WHEN: 11:15am EST, August 3rd, 2013
WHERE: In my apartment in Portland, ME
FORMAT: Blu-Ray on a Vizio 47″ LCD HDTV
PHYSICAL AND MENTAL STATE: Followed viewing with The Lost World: Jurassic Park and Jurassic Park III.
Neither The Lost World: Jurassic Park not Jurassic Park III live up to the franchise’s original installment. Painfully tedious and unmistakably dumb respectively, they each represent a different flavor of failure. But, taking each for what it is, I hold up Jurassic Park III as the better film. Lost World has better production values, JP III has a bearable running time (only 93 minutes!), but much can be placed on their leads. Doctors Alan Grant and Ian Malcolm are both iconic memorable characters, but just as only one of them knows how to face a Rex, only one of them works in a lead role.
Ian may have the flair, but Grant is the hero.
HOW MALCOLM FAILS AS A LEAD:
The Lost World: Jurassic Park has many problems. Its plot is muddled and disjointed. It spends valuable exposition time visiting Hammond, Lex, and Tim, who will not factor into the greater plot. The new characters it introduces are one-dimensional, even compared to those in Jurassic Park. This being the case, it is easy not to place any of the blame on Ian Malcolm. After all, he was a lot of fun in the original, and we all love Jeff Goldblum (rightfully so). Yet, our chaotician friend is a major contributing factor to the film’s failings.
Our first clue is that he spends his introductory shot yawning.
Malcolm doesn’t want to do anything. That might seem like an unfair statement, but think about it. He doesn’t want to go to the island, and only agrees once he’s told that his girlfriend is there, and probably in danger. Thanks, Hammond.
Still a dick, four years later.
He packs up his Winnebago, snarkily protesting the whole while, and halfheartedly tells his daughter not to tag along. Once on the island, he looks around a little, finds Julianne Moore, and then spends several scenes on the phone, calling for a glorified taxi to take him and his stowaway daughter home. At this point, we wish we could leave the island too.
Foiled by his inability to speak Spanish (something he probably should have thought of before going to Costa Rica).
After this, most actions he takes could best be described as jogging to a place so that he can make snide comments as things happen nearby. For the last chunk of the movie, he helps Julianne Moore lure the T-Rex away from the giant stadium built to hold it and back to the boat it had recently escaped from. I suppose she needed moral support. I’m not sure.
The point is, through the entirety of The Lost World: Jurassic Park, the protagonist, the strongest link back to the original film, does almost nothing. He stands around and makes comments. Then jogs places and makes more comments. The result is that it’s hard to give two shits about him.
HOW GRANT SUCCEEDS AS A LEAD:
Jurassic Park III also has many problems. Thanks to fewer and fewer puppets, the visuals look cheaper. The plot is laughable. The Spinosaurus is outright ridiculous. Seeing as the movie is a bit of a joke, it’s easy to overlook how successful Sam Neill is in the driver’s seat.
Right off the bat, Grant is identified as “the dinosaur man.” We know why he’s in this movie.
Like Malcolm, Grant doesn’t want to return to an island full of dinosaurs. William H. Macy knocks him out and brings him to Isla Sorna, but the moment his feet hit the ground, he’s taking action and has objectives. He wants to find out who hit him. He wants to get the expedition back on the plane. He wants to stop Téa Leoni from making noise with a megaphone.
He suggests William H. Macy not hold his own wife for ransom. Wait. No. I’m thinking of Fargo.
That’s all in his first minute on the island. From there on, he’s constantly taking action, revising his plans whenever they’re thwarted by dinosaurs, and generally kicking ass. Jurassic Park III is a straight action adventure flick, stripped of all the pretensions of the first two films, and Sam Neill plays his part perfectly to fit into that structure. He commits so fully to his role that it helps you ignore the ridiculousness surrounding him.
Sure, the Raptor-nose-flute is a thing that makes sense, and isn’t totally stupid.
We connect with him, and want him to succeed. He’s honest, invested, and sure, occasionally a little over the top. Watching Jurassic Park III is like eating a big bowl of popcorn, but it sure beats the stale loaf of dino-bread that is The Lost World.
WHERE THE LOST WORLD WENT WRONG:
So how did The Lost World: Jurassic Park mess things up? Jeff Goldblum is a good actor, and Ian Malcolm is a fun character. What went wrong? Well, it all has to do with the role he plays in the film: sayer of snarky things.
Look at him, getting ready to make some snark.
Up until The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Malcolm’s role in the franchise, both books and film, had been that of commentator. In Jurassic Park he had been Crichton’s mouthpiece, observing the action and giving a philosophical take on it. In fact, he spent most of the novel lying in bed, pumped full of morphine, waxing poetic about how humans are incapable of destroying the planet, just themselves. In Jurassic Park he spent his time warning everyone about how people are destroying the planet (also, flirting a bunch). In both cases he’s just lightly philosophizing from the sidelines.
When he was resurrected for The Lost World, one might have assumed that he would take the lead role, but again, he took a back seat. It was a new character, Dr. Richard Levine, who took the reins in that novel. Again, Malcolm stuck to the side, this time waxing poetic about theories of extinction. And, truth be told, it again worked quite well.
So, along comes The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Jeff Goldblum is the returning star, so he needs to get top billing, and people with top billing don’t just stand by the sidelines. As such, there is no Dr. Levine to carry the action, just Dr. Malcolm, and it’s clear the movie doesn’t know what to do with him.
He’s just kind of there.
The result is that he’s trapped between worlds. The movie doesn’t give him any real tasks to accomplish or objectives to fulfill, but at the same time, he’s too busy running from place to place to have time to enter into any philosophical discussions (or even flirt). He’s a lead who doesn’t lead, because he was never meant to. He was designed for commentary.
WE COULD HAVE SEEN IT COMING:
An action film needs a protagonist you can get behind. Someone who will take charge and guide the audience through the film. Along the way, supporting characters flesh out the world. In Jurassic Park, Grant, and to a lesser degree Sattler, took on the role of protagonist. Either one could have very nicely led a further cinematic effort. But there are some characters who simply aren’t designed to lead the action. Malcolm is one of these, so are Hammond, Gennaro, Arnold, etc. They are, for the most part, spectators observing the action.
It’s no coincidence that these two spend the second half of the movie hanging out in an unfinished basement.
It’s not a comment on the actors. No one would deny that Samuel L. Jackson could carry an action movie. He’s motherfucking made for it. But would Ray Arnold make a good lead? Probably not; he’s there to explain how the computer works, and die while trying to turn the power back on. He just wasn’t written to lead a dinosaur exposition, and neither was Malcolm. Crichton knew this, and despite bringing Malcolm back in The Lost World, kept him out of the action.
I love you, Ian Malcolm, but I’m sorry, we’d better leave the Spinosaur-wrangling to Grant.
And his scary action eyes.