You can’t beat Jurassic Park. The 1993 sci-fi blockbuster about cloned dinosaurs running amok in a failed island amusement park is brilliant. Spielberg’s film changed the direction of visual effects in movies, and the perfect cast created an instant classic. But the franchise is often thought of as a case of diminishing returns, with no other film in the six-movie series holding a candle to the original.
Yet the first sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, comes very close.
It’s hard to fathom that it took a full four years for a sequel to materialize after the smash success of Jurassic Park. It’s also somewhat shocking that of the first film’s three leads, only Jeff Goldblum agreed to appear in the sequel, reprising his role as Dr. Ian Malcolm, who was seemingly killed off in Michael Crichton’s novel. In fact, the existence of the sequel was completely dependent on whether Crichton would write a sequel novel, something he’d never done and almost didn’t do at all.
While big gaps between blockbuster sequels were much more common in the ‘80s and ‘90s, that tradition was only partially why it took so long to get a sequel moving. Even aside from Crichton’s indecision, Steven Spielberg was incredibly busy. Universal and Spielberg didn’t consider Jurassic Park to be a franchise when the first film was made, and none of what followed was really planned.
Does all of this thrown-together, retroactive sequel feeling pervade the mood of The Lost World? Yup, big time. The Lost World is like a blockbuster’s direct-to-video sequel managed to retain a massive budget and huge stars. The entire movie pivots around Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm, a character who played third fiddle to Dr. Grant (Neill) and Ellie Satler (Laura Dern). Lost World retroactively makes him a main character, which doesn’t make sense yet somehow works.
The Lost World concerns a race to take control of a second island, Isla Sorna, a “Site B” that wasn’t the focus of Jurassic Park. Dr. Malcolm is recruited by Dr. John Hammond, the creator of the original park, to prove that an evil corporation — InGen — shouldn’t raid the island to harvest the dinosaurs. Instead, Malcolm must demonstrate that the dinos should be allowed to live in their “natural” habitat. Considering that Dr. Malcolm was against the creation of cloned dinosaurs in the first place, selecting him for this mission stretches credulity to the breaking point, but Jeff Goldblum’s breezy charm carries the plot point.
Now that it’s been 26 years since The Lost World hit theaters and four more films have failed to recapture the magic of the original, this strange sequel feels surprisingly elevated. At the beginning of the film, Hammond says, “we won’t make the same mistakes,” referring to the death and disaster of the first movie, to which Malcolm replies — in the most Jeff Goldblum way possible — “no, you’re making all new ones.” And he’s right. Because while The Lost World does borrow a few beats from the original film, it gives audiences enough new dinosaur thrills to set it apart.
At the time of its release, many critics cited the third act of the film — in which a T-Rex ravages San Diego — as a nonsensical capper on a confused movie. They weren’t wrong. However, Jurassic World: Dominion just tried to do something similar on a much larger scale, and most audiences just yawned. The Lost World may not be Spielberg’s best movie, but when it comes to monsters wreaking havoc, it’s certainly not his worst.
The movie takes its name from the 1912 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel of the same name, about a hidden plateau in which dinosaurs still thrive. Nothing about the film is exactly like the novel, nor does the plot of this Lost World match Michael Crichton’s book either. But Doyle’s story works because an eccentric main character, Professor Challenger, drives the story. The 1997 film is the same. Without Jeff Goldblum as Ian Malcolm, the movie wouldn’t have worked. The lesson, which the franchise refused to learn, is that to have a good movie about dinosaurs, the human heroes have to be unique, vibrant, and even larger than the extinct reptiles supposedly in the spotlight.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is streaming on HBO Max through January 31.