Steven Spielberg is no stranger to wonder. Many of the director’s most memorable films leave audiences in a great state of awe. Just remember the first time you saw Elliott soar through the sky on his bike with an extra-terrestrial named E.T, or when Sam Neill’s Dr. Alan Grant staggered out of his vehicle at the sight of a brontosaurus in the sci-fi classic Jurassic Park.
Few filmmakers showcase the magical convergence of imagination and technology as astutely as Spielberg, which is why he’s the most respected and loved director in the industry. But even when he’s not taking us to a new world or new heights, Spielberg knows how to take the audiences on a thrilling, action-packed adventure. Plenty of his films are proof of this, but perhaps not as keenly as the follow-up to his dinosaur megahit.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park might eschew the wondrous quality of its predecessor for a darker journey, but that doesn’t mean it’s lacking in action or thrills. Here’s why this underrated sequel deserves a second chance, now that it’s streaming on HBO Max.
The Lost World takes place four years after the events in Jurassic Park and sees the return of Jeff Goldblum as chaos theorist Dr. Ian Malcolm. The mathematician gets a call from John Hammond (Richard Attenborough), who is sending a team to a remote Costa Rican island to film and document evidence of the dinosaurs who live there. Malcolm is stunned to learn that the dinosaurs survived after Hammond and his company InGen abandoned the park years earlier. However, as Hammond delightfully reminds Malcolm, “life finds a way,” and the island where InGen had originally cloned the dinosaurs is now home to a growing population of prehistoric creatures.
Because of Jurassic Park’s failure, InGen has been skirting bankruptcy, and the corporate heads of Hammond’s company want to find a way to profit off the living dinosaurs. Losing control of InGen, Hammond makes a final strategic move to send a crew of four — Malcolm, paleontologist Sarah (Julianne Moore), field equipment expert Eddie (Richard Schiff), and documentarian Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn) — to the island to help convince others that humans should not interfere with the dinosaurs.
Malcolm is unwilling to go until he finds out that Sarah, also his girlfriend, is already on the island. He decides to fast-track their expedition, turning it into more of a rescue mission. But once they land there, with Malcolm’s teen daughter, Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester) as an unexpected stowaway, they realize that the rescue mission is now one of survival. Not only do they have to contend with predatory giants but also InGen’s team of ruthless hunters.
The Lost World might have a straightforward plot with mostly one-dimensional supporting characters, but could you really say those were strengths of the first movie? While Spielberg lingered on the characters’ (and audience’s) awe of the creatures in Jurassic Park, this second installment leans more into their fear. In some scenes, the sequel builds up the suspense so effectively that it comes across as sci-fi horror akin to Ridley Scott’s Alien.
The special effects are also improved in The Lost World over the first film, with the dinosaurs looking larger than life and in a way that feels real. That’s something you can’t say about the newest franchise installments. There is something surreal about the dinos in Jurassic World and its sequel Fallen Kingdom, which makes the creatures appear unbelievable and, thus, less threatening. The dinosaurs in The Lost World, and even Jurassic Park, are primal and legitimately scary.
Whether it’s how special effects evolved over the last 20 years or the deft hand of the filmmaker, the first two Jurassic Park movies might be very different, but they both remain the most enthralling films of the franchise to this day.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park is now streaming on HBO Max.