In Defense of the Infamous Gymnastics Scene in 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park'
Now available on Netflix, we revisit one of the most unfairly reviled movies and scenes of Steven Spielberg's career.
Time has not been kind to The Lost World: Jurassic Park, which just hit Netflix with the 1993 original and director Joe Johnston’s 2001 three-quel.
Whereas director Steven Spielberg’s original dinosaurs-run-amok movie introduced the world to the wonders of CGI and redefined the blockbuster all over again, the second merely continued the story in a louder and seemingly more redundant way. It broke box office records when it was released, but it’s generally thought of as among Spielberg’s worst, alongside other duds like Hook, Always, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. But there’s one scene from The Lost World that is usually exhibit A as to why the movie is better left unwatched. Two words: raptor gymnastics.
Before we get into an argument about the relative efficiency of Ian Malcolm’s adopted daughter using an olympic sport to defeat bloodthirsty dinosaurs, it should be said that Spielberg himself isn’t a fan of the movie. He told the New York Times) earlier this year, “My sequels aren’t as good as my originals because I go onto every sequel I’ve made and I’m too confident…I wind up making an inferior movie to the one before.” In case there was any question over which movie he was referencing, he added helpfully: “I’m talking about The Lost World.
And yet, The Lost World is by no means a bad Spielberg movie. The plot, about a crew trying to stop big game hunters aiming to capture dinos and bring back to the mainland for a U.S.-based park was a great extension of the first movie. It even has iconic moments, like the extended T-rex trailer attack that remains one of the director’s most harrowing sequences; the King Kong homage of the movie’s San Diego coda, which is the closest Spielberg has ever gotten to a monster movie; and even ubiquitous Spielberg collaborator John Williams’s uncharacteristically boisterous and drum-heavy score.
It isn’t perfect and does have its faults, but most of the movie’s real problems stem from author Michael Crichton’s source material. Case in point: The slick supporting character Ian Malcolm awkwardly repositioned as the lead, the alternate dino-infested Site B island nonsense, and, obviously, Kelly Malcolm. Though she’s in Crichton’s book, the character was changed to Malcolm’s African American adopted daughter in the movie. This tangential broken home story detail is perhaps the movie’s most Spielbergian quality personally and creatively. Spielberg himself has adopted children and a multiracial family.
Essentially, the character in The Lost World is meant to elicit the normal shock and awe that children usually find themselves dealing with in Spielberg films. The wow factor of the dinosaurs themselves was plainly established in the 1993 original, and it’s up to her to give the audience a sense of wonderment this time around. It doesn’t help that she’s the most catty of Spielberg’s child characters, and much more annoying than Tim and Lex from the original (not to mention the woeful brotherly duo in Colin Trevorrow’s Jurassic World).
But nothing is criticized more about her or The Lost World as a whole than the scene late in the movie where she, Malcolm, and Julianne Moore’s Dr. Sarah Harding character attempt to escape a raptor attack. Cornered high up in some sort of testing facility without anywhere to go, Kelly thinks fast and uses her athletic abilities to grab on to some conveniently placed pipes to do an entire gymnastics routine, which culminates in her kicking a raptor in the face and forcing it through a window to its death.
“I got cut from the team,” she tells Malcolm in an earlier scene foreshadowing our fateful conclusion. “The school cut you from the team?” Malcolm replies after her gymnastics save. It is, admittedly, so patently absurd that you forget this is a movie about reanimated dinosaurs basically running around and eating people. But to dismiss it is to dismiss the mawkish tendencies that have made Spielberg so iconic.
It’s dumb, yes, but it’s a classic Spielberg gag in the vein of the innocent BMX chase in E.T. or the infamous Cairo Swordsman scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It undercuts a tense moment with a bit of Spielberg’s patented saccharine comedy. Post-gymnastics-dino-death, the character basically disappears from the movie, which is why it’s probably singled out as a weak point. But when it’s happening, it’s supremely entertaining.