Explorer Professor Challenger is taking quite a beating in the London press thanks to his claim that living dinosaurs exist in the far reaches of the Amazon. Newspaper reporter Edward Malone learns that this claim originates from a diary given to him by fellow explorer Maple White's daughter, Paula. Malone's paper funds an expedition to rescue Maple White, who has been marooned at the top of a high plateau. Joined by renowned hunter John Roxton, and others, the group goes to South America, where they do indeed find a plateau inhabited by pre-historic creatures, one of which they even manage to bring back to London with them. Written by
Ron Kerrigan <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The original 35mm ten-reel print was destroyed in a fire at Universal Studios. See more »
The Plateau in the film has been described as a world that is "cut off from evolutionary development." If that were true then dinosaurs from different eras would not be in the same place, nor would there be any ape-men or humanoids. See more »
[last title card]
That's Sir John Roxton - sportsman.
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More than 80 years after its release, the first adaptation of "The Lost World" remains as one of the most influential silent films ever, due to Willis O'Brien pioneer advances in the field of special effects, as it showcases the first time stop motion animation was used to create creatures on a feature length film. These innovation was of huge importance for this and future films, and earned Willis O'Brien and his dinosaurs a place in history as an iconic image in film history, only surpassed by another of O'Brien's creations: King Kong.
Based on Arthur Conan Doyle's novel of the same name, "The Lost World" is the tale of Prof. Challenger's (Wallace Beery) epic quest looking for the living dinosaurs who supposedly live in the deep Amazonic jungle, according to the journal of his fellow explorer Maple White, who disappeared in his last exploration. Maple's daughter, Paula (Bessie Love) joins the expedition looking for her missing father, as well as Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone), an experienced hunter friend of Challenger. Prof. Summerlee (Arthur Hoyt) goes as well, hoping to prove that Challenger is a fraud, and finally, reporter Edward Malone (Lloyd Hughes) joins the expedition, hoping to prove his girlfriend Gladys (Alma Bennet) that he is brave enough to face death.
Cleverly adapted by Broadway playwright Marion Fairfax (who also adapted in 1922 another of Conan Doyle's works, "Sherlock Holmes"), the film is an excellent mix of action and adventure that even when it's not entirely faithful to the novel, keeps the spirit of wonder and fascination with the unknown. From the obsessive Challenger to the incredulous Summerlee, every character is very detailed and for the most part well constructed, giving each one of them a defined personality and a certain degree depth absent in many silent films.
However, the film's best remembered characteristic is the incredible special effects by Willis O'Brien, who after mastering his craft in short films got his first work in "The Lost World" and changed special effects forever. His imagery is very vivid, and very detailed considering the limited resources he had. Sadly, Harry O. Hoyt's direction takes zero advantage of Fairfax's story and O'Brien's effects, and delivers a simplistic and unoriginal work that adds nothing to the whole work and seems to let the cast and crew do their job. It's not a bad direction as a whole, but it feels uninterested on the many possibilities a film like this posses.
The cast is quite effective, and really does a great job with what they have, starting with legendary Wallace Beery, who as Prof. Challenger delivers one of the best performances in a silent film. Without the aid of sound, Beery shows a wide range of emotions in his complex character and is great in both drama and comedy. Lloyd Hughes is very good as the cowardly Malone, and showcases a talent for comedy as well as a romantic figure, as his character shows interest in Paula White, played by Bessie Love, who makes a fine counterpart to Hughes and delivers a natural, and fresh performance. Lewis Stone completes the cast and his dignified performance as Sir John Roxton is very effective.
It's safe to say that "The Lost World" owes more to O'Brien and Fairfax than to O'Hoyt, and that probably with a more experienced director the film would had been even better. However, the film's real problem has nothing to do with the way it was made, but with the way it was preserved during most of its history. Nowadays there is not a complete version of the movie, most home video versions are of the 64 minutes version, while one (Image) is of a 93 minutes reconstruction. And while probably that version is the closest we can be to the original runtime of the film, it sadly has modernized the dialogs, to the point that some lines are rewritten to fit our modern standards.
Hopefully, one day we'll be able to see "The Lost World" as it was intended to be, but meanwhile, we can still appreciate the enormous importance of its amazing special effects, and how it forecasts films like "Jurassic Park" in many ways. This epic tale of action, adventure and horror has probably not seen a better adaptation than this, the movie that set everything for the arrival of King Kong and changed special effects for ever. 8/10
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