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Lost World, The (1925)
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by Mel Valentin

"The first glimpse of Willis O'Brien's stop-motion animation."
3 stars

SCREENED AT THE 52ND SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Writer (and doctor) Arthur Conan Doyle is best known for Sherlock Holmes, the Baker Street detective who initially appeared in more than fifty stories and novels. Holmes, of course, has had a “life” of his own, appearing in different media, including radio, film, and television. Doyle, however, also wrote [i]The Lost World[/i], a science-fiction/adventure novel published in 1912 that became a template for other genre novels and, eventually, genre films. "The Lost World" was first adapted for the silver screen in 1925, with stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien providing the “lifelike” dinosaurs that made "The Lost World" a box office hit. O’Brien would go on to provide the stop-motion animation for "King Kong" and "Mighty Joe Young" in 1949 (with an assist from a then little-known stop-motion animator, Ray Harryhausen).

Professor George Challenger (Wallace Beery), a scientist prone to entertaining wild, improbable ideas, faces down incredulous colleagues at a presentation hosted by the London Zoological Society. Challenger has apparently circulated stories of still-living dinosaurs located on a plateau somewhere in the Amazon. Challenger doesn’t offer proof, however, but instead challenges the men in the gallery to volunteer for a new voyage to South America where Challenger hopes to bring back proof. Several man answer Challenger’s call, Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone), Challenger’s friend and a big-game hunter, Professor Summerlee (Arthur Hoyt), and Edward E. Malone (Lloyd Hughes), a reporter for the London Record Journal. Upon hearing Malone’s profession, which Challenger apparently despises, he chases Malone out of the auditorium.

Undaunted, Malone engages in some minor breaking and entering, slipping into Challenger’s home through an open window. After a brief tussle, Challenger agrees to overlook Malone’s profession, especially when Malone offers Challenger the prospect of his newspaper financing the expedition, if not for its inherent scientific value (unlikely, since Challenger’s considered a crackpot), then for its entertainment value. Challenger discloses another, more personal reason, finding and rescuing Maple White, a colleague who disappeared on an earlier expedition, leaving only a notebook filled with sketches of prehistoric dinosaurs behind. Malone becomes quickly enamored with White’s daughter, Paula (Bessie Love), who joins them on the expedition, as do Challenger’s butler, Austin (Frank Smiles), and Roxton’s servant, Zambo (Jules Cowles).

Once in the Amazon, The Lost World follows a recognizable narrative arc, with the adventurers led by Professor Challenger reaching the plateau and confirming the prehistoric dinosaurs found in White’s notebook. Due to an ornery brontosaurus, the adventurers become stranded on the plateau where they witness the constant life-or-death struggles between the dinosaurs, fend off ape-men (well, more like a single ape-man), and otherwise try to survive long enough before finding another way off the plateau. The Lost World] culminates with an escaped dinosaur, brought to London for an exhibit, wreaking four-legged havoc, destroying the Tower Bridge.

The Lost World’s impact and influence reaches across almost one hundred years of science fiction/fantasy in fiction (e.g., Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot published in 1918) and on film, beginning with King Kong eight years later through the Jurassic Park franchise sixty years later, and every giant-monster film in between, including Ray Harryhausen’s The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms in 1953, Godzilla a year later, and countless imitators, spin-offs, and adaptations on film and in television. In terms of story elements, characters, especially the Indiana Jones-like Professor Challenger, and in the then-groundbreaking visual effects, The Lost World set the standard for science fiction/fantasy adventure stories.

While "The Lost World" remains culturally significant and cinematically influential, it doesn’t stand the test of time (far from it, sadly). "The Lost World" is crude on almost every level, not just the obviously dated visual effects. The storytelling ranges from the awkward to the clumsy, and the characters don’t grow or change. While character and character change generally take a back seat to action and danger in traditional adventure stories, here it’s more egregious here, since the lack of character development is just storytelling problem among many. An almost non-existent romantic subplot, “awe and wonder” scenes of the characters looking up at O’Brien’s stop-motion creations, and a disappointing ending (borrowed, to better effect for another London-set monster movie, "Gorgo" in 1961) undermine any claims of "The Lost World’s" status as a “classic.”

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originally posted: 05/03/09 09:28:28
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  22-Jun-1925 (NR)



Directed by
  Harry O. Hoyt

Written by
  Marion Fairfax

  Bessie Love
  Lewis Stone
  Wallace Beery
  Lloyd Hughes
  Alma Bennett
  Arthur Hoyt

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