The Dino-Mania of the 90s
The 1990s were what some might call Dino-Mania, Dinosaurs were everywhere. Toys of Dinosaurs were on every aisle of every toy store. On TV there were documentary shows like Paleoworld (1994)and Walking With Dinosaurs (1999) as well as fiction for children like Barney & Friends (1992). However, this and the other merchandise paled in comparison to the sheer impact the defining Dinosaur franchise of the 90s had, that being Jurassic Park. After coming out in 1993, Jurassic Park caught the world by storm quickly becoming the highest-grossing film of all time and being in many ways the Star Wars of the 90s. So of course it would be followed up with a sequel in the form of The Lost World: Jurassic Park.
The adaptation of the novel by Michael Crichton quickly exploded even further becoming a merchandising juggernaut, it was only inevitable then for a sequel to ensue. Under the request of Steven Spielberg and Universal Pictures, Michael Crichton wrote the sequel to Jurassic Park which he would title The Lost World, a reference to the classic piece of Science Fiction literature by Arthur Conan Doyle, setting it on a new island (This time Isla Sorna, rather than Isla Nublar) and bringing back the character of Ian Malcolm.
The Initial Mixed Reception to The Lost World
The book was a smash hit spending eight weeks at number one on the New York Times Best Seller List, but faced mixed reviews from critics. Some praised it for its increased action
Action-packed and camera-ready, The Lost World is to its predecessor what microwave dinners are to home-cooked meals: hardly authentic, but in a pinch fully satisfying.” (Susan Toepfer; People magazine; September 18th, 1995.)
While others criticized it for feeling unoriginal…
“Having set up this basic mise en scene, Mr. Crichton proceeds to give the reader a tired rehash of “Jurassic Park,” one so predictable and unimaginative that it seems to have been intended to save special-effects technicians the hassle of doing new work on the movie sequel. Once again, we see a hungry tyrannosaur snack on one of the bad guys. Once again, we see some voracious velociraptors chase the good guys around. And once again, we see the good guys escape, thanks to the savvy of the children. As in “Jurassic Park,” there are lots of scenes of dinosaurs romping about a scenic island and lots of scenes of man’s technology succumbing to the raw force of nature. All, needless to say, without the surprise or ingenuity that made “Jurassic Park” entertaining the first time around.” (Michiko Kakutani; The New York Times; October 10th, 1995.)
However, despite this reception, the book was adapted with many major changes and was released under the title of The Lost World: Jurassic Park in the summer of 1997. Much like its book counterpart, it was an instant success having the highest-grossing opening weekend of any movie at the time and however also like its book counterpart, the reception was similarly mixed. With many of the same criticisms and praises of the book being given to the movie adaptation such as it feeling like a rehash…
“I was disappointed as much as I was thrilled because ‘The Lost World’ lacks a staple of Steven Spielberg’s adventure films: exciting characters. […] Even in the original ‘Jurassic Park,’ the dinosaurs — not to mention the human beings — had more distinct personalities than they have here. Save for superior special effects, ‘The Lost World’ comes off as recycled material.” (Gene Siskel; Chicago Tribune; May 30th, 1997.)
And was praised however for humanizing the Dinosaurs more “The Lost World, unlike Jurassic Park, humanizes its monsters in a way that E.T. would understand.” (Stephen Holden; The New York Times; May 23rd, 1997.). However, in recent times The Lost World has begun to be reevaluated by fans of the franchise as having stuck the closest to the original film’s tone and themes, helped by returning director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp and the film’s themes in recent years seem to be more relevant than ever.
The Plot of The Lost World
In The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the main plot of the film involves the discovery of InGen’s Site B Island, Isla Sorna. It is revealed that here was where the Dinosaurs were cloned and bred not Isla Nublar like the original film suggested and after the original film, the island was devastated by a tropical storm freeing the Dinosaurs. After a British family’s yacht boarded the island only for their daughter to be attacked by Compies, John Hammond’s nephew Peter Ludlow played by Arliss Howard, uses this opportunity to take over the board and organize an expedition to strip Isla Sorna of its now wild population of Dinosaurs.
John Hammond played once again by Richard Attenborough organizes a counter group with Ian Malcolm, played once more by Jeff Goldblum, in a way being the reluctant leader after finding out his girlfriend Sarah Harding has already been sent ahead to the island.
The Themes of The Lost World and Why They’re Relevant
The 90s was the first big push of environmental themes in media with cartoons like Captain Planet and the Planeteers (1990) being all about it with other shows like The Magic School Bus (1994) among many others devoting special episodes to themes of recycling and pollution. In a way, at the time this was part of the backlash against The Lost World’s overwhelming theme of conservation, with many deriding it as childish. However, in our more climate change concerned era, the themes of the film seem almost prophetic.
