I was a kid when The Lost World: Jurassic Park came out.* Like most people my age in 1997, I’d been obsessed with Jurassic Park since it came out. Our VHS copy of it was well-worn. I knew the dialogue by heart. Of course it was my favourite movie. Then a sequel came along. Imagine it! A sequel! To Jurassic Park! In anticipation, I read its source novel multiple times and devoured every bit of information I could find. Then the movie came out, and it was a soulless imitation of the first, full of material designed to sell toys.
And I completely fell for it.
What Jurassic Park did for dinosaurs, The Lost World did for vehicles (and also dinosaurs). The movie is filled with the damned things - two of its biggest setpieces couldn’t exist without them. And all of them demonstrate more than a hint of “toyetic”.
Obviously, the first Jurassic Park was a major toy event as well, but that feels almost incidental to the film. It’s not designed as cynically towards merchandising as The Lost World is - in fact, it’s arguably critical of it. In contrast, there’s a real “toys available this summer!” vibe to the sequel. Its vehicles don’t just look cool - they’ve got things like extendable crane arms, winches, elevating platforms, and so on, which is a far cry from the painted-up Ford Explorers of the original. There’s even a scene where Eddie Carr (a mostly-wasted Richard Schiff) shows Ian Malcolm (a just-right Jeff Goldblum) through the vehicles and gadgets he’s designed for the expedition, demonstrating the features of each item.
But it doesn’t really kick in until the “big game hunt” sequence, in which mostly-wasted Peter Stormare, mostly-wasted Pete Postlethwaite, and others wasted to varying degrees capture a whole bunch of dinosaurs using their big harpoon guns and their big trucks. It’s like a scene out of Mad Max, but with dinosaurs: heavily-modded vehicles built for blunt effectiveness, chasing down their quarry, weapons bared. When my parents took me to see The Lost World, their reaction to this sequence was one of gleeful laughter at its unironic stupidity; mine, wide-eyed joy at its unbridled coolness. It is 100% designed that way - the mostly-wasted Spielberg knew that people wowed by big, stupid dinosaurs would probably also be wowed by big, stupid trucks - and it completely worked on me. The heavy, tactile, faux-ruggedness of it all seemed like the coolest thing in the world.
Well, not quite. The coolest thing was the articulated truck-trailer-RV driven by the good guys. They had bars on the windows. They had moving parts and a hundred gadgets with a hundred switches. More importantly, they were central to the film’s cliffside T-Rex attack sequence - the best in the film and one of the few retained from Michael Crighton’s novel. That scene is one of the few in The Lost World where it feels like Spielberg is actually pulling the strings. There are suspenseful, virtuosic action beats in that sequence, and in my little kiddie mind, I associated its bravura nature with the vehicles, not the filmmaker.
There’s an unintentional irony in the design of those trailers. In the film, they represent John Hammond throwing his immense fortune at a project in desperation, but in a broader sense, they represent Spielberg and Universal throwing art direction at their film to the point of overdesign. It was either an accident of production overindulgence or a calculated merchandising decision. But I didn’t see it either way. Because I was obsessed.
At that age, I was into making models out of cardboard. I had no guides or patterns - I’d take huge sheets of card, cut out shapes, tape them together, and end up with 3D models, mostly based on images from books or the TV. I built Starfleet vessels, Bond gadgets, and even a model of Redwall Abbey from the eponymous fantasy novels. But undoubtedly my greatest creation was those fucking trailers from The Lost World. Three feet long and crazily detailed, that model consumed my life for the entire theatrical run of the movie - which to a ten-year-old seems an age. I’d go see the movie again and again, note down details, and go home to make changes to my model. Though it was never truly “finished”, it was obsessively detailed, with moving parts, interiors, and enough flexibility to restage the relevant sequence. Somewhere, there’s a homemade VHS tape of childhood-me doing just that. The only caveat was that it remained solely made of white cardboard. I didn’t care about the camo paint job.
That Christmas, I got a playset of the trailers I had been so obsessed with over the summer. I played with it, sure, but it wasn’t as film-accurate as my version. It was good, but it wasn’t perfect. Some things were changed to make it more “playable”; others presumably for production purposes. Though I never put voice to it, my heart was filled with disappointment with Kenner. If the combined might and plastics of the toymaking giant couldn’t come up with as accurate a reproduction of those vehicles as a mere kid, how could I ever trust toys again?
At the time, I failed to consider that the act of creation itself was what had brought me all that joy. No mere toy would be able to match that. Now, it’s hard to see it as coincidence that I never really played with toys after that. To me, The Lost World: Jurassic Park isn’t just a kinda dumb movie filled with kinda dumb vehicles (though it is definitely that). It represents a point in my life where I stopped absorbing fun and started creating it.
Many years later, I fleetingly got to see the actual vehicles while on the Universal Studios backlot tour with a friend. It was a weird not-quite-religious experience, like I assume catching a glimpse of the Pope long after quitting Catholicism might be. In that moment, I was ten years old again. In that moment, the vehicular fetishism of The Lost World was cool.
* Yeah, I’m the baby of the BAD writing team. Wanna fight about it?