The Lost World is a 1925 silent adventure film and an adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel of the same name. The movie was produced by First National Pictures, a large Hollywood studio at the time, and stars Wallace Beery as Professor Challenger. This version was directed by Harry O. Hoyt and featured pioneering stop motion special effects by Willis O'Brien (an invaluable warm up for his work on the original King Kong directed by Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack). Writer Doyle appears in a frontspiece to the film. In 1998, the film was deemed "culturally, historically or aesthetically significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
From a lost expedition to a plateau in Venezuela, Paula White brings the journal of her father explorer Maple White to the eccentric Professor Challenger in London. The journal features sketches of dinosaurs which is enough proof for Challenger to publicly announce that dinosaurs still walk the earth. Met with ridicule at an academic meeting at the Zoological Hall, Challenger reluctantly accepts a newspaper's offer to finance a mission to rescue Maple White. Professor Challenger, Paula White, sportsman Sir John Roxton, news reporter Edward Malone (who is a friend of Roxton and wishes to go on the expedition to impress his fiancée), a sceptical professor Summerlee, an Indian servant Zambo, and Challenger's butler Austin leave for the plateau.
At their campsite at the base of the plateau, the explorers are shocked when a large rock falls, sent their way by an ape-man perched on top of an overhead ledge. As the crew look up to see their attacker, Challenger spies overhead a Pteranodon (mistakenly calling it a Pterodactyl) which sighting proves that the statements in Maple White's diary are true. Leaving Zambo and Austin at the camp, they cross a chasm onto the plateau by cutting down a tree and using it as a bridge, but it is knocked over by an Apatosaurus, leaving them trapped.
The explorers witness various life-and-death struggles between the prehistoric beasts of the plateau. An Allosaurus attacks an Anatotitan, and knocks it into a bog. The Allosaurus then attacks, and is driven off by a Triceratops. Eventually, the Allosaurus makes its way to the campsite and attacks the exploration party. It is finally driven off by Ed who tosses a torch into its mouth. Convinced that the camp isn't safe, Ed climbs a tree to look for a new location, but is attacked by the ape-man. Roxton succeeds in shooting the ape-man, but the creature is merely wounded and escapes before he can finish him off. Meanwhile, an Agathaumas is attacked by a Tyrannosaurus, and gores it to death. Suddenly, another Tyrannosaurus attacks and kills the Agathaumas, along with an unfortunate Pteranodon.
The explorers then make preparations to live on the plateau potentially indefinitely. A catapult is constructed and during a search for Maple White, Roxton finds his remains, confirming his death. It is at this time that Ed confesses his love for Paula and the two are unofficially wed by Summerlee who used to be a minister.
Shortly afterwards, as the paleontologists are observing a Brontosaurus, an Allosaurus attacks it and the Brontosaurus falls off the edge of the plateau, becoming trapped in a mud bank at the base of the plateau. Soon afterwards, a volcano erupts causing a mass stampede among the giant beasts of the lost world. The crew is saved when Paula's pet monkey Jocko climbs up the plateau carrying a rope. The crew use the rope to pull up a rope ladder constructed by Zambo and Austin and then climb down.
As Ed makes his descent, he is again attacked by the ape-man who pulls the rope ladder. The ape-man is again shot and finally killed by Roxton. They discover the Brontosaurus that had been pushed off the plateau had landed softly in the mud of the river, trapped but still alive, and Challenger manages to bring it back to London, as he wants to put it on display as proof of his story.
However, while being unloaded from the ship it escapes and causes havoc until it reaches Tower Bridge, where its massive weight causes a collapse, and it swims down the River Thames. Challenger is morose as the creature leaves. Ed discovers that the love he left in London has married in his absence, allowing him and Paula to be together. Roxton morosely but gallantly hides his love for Paula as Paula and Ed leave together, while two passersby note: "That's Sir John Roxton--sportsman."
Interesting accumulation of dinosaurs...
Agathaumas (as based on a hypothetical restoration by Charles R. Knight, seen in battle with Tyrannosaurus).
Allosaurus (main carnivorous dinosaur seen, attacking Trachodon, Triceratops and Brontosaurus among others).
Brachiosaurus (seen during the volcanic eruption, one of which was attacked by an Allosaurus).
Brontosaurus (The main antagonist. After falling into a bog at the conclusion of a fight with an Allosaurus, one is captured and taken to civilization, where it escapes and terrorizes the city).
Pteranodon (the first prehistoric animal seen by the team of explorers).
Stegosaurus (escaped the volcanic eruption with many other animals).
Trachodon (is preyed upon by the Allosaurus).
Triceratops (seen in large herds, and shown to be capable of handling an Allosaurus in battle).
Tyrannosaurus (is seen to have little trouble bringing down Agathaumas, as well as having a taste for any Pteranodon that swoops in too close).
Toxodon (a young one was seen being eaten by the Pteranodon).
IMDb reviewer, José Luis Rivera Mendoza, wrote...
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.
The Lost World
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