Perhaps a comparison of 1994's Jurassic Park to its new sequel, The Lost World, would be a splitting of hairs. The strengths and weaknesses of each produce a balanced effect. The first film had the novelty of computer-generated dinosaurs appearing for the first time; the sequel takes advantage of better technology to multiply and enhance the creatures. The original enjoyed a well-calculated setup subverted by cuteness and sentimentality; the follow-up suffers from a clunky opening act but employs a dark, edgy tone to fuel the thrills. Neither film is a paragon of narrative plotting, but The Lost World frankly doesn't care; Spielberg knows what he's here for: to deliver the goods. If The Lost World isn't a great film, it is one helluva movie.
This time around, naive power magnate John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) reveals the existence of a "Site B," where the creatures of Jurassic Park were genetically bred and prepared in an essentially wild environment. Now, Hammond explains, these dinos are in danger of exploitation by his own runaway company; only a bid to make the island a wildlife preserve can spare the inevitable victims, human and otherwise. Adamant chaotician Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) refuses to face the dinos again, until he learns that his girlfriend, paleontologist Julianne Moore is already on the island. Thus, the research mission, involving photographer Vince Vaughn and stowaway kid Vanessa Lee Chester, becomes an in-and-out rescue mission. I know what you're thinking: Spielberg brought a kid? Of course, the mission is far from open-and-shut, especially after the unexpected arrival of a rival team, bent on trapping the dinosaurs for a soon-to-be dino zoo back in San Diego.
The scenes which follow spectacularly mesh dinosaurs with humans; the seamless interaction is sure to elicit plenty of gee-whiz, how-did-they-do-that reactions. Spielberg shows us the best of what computer effects have to offer: utterly believable renditions of otherwise unproducible events. The cast is fine, proving an alarming trend that character is expendable with well-chosen, idiosyncratic actors in the roles. Goldblum, Moore, and Pete Postlethwaite as a Great White Hunter, by their mere presence convey more character than many lesser action movies can muster, even though the roughest edges of Goldblum's lovably eccentric character have been sawed off to make him a more conventionally palatable lead. There is something perversely impressive, however, in Spielberg's ability to make you care what's going to happen to any of these people with a ridiculous economy of character development.
The lasting impression of The Lost World may admittedly be cynical. It's clear that the filmmakers studied the first film (which grossed about $900 million, but who's counting?) and aggressively upped the ante in every respect. But excepting one nightmarish compromise involving gymnastics, Spielberg's post-exposition grip on the audience never loosens. Particularly indelible is an extended, compounding, Indiana Jones-style cliffhanger (literally) which proves with a film master's devilish glee that Murphy's Law is true. Finally, The Lost World is all about action and awe, and makes no bones about it.