THE LOST WORLD
Review by Ed Nguyen
Stars: Claude Rains,
Michael Rennie, Jill St. John, David Hedison
Director: Irwin Allen
Audio: English 3.1 Dolby surround or stereo, French or Spanish mono
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Video: Color, anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Fox Home Entertainment
Features: Original silent version, featurette, archival newsreel, trailers, gallery, outtakes
Length: 96 minutes
Release Date: September 11, 2007
"You actually saw living descendants of these monsters that are supposed to have been dead for millions of years?"
Film ** ˝
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will always be associated with that most famous of literary sleuths, the indomitable Sherlock Holmes. But Doyle was also a prolific author who did not focus solely on tales of mystery and suspense. Another of Doyle's popular fictional creations was George Challenger, adventurous professor of zoology and the hero of Doyle's 1912 novel The Lost World.
This fantasy tale was the first of several literary works to feature Professor Challenger (and remains the best known of these stories today). Perhaps Challenger presented the prototype for later daring scientist-heroes (or bullwhip-wielding archaeologists), but the main appeal of Doyle's The Lost World was probably the inclusion of dinosaurs in the storyline. In 1925, the novel was further immortalized thanks to a popular cinematic adaptation featuring impressive stop-motion photography by effects wizard Willis O'Brien. While dinosaurs had appeared in films before The Lost World, this film was the first big-budget extravaganza to so prominently feature these presumably extinct but ever-fascinating creatures.
Sadly, only a few years after its initial release, The Lost World were pulled from circulation, many of its prints destroyed. This regrettable act was the direct consequence of interference from King Kong producer David O. Selznick, who did not want existing prints of The Lost World to hamper the box office potential of his own upcoming monster spectacular, King Kong (which also coincidentally featured special effects by Willis O'Brien). Fortunately, some 16mm reduction prints of The Lost World survived, albeit in a significantly edited or shortened form. As a result, for decades The Lost World has been available only in a truncated form until the discovery of a nearly complete print of the film in a Czech archive in 1992.
In the interim, the enduring popularity of the Doyle novel eventually demanded a new screen adaptation. Such a remake was released in 1960 and boasted some technical improvements over the original - namely, a widescreen Cinemascope imagery with Deluxe color and sound. The remake was an entertaining "boy's adventure" film, not dissimilar to the various Sinbad and Hercules films of the day. This remake is also the film presented here in this Fox DVD release.
The Lost World opens with the arrival in London of gruff Professor Challenger (Claude Rains). He hopes that his special presentation at the Zoological Institute that evening will help him to raise sufficient funding for a South American expedition. Despite ridicule from his colleagues, Challenger maintains steadfastly that dinosaurs may yet exist in a remote portion of the vastly unexplored Amazonian jungles and simply wants the chance to support his statements. Among Challenger's loudest critic that evening is rival professor Walter Summerlee (Richard Haydn); both scientists, the one a crusty and stubborn believer and the other a cynical doubter, eventually agree to stake their reputations upon the outcome of such an expedition.
Challenger receives his funding, but at a price. A London newspaper mogul offers to finance the expedition in exchange for allowing one of his enterprising reporters, Ed Malone (David Hedison), to document the course of the adventure. The mogul's lovely daughter, Jennifer Holmes (Jill St. John), also demands to tag along as well over the futile protests of Challenger. Included in the party are big-game hunter Lord Roxton (Michael Rennie) and, later, Gomez (Fernando Lamas), a helicopter pilot with a dark and perhaps dangerous secret.
In time, the expedition party embarks upon its journey, eventually arriving by helicopter atop a large Amazonian plateau, the presumed home of Challenger's dinosaurs and lovely if hazardous territory. The adventurers quickly realize the dangers they face when an enormous creature destroys their helicopter during the night, stranding the party upon the plateau with no means of escape or contact with the outside world. The hunters become the hunted, and Challenger's expedition must find a way to fend for themselves or perish through any manner of gruesome demises from the exotic flora and deadly fauna.
