Underrated Movies of the ‘Jurassic Park’ Franchise: Part One

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The superiority of the original Jurassic Park movie is undeniable. In much the same way that the Jaws “da-dum” evokes fear of the water, a vibration in a glass of water has you looking for the nearest T-rex. When the franchise was re-upped in 2015 with Jurassic World, they managed to capture the wonder and fear of the original movie. Now we have less than two weeks to wait for what is being called the finale of a thirty-year epic.

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I make no qualms about it, Jurassic Park is my favorite movie, and the Jurassic Park movies are my favorite franchise. One of my first crushes was on Jeff Goldblum, and I forego all other products for a good can of Barbasol for all my personal grooming needs. I am all in with these movies, and when I say all in, I mean I will fight you over the cinematic gems that are the second and third movies in the franchise. These movies are often treated as less than, and I don’t attempt to deny that. Nothing can match the grandeur of that first movie. Sitting in the theater in 1993 and watching dinosaurs come to life, there really was nothing like it. Any sequel was going to appear to be sub-par, but just because the subsequent movies were not Jurassic Park does not mean that they are as bad as they are often made out to be.

Let us begin with The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Purists will appreciate the opening scene of the movie and its call back to the original book by Michael Crichton. And while the acting of that scene is less than remarkable, it sets up one of the most underrated dinosaurs of the franchise, the Compsognathus, or “Compies,” who will play an integral part in one of the most delightful deaths in this movie. Compies are the running gag, their small size being less than intimidating. They come up again in all the other movies and in the Netflix series Camp Cretaceous. But the Compies are merely the opening act for this movie, in which the T-Rex family are the stars of the show.

After the initial Compy attack, we are treated to appearances by four of the original cast members. Tim, Lex, and John Hammond make a brief appearance with the star of this movie, the delightful and delicious Jeff Goldblum, I mean Dr. Ian Malcolm. When we first see Dr. Malcolm again he seems to be on a tropical vacation. He is actually standing in front of a billboard while waiting for the subway. And herein lies the genius of this movie, not everything is as it appears. You think you have it right, you think you are in control, “but that is the illusion.” You are not actually in a tropical paradise, you are in a stinky subway station. As in all the Jurassic Park movies, it is control that is fleeting.

One of Dr. Malcolm’s most memorable lines from the original movie resonates in all its glory in this movie. “I’m always on the lookout for a future ex-Mrs Malcolm.” comes home in this movie in the form of co-parenting and his daughter Kelly Curtis. If you were surprised by Lex’s knowledge of the Unix system in the first movie, and her ability to restore all the parks system by clicking on a series of seemingly random boxes. You will be absolutely blown away by the gymnastic skills of young Ms. Curtis and her ability to knock out a raptor with her Olympian-style moves. I don’t say this to be pedantic, I say this to show that this is a franchise in which all skill sets are valued. Kids who are obsessed with dinosaurs, computer nerds, and gymnasts all get their moment of glory and are represented in such a way that as a kid watching these movies you could find something of yourself within. We didn’t all have to be the same, provide the same skill set, to be of value. As a less-than gymnastic nerd myself, I appreciated that I might have something to offer.

While Dr. Malcolm and his relationship with the delightful Dr. Sarah Harding are central to the momentum and finale of this movie, they are not the scene stealers. There are so many scene stealers in this movie it is hard to narrow it down.

First I would highlight two of the best deaths in this movie. Dieter Stark is taken down by a pack of Compies in a highly orchestrated scene. When the call of nature calls, Dieter answers, wandering into the woods to relieve himself. Far too far into the woods than he really needs to when you consider that men pee standing up. Once so relieved, he encounters a lone Compy. This Compy he taunts and tortures, showing the full glory and hubris of the male ego at its lowest common denominator. Of course, we know from the opening scene that one person is no match for a pack of Compies, and as they begin to circle their wagons, Dieter’s fate is sealed. The blood that runs in the water as we listen to his demise, is pure cinematic poetry. This scene switches immediately to his friend, the one he told where he was going. This friend is still listening to music on his walkman, so not only was he unaware that Dieter left, he is unaware that Dieter is missing. The jaunty music that plays juxtaposes beautifully with the demise of a truly deplorable character. Dieter never had the power, that was the illusion.

My second favorite death in this movie occurs after one of the most iconic scenes in the movie, and both are excellently portrayed. We begin at the campsite, where Sarah Harding and Kelly Curtis sleep in a tent. Suddenly the puddles are composed of capillary waves, there is a deep bass booming in the distance, a heavy breath, before the unmistakable shadow of a T-Rex falls across their tent. Sarah’s shirt is still saturated with the blood of a baby T-Rex, whose family is now defending its territory. As the T-Rex slides its nose into the tent, Sarah and Kelly try to remain calm. Thank heavens for Dieter’s friend, whose screams awaken the whole camp and distract the T-Rex from her prey. The ensuing chase leads to one of the best deaths in the whole franchise. The character of Dr. Robert Burke, InGen’s paleontologist, was primarily based on Robert Bakker, whose book is referenced by Tim in the first movie. In Jurassic Park lore one fascinating tidbit is that actor Thomas Duffy consulted with Robert Bakker for his portrayal of Dr. Burke. While running from the T-Rex loose in camp, Burke and several others hide behind a waterfall. They are pursued by mama T-Rex. Where Dieter died through ego, Burke’s death is nicely posited as a death of foolishness. As one of the most educated men on the expedition, it is rather fitting that he is startled when a harmless milk snake slithers down into his shirt. Surely such a man should be able to maintain his cool. No, he panics, steps away from the wall, and is instantly caught and eaten by the female T. Rex. In much the same way that Dieter’s death culminates with blood in running water, Burke’s blood turns the waterfall red moments before Dr. Malcolm appears.

It is the scenes after Burke’s death that were the most discussed at the time of the movie’s original release. Where the T-Rex was the star of the show, the Velociraptor now takes center stage. After a much-beloved introduction in the first movie (“Clever Girl”) the raptors are given their time to shine in fields of tall grass. If Jaws makes you pause before entering the water, I defy anyone who grew up in the ’90s to walk into a field of tall grass without looking for Raptors.

While the Raptors are truly memorable in this movie, my heart belongs to the T-Rex, in two of my top ten scenes of the entire franchise. During a conversation with Dr. Malcolm, Sarah Harding states, “Robert Burke said that the T. rex was a rogue that would abandon its young at the earliest opportunity.” She is able to later partake in disproving this theory when the pair of adult Tyrannosaurs attack the trailer in which their infant is being held. This scene is amazing in so many ways. The wonderful Richard Schiff watching as the trees swish beneath the high hide. The amazing Richard Schiff leaving the high hide to go “help.” The delicious Richard Schiff being eaten. Watching the characters set the leg of the baby, release the baby, and seeing the parents return to completely get rid of the threat is an amazing process to watch. Seeing the pair work together to eat Toby, I mean Richard Schiff (sorry for the obligatory West Wing reference), and to take down a truck, a trailer, and a team of explorers, is simply beautiful. The T-Rex in the original movie was glorious, seeing the two of them together exceeded all my expectations. Also, everything I ever needed to know about the application of pressure to glass, and pressure points, I learned from this scene. If ever I’m suspended in mid-air on a sheet of glass, I know just what to do.

The scenes that make my heart truly sing in this movie are probably the scenes that make most people sideline this movie. And while I do not attempt to deny the campness of the T-Rex rampaging through San Francisco, I would also suggest that this is part of its brilliance. When I was a child growing up in England, we lived in row housing in a densely populated town. I shared a wall with our neighbors and could see twelve other backyards from my bedroom window. On more nights than I could count I would fantasize about a world in which dinosaurs walked freely among us and a T-Rex would peek into my window. My daydream played out almost perfectly in The Lost World when the T-Rex drank from a swimming pool, snacked on a dog, and peered into a young boy’s room.

This was the peak of the movie for me, with the Godzilla-like chase scene through the streets of San Francisco simply icing on the cake. The shout-outs came fast and free in a brilliant homage to the monster movie. The blindness of John Hammond seems remarkably innocuous when faced with the plans of his nephew to bring the dinosaurs to town.

While I do not think it diminishes anything, I will admit that some parts of this movie do need to be taken with your eyes closed and your nose pinched in order to follow the narrative thread. Whether or not you can ignore the logic of the boat crashing into the dock, the T-Rex escaping and killing the crew so cleanly, you cannot deny the artistry of the final death of Peter Ludlow. Ludlow is everything that is wrong with humanity. Opportunistic, corrupt, spineless, and a mediocre businessman whose ego outsizes his talent. While the deaths of Dieter and Burke shine, the death of Ludlow is delicious in its rendering. Still trying to salvage the situation he has created, he comes face to face with mama and baby T-Rex. Mama, being a good mama, does not simply feed her young, but uses the presentation of such prey as a teachable moment. And as her young attacks and devours Ludlow, she looks on with the pride of a mother, that I value more greatly now that I am a mother myself.

I would be remiss if I waxed poetic about The Lost World: Jurassic Park and did not mention Pete Postlethwaite. Postlethwaite plays Roland Tembo, a hunter hired by InGen to lead the expedition to capture a selection of dinosaurs. Although he is working for the now corrupt InGen, his motivation for going to Isla Sorna is somewhat different. As a big game hunter, he cannot deny the call of his heart to hunt the greatest predator that ever lived. His fee for the expedition is the chance to hunt “the ultimate trophy,” a male T-Rex. Although he ultimately gets his prize, he is devastated by the death of his longtime hunting partner Ajay. He is offered a job by Ludlow at the attraction in San Diego, which he declines by saying: “I believe I’ve spent enough time in the company of death.” His character starts as an undisputed villain, but through good writing and character development, and excellent acting, his is one of the most fully developed character arcs in the entire story, and one of the franchises most memorable supporting roles.

I have a hard time when it comes to ranking the Jurassic Park movies in order of preference. While the first movie will always come out on top, and the first Jurassic World movie is probably, probably, second. The second movie in the franchise will always have a piece of my heart and moves back and forth between third and fourth place depending on my mood. With the new, and maybe final movie coming out in just a few short weeks, I hope you will give this underrated installment another chance. As for me, I am not sure I can contain myself until June 10.

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