As we see more and more fears for animals going extinct as a result of human activities – such as Polar Bears losing hunting grounds to the melting Arctic, the message of conservation has only grown in importance which is probably one of The Lost World’s two biggest themes. In the film itself, the removal of Dinosaurs for our own enjoyment regardless of the impact on the ecosystem is itself a commentary on humans removing animals we deem unessential or not important in regards to our own selfish interests, only to figure out too late the damage that was done.
Another major theme in The Lost World which has grown in awareness recently is that of Animal Welfare. Recently the documentary series, Tiger Kings (2020), has put into question the morality of zoos and using wild animals for our own selfish enjoyment as well as a greater push for ethical farming if not flat out abolishment by some vegans. The Lost World: Jurassic Park is most likely most concerned about this in terms of all its themes. Frequently the mistreatment of animals by Ludlow’s group is shown.
Dieter Stark, played by Peter Stormare, shocks a Compy with a cattle prod with no motive or reason beyond wanting to give it a reason to fear man. While capturing the Dinosaurs, a Parasaurolophus is wrangled with ropes before being made to fall to the ground in pain while right before this a Pachycephalosaurus is captured between the mechanisms of a truck and forcibly constrained and greatest of all is the plan of Roland Tembo, the great white hunter archetype of the film played by recurring monster film actor Peter Postlethwaite to kill a bull Tyrannosaurus Rex by luring it to him with its baby solely for his own desire.
At the camp Ludlow’s team makes for the night we see the results of their hunt as Sarah Harding, Ian Malcolm’s paleontologist girlfriend played by Julianne Moore, and the team’s ex-Green Peace saboteur Nick van Owen played by Vince Vaughn go to free the captured Dinosaurs. We see struggling animals wanting to break free and a baby Triceratops and Stegosaurus separated from their mothers. This imagery can conjure up similar memories in documentaries like Tiger Kings (2020), Black Fish (2013), or Tyke: Elephant Outlaw (2015) of baby animals taken from their mothers and caged to be used later for human entertainment or gain.
After freeing the Dinosaurs who destroy the camp, Sarah and Nick also discover the baby T.rex that Roland captured to lure his kill in who under his care had its leg broken carelessly (In a deleted scene it was revealed to be from Peter Ludlow stepping on it while drunk). The theme of animals suffering under humans for selfish reasons only to then strike back in rage is shown when while attempting to cast the baby’s broken leg, its parents the Doe and Bull T.rex of the movie, show up and attack Malcolm’s team’s Trailer-based home base which is the setting and reason for the iconic trailer attack scene.
This scene echoes the earlier chaos that ensued once the captured Dinosaurs by Ludlow’s group was set free being a theme that would repeat. The group is only saved by the sacrifice of one of their own, Eddie Carr, and the quick arrival of Ludlow’s group. With both groups having no means to get off the island they join together to make it to the abandoned settlement mentioned earlier in the film to get to the radio and call for assistance. Along the way there the character discussions between the two groups illuminate the differences.
Like environmentalists, Ian’s group is more concerned for the wellbeing of the island, animals, and humans while Ludlow’s group is only concerned for their personal gains. For Ludlow his reputation, for Tembo his desire to hunt the most dangerous predator to ever live. The theme of animals striking back violently if hurt also comes up in this extended sequence twice, the first of which being Dieter Stark’s comeuppance as after being separated from the group he is devoured by Compies, the animal he earlier tortured and later while camping for the night the T Rex pair, smelling the blood of the baby on Sarah Harding’s clothes, attack the camp once more.
This sequence leads the way for the bull to be captured by Tembo rather than killed, a result of Nick Van Owen destroying his bullets leading him to use tranquilizer darts instead, as well as the baby after the Bull Rex is downed on orders from Ludlow. This sequence of events leads to the film’s thrilling conclusion and perhaps one of the most haunting to compare to real-life events.
In 1994, Tyke a female African circus Elephant went on a rampage in Honolulu, Hawaii killing her trainer and seriously injuring her groomer before being shot dead by the Honolulu police. This incident sparked a massive debate over keeping Elephants in circuses and zoos. In a way the San Diego rampage at the end of The Lost World by the Bull T.rex while also a homage to films like Godzilla (1954) and King Kong (1933), being made post-Tyke the imagery feels almost uncanny and in many ways invokes those thoughts with even similar situations like the stress of a long voyage as well as drugs and mistreatment by human handlers causing the rampage. While the Bull T.rex has a much happier ending then Tyke did, being reunited with his baby and returned to Isla Sorna after they both killed Peter Ludlow, it is this finale that ties it all together.
While Dinosaurs are extinct, it is because of this that they can be used so effectively to comment on issues today. With them being safely extinct it is almost convenient that they can be put back into the box only to be taken out once more when the time is right.