Cinema: Haven't I seen you somewhere before?

The pre-publicity has been monstrous - I feel as if I've been finding pop-up Pete Postlethwaites in my Hula Hoops since the Silurian period - but The Lost World: Jurassic Park (PG) has finally arrived. Based on a novel by Michael Crichton with a title plagiarised from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, this is Steven Spielberg's first spell in the director's baseball cap since Schindler's List. Like its saurian stars, The Lost World is massive, terrifying, and has a brain the size of a walnut.

Jurassic Park was a remake of the first 30 minutes of King Kong, right down to the huge wooden front door of its monster island. This time Spielberg also tries to remake the finale of his ur-text by bringing the star turn - an enraged Tyrannosaurus - to San Diego. It's a big mistake: while Jurassic Park carried a genuinely uncanny thrill in the form of the Velociraptor - a dinosaur smart enough to use a door handle - the sequel is content to focus on the bigger, dumber T Rex. It's like sending Arthur Mullard to do George Cole's job. And in making such explicit allusions to King Kong, Spielberg exposes the lack of poetry in the reptile soul: this Tyrannosaurus wouldn't know what to do with Fay Wray, beyond pass her through its digestive system, and it's left to occupy its time with some roaring and a spot of disruptive jaywalking. As anyone who's seen people banging their keys on the glass at PetSmart will know, reptiles have a frustratingly narrow emotional range.

Technically, the film is extraordinary. Not so long ago, we had to put up with scaly sock puppets, or iguanas covered in rubber spikes: a mixture of digital effects and animatronics makes these creatures unsettlingly realistic. And since Raquel Welch is the only actor in history to have upstaged a dinosaur, that's tough on the cast. Spielberg chooses his actors largely for their goggling and screaming talents - he's hopelessly attached to two- and three-shots in which the camera zooms towards a small bunch of people with their gobs hanging open. Think of the children staring goofily into the wardrobe in ET, Melinda Dillon and Richard Dreyfuss gazing skywards in Close Encounters, or Laura Dern gawping at the lizards in Jurassic Park. The main requirement is to be able to look gobsmacked in the presence of something that isn't actually there.

Look to the bottom of the cast list, and characters named as "Screaming Woman" and "Unlucky Bastard" reveal the actors' status as mere dino-fodder. Even the leads don't get much to do but run and hide: Jeff Goldblum, a survivor of the first expedition, spends the film warning his compatriots that the plot hasn't changed since last time; Pete Postlethwaite appears as a great white hunter in a role that's little different from the one filled in the 1993 film by Bob Peck; Vince Vaughn, the centre of attention in last week's Swingers, is just another face in the crowd; Richard Attenborough's contribution is limited to a cameo, in which his Scottish McAccent is as variable as the mists around Brigadoon. They all do what they were paid to do, with only Arliss Howard's performance as a sneaky corporate villain standing out as genuinely poor. (He is largely incomprehensible, almost as if Brian Sewell was employed as his dialect coach.)

This year's real stars are the Compsognathi - jittery, chattering lizards which scutter around their victims in packs and then jump on them en masse like a meercat/ piranha cross-breed: we see them leaping all over big-game hunter Dieter Stark (Peter Stormare) and trying to tug a chunk out of his lower lip. The inclusion of this material has forced the film to carry a health warning: the poster comes with a sticker - yellow as a Velociraptor's eye - deterring the sensitive. But while these images allude to The Birds, they're a lot less graphic than the sequence from King Kong in which the ape cracks the jaw of a dinosaur like a brazil nut, and Willis O'Brien's stop-motion blood issues forth. The children sitting behind me (aged about seven) thought the attack of the Compsognathi an uproarious lark. I, on the other hand, was chewing up my press kit in terror.

Like most summer-holiday blockbusters, there's not much going on between The Lost World's ears. That said, many of its scenes kick like a mule, and the film peddles a simple-but-palatable eco-message about leaving wild animals to their own devices: it's a more attractive sentiment than the fascism-on-steroids that informs Batman and Robin's seduction tactics.

