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In 'The Lost World,' Bits of Old Movies

In the latest Spielberg blockbuster are echoes of 'Hatari,' 'Gorgo' and even 'Godzilla.'

May 29, 1997|STEVEN SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

T. rexes and raptors aren't the only past movie monsters getting new life in Steven Spielberg's "The Lost World: Jurassic Park." Dig just under the surface and you'll uncover several creature feature in-jokes.

The allusions began with author Michael Crichton's 1995 source novel, "The Lost World," which lifted its title from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's dino bestseller of 1912. Conan Doyle's book inspired three films of its own; the first, from 1925, is currently being restored.

But Spielberg and "Lost World" screenwriter David Koepp take homage several steps further. For starters, Koepp acknowledges, "We named the ship [in "The Lost World"] after the ship in 'King Kong'--the Venture."

He and Spielberg also modeled the extending-seat jeeps driven by their dinosaur stalkers after those in another hunter saga, 1962's "Hatari." (Koepp also calls that film's plot--in which John Wayne captures African animals for zoos--"a big influence" on "The Lost World's" script.)

Monster movie buffs claim "World's" finale, in which a vengeful mama T. rex trashes San Diego, is an echo of the climax of 1961's "Gorgo"--in which a prehistoric mom wrecks London to reclaim her baby. In the same sequence, "The Lost World" makes a crowd-pleasing bow to Japanese "Godzilla" movies, as a flock of Asian men run shrieking in terror (filmed from an appropriately high angle).

"That was Steven's idea," Koepp says. "We thought it was hysterically funny. When we played the shot back on the monitor, he just dropped his head in his hands, and said, 'I'm 50 years old. . . . I'm 50 years old!' "

Koepp admits they considered pushing the joke even further. "We briefly considered putting subtitles on the screen--the men would be shouting, 'I moved from Tokyo to get away from all this!' " (In fact, Spielberg told Variety's Army Archerd, such a scene will be included in the version released in Japan.)

Koepp says it's a coincidence that one year from the day of "The Lost World's" opening, a new "Godzilla" will hit screens, from the "Independence Day" team of Roland Emmerich and Dean Devlin. It will star Matthew Broderick.

But Devlin says if any connection was intended, "it's the coolest thing. Spielberg is our hero. For him to make a nod to 'Godzilla' just before we make our movie is like getting the king to acknowledge you at dinner." (Devlin says he visited the "Lost World" set months ago at Spielberg's invitation to see another sequence being shot.)

Meanwhile, some moviegoers are pointing to a more accidental echo in "The Lost World": the cliff-hanging sequence, also found in Crichton's novel, in which its heroes dangle over a precipice from a trailer. Kurt Russell survives a similar feat in "Breakdown"--a film some critics had compared favorably to Spielberg's 1971 thriller "Duel."

"We sure didn't know about [any similarity]," says "Breakdown" co-writer Sam Montgomery, "and I bet they didn't, either. Some time during the filming, someone mentioned the sequence had to be better than [a similar] one in 'The Phantom,' but I don't recall any others."

Adds "Breakdown" co-writer and director Jonathan Mostow, his voice coated with irony: "All I can say is, we're the thriller without the dinosaurs. I just hope their film does OK in the wake of ours."

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