Celebrating its 75th anniversary in the year 2000, the original Lost World, a black-and-white silent film, was produced by William R. Rothacker and starred Wallace Beery, with special effects by Willis O'Brien.
The movie opens with reporter Edward Malone coming into the company of Professor George Edward Challenger (though not until after a few bruises), who has been making some astounding claims. Based on the testimony of one Paula White, Challnger has been asserting the existance of a hidden plateau in South America where the laws of natural selection has been suspended and dinosaurs still reign. Coaxed by the incredulity of Professor Summerlee, Challenger has prepared an expedition into the Amazon in search of this plateau, consisting of himself, Summerlee, explorer and friend Lord John Roxton, Malone, and Paula White. This mission is even more personal for Miss White: it was her father, Maple White, who discovered and was subsequently lost on this plateau.
Upon reaching the plateau, the company of explorers (and the viewer) are treated to a visual feast of prehistoric life. Unfortunately, it does not come until after they are stranded on the table-land by a feisty Bronotsaur. But during their tenure, they witness many a marauding Allosaur, a villainous ape man, and a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. Thankfully they are able to make it off the plateau and take advantage of the only piece of evidence they can take back with them: a trapped and injured Brontosaurus they witnessed fall from the plateau during a fight with an Allosaur. Upon taking the Bronotsaur back to London, the beast escapes and all Hell breaks loose.
At one million dollars, it was one of the most expensive movies made at that time, and wowed the audiences with it's realism, which audiences of today scoff at as "cheezy". It had attacking pterodactyls, fighting dinosaurs, lots of guns, a Triceratops rampage, a new lady-love character invented by the producer, a dastardly apeman, and a dinosaur running amok in civilization... Everything one could want in a dinosaur movie! Conan Doyle himself loved it, even though it wasn't quite what he had written.
Without a doubt, the full weight of this acchievement in prehistoric cinema belongs to special effects artist Willis O'Brien (pictured at right). Taking note of Willis O'Brien's stop motion technique used in humourous shorts for Thomas Edison's film company and the short film The Ghost of Slumber Mountain, Watterson Rothacker called the young man in to apply his technique to Conan Doyle's tale. Teaming up with sculptor Marcel Delgado, they built and animated over 50 dinosaur models. The magnificent dinosaur stampede in the film required a miniatures set that was 150 feet long. The dinosaurs O'Brien and Delgado created were so realistic that Conan Doyle brought a reel of the film to show the Society of American Magicians, and it did indeed fool them all into believing dinosaurs did still walk the earth. An account of the incident can be read here at "Doyle's Trick".
Despite the results, First National was originally unsure about O'Brien's capabilities. Therefore, they had Marion Fairfax write a script that could easily dispense with the dinosaurs if need be... Imagine, The Lost World without dinosaurs! Because of the this, the finished film does have some continuity errors not attributable to unrestored footage. (This does not, as the audio-commentary of the latest LW DVD asserts, include Zambo's broken arm. A missing sequence has the crew captured by cannibals on their way to the plateau, and Zambo's arm is injured in that altercation. Photos from this, as well as a written version of the missing scene, can be found here)
Unfortunately, time was good to neither O'Brien's models or the movie they starred in. Some of the stop-motion models from 1925 still survive, abiet in a somewhat dessicated form thanks to the quality of rubber used, in the remaining collection of sci-fi memorabelia held by Mr. Science-Fiction, Forrest J. Ackerman. Also there are many of the models from King Kong. The movie itself suffered a worse fate that has thankfully been turned around recently.
In the interveining years, much of the original film was lost as its owners changed hands and sought to use the film for differnt ends. A lot of the original material was cut out, either for the sake of time (such as the openning segments with Gladys Hungerford, Malone's impetus for going on the mission) or interest (much of the film was lost when the human live action sequences were disposed of in favour of dinosaur shots). Encyclopedia Brittanica was even able to condense the film into a five minute short feature in 1948. For some time it looked as though the film's full original length of over an hour and a half was lost entirely.
However, a new set of negatives was found in the Czeck Republic of all places and was soon bought up by the George Eastman House. They then proceeded to restore the film to the best of their ability. The story may not be done there though, as reports have come in about possible errors and omissions in the Eastman House print. Not only that, but the GEH had the audacity to sit on the film, not releasing it on VHS or DVD, much to the outrage of fans and those who even helped fund the restoration.
Sucks to be them, though, because David Shepherd and Image Entertainment took it upon themselves to make their own restoration, using 8 prints including the Czeck print, to create the best available copy of the movie since the film was origially released in 1925. This version, with two soundtracks and a very dry audio commentary by Roy Pilot, author of The Annotated Lost World, is widely distributed on DVD.
Not all of the missing scenes were restored, and like all restored silent films, this one can only be a modern impression of the original film. But thanks to the restored scenes we will once again be able to see the life-size Brontosaur head that took four men to carry crash through an apartment window or the very impetus for the film, Malone's foiled proposal to Gladys. For those who are interested in the original form of the film and the still missing scenes, there is a book available entitled "The Lost World" of Willis O'Brien. Edited by Roy Kinnard, this is the original shooting script of the original 1925 film.
The original 1925 version of The Lost World was the first major "live" dinosaur film. Prior to it, the only dinosaurs on the silver screen were Winsor McCay's Gertie the Dinosaurus which was an animated Brontosaurus, Willis O'Brien's stop-motion comedy series, and The Ghost of Slumber Mountain. Many films which came after are directly influnced (The Land Unknown, The Lost World: Jurassic Park), and generally speaking, ALL dinosaur films owe a debt to this one.
The Lost World is a 1912 novel by Arthur Conan Doyle concerning an expedition to a plateau in South America where prehistoric animals (dinosaurs and other extinct creatures) still survive. The character of Professor Challenger was introduced in this book. Interestingly, for a seminal work of dinosaur-related fiction, the reptiles only occupy a small portion of the narrative. Much more time is devoted to a war between early human hominids and a vicious tribe of ape-like creatures.
Plot summary (Spoilage)
Ed Malone, a reporter for the London Journal, went to his editor, McArdle, to get a dangerous and adventurous mission (to impress the woman he loves so she will marry him), so McArdle sent Malone to interview Professor Challenger, a notable task as Challenger has assaulted some four or five other journalists who have come to speak with him on his discovery of dinosaurs in South America. The discovery has been thus far ridiculed by the mainstream, but Challenger, after also assaulting Malone, convinces him of its veracity and invites him on an expedition to the Amazon to gather more evidence. Two other characters are also invited, Professor Summerlee, another scientist qualified to examine any evidence, and Lord John Roxton, an adventurer who knows the Amazon and several years previous to the action in the book helped end slavery in South America. They reach the plateau with the aid of Indian guides, who are superstitiously scared of the area, and trickle away by the time the expedition reaches its goal, with the exception of two Indians. One of these Indians (actually mestizos), Gomez, is the brother of a man that Roxton killed when he was fighting slavery the last time he was in South America. When the expedition manages to get onto the plateau Gomez traps them there by destroying their bridge. The other Indian, Zambo, is loyal and remains at the base of the plateau to help his employers if they can get back down.
Deciding to investigate the lost world, they are attacked by pterodactyls at a swamp, and Roxton finds some blue clay to which he takes an excessive degree of interest. After exploring the terrain and having a few misadventures in which the expedition nearly misses being killed by dinosaurs, they discover that there are also two humanoid species living on the plateau. One is a race of ape-like creatures, and the other is a tribe of actual humans. It is theorized by the two scientists that it was easier in the past to get onto the plateau, which explains why the post-jurassic species are there. At any rate, the two species are constantly fighting each other, and Challenger and Summerlee are captured by the ape-men. Roxton and Malone, when they realise this, go out to find and rescue the professors, and find them just in time to keep the ape-men from pushing them off the side of the plateau, a fall which would be fatal. They then flee the ape-men and join up with the human tribe. Under their leadership, the tribe defeats the ape-men and achieves superiority over the plateau.
The expedition then discovers that the caves which the tribe lives in have tunnels leading off the plateau, unknown by the human tribe. The expedition must sneak out, as the tribe wishes them to remain. They return to England and bring with them a Pterodactyl, which promptly escