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Credit: Universal Pictures

Book vs. Flick: The Lost World

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May 21, 2019

When it came time to write a sequel to the mammoth hit novel Jurassic Park, author Michael Crichton had a tough act on his hands, and he wasn't the only one. The film adaptation of the same name was one of the biggest movies of all time upon release, as well as a groundbreaking extravaganza of special effects that forced Hollywood to up its game. Giving audiences the follow-up they so eagerly craved, in terms of both the book and the film, would not be easy for Crichton or director Steven Spielberg. What we got was 1995's The Lost World, followed by the big-screen debut of The Lost World: Jurassic Park in 1997. The novel fares better than its film counterpart, and indeed it might be just as good as, if not better than, its predecessor.

Unfortunately, the film sequel doesn’t hold a candle to Spielberg's first, despite him returning as director and David Koepp once again on screenwriting duties. Most things are better when you add Jeff Goldblum, but not even he was enough to save this stumbling sequel.

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Courtesy of Universal

Crichton initially refused to write a sequel for Jurassic Park, but after the record-breaking success of the first film and encouragement from Spielberg, he gave in and completed it. As Crichton finished The Lost World, Spielberg and Koepp were in the process of coming up with ideas for the film, although, oddly enough, Crichton was never even consulted. Instead, Spielberg had Koepp watch the 1925 silent monster movie The Lost World. Based on an old Arthur Conan Doyle story, it's widely considered to be one of the primary forerunners to King Kong and the massive popularity of giant monster movies in the 1930s. However, Koepp didn't ignore Crichton’s The Lost World for his screenplay. It was referred to briefly, which explains why there are a few similarities between the two despite the massive differences that otherwise define them as almost entirely separate entities.

The novel brings back Dr. Ian Malcolm, even though he was killed off in the first book. Spielberg reportedly wanted to bring back Jeff Goldblum for the sequel (we don't blame him), which put Crichton in a difficult bind for his version of the story. Unlike with the film, Malcolm is not the central focus of the novel, nor is he a single dad. He doesn’t travel to the island to save what he believes to be his stranded girlfriend, Dr. Sarah Harding (played in the film by Julianne Moore), working under the contract of Richard Hammond. Rather, Malcolm goes to the island to find a missing paleontologist, Richard Levine, who travels to the island without Malcolm in search of the rumored “lost world” of dinosaurs. The Harding character ends up on the island after being thrown overboard by a geneticist named Lewis Dodgson, an employee of InGen's biggest competitor, Biosyn (neither Dodgson or Levine is in the film).

These are only a handful of the many differences between film and novel. The only similarities between the two, however, are a few characters, the existence of a second island that acted as a site B for the island from the first film, and a scant handful of key scenes, one of those being the famous moment where the adult Tyrannosaurus Rexes attack the trailer to get to their wounded offspring.

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The Lost World:Jurassic Park/Universal Pictures

Crichton’s The Lost World gives Harding a lot more agency than the film could even imagine. That proves interesting because, in the novel of Jurassic Park, the female characters don’t play such major roles in saving the day as they do in the movie. Spielberg’s version of The Lost World gives most of that agency to Malcolm, who spends a considerable amount of time hurt in the original book. Most of the main characters in the novel have more to do than Malcolm, including the two child stowaways. Kelly, who is Malcolm's daughter in the film, plays a significant role in helping everyone get off the island in the novel. In the movie, her character is babysat by Malcolm for the majority of the story, only having one shining moment when she kicks a velociraptor out of the window via the power of gymnastics. Biosyn also doesn't exist in the film; it's actually InGen that comes to the island to collect dinosaurs for the theme park that Hammond’s nefarious nephew wants to build. The book does not include that, nor does it feature the ridiculous Godzilla-like moment where a Tyrannosaurus rex wreaks havoc on the streets of San Diego.

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The Lost World:Jurassic Park/Universal Pictures

However, the novel still manages to be more action-packed and genuinely thrilling than the film. There is an exciting chase sequence that involves Harding and Kelly riding a motorcycle while trying to retrieve a key from the mouth of a velociraptor (if only Spielberg had had Koepp work with Crichton on the screenplay). Crichton also spends a lot more time showing the main characters observing the dinosaurs as they thrive on the island sans humans, even as they have to fight for their lives against these predators. Disappointingly, in the film there is a lot less time to breathe with these majestic creatures, but there is way more running and screaming. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it fails to elicit the same levels of terror that the first film did with similar scenarios.

Saying the film is loosely based on the novel almost feels like a lie. The final product feels like the end result of someone writing a screenplay based on a quick skim read of the Wikipedia entry for the novel. Even though Spielberg gives us more Ian Malcolm, which delightfully means more Jeff Goldblum, it was at the expense of compelling storytelling and what could have been a far stronger sequel. The Lost World only exists because Crichton wrote a sequel based on the pressure put upon him by the first Jurassic Park movie, and in turn, that film's future depended on him writing a follow-up to the novel. Ultimately, it is highly ironic and tragically funny that the novel itself was largely ignored when it came time to write the screenplay for the sequel, making them distant cousins thrice removed at best. If you haven't read The Lost World, there's no better time to pick it up and give it a shot.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author's, and do not necessarily reflect those of SYFY WIRE, SYFY, or NBC Universal.

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