As soon as I hear the opening notes of John Williams’ iconic Jurassic Park score I can’t help but smile and be transported back to the mid 1990s and to a time when Jurassic Park was pretty much all the boys my age would talk and think about. I experienced the Jurassic Park smile recently when I re-watched the sequel to the 1993 film for what must be at least the eighth time. The smile stuck with me for the opening hour and a half as I reminisced about when I’d first seen the film and remembered what was coming next. Some of the things that made this sequel good are still evident but unfortunately so are the aspects that made it bad.
Four years on from the Jurassic Park Incident as it is now know, John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) is assembling a team to explore, catalogue and protect the Dinosaur inhabitants of a second island, close to the original known as Site B. For this mission he recruits a reluctant Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum), a man who has been publicly and academically chastised for talking about the Jurassic Park Incident. Malcolm is understandably hesitant about mixing with Dinosaurs again until he learns that his girlfriend Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) is already on the island. So, he travels to the island along with equipment specialist Eddie (Richard Schiff), photographer Nick (Vince Vaughn) and a stowaway to rescue Sarah but not only come up against Dinosaurs but the InGen Corporation who want to further exploit the animals for profit.
First things first, Jurassic Park II is a lot of fun for a lot of the time. There’s Dinosaurs for cluck’s sake! The set pieces are still fantastic with the Raptor fight and cliff dangling scenes standing out in particular. There is also a lot of fun, bickering between various cast members which gives the film a lighter edge. What is also apparent fifteen years on is that on the whole the CGI has stood up remarkably well. The Jurassic Park films all looked incredible when released but it’s good to see that they haven’t aged too badly yet. For the most part the Dinosaurs still look fairly realistic but occasionally they lack a physical weight and feel slightly floaty. This can be a problem when you’re meant to be looking at a 50 tonne reptile. The physical, animatronics effects look even better than the CGI and have barely aged a bit. The film is still able to evoke fear, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen and who was going to survive. My girlfriend watched a few minutes and although she had seen the film too, actually jumped at one point. The Tyrannosaurus and Velociraptors are still terrifying and the film cleverly creates fear before their appearance with rustling trees and vibrations in strategically placed puddles.
It is no surprise that of the cast of the first film it is only Jeff Goldblum who returns in a major role. He was superb in the original and just as good here, playing the awkward but street/junglesmart and outspoken scientist. In this film he already knows he is right and doesn’t have to battle to make himself heard. He is very much at the centre of the story and is the hero of the piece. He has two people to look out for as well so is stretched physically and emotionally but still maintains his stilted, finger raised performance. He also has lion’s share of the great lines. Julianne Moore is fine in her role but doesn’t stand out and neither does the extremely young looking Vince Vaughn or Richard Shiff. The character of Goldblum’s daughter is one that I could have done without. I get why a child actor was needed as after all this is a kids film but she was pretty off putting at times. Something that has always confused me is why she is back. I don’t think it is ever explained although is bought up briefly in the dialogue. Something that has always bugged me as well is her flipping gymnastics. It’s ridiculous. Overall some of the new characters are quite two dimensional and often the Dinosaurs have more personality than the human characters. Writer David Koepp was clever to insert the InGen crew into the film as it not only created added tension, it also added to the potential body count. You know as soon as you see the unrecognisable men with guns that very few of them are going to survive. It also created Pete Postlethwait’s character whom the actor plays brilliantly. I have to say though that as an Englishman it’s pretty annoying that all the bad guys were English yet again!
Where the film goes wrong is in the final act. Everything was fine until they leave the island. It wasn’t a great film and certainly not as good as the original but it was acceptable. As soon as the T-Rex arrives in San Diego it all goes tits up. We've had monsters in cities since the birth of cinema but Jurassic Park's Arthur Conan Doyle style story was one of the things that made it so good. The Dinosaur never even causes that much chaos or destruction whilst in the city. The first problem comes when the assembled port staff, InGen guys and media just stand and watch as a huge boat slams in to the harbour. It takes far too long for them to run. Then once the boat is boarded, we discover that everyone is dead on deck but the Dinosaur is still in the hold. Soon after it escapes and is set loose in the harbour with the city centre in the background but it somehow gets to the suburbs without being noticed. The whole final act is a mess and ruins the solid opening hour and a half. Thankfully the finale does at least provide us with a couple of good gags in the form of the Japanese businessmen running away ala Godzilla and a blink and you’ll miss it movie poster for Arnold Schwarzenegger in King Lear.
In the end Jurassic Park II is three quarters of a decent film. There is plenty of action, great effects, passable acting and the whole thing is a lot of fun. Once we get back to America it all goes wrong though which is a big shame as it will always be remembered as the part that lets down the whole franchise.