Actually, The Lost World Is The Best Jurassic Park Movie

"The Lost World: Jurassic Park," despite having a score in the 50% range from both audiences and critics on Rotten Tomatoes, is the best "Jurassic Park" film, actually. It takes everything set up in the first film and expands upon it, delivering a terrifying sequel that is much more of a horror movie than its predecessor. While Sam Neill and Laura Dern are sorely missed in this 1997 sequel directed by "Jurassic Park" helmer and all-time great Steven Spielberg, there are plenty of great new cast members that help fill the human roles, including Peter Stormare, Julianne Moore, and Vince Vaughn. The charming and sarcastic character of Ian Malcolm returns, still played by Jeff Goldblum, and he gets even more of a chance to shine. The movie is a strong departure from its source material, the Michael Crichton novel of the same name, but it takes big blockbuster cinema in a terrifying direction and reminds us that Spielberg still has some of his "Jaws" sensibilities. 

"Jurassic Park" is a fantastic family film. It's funny, it's scary, and it's awe-inspiring. For me, however, it lacks any real bite, losing whatever satirical edge or commentary about capitalism that might exist in its big, audience-pleasing moments. "The Lost World" eschews the family blockbuster mentality of the first film, leaning into the horror and dark comedy elements in a big way. It's meaner, funnier, and significantly more violent, and it gave me everything I could ever ask for from a movie about man-eating dinosaurs. 

A story about conservation and capitalism

Ian might be the central protagonist of "The Lost World," and he gets all of the best dialogue, but the movie's real hero is paleontologist Dr. Sarah Harding, played by Julianne Moore. She wants to study the living dinosaurs the way conservationists and biologists study our own real-world wildlife, dispelling myths about them from our past and finding ways to protect them in the future. It's important to Sarah that the team leave no trace of their presence on the island, and repeatedly reminds Ian and the other guys that they are only there as observers. Ian wants her to leave because he knows about the horrors the carnivorous dinos could unleash, but she's dedicated to her mission. Conservation has become even more of a hot-button issue as climate change damages the animals' habitats, and Sarah's desire to protect the planet and its creatures is noble. 

The other members of the team are there to help her document the dinos, though they're not as altruistic. Vince Vaughn's character, for example, is a photographer who's done everything from wildlife to combat photography and sees this as a chance to win awards and garner fame. He, at least, follows the same approach as Sarah and her crew, though they soon realize the futility of their efforts when the corporate helicopters from InGen land and start hunting and capturing the dinosaurs for commercial gain. 

The Lost World is an out-and-out horror movie

The original "Jurassic Park" has some scary moments like the T-Rex chase and the incredible Velociraptor kitchen sequence, but it takes its sweet time to ramp up the horror. The first half of the film has most of the characters feeling comfortable with the fact that they're on an island full of dinosaurs. Ian, a chaos theorist, is understandably hesitant because he thinks about all of the ways things could possibly go wrong, but for the most part, the early portion of the movie is a fun family adventure designed to show off the incredible work of designer Stan Winston and his team did on the dinosaurs. It all feels very Amblin, delighting in the wonders of the world before it devolves into sort of a thrilling adventure, the cinematic equivalent of the part where the roller-coaster dives. 

"The Lost World," by comparison, is a sci-fi horror movie. It's much meaner than its predecessor: the opening scene features a little girl whose family stopped on the island for lunch getting snacked on herself by a cluster of Compsognathus, later referred to as "Compys." "The Lost World" wants us to start the film afraid of its dinosaurs instead of in awe of them, because they're higher on the food chain than we are. While most of the people who get chomped in the first film ostensibly did something silly to end up in a dinosaur's stomach, "The Lost World" shows us that no one is safe.

Creative scares and non-stop thrills

Part of what makes "The Lost World" so scary is the way it's shot. There are shots that feel like they could be pulled from Ridley Scott's "Alien," if you replaced Xenomorphs with dinosaurs, and the entire movie is always operating at the highest possible tension level. There are some moments of levity, mostly by way of dark jokes made by Goldblum, but otherwise, it's an adrenaline-pumping thrill ride. It's also significantly more bloody and violent than "Jurassic Park," though the goriest deaths appear just off-screen. Then again, there might be something even more terrifying in seeing a person disappear with some hungry dinosaurs behind a log or over a waterfall, then see their blood pouring out. It leaves the actual deaths to the imagination, which can sometimes be worse than anything the movie could pull off. 

There are a few things in "The Lost World" that either don't make sense or totally work, including the film's climax and finale where a T-Rex is let loose in San Diego. There's probably some kind of commentary there on irresponsible zoos or private wild animal owners, but it gets lost in the "T-Rex runs amok" silliness. There are also some weird decisions regarding Malcolm's daughter, and he's occasionally a little controlling over Sarah because she's his girlfriend that's treated as acceptable, but these are small complaints in what is otherwise a thoroughly terrifying experience that forces us to think about the role humans have in being the Earth's caretakers. "The Lost World: Jurassic Park" absolutely rules, and it deserves a lot more love.