Those madcap dinosaurs first. There's no denying that they're incredible in a way never seen before. Well, maybe once. From the chicken-sized toddlers to the lumbering herbivores and pterodactyls on the wing (which disappointingly only appear as cameos right at the end), all are superb in their believability.
That they're integral to their settings is the one truly amazing thing about this film. Monsters crash and lumber through bushes (presumably computer-generated too) in an utterly convincing fashion; a tethered monster swings its head back and sends two rope-holding goons about 30 feet - a seamless blend of live action and CGI. In other sequences, we see the beasts on bouncy, jolty, hand-held film, which looks for all the world like hastily snatched footage of real-life animals on the hoof. It's incredible stuff, to the point that you're hard-pressed to guess which shots are real (ie, animatronic) and which are the result of some super computer's imagination (apart from the baby T-rex, which harks back to an earlier age of dino effects and is obviously made of rubber). So it's an utter shame, then, that The Lost World is such a monotonous, predictable sequel - empty, sterile, unengaging and (the technical triumphs aside) thoroughly pointless. Yes, we do get a bigger T-rex roaring scene, a faster 'raptor shot and even a larger car-getting-dropped-over-a-cliff take, but, unable to regenerate its audience's awe at seeing dinosaurs roam the planet once more, The Lost World's shabby framework sits up and howls at you. Being bored by a slow-moving film is bad enough. Being dulled to death by a $76 million blockbuster that features carnage and bangs every few minutes is unforgivable. But when the only truly exciting scene in the movie involves not the rampant dinos, but a slowly cracking windscreen, then you know something has gone terribly wrong.
At the risk of over-stressing the case, m'lud, the prosecution hereby presents the following evidence as to why The Lost World is about as great to watch as a smouldering pile of triceratops' cack - but without the element of surprise:
1. The acting is uniformly dire (apart from Jeff Goldblum, who just turns in his usual amiable nice scientist thang).
2. The dialogue is cringingly awful.
3. The story is thin, makes little sense and has virtually no focus to it.
4. The film has no real heroes and no real villains. The hunters aren't nasty, let alone evil, and end up saving the necks of the ecologists, who in turn are so stupid that they deserve to be trod on. The dinos are shown, in a Californian tree-hugging way, as innocent animals that, you know, have a right to life too.
5. At 134 minutes this film is too lengthy, with the first half-hour filled with dreary explanation and product-placement.
6. It's ridiculously heavy-handed. We are plied with many, many scenes that we've seen before (even a repeat of the Laura-Dern-with-mouth-open moment when the dinos first appear), as well as endless crassly-telegraphed set-ups in the usual Spielberg style. (We are informed that a dinosaur has a "specially strengthened skull so it can butt things," only mere seconds before it nuts a truck.)
7. Virtually every character is forced to act with almost unbelievable stupidity to set up the action sequences. A guard happily sits with his back to the lethal jungle while listening to loud music on his Walkman; a huntsman gets lost in the undergrowth, and never once thinks to fire his rifle to attract attention; and mass silliness afflicts even the brainiest of characters. "T-rex can detect a scent from ten miles away," someone casually mentions. "By the way, what's that blood on your jacket?" "Oh, it's from the baby T-rex I treated earlier. It just hasn't dried in this humidity..." And then bugger us if, in the very next scene, mummy T-rex doesn't walk into the middle of the camp (not even awakening anyone) and have a sniff at the safari suit in question.
Spielberg showed a much surer hand at the helm of his previous monster films. Jaws was frightening because its protagonist was a dedicated murdering machine "it swam, it ate, it made little sharks. The bellowing tyrannosaurus in Jurassic Park was almost as scary because, when you're a soft, pink thing in a car, you know you're nothing but finger food to a 30ft killer. Reprising the same scene but with two T-rexes attacking a bigger vehicle is unacceptable, and counter-productive too: without that element of shock, these beasts start to look like stroppy elephants baring sharp teeth. And when one of the blighters is taken to an American city for the tacked-on ending, it seems even less significant - surely a car full of Uzi-totting gangbangers would wipe it out in a five second driveby?
Indeed, the T-rex's arrival in downtown San Diego, transported by ship to star in a new prehistoric zoo, throws up conclusive evidence of this movie's sheer stupidity. Instead of docking as usual, the ship crashes into the jetty. Why? Because the crew is dead, shredded, eaten. Yet Mr T-rex - the only dino on board, as far as the film tells us - is stored in the hold, at least until a dumb copper opens the doors. So who ate all the crew then? Or was it cannibalism?
It's but one example of the many diplodocus-sized holes in The Lost World. Worse than what it does wrong are the missing bits we might expect. Where's the scene of someone riding a dinosaur? Where's the climatic showdown between a triceratops and T-rex? Where's the scene of a massive monster going down in a hail of gunfire? Where's the point?