Audrey Kupferberg: The Lost World

Sep 22, 2017

THE LOST WORLD.  It’s a Hollywood silent movie that first startled audiences in 1925 and has since proven to be a cult favorite for those who savor fantasy and science fiction genres.  In THE LOST WORLD, pterodactylus fly, and brontosaurus and stegosaurus roam.  The story, which stems from a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was written in 1912.  It is evidence that Conan Doyle’s appeal was not limited to Sherlock Holmes.  This story features two of Conan Doyle’s lesser-known but repeated characters, hot-tempered explorer Professor George Edward Challenger and his friend, adventurer and big-game hunter Sir John Roxton. 

While the excitement of this adventure film doesn’t lie primarily in the telling of its tale, most viewers will find its plot satisfying.  Professor Challenger, Sir Roxton, the lovely daughter of a scientist recently dead from the dangers of the lost world, and a handsome journalist, along with a few others, comprise an expedition to head from London to a vastly unexplored plateau in Venezuela.  Their aim is to bring back proof that dinosaurs still inhabit the earth. In their wanderings, they encounter a dozen or so types of dinosaurs.  They also encounter a fur-covered, snaggle-toothed ape man, possibly the missing link between man and beast, played by well-known wrestler of the time, Bull Montana. 

This theme must have been extraordinarily exciting to readers and movie audiences of the first thirty years of the twentieth century.  It was the age of exploration, after all, and North Americans and Europeans in particular were electrified by brave voyagers who travelled by ship, in primitive aircraft, on horseback, and on foot to parts unknown.  Their reports of remote civilizations proved among the most thrilling entertainments of the early century.

For the past fifty years, the film of THE LOST WORLD has been available only in abridgements of about one hour in length.  As additional source material was located in archives and private film collections, archives such as George Eastman House in Rochester NY and archivists such as the late David Shepard of Blackhawk Films and Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films undertook attempts at restoration. A long list of film historians, collectors, and archivists contributed to this restoration which, at 104 minutes, is the most complete version, very close to the original running time.  This version has been transferred as a 2K digital scan and just released on Blu-ray by Flicker Alley.  It has beautiful color tints and some toning, as well. There is an innocuous score by Robert Israel.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle appears as himself at the start of the film.  The original footage of the legendary author remains lost, so what we are offered is his similar appearance in a Movietone film from 1927.  Silent film favorites Wallace Beery, Bessie Love, Lloyd Hughes and Lewis Stone put in first-rate performances.  However, the real star is legendary special effects master Willis O’Brien, who designed, built, and animated the dinosaurs in ways that make them incredibly realistic long before Steven Spielberg’s JURASSIC PARK made it to screens in 1993.  With only a bit of imagination on the viewer’s part, these ancient creatures actually come to life.  And, to top it off, the extras on the Flicker Alley Blu-ray include two short films from 1917 and 1918, as well as deleted scenes, which illustrate O’Brien’s experiments in animating creatures.

Most exciting of all is the climax which features a huge dinosaur running through the streets of London and onto Tower Bridge.  So many fantasy films of the early twentieth century have transferred from make-believe to real life as we make technological and cultural strides.  Let’s hope the imaginative fictions of THE LOST WORLD never come to fruition!

Audrey Kupferberg is a film and video archivist and appraiser. She is lecturer emeritus and the former Director of Film Studies at the University at Albany and has co-authored several entertainment biographies with her husband and creative partner, Rob Edelman.

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