Of course, this brings us at last to the dinosaurs, the true raison d'ętre for The Lost World. Strangely, the film is half over before there is a clear and unobstructed view of a dinosaur. Regrettably, while the dinosaurs of the original silent The Lost World generally resemble our contemporary ideas of these creatures' appearances, the same can be said for the monsters in the remake. These latter "dinosaurs" are nothing more than mocked-up lizards, complete with fake spikes and appendages. Perhaps budgetary constraints dictated the rationale behind gluing a rubber horn onto an iguana and proclaiming it to be a veritable dinosaur? There is even an actual fight between a large lizard and a baby alligator, or as the film would have you believe, one big dinosaur and another bigger one.
While the dinosaurs may be disappointing, the film does remain reasonably well-paced if surprisingly scanty on the dinosaur footage. At least along the way, there are other non-reptilian dangers to intrigue audiences - glowing giant spiders, constrictor vines, carnivorous mushrooms, bunches of unga-bunga cannibals, and even a buxom, pelt-clad native woman (alas, not Raquel Welch). And we must not forget the guardian of the Cave of Fire, either! One almost expects to see a Sleestak or two hiding behind the rocks.
Ultimately, The Lost World never takes itself very seriously, and therein lies either its charm or its flaw. Children should thoroughly enjoy this fun if inconsequential film. And indeed, children are probably the ideal target audience for the film. As for adults, they might better occupy their time instead by perusing over the very special bonus feature found on Disc Two of this Fox release.
Some of the effects and matte work of this Cinemascope film look fake, but such is forgivable given the technology of the time. Video bit transfer rate averages over 8Mbps. The image quality is a little soft with a faintly visible grain but otherwise always clear, even during the numerous darker sequences.
Audio ** ˝
Audio is available in English, French, or Spanish. However, there are a few instances in the English re-mix during which dialogue seems to fade and become nearly inaudible. This fluctuation is somewhat disconcerting and may even necessitate using subtitles at a few points during the film.
Features *** ˝
The Lost World is a two-disc release. Disc One contains the 1960 remake, its trailer, a vintage promotional featurette (3 min.), a brief Movietone newsreel (1 min.) about the film, and a large gallery section with slideshows of production stills, promotional art, illustrations, and most interestingly a comic book adaptation. In total, the gallery contains over 300 photographs (you'll need to pause the slideshow in order to read the comic book). There is also an interactive pressbook gallery with eight selections that can be enlarged for easier viewing.
The best surprise, however, is reserved for Disc Two - the George Eastman House restoration of the original The Lost World (1925, 75 min.), the grand-daddy of all monster monsters. This "stupendous story of adventure and romance" features Wallace Berry as Professor Challenger, Lewis Stone as big game hunter Lord Roxton, Lloyd Hughes as aspiring reporter Malone, and Bessie Love as love interest Paula White. This original version boasts effects wizard O'Brien's still-impressive stop-motion dinosaurs and is complemented by a contemporary organ music score, English intertitles, and color-tinted sequences. The image is full-screen; clarity and detail level are variable, depending on the condition of the original source material. The frequent fine scratches and specks are to be tolerated, given the film's extreme old age. Still, this is one of those rare instances wherein a bonus feature is far superior to the film it accompanies!
Aside from this bonus film, Disc Two also contains a silent trailer, and several outtakes (7 min.) from the original film. The outtakes mostly highlight stop-motion photography footage of the dinosaurs, embodied with personality - the dinosaurs wag their tails, breathe, and even display parental skills. Watch carefully, and you might glimpse a special effects man accidentally photographed in the frame of one outtake!
Lastly, a thin package insert provides background history on the original film and its remake. The slipcase features different artwork than the DVD case itself.
Watch the original silent classic or watch the 60's remake. Either way, The Lost World should appeal to a dinosaur lover's appetite for these monster lizards. This Fox release will not replace the excellent Image Entertainment release of the original silent version but should be a decent companion piece.