Edition, there is substantial supplemental material. Leading the way is the nearly one hour-long documentary "The Making of the Lost World." This was directed and produced by my favorite film documentarian, Laurent Bouzereau, which means high quality. Eschewing the presence of a narrator, this documentary gets right into the production in all its aspects, including the aspirations for the film. I can say now those aspirations were set too high, but this was shot during the shoot. My only complaint with the documentary is that there are a couple of those interview snippets from the actors that assume you haven't seen the film yet, where they have to explain to you who their character is. Otherwise, the interviews focus completely on the production itself, with plenty of footage of Spielberg in action. Overall it is a great documentary, and a fine supplement for the disc.
Contained within the documentary were two deleted scenes, and these are also available as a separate supplement. One is a boardroom scene where the smarmy corporate toad of a nephew takes over InGen, and the other gets into more depth with my favorite character in the film, the big game hunter Roland Tembo, played by Pete Postlethwaite. This character didn't have a lot of room for development (like everyone else in the film), but his philosophical outlook and sense of leadership were very nice, and this scene would have lent him even more depth. Next up is the Dinosaur Encyclopedia, which was a great supplement on the Jurassic Park disc, but is only copied here. I was upset it didn't include any of the new species introduced in this sequel. 22 pages of Production notes, thorough cast and crew information, trailers for Jurassic Park and The Lost World and the awful teaser for Jurassic Park III follow.
Completing the package are the slide-based features, with several hundred storyboards and photographs. Storyboards for two cut scenes, over 100 illustrations and conceptual drawings, and photos of maquettes or miniature models for the dinosaurs are followed by "The World of Jurassic Park," with more of the same, and a large gallery of photos under the heading of "The Magic of ILM." Finally there are even more production photos and a section devoted to posters and toys merchandised from the film.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
One of the best parts of the original Jurassic Park was the sense of wonder and build-up for the dinosaurs. Everyone flocked to the theater to see how well they could do it, and were awed by the results. It is only natural that the second time around cannot recapture that same feeling. Spielberg knows this and shows his first dinosaur at the two-minute mark of the film. So even though the creatures move more naturally and there are more of them, it has the feeling that you've seen it all before. Two exceptions were the stegosaurus scene and the other scenes with the new varieties. One line from Jeff Goldblum in the stegosaur scene was "Yeah, ooh, aah, that's how it always starts. Later comes the running and the screaming." That is the problem the film had to face and I think couldn't be avoided; too much running and screaming and not enough "ooh-ing" and "aah-ing."
But again the film is hampered by a too-pat story and undeveloped characterization. And please, just shoot me before I walk into the theater if Jurassic Park III has a kid save the day again. It doesn't work here any better than it did when the kid saved the fleet in The Phantom Menace. This particular device and others are simply manipulations meant to generate dollars rather than keep up any sense of story. Again it can be argued that story would have just gotten in the way of what was meant to be a popcorn action movie, but I think it is possible to combine the two to make a really great film.
Jurassic Park did have a story of sorts, and a theme from the early monster films; the mad scientist overstepping his bounds and creating something beyond his control for tragic results. The sequel tries more for a "Sierra Club" subtext, but really this one is more like the straight monster movies of the '50s and '60s like The Blob. In the first film the dinosaurs were really the stars; here they are more supporting actors and co-villains to the film's detriment.
The biggest problem with the film for me was the whole third act, which seems to be just tacked on and just cheapens the rest of it. Shades of King Kong and Godzilla, the monster chases Japanese tourists through a city, oh no! There was meant to be a different ending, and Spielberg shouldn't have second-guessed himself. I'm not saying it ruined the film, but it would have been better off without it.
My main complaint about these discs is the lack of a Spielberg commentary track. I know he doesn't like them and prefers documentaries, but it would be so much better to have both. Again I have to complain about the packaging as well. Poor cover art replaces the theatrical poster art and again we get the six-tooth Keep Case With Kung-Fu Grip. Otherwise I have nothing to gripe about the treatment from Universal for the film.
Shut off the brain cells, grab the popcorn, and sit back for a romp of an adventure. Taken on that level it is fine. Some of you may want to buy this disc as part of the two disc set with both Jurassic Park films. That is a recommended purchase, especially if you like both films. Both discs are terrific.
Steven Spielberg has again won an acquittal from this court, and we kindly thank him for the new Jurassic Park Courtroom and Health Spa. Universal again gets the nod for excellence they have consistently shown, and both are thanked for finally getting these A-list titles to DVD.
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