#478) The Lost World (1925)

#478) The Lost World (1925)

OR “The Land During Time”

Directed by Harry O. Hoyt

Written by Marion Fairfax. Based on the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Class of 1998

There are multiple cuts of “Lost World” out there on the internet, and this post is based on my viewing of the 2016 restoration by Lobster Films.

The Plot: Reporter Edward Malone (Lloyd Hughes) wants to prove to his fiancée Gladys (Alma Bennett) that he can be adventurous. After attending a lecture by controversial Professor George Challenger (Wallace Beery), Edward volunteers to join the explorer on an expedition to South America in search of living dinosaurs. Joined by hunter Sir John Roxton (Lewis Stone), and Paula White (Bessie Love), the daughter of a missing explorer, the team arrive in the Amazon, and find stop-motion dinosaurs roaming the earth. Their discovery is tremendous, but can they survive the perils of the jungle and get their findings back to London?

Why It Matters: Sometimes the NFR hands me a freebie in their write-up: “The Lost World” is historically significant in that it was one of the first full-length feature films to include stop motion model animation. Thanks! There’s also an essay by film and science-fiction expert Brian Taves.

But Does It Really?: “Lost World” is what I would call a “stepping stone” movie. It’s by no means a revered classic, but it paved the way for science-fiction in film, as well as the evolution of stop-motion animation. The film can be a bit stilted and dated, but the effects by Willis H. O’Brien are worth the trip out. No argument for NFR inclusion.

Everybody Gets One: Like many early movie screenwriters, Marion Fairfax was an established Broadway playwright that heeded Hollywood’s call. Deemed “always a winner” by one of her studio bosses, Fairfax cranked out hit script after hit script, including a 1922 adaptation of another Arthur Conan Doyle classic, “Sherlock Holmes” with John Barrymore. At the height of her Hollywood career, Fairfax operated her own studio and was working on up to five projects simultaneously. Information on Marion Fairfax is scarce after 1926, when she retired from screenwriting (possibly due to ongoing health issues) and disappeared from the public eye.

Wow, That’s Dated: BLACKFACE WARNING: One of the expedition team’s guides is played by a white actor in blackface. To make matters worse, the intertitles make him sound like Stepin Fetchit.

Other notes 

  • Shoutout to the team behind the 2016 restoration, which brings the film back to its original runtime for the first time in almost 90 years. The final results look terrific.
  • Arthur Conan Doyle is one of those authors whose timeline I always associate with the pre-film era. Not only was Doyle alive for this film adaptation of “The Lost World”, he actually appears in it! In fact, it was Doyle’s endorsement of Willis O’Brien’s early stop-motion tests that spurred this movie’s development.
  • Wallace Beery IS Emile Zola. And while we’re talking about Professor Challenger: a controversial public figure who makes unsupported claims and is antagonistic towards the press; where have I seen this before?
  • There is no love interest in the original Doyle novel, but practically every major film adaptation has added one. This version gives us Paula, as played by future Oscar nominee Bessie Love.
  • Lewis Stone was not on my radar before starting this blog, and between this movie, “Grand Hotel“, and “Love Finds Andy Hardy“, he has a diverse group of classics on his resume.
  • Once we get to the Amazon, this movie picks up and makes room for the real star: the special effects. Sure it’s all primitive by today’s standards, but when you’ve watched as many silent films as I have you recognize what an innovative step forward this movie was.
  • Also revolutionary was the film’s use of split screen technology, allowing the live actors to appear on screen alongside the dinosaurs.
  • Excuse me, but you cannot wear a deerstalker cap in a Doyle adaptation without some obvious comparisons being made.
  • 37 minutes in and we finally have our first dinosaur, an unfriendly pterodactyl. This is followed up by Gertie the Dinosaur in her first dramatic role.
  • Once the dinosaurs show up, the plot takes a backseat to the spectacle, but the magic of practical effects are so impressive you don’t care, especially once the Allosaurus starts attacking the Triceratops. Take that, “Rite of Spring“!
  • Speaking of, most of these dinosaur set pieces look like I’m going through the Primeval World exhibit at Disneyland.
  • In addition to recreating the color tinting effect common in most silent films, the restored version of “Lost World” includes the Handschiegel process, which added color to specific elements of a shot. In the case of “Lost World”, Handschiegel is used to highlight the fire, adding a wonderful sense of danger you don’t get in a standard black-and-white outing.
  • All I want during these dinosaur attacks is one intertitle that says “Roar!”
  • Wasn’t that apeman in the Laurel & Hardy “Babes in Toyland”?
  • Edward uses the old “out of continent” excuse to cheat on his fiancée. But then again, no one in this movie cares about Gladys. She’s not even in every cut of this movie!
  • My favorite attention to detail; the movement of the brontosaurus’ stomach to indicate breathing.
  • Once we get to the finale, the film turns into a precursor to the Godzilla movies, with the escaped Brontosaurus on a rampage through London. My favorite moment is when the Brontosaurus knocks down a statue, which by 2020 standards is very progressive. Damn Gertie, you’re woke AF.

Legacy 

  • “The Lost World” was one of the biggest hits of the year, and helped revive public interest in dinosaurs and science-fiction films. Perhaps the film’s biggest influence was its depiction of dinosaurs as cunning predators, rather than simple-minded evolutionary mistakes, as was the common theory of the time.
  • Willis O’Brien would further perfect his stop-motion creatures with his landmark work in “King Kong“.
  • Surprisingly, Arthur Conan Doyle deemed Professor Challenger his favorite character, not Sherlock. In fact, short stories about Challenger’s further discoveries were among the final pieces Doyle wrote before his death in 1930.
  • “The Lost World” has been adapted to the screen multiple times over the years, and while the first “Jurassic Park” sequel is not a direct remake, it shares a subtitle, as well as a few story points.
  • For many years the only available version of “The Lost World” was an hour-long cut made after the film lapsed into public domain. As more of the lost “Lost” footage has resurfaced over the years, there have been at least five different restorations of the film to incorporate the latest discoveries.

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