The Lost World

I'd never seen The Lost World until I came across it in DVD form in a second-hand bookshop (obviously a bookshop) sometime before last Christmas. And when I say I'd never seen The Lost World I mean I'd seen several Lost Worlds - only never The Original One, the first and certainly best cinematic take on the book from 1925.

It is quite a magnificent film, even today. The effects are dated but still inventive, imaginative and even spectacular. There's a certain inner strenght in the movie, an inherent power that blinds one to all faults. Certainly the Pterodactyl (is it in fact Pterosaur I should be saying?) doesn't convince me totally, but the Allosaurus, the Triceratops, the Stegosaurus and even the Brontosaurus are all pretty magnificent - considering what the film makers had to work with and seeing that everything they did was completely innovative. They were simply making it up as they went along. The man behind the special effects was none other than Willis H. O'Brien who a few years later went on to create the effects in King Kong.

In fact the dinosaurs and effects in The Lost World look surprisingly convincing - much more so than one had any reasonable cause to expect. The scenes where the enraged Brontosaurus (should one actually call it Apatosaurus nowadays?) runs amok and wreaks havoc in London are no less than terrific - even more convincing than the scenes on the legendary plateau. What makes the film even more pleasurable to watch is that it is beautifully tinted in different shades of green, red, brown, yellow and blue, according to the mood and action of the scenes. Works very well indeed. It enhances the ambiance of the movie and at the same time transforms it completely so you don't even notice that some of the effects might seem a trifle hokey.

Much to my chagrin I noticed that the original release ran a 106 minutes - while my own DVD offers no more than 63 minutes of film. Over 40 minutes missing. I'm annoyed. I will go even further - I'm quite annoyed. Especially when I found out that, although there are several scenes that are lost forever, there do exist considerably longer prints. Like the George Eastman House Restoration. I found a shorter version of that (75 minutes while it's really supposed to be all of a 100 minutes long) on Youtube and it's been restored marvellously - it's a true gem. Bright clear colours, sharp images - truly splendid. And no wonder the continuity on my DVD seemed somewhat less than adequate when even an addition of a mere 12 minutes pretty much transform the action and make it seem much smoother and more logical.

I think the original print had even Sir Arthur himself at desk saying a few words of the work before the action started. So obviously he approved. Even though they did add a slightly gratuitous romance that was never in the book.

What I perhaps like best in the movie is Wallace Beery's portrayal of the irascible professor Challenger. Beery is the last actor one would pick for a professorial role - he's big, ugly, brash, loud, oafish and a complete clod. He's precisely the sort of fellow you'd imagine in a tremendous bushy mustache chasing after poor little Charlie Chaplin or throttling Stan Laurel. What he's best remembered for are his numerous (and almost forgotten) wrestling movies. Yet, quite miraculously, he's a marvellous Challenger. At least in a silent movie - in a talkie I'd have to hesitate. No, I'm certain he'd be all wrong in a talkie. Just about as right as he's in a silent film. Challenger is a bully and a complete child. He's rude to everyone and apt to manhandle anyone who doesn't agree with him or questions his theories. But he never means any harm, not really. He may just overreact slightly upon occasion. There's an amusing scene where Malone the journalist calls upon Challenger at his home and they end up wrestling and the wrestling goes on and on till they find themselves on the street and are interrupted by a passing Bobby. And Challenger, upon getting caught, looks and acts like a sulking schoolboy. After that scene it's very hard to think of anyone else as professor Challenger.

It's quite obvious that The Lost World spawned King Kong. Quite directly. But did The Lost World in turn owe something to Tarzan? Having recently watched the very first Tarzan movie ever made (in 1918 with Elmo Lincoln as Tarzan), Tarzan of the Apes, I begin to wonder if perhaps that movie wasn't something of a precursor, in a certain sense, of The Lost World? At least it would have whetted the audiences appetite for jungle adventures and made it easier market the movie version of Doyle's ripping yarn.

Many consider The Lost World (1912) to be Doyle's finest novel (I can't say I disagree - I'd place it among his top two with The Hound of the Baskervilles): does this make The Lost World of 1925 the very finest Doyle filmatization ever? Can't say I'd disagree there either.


Anonymous said...

I remember reading Doyle when I was a kid. Sherlock Holmes stories mostly. I think I've never read the Lost World though. Would you recommend original English version or is Finnish translation any good? (Local libraries seem to list two copies from 1916.)

PS said...

Amazing - the most recent Finnish translation does seem to be from 1916. Time perhaps for a new one? The 1916 translation might be fun to read but usually translations that old aren't really particulary good. Probably worth reading in the original - it's only about 200 pages or so - and an English edition would be easier to find as well.