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Film: Godzilla revisited

Movies | Hollywood invents postmodern monsters for a lost world

Issue: "Bailing Out," June 14, 1997

Nearly 20 years after Jaws, Steven Spielberg again returns to a familiar theme: giant freaks of nature that use humans as snack food. This Jurassic Park sequel takes the old-fashioned monster movie to new heights with amazing special effects. But while those behemoths look real this time, the plot and characters are what look fake. Based on the best-selling novel by Michael Crichton, The Lost World refers to Site B-a second island where dinosaurs were genetically engineered and raised before being take off to the doomed theme park. Our hero, played by Jeff Goldblum, must cope with rescuing his girlfriend and thwarting a group of corporate poachers out to capture a few creatures for a new Jurassic theme park in the middle of San Diego. Most of these anti-environmental baddies, of course, become dino-chow. To add suspense, our hero's daughter stows away on the ship to the island. She's black; apparently that's supposed to mean something. But most of the characters in this movie are cut out of cardboard except Mr. Goldblum's. There's little sympathy built toward anyone, which helps for the carnage to come. Most of this film involves the cast running from the monsters and getting picked off one by one. Finally the bad guys drag a T-Rex over to California. The dinosaur, like every good movie monster, gets loose from his human exploiters and goes on a rampage through the city. While this movie is rated PG-13 and most of the gore is kept off-screen, the dinosaur attack scenes are still pretty intense. Despite the merchandising hype in toy stores and cereal aisles, don't take your kids to this, especially if they might be bothered by seeing children and family dogs among the victims. This is a much darker movie than the original. Michael Crichton's books and movies-such as Westworld, Looker, and Coma-are usually about how people misuse technology and let their own creations turn against them. However, The Lost World never gets beyond the level of eye candy. It's Godzilla with white people. As Mr. Spielberg is well aware: When the T-Rex goes nuts in San Diego, we see a close-up of Japanese tourists running away, an allusion to the old made-in-Japan monster movies of his childhood. But compare this movie to a real Japanese monster movie, Gamera: Guardian of the Universe, which is making the rounds of art houses and college film societies en route to a home video release. In this import, a giant radioactive sea turtle runs amok. He's a good guy, however, come to save us from a pair of evil prehistoric birds. The monsters destroy a domed baseball stadium, wreck downtown, then head off for the final showdown. The plot is the same as countless late-late movies display. The difference is that Jeff Goldblum's character in The Lost World knows he's in a monster movie. His one-liners reflect the postmodern fads of irony, self-referentiality, and self-conscious conventionality. But nobody in Gamera seems to expect what's coming. One would think that after 30 years of filmmaking, radioactive monsters in Tokyo should be as commonplace as London fog. Oddly enough, this much cheaper picture's straight-ahead drama looks novel by comparison. They both boil down to re-makes of King Kong. Fay Wray, call your office.

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