Lost World, The (1925)

Reviewed By Jay Seaver
Posted 07/17/13 14:04:44

"Still the best adaptation of Conan Doyle's second-best creation."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's second-most famous creation turned a hundred last year without a whole lot of fanfare; Professor George Challenger didn't have the sheer number of great (or even good) stories that Sherlock Holmes did. That first one, though, is a classic adventure story, and the silent 1925 adaptation brings the fun to the screen so well that it has remained the definitive version ever since. Heck, it would arguably be almost seventy years until the next great dinosaur movie.

Not that any reasonable person in London believes Challenger's stories about dinosaurs on a plateau in South America. But Challenger (Wallace Beery) can work people up, and soon has a party put together for a rescue mission: Famed sportsman Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone), reporter Ed Malone (Lloyd Hughes), skeptical scientist Professor Summerlee (Arthur Hoyt), and Paula White (Bessie Love), the daughter of the missing explorer whose diary is leading them to the so-called Lost World.

In some ways, the big effects-driven action/adventure movie hasn't really changed all that much in the past century - screenwriter Marion Fairfax and "dramatic director" Harry O. Hoyt save the expensive stuff that sold tickets for the second half of the movie while spending the first half getting everyone to the scene, filling time with humor that involves a trained monkey while building a love triangle between Roxton, Paula, and Ed. It's pleasant enough, and actually does pay off during the climax, although in the shorter cuts of the movie, things do seem to jump around a bit (like far too many silents, The Lost World was frequently cut and had prints destroyed, and we're fortunate that it's been reconstructed as much as it has). Ed seems to forget his fiancee (Alma Bennett) fairly quickly, for instance.

The party does get to South America and the mysterious plateau, though, and the dinosaurs created by Willis O'Brien don't disappoint. O'Brien spent his career building stop-motion dinos, most famously for this movie and King Kong, researching them to be as accurate as possible for the time and painstakingly shooting them one frame at a time. The results must have been like nothing else the audiences of 1925 had ever seen - this kind of animation then mostly being the province of gimmicky shorts rather than part of a dramatic feature - and is still fun to watch today: The dinosaurs move naturally and fight fiercely, even if they don't interact with the cast directly very often. It's exciting both in the jungle and in the inevitable final London sequence, which has got to be among the first great bits of event-movie landmark destruction.

The human cast acquits themselves well, too. Wallace Beery dives right into Challenger's broad, loud, disagreeable nature; the audience can't actually hear his shouting, but I'll bet accompanists feel compelled to pound their keyboards even harder when he's talking. Lloyd Hughes makes for a stumbling but earnest viewpoint character, and Bessie Love does well to not make Paula seem fickle as they grow closer. Lewis Stone, whose Roxton declares his affection early on, does something reasonably rare in silents by underplaying the sense of betrayal his character must feel, so that the question of whether he'll end up noble or villainous stays up in the air.

That's about as close to sophisticated as the movie gets, and that's fine - it's more or less inventing its genre. For such an early example, it figures out what works pretty well, and is fun to watch as much more than a history lesson.

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