When you see those grinning acolytes cooing at toddlers from the doorway of your local Disney Store, it's easy to believe in the corporation as a cross between McDonald's and the Church of Scientology. Lady and the Tramp (U) lolloped back into cinemas this week, and though the gags are great and the widescreen animation is the dog's bollocks, it worried me for two reasons. First, for a spaniel, Lady looks weirdly like Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Secondly, the film has a subtext that reaffirms why Mickey Mouse and American economic imperialism go together like apple pie and ice-cream.

No one's expecting consciousness-raising or cinema verite, but this is canine whimsy leashed by suffocating conservatism. (Sometimes this becomes literal - the hatbox in which Lady arrives as a present has no airholes in it.) We're in a world free of the smell of wet fur and full of wilful ignorance: Lady's owner Jim, for instance, approves of her savaging the morning paper - "We see less and less of those disturbing headlines," he coos. But the domestication of Tramp is Disney's prime ideological battleground: "We've got no room for mongrels with radical ideas," warns the Scottie dog next door, and he's right. A little later, Tramp takes Lady to the park and they stand and gaze at the distant mountains like a doubled, canine version of Caspar David Freidrich's The Traveller. But the film flirts with the itinerant mutt's can-do individualism only to poop-scoop it out of view. It dangles the pleasures of freedom in front of us like a juicy bone, and then frightens us back to the picket-fenced homestead by filling that liberty with bloodthirsty terrors like Baskervillean hounds and the dog pound, with its powerful overtones of death row. My advice is don't take your kids unless they've read some critical theory.

Remember Me? (PG) - a British farce constructed by Michael Frayn and shot by Nick Hurran - is altogether less interesting. As the cast includes Imelda Staunton, Rik Mayall, Robert Lindsay and Brenda Blethyn, I was eager to be pleased. Unfortunately, this isn't an option: the plot's complications are strained and tiresome, and the actors seem to struggle through its paltry 81 minutes. Only Mayall keeps his head, while the rest - particularly Blethyn, Haydn Gwynne and Natalie Walker - play the script in cartoon- strip terms. Frayn's Clockwise found a convincing reason for its protagonist's mounting hysteria - the need to get from A to B. But the plot of Remember Me? has to be imported into its central household in the form of implausibly eccentric visitors, and the result is a degree of contrivance that makes Rookery Nook look like Chekhov.

You're much better off with Fernando Colomo's The Butterfly Effect (15), which is possibly unique in being an Anglo-Spanish farce, so long as you don't count Carry on Abroad.) Equally uncommonly, it's a romantic comedy about incest. The plot is an unconventional rite de passage for its hero, Luis (Coque Malla), an introverted Spanish student lodging with his aunt Olivia (Almodovar veteran Maria Barranco) in her Battersea flat. The film's bilingualism is the source of much of its humour: a scene in which Olivia's Trekkie neighbour Oswald (James Fleet) tries to explain the plot of the Star Trek episode "The Trouble with Tribbles" in O-level Spanish is terrific. The Butterfly Effect is a very small film, and won't change the face of movie comedy, but it's bright, well-constructed, truly funny, and has the good sense to motivate the movements of its plot. It's a breath of fresh air that will be appreciated by any cinemagoer wearied by cute dogs and dinosaurs.

Cinema details: Going Out, page 14.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

    £28000 - £37000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

    Recruitment Genius: Customer and Markets Development Executive

    £22000 - £29000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company's mission is to ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Guest Services Assistant

    £13832 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This 5 star leisure destination on the w...

    Recruitment Genius: Sales Account Manager

    £20000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Account Manager is requ...

    Day In a Page

    A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

    A nap a day could save your life

    A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
    If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

    If men are so obsessed by sex...

    ...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

    Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

    The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
    The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

    Rolling in the deep

    The bathing machine is back but with a difference
    Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

    Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

    Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

    The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

    Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
    House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

    The honours that shame Britain

    Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
    When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

    'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

    Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
    International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

    International Tap Festival comes to the UK

    Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
    War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

    Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
    Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

    'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

    Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
    Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

    BBC heads to the Californian coast

    The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
    Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

    Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

    Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
    Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

    Car hacking scandal

    Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
    10 best placemats

    Take your seat: 10 best placemats

    Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory