Film Review: The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

Also known as: Jurassic Park 2, The Lost World (working titles)
Release Date: May 19th, 1997 (Los Angeles premiere)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: David Koepp
Based on: The Lost World by Michael Crichton
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Arliss Howard, Richard Attenborough, Vince Vaughn, Vanessa Lee Chester, Peter Stormare, Harvey Jason, Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello, Camilla Belle

Digital Image Associates, Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 129 Minutes

Review:

“Oh, yeah. Oooh, ahhh, that’s how it always starts. Then later there’s running and um, screaming.” – Dr. Ian Malcolm

I barely remembered this film, as I hadn’t seen it in its entirety since the theater in 1997. Although, I have seen bits and pieces on television over the years. However, I usually catch the movie at the end, once the T-Rex is running around San Diego looking for its baby.

So I wasn’t sure what to expect in revisiting this but I always remembered not enjoying it as much as the original. However, it has a lot more Goldblum, so that is kind of a selling point, regardless of the overall quality.

Staring with what I liked about the movie, I thought it was immensely cooler simply for the fact that it was darker and pushed the envelope a bit further. It felt much closer to Jaws than the first film and it actually showed a good amount of dino on human violence. A lot of people get eaten, as well as a dog. We even see a girl get savagely attacked and are left with the impression that she was eaten to death. But we are told, several minutes later, that she survived the attack and was doing okay.

The tone in this movie, for the most part, was just right. It comes undone in the third act during the San Diego sequence but the movie did pretty good up to that point.

As mentioned in the second paragraph, this movie is heavy on the Goldblum, which I liked a lot, as even though he’s one of the three stars of the first movie, by the mid-point of that film, he’s kind of just hanging out in the techies’ office.

Looking beyond just Jeff Goldblum, this film had a great cast between Julianne Moore, Vince Vaughn, as well as cameos by Richard Attenborough and his character’s grandchildren. This also featured Pete Postlethwaite in what I would call one of his greatest roles. His character was complex, interesting and he really shined in this role, despite not having the screen time that the bigger stars had.

I also liked the sequence where the raptors are hiding in the tall grass and picking people off, as everyone is running away from the danger. It’s superbly shot and it’s a chilling scene that has held up remarkably well, especially when other scenes don’t look like they’re on the same level as the first movie.

Moving on to the negatives, the CGI and special effects, overall, look worse than the first film. I found that baffling, considering that this came out four years later in an era where CGI effects were moving forward by leaps and bounds.

However, the scene where you see the first dinosaurs greatly pales in comparison to the dino reveal scene in the first picture.

Also, the movie doesn’t feel like a Steven Spielberg movie. It’s a hard thing to explain and his magical cinematic touch is difficult to quantify but this just doesn’t have that “touch” that other Spielberg adventure films have.

Something that made me scratch my head and go “huh?” was the scene where Goldblum’s daughter uses gymnastics to kill a raptor. I remember people bitching about this back in the day but the whole thing slipped away from my memory over the last twenty-three years. It doesn’t break the movie but it makes you question whether or not Spielberg was off that day and left the film in the hands of a stoner baked out of his mind.

While I liked most of the action, the sequence with the research trailers hanging off the cliff ran on for too long. It was stretched out for suspense and to set up the curveball that was the arrival of two T-Rexes but it was poorly crafted with bad pacing and it disrupted the suspense it tried to build towards.

Lastly, I didn’t like the San Diego shit. I get why they did it, as they had to try and up the ante with this film and taking a T-Rex to a major American city seemed like the next logical step. It just feels out of place and strange. Although, I did like the film’s token asshole getting eaten alive by the baby T-Rex.

This film is a mixed bag. It’s mostly good and it’s a better-than-decent popcorn movie to escape into for a few hours. However, it kind of shows that maybe this concept should have been kept to one film.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: the other Jurassic Park/World films.

Film Review: Jurassic Park (1993)

Also known as: JP (promotional abbreviation)
Release Date: June 9th, 1993 (Washington D.C. premiere)
Directed by: Steven Spielberg
Written by: Michael Crichton, David Koepp
Based on: Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton
Music by: John Williams
Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, BD Wong, Samuel L. Jackson, Wayne Knight, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Miguel Sandoval, Whit Hertford

Amblin Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 127 Minutes

Review:

“Yeah, but, John, if the Pirates of the Caribbean breaks down, the pirates don’t eat the tourists.” – Dr. Ian Malcom

I think it might be hard for younger people to understand the hype around Jurassic Park when it came out. For me, it came out in the summer between middle school and high school but I spent most of my eighth grade year listening to my science teacher enthusiastically rave about the novel it was based on. In fact, she offered up extra credit for those of us who read the book and did a report on it, which I did. I liked the book better, FYI.

Anyway, I think that I may have been just a hair too old for this movie to have had the same effect on me as it did younger people in my life. For those born just after the Star Wars films had their theatrical releases, this was their Star Wars. And while I liked it, quite a lot, I do feel like the movie is a bit overrated.

Now I still think it’s damn solid and a fun movie but the story seems pretty basic, overly simplistic and just there to show off what Industrial Light and Magic could do with CGI effects. In that regard, this is a masterpiece of its time and without this film, we wouldn’t have gotten anymore Star Wars films, as this was the real test that George Lucas wanted in order to see if he could make more space movies in the way that he had always envisioned.

This led to the Special Edition Star Wars movies, which I thought were cool to see but I still preferred the unaltered originals. But then those movies led to the Prequel Trilogy and a bunch of other effects heavy films to follow.

Getting back to this film, though, it kind of recycles the best animal horror elements of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws but makes the monster a bunch of dinosaurs and shifts the man-eating to land.

Overall, this is less horrific than Jaws and it isn’t really categorized as “horror” even though it very much is. But I guess marketing it as such, kind of hurts trying to sell it to the public as a family adventure movie. Now if they had put (or left) some actual gore in it, I probably would’ve dug it more as a kid but then parents would’ve been outraged and this might not have become a massive franchise.

The film is really good and probably Spielberg’s best from the ’90s, after Schindler’s List, of course.

It was well cast and the main players are all pretty great, as they created iconic roles that seem to leave a void when they aren’t included in the Jurassic movies after this one. This was, in fact, the only film to feature the Jurassic Holy Trinity of Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill and Laura Dern.

This one also feels the most special, as it was the first. It’s probably the best too but I really need to watch the second and third, as it’s been years.

Top to bottom, this is just fun, energetic, doesn’t have a dull moment and you find yourself getting lost in it. It’s a good movie to turn your brain off to and it’s still one of the greatest popcorn movies of its time.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: the other Jurassic Park/World films.

Film Review: Spaced Invaders (1990)

Also known as: Martians!!! (working title)
Release Date: April 27th, 1990
Directed by: Patrick Read Johnson
Written by: Patrick Read Johnson, Scott Lawrence Alexander
Music by: David Russo
Cast: Douglas Barr, Royal Dano, Ariana Richards, Gregg Berger, Fred Applegate, Wayne Alexander, J. J. Anderson, Patrika Darbo, Tonya Lee Williams, Tony Cox, Orson Welles (voice – archive footage)

Silver Screen Partners IV, Smart Egg Pictures, Buena Vista Pictures, Touchstone Pictures, 100 Minutes

Review:

“Look, when a vastly superior alien culture comes all this way to take over your world, certain basic laws of planetary conquest apply. For example, when someone points a Quad Vectored Hypo Thermic Cosmo Blaster at you, it’s a fair bet you are about to become toast.” – Giggywig, “Will you please sit down and be quiet?” – Mrs. Vanderspool, “[Mrs. Vanderspool is rather overweight] Or perhaps in your case, a whole loaf of toast!” – Giggywig

Some movies just don’t age well. This is one of them.

Granted, I was a kid when I saw this and even though I loved it when I saw it in the theater and then on VHS, a dozen times, it was always a cheesy and goofy movie.

That being said, I still found the movie entertaining enough to sit through for 100 minutes and I loved the practical effects, especially in regards to the animatronics of the Martians.

The story sees a small group of Martians miss the fleet going to war. While searching for the fleet’s signal, they intercept a broadcast from Earth, falsely interpreting that as a news report that the Martians have invaded their insignificant neighboring planet. So these Martians head to Earth to help an invasion that isn’t actually happening.

I can’t quite call this an outright parody, even though it’s an obvious homage to alien invasion science fiction like War of the Worlds, which is actually the broadcast that they perceived to be a legitimate news report in the same vein that many humans did in 1938.

This is almost a stoner comedy for kids but without the drugs. It kind of reminds me of 1986’s Howard the Duck in a lot of respects. I’m also one of the few people on Earth that like that movie, even though George Lucas has since disowned it.

While the film does have a plot, it’s a pretty simple one and the majority of the movie is just a series of humorous gags and jokes with a lot of crude, juvenile humor. You know, the best kind of humor from the best time that kind of humor existed.

I really like Royal Dano in this and I feel like that guy doesn’t get enough credit. He’s a solid and fully committed character actor that, at the very least, brightens any production he’s ever been a part of.

Additionally, I really connected with Ariana Richards in this. She’s most famous for being the young girl in Jurassic Park but, as a kid, I connected with her love of aliens and science fiction. The fact that she spends 75 percent of the film dressed like a xenomorph from the Alien franchise made my day back in 1990 and it’s still kind of cool. I also really enjoyed the little kid dressed like a duck the whole movie, who only removed his duck bill for the film’s big finale.

This is bizarre and borderline corny but I wouldn’t call it a waste of time. It was a decent way of wasting 100 minutes. I don’t think I’ll watch it again in the near future, or ever, but it was fun revisiting all these years later, even if it didn’t live up to my memories of it.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: other juvenile sci-fi comedies of the late ’80s/early ’90s.

Film Review: Tremors 3: Back to Perfection (2001)

Release Date: October 2nd, 2001
Directed by: Brent Maddock
Written by: John Whelpley
Music by: Kevin Kiner
Cast: Michael Gross, Shawn Christian, Susan Chuang, Ariana Richards

Stampede Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 104 Minutes

Review:

“[Suggesting names for the flying monsters] Assblasters. How’s that?” – Jodi, “Sounds like a porno film.” – Jack

I wouldn’t call this film unwatchable but by this installment, the series is really out of gas. The only thing that salvaged it for me was Michael Gross.

This one follows the framework of the second film in that it has the Graboids evolve into another form. So where we had the Shriekers, we now have the Assblasters, which are basically Shriekers that are sleeker, have wings and can fly propelled by their flamethrower rocket blasting asses. Hence, the name.

The new monsters aren’t that creative and they just seem like an early ’00s edgy boi joke that didn’t age well.

The problem with these new monsters is that they still don’t pose the same level of threat as the original Graboids. Sure, they fly and they spray ass flames but that’s more comedic than threatening.

Now there are some Graboids. In fact, this introduces El Blanco, an albino Graboid, who would go on to be a protagonist through the rest of the films and television series. But they still feel lost in the big mess of a film that this is.

Plus, the CGI effects are really bad and where Tremors II felt like it had half the budget of Tremors, this feels like it had half the budget of Tremors II. It’s noticeably cheap.

The acting is pretty terrible and the only person that seems like they have chops is Gross. But Gross is a veteran, has created a good character within this mundane franchise and is really the only reason to revisit it whenever they decide to return to the Graboid well.

I’m not looking forward to watching the other sequels but the fourth film is a prequel and also has Billy Drago in it, so I’ll give it a shot.

Rating: 5/10
Pairs well with: the other Tremors movies.

Film Review: Tremors (1990)

Also known as: Land Sharks, Beneath Perfection, Dead Silence (working titles)
Release Date: January 19th, 1990
Directed by: Ron Underwood
Written by: Brent Maddock, S. S. Wilson, Ron Underwood
Music by: Ernest Troost, Robert Folk (uncredited)
Cast: Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Finn Carter, Michael Gross, Reba McEntire, Victor Wong, Bibi Besch, Ariana Richards

Stampede Entertainment, Universal Pictures, 96 Minutes

Review:

“Broke into the wrong goddamn rec room, didn’t ya you bastard!” – Burt Gummer

I know that Tremors somehow spawned a franchise that a lot of people seem to like. However, I’ve never been a big fan of it. In fact, I’ve only seen this film, the original, in its entirety. I’ve seen bits and pieces of others but never cared enough to watch them all the way through, even if Michael Gross’ Burt Gummer is damn entertaining.

So I’d say that this one is the best but I don’t really know. But I’d assume so, as it’s the only one to get a proper theatrical release and wasn’t just made for video, DVD or the SyFy Channel.

Also, this one has the best cast with Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Victor Wong, Reba McEntire and Bibi Besch all alongside Gross. Plus, Gross wasn’t the star of the series yet. He wouldn’t really become the centerpiece till the third film after Fred Ward dropped out following part two.

This movie is enjoyable. I mean, I love giant killer animal movies and even if these maneating sandworms aren’t the size of kaiju or the Shai Hulud from Dune, they’re cool creatures that, at the time, offered up a pretty cool and original threat for horror audiences.

There is just something terribly frightening about being swallowed alive through the ground you’re walking on. The victims in this film get sucked under in a way that isn’t too dissimilar to how the killer shark from Jaws pulled his victims underwater, chomp by chomp.

Overall, this is a well cast movie that allows its stars to ham it up. I was kind of sad to see Victor Wong go so early though, as I was hoping he’d have a bigger presence and get to kick some ass. But we get some solid Fred Ward material, which is always a plus for me as he’s been underutilized and underappreciated his entire career. Sure, that’s my opinion but it’s probably fact too.

For a 1990 film, the special effects are good, practical ones that exist in the real world. This isn’t chock full of CGI, which seemed to become the norm as the series rolled on into the future. This one was lucky enough to come out a few years before Jurassic Park changed the game with digital monster effects. But everything onscreen looks great. I also loved the first person point-of-view of the sandworms chasing their victims, even if it didn’t make sense because they hunted underground and blindly chomped at vibrations.

Tremors is a dumb but fun movie. It may have gotten flushed down the memory hole if it weren’t for all the sequels but it’s definitely mindless and entertaining enough to provide 96 minutes of amusing and lively escapism.

Rating: 6.75/10
Pairs well with: all the other films in the franchise, as well as any other killer animal movies.