City Paper is not for tourists
“Don’t worry, I’m not making the same mistakes again,” says John Hammond, the grandiloquent architect of the first Jurassic Park, to a very unwilling would-be assistant, Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum). In his brief cameo as Hammond, Richard Attenborough, not Sir for the purposes of these American adventures, doesn’t strain himself, nor does he pretend his character has a reason for tricking up another carnival of doom other than that he’s basically a good guy who can afford to indulge his enthusiasms. “No,” Ian answers, “you’re making all new ones.”
Of course he’s talking about the movie, this movie, and the whole benighted concept behind it. Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park was the biggest-grossing film of all time, and a more meretricious piece of exploitative, shoddily made garbage the world has not seen since. It wasn’t just badboring, derivative, and amateurishly scripted and lazily plottedit was evil. It acknowledged the cruelty and wrongheadedness of its premise, then went ahead. The project at the center of both these movies is paralleled conspicuously by the project of the film series. A sententious speech in the first movie rails against merchandising and exploitationthere’s a disgusting in-joke about slapping a logo on a plastic lunch pail. Everyone knew that the logo for the fictional Jurassic Park was the same as the logo for the film; the baklava of layered meanings and levels of self-consciousness in such a statement is as stomach-churning as a theme-park ride. It’s just dicking with our heads and sneering at our desire for entertainment when Spielberg cutely admits he’s exploiting us.
But complicity has always been Spielberg’s excuse. As the great Baby Boomer director, he is the head of an army of cultural revisionists who claim to have been inspired by the movies we grew up with. Exactly who “we” is, Kimo Sabe, is debatable in itselfat this point, the movies much of his audience grew up with were Steven Spielberg moviesbut the larger question is what about them is worth remaking. A childlike sense of awe usually has something to do with being a child, and not just being wowed, an ability directors seem to lose the harder they try. If those crummy old serials guys like Tim Burton are always going on about had any juice at all, it was derived from their very crumminess; there is a primitive sort of power in seeing nightmares come true in a rough-cornered, ill-lit world much like the one we live in. When Spielberg came along with the idea that astounding things beautifully backlit should happen to tousle-haired, sleepy little boys and happy suburban families, he wasn’t fulfilling his boys’ own pipe dreamwhat if we had the budget to really do those old movies right?but making another type of movie entirely. Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T. have more in common with the white-telephone musicals sci-fi audiences were rejecting when they took in Mothra down at the drive-in. When Spielberg came along and waved his yuppie wand over the characters, whatever happened to them next would only be in keeping; their lives were already magical.
Spielberg’s style has ossified; he has only one way of seeing things. In The Lost World, there’s none of the excruciating tension of 1971’s Duela cliffhanging scene goes on for so long and has so many setbacks that the audience starts moaning for it to endand only a gasping, atrophied expression of the flowing rhythm of Jaws. Goldblum’s first scenehe gets accosted on a subway by a weird fanshows shades of that loose, unaffected smarts in its dialogue and staging. But smarts don’t bring in the big bucks, so in between blowing shit up, Spielberg reverts to his version of humor, the high-low split: An airbag deploys in a jeep as a research team member is crunched in half by a T. rex; a rampaging dinosaur pauses to drink from a suburban pool.
The Lost World’s park occupies an island near the one trashed by velociraptors in 1993. A hasty explanation that still takes too long gathers Ian (Goldblum), Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore), environmentalist Nick Van Owen (Vince Vaughn, making chewing gum look as sexy here as he made cigarettes look in Swingers), and Eddie, the crunched-in-half guy. And because we couldn’t possibly care about the welfare of grown-ups, Ian’s kid has stowed away as well. Screenwriter David Koepp throws in a small village’s-worth of auxiliary characters as well: Pete Postlethwaite (wonderful, as always, in a movie that doesn’t appreciate him) as a good hunter, and a variety of nebbishy would-be Hemingways as the bad. The expedition tramples and contaminates the dinosaurs’ habitat; this innovation, the park run amok with poachers and capitalists, is a tidy parallel to the lucrative franchise Spielberg has created through the prostitution of wonder.
In Jurassic Park, the awe that Spielberg and his ilk yearn to recapture was used cynically; here, he hints that such cynicism is once again at work and then insists that we get on with the fun. Jurassic Park was hyped with such self-love it didn’t even end with the “I shouldn’t have played God” speech; in fact, the script blames a greedy thief for the destruction and not Hammond for funding this fool’s errand in the first place. (Michael Crichton’s original plot shouldn’t matter; what makes it to the screen is the director’s decision.) In an astonishing act of hubris, this film, too, ends with Hammond plotting to get it right this timeno interference from humans, an appropriate and self-sustaining ecosystem.
