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May 23, 1997 E-mail story   Print   Most E-Mailed

MOVIE REVIEW

The Lost World: Jurassic Park

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By KEVIN THOMAS, TIMES STAFF WRITER


Friday May 23, 1997

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     "Jurassic Park," the biggest worldwide box-office hit of all time, proves to be impossible to top or equal. Its sequel, "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," has stupendous production values and special effects and works best as a family entertainment, but the thrills and chills are not up to the original.
     It's not just that we've been there before but also that Steven Spielberg and his associates simply haven't been able to imagine as many flat-out scary moments this time around. But the dinosaurs are once again utterly convincing and irresistible, and that, along with other pluses, will most likely be more than enough to ensure the film's popularity.
     From Frame 1 Spielberg et al are clearly aware of the challenge facing them in attempting a sequel yet are surely correct in assuming moviegoers the world over would be only too happy to see such totally believable and endearing dinosaurs again.
     To that end Spielberg and writer David Koepp, also returning from "Jurassic Park," go for lots of disarming humor in incorporating Michael Crichton's sequel to his original novel into the screenplay. It seemed such a mistake in "Jurassic Park" to sideline early on its most interesting character, the brilliant, free-thinking and outspoken chaos theorist Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) with a broken leg, but in its most inspired stroke, "The Lost World" brings back Malcolm and places him front and center.
     Some of its best moments are its earliest. Spielberg and Koepp know they're going to have to do some fast talking to get a sequel off the ground. As zillions of people will recall, Jurassic Park was to be the ultimate theme park, the brain child of British entrepreneur John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), who filled a Costa Rican island with genetically engineered dinosaurs only to have his dream turn into a nightmare, resulting in the destruction of all the animals. Jurassic Park and its fate have remained secret.
     Well, maybe not all the dinosaurs were destroyed, after all. Aha! The irrepressible Hammond summons Malcolm to his mansion to inform him that dinosaurs are running freely on a second island, having been genetically engineered at a facility there. Hammond believes that inevitably this island will be discovered and wants Malcolm to lead a team to photograph the dinosaurs as proof of their existence and lead to their protection. "From capitalist to humanist in four years!" snorts Malcolm, whom Hammond cleverly maneuvers into the assignment he absolutely does not wish to accept.
     *
     It's a pleasure to watch such wily pros as Goldblum and Attenborough spar with each other with wit and assurance. Unfortunately, the kind of rich characterization they display while deploying a great deal of necessary expository information is, apart from Goldblum's character, not sustained throughout the rest of the picture.
     Besides Malcolm and his rather colorless team, the adventure on Isla Sorna also involves Malcolm's girlfriend Sarah (Julianne Moore), a paleontologist so eager to prove that dinosaurs are great at nurturing their young that it seems never to occur to her that the animals might not welcome a nosy human. Vanessa Lee Chester, as Malcolm's neglected young daughter, is a stowaway on the expedition.
     Not surprisingly, Hammond has been removed as head of his company, InGen BioEngineering, in the wake of the Jurassic Park debacle, but his greedy but dimwitted nephew Peter (Arliss Howard) has a plan to replenish company coffers and sends off to Isla Sorna his own team, headed by great white hunter Roland Tembo (Pete Postlethwaite). Along with Goldblum and Attenborough, only Postlethwaite gets a chance to register a vivid, engaging presence.
     The stage is set for lots of action-adventure, cliffhanging episodes and disaster sequences, which Spielberg stages with dispatch. There are elements familiar from everything from "King Kong" to "Planet of the Apes," and if "The Lost World" is not particularly fresh, it's not unduly violent. As Malcolm leads the struggle to leave the dinosaurs free from the interference of humans, it poses the inevitable timeless question: Who's the truly monstrous, man or beast?
     "Jurassic Park" represented a breakthrough in the use of computer-generated imagery, and the Oscar-winning team that created the dinosaur effects for the 1993 film--Dennis Muren, Stan Winston and Michael Lantieri--is back. They fill the screen with examples of Tyrannosaurus rex in all sizes, from adorable hopping babies to a giant mother T-rex who wants her infant back--right now. (There are on view other kinds of dinosaurs briefly, but it's a T-rex show.)
     Also back are ace production designer Rick Carter and composer John Williams, whose score contributes strongly toward creating an aura of excitement. The only key member of Spielberg's creative team who is not a "Jurassic Park" alum is Spielberg's "Schindler's List" cinematographer Janusz Kaminksi, who gives "The Lost World" a darker look than it needs.
     Many people will find much to divert them in "The Lost World," and not worry whether or not it falls short of "Jurassic Park." Given the kind of spectacular and harmless enterprise that it is, you wouldn't want to begrudge any viewer any pleasure he or she, children most of all, might derive from it.


The Lost World: Jurassic Park, 1997. PG-13, for intense sci-fi terror and violence. A Universal Pictures presentation of an Amblin Entertainment production. Director Steven Spielberg. Producers Gerald R. Molen and Colin Wilson. Executive producer Kathleen Kennedy. Screenplay/2nd unit direction by David Koepp; based on the novel by Michael Crichton. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminksi. Full motion dinosaurs designed by Dennis Muren. Live action dinosaurs designed by Stan Winston. Special dinosaur effects by Michael Lantieri. Full motion dinosaurs and special visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic. Editor Michael Kahn. Music John Williams. Production designer Rick Carter. Art director Jim Teegarden, Lauren Polizzi, Paul Sonski. Set designers Pamela Klamer, Linda King. Set decorator Paul Weathered. Running time: 2 hours, 14 minutes. Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm. Julianne Moore as Sarah Harding. Pete Postlethwaite as Roland Tembo. Arliss Howard as Peter Ludlow. Richard Attenborough as John Hammond.




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