Perceived wisdom has it that Steven Spielberg’s eye-saucering 1993 blockbuster Jurassic Park is one of the all-time greats while his 1997 sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park , is a dud.
The former opened to raves, with critics and punters alike wowed by the CGI (then a nascent art form – watching the liquid metal T-1000 reconfigure in Terminator 2: Judgment Day , released two years previous, was enough to melt viewers’ brains), and its worldwide gross exceeding $900m.
The latter, it was grumbled, had a messier storyline, less awe, a ridiculous moment when a kid takes out a Velociraptor with gymnastics, and a climax set in San Diego that spectacularly jumped the T-Rex. It took a ‘paltry’ $618m at the box office.
I have no defence for the kid taking out the Velociraptor with gymnastics – as Spielberg missteps go, it’s up there with monkey-boy Shia swinging through the trees in Indiana Jones 4 and Eric Bana’s sex face in Munich . But just as Jurassic Park is (whisper it) a tad overrated, the dinosaurs distracting from lightweight characterisation and an exposition-heavy plot that takes roughly 65m years to get going, The Lost World rarely gets its due.
With the science taken care of, Spielberg’s follow-up gets to the action quicker and boasts more of it: new dinos in greater numbers and this time facing more danger (in The Lost World , as in all good creature features, we care more for the ‘monsters’ than the humans) due to greedy corporation InGen employing big-game hunters to capture the scaly beasts for exhibition in San Diego.
OK, so it’s impossible to match the wonderment of seeing a Brachiosaurus for the very first time, but Spielberg and his team of VFX wizards led by Dennis Muren take the CGI to the next level: an early shot of motorcycles weaving between the legs of galumphing beasts showcases the limitless levels of interaction that are now possible.
A succession of masterful set-pieces stack up – T-Rexes nudge an occupied trailer over a cliff, Velociraptors unleash a stealth attack in long grass – while the shot of treetops swaying to announce the T-Rex’s first appearance rivals the water tremble in Jurassic Park for spine-icing suspense.
But best of all, The Lost World marks Spielberg’s second collaboration with Schindler’s List DoP Janusz Kaminski, and its dread-drenched visuals are far inkier and moodier than those in its candy-coloured predecessor.
The violence is darker too, with one guy torn in half and another sticking to a T-Rex’s foot like gum and Peter Stormare’s cold-blooded hunter nipped to a protracted death by a pack of chicken-sized Compsognathuses.
And that showdown in San Diego? It’s fun, nodding to King Kong and Godzilla and offering a pleasing change of pace and environment after two movies’ worth of beasts in the bush. I mean, who doesn’t want to see a T-Rex drinking from a swimming pool? Or is it just me?