This worldof the movie and of this moviemakingis so controlled that there’s no room for any of the protests the premise demands. The director’s whims set the scale of morality. The only difference between the naturalists putting their stinky modern fingers all over the beasts (Moore’s motherly Sarah expressing Wonder) and the hunters’ littering and jeep fumes is that the former are good guys so it’s OK, never mind the potentially catastrophic (for both species) exchange of bacteria. In the original, they explain that “gaps” in the preserved dinosaur DNA were filled in by frog DNA; didn’t the star of The Fly have any comment about what such a combination was likely to create?
Amid wreaking environmental and scientific havoc, destroying lives, and costing the government billions, the disasters at play here are rather selective; even the subtext, once again, preserves the status quo. While in Jurassic Park Laura Dern’s character used her experience to get her boyfriend to like children and help her fulfill her biological destiny, in The Lost World Sarah’s mission is to prove that dinosaurs form strong familial bonds; what a nurturing bunch lady scientists must be. Moore also gets a superfancy raptor-escaping choreographic sequence that she carries off with the aplomb of a seasoned hoofer, while the music, as it does throughout, soars, bangs, clangs, and otherwise exhorts us to feel.
The big, glaring fallacy at the heart of this whole franchise is that there is a way to do it rightboth Jurassic Parks and both Jurassic Parks. Cloning dinosaurs from preserved DNA is wrong; exploitationselling off access to them, slapping their images on lunchpailsis not at issue. Ian spends much more of this movie warning them all about the cruelty and stupidity of the project, but his alarms are mere permission to go on with the hell-raising good time ahead. The Lost World is a high-dollar projecteven the weapons look like ab isolatorsbig, slick, and beautifully filmed, lit to perfection, mostly timed and edited masterfully; you can almost hear Spielberg whispering to himself that this time he’s gotten it right. Maybe he should have asked himself if what was wrong with those Godzilla movies was Godzilla.
Addicted to Love set itself a difficult tasktake two of the most unrelentingly gum-baring, twinkling actors around and make them watchable. But Griffin Dunne succeeds; positing Meg Ryan as a vengeful, slightly morbid, motorcycle-riding Soho photographer and Matthew Broderick as a meticulous small-town astronomer puts an edge on her dimpliness and exploits his helplessness as something rather dreamy.
Broderick plays Sam, a contented romantic whose life is perfecthe has his schoolteacher fiancée Linda (Kelly Preston), his work at the observatory, and a green-and-gold Midwestern future ahead of him. But during a two-month sojourn in New York, Linda falls for arrogant French restaurateur Anton (Tcheky Karyo) and dumps Sam via a teary, cliché-ridden letter that her laconic farmer father reads to a hysterical Sam in a monotone. Sam tracks her down and installs himself in an abandoned space across from the lovebirds’ nest, where he uses his technical ingenuity to rig up a camera obscura, a projection system that uses light, lenses, and whitewash to give him a big-screen view of their every move. Sam isn’t sure what he’s up to, aside from torturing himself, until he meets Maggie (Ryan), a vicious kewpie doll bent on humiliating and destroying her ex, Linda’s current lover.
Dunne loves the creepy-gorgeous interior space and the magical rigged camera; the strange miniature world that Maggie and Sam create together is haunting, beautiful, and airless. In that insular atmosphere, it’s easy to see how Sam’s naive longing gets subsumed by Maggie’s thirst for revenge. At first, he believes that splitting up Linda and Anton will bring Linda back to him, but as he indiscriminately follows his weird urgesto hurt the enemy, to get to know him, to become him, to make him dependent, to make him sufferhe begins to understand Anton, if not like him. Maggie, who never planned past getting revenge, is horrified.
Sam learns that Maggie is more hurt than he realized”That’s what I wanna see,” she murmurs when Anton begins bawling out of miseryand that she’s a better match for him than whimsical, cruel Linda. Dunne doesn’t push the opposites-attract angle; it arises organically, out of unemphatic details like Sam and Maggie’s delight in cameras and Linda’s dumb, dishonest letter. Karyo is drop-dead hilarious as the Frenchest of French assholehe gives a marvelous speech about how cool it is to be a French guy in America. Sam listens to this in awe while Anton’s sycophantic kitchen staff sings adoring backup. It’s a totally unnecessary scene, and one of the many things that make this movie such a sly charmer.CP