The opening of The Lost World is, by some measure, the best sequence in any of the Jurassic Park films, our purest glimpse of Spielberg the Sadist since his camera watched dispassionately as a young girl was dragged beneath the waves by an unseen menace at the start of Jaws.
Jaws presents a vision of nature that is not just indifferent, but opposed, to humanity. Civilization only extends as far as the shoreline. The thrust of The Lost World is similar. Its Isla Sorna is a hostile space, a space out of time where prehistoric monsters roam free. To dare to journey there is to put yourself on the menu.
Here, the fodder is a young girl, brought to the island by extremely wealthy parents on a cruise. Spielberg spares us the undoubtedly horrifying images as she’s pecked to pieces by dinosaurs, but he lets us hear her screams and see the terrified face of her mother. The film then hilariously and chillingly smash cuts from the mother’s scream to Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) yawning in front of a poster in a subway station, as human-made an environment as has ever existed.
These are the film’s two worlds, and The Lost World suggests that regardless of which realm invades the other, the outcome won’t be good for humanity. Even those with good intentions, the environmentalists sent to protect this dinosaur paradise, are at risk; if you fix the broken leg of a baby Tyrannosaurus, you’re still dealing with a Tyrannosaurus.
In the film’s giddy monster movie coda, Spielberg unleashes the T-Rex on San Diego. To the T-Rex, the modern city looks like just another territory to conquer, its swimming pools serving as new watering holes, humanity’s domesticated canines making for easy prey. As it effortlessly prowls through the streets, it becomes comically clear that the king of the dinosaurs could easy become the king of the metropolis, a dark echo of the original film’s declaration that “life finds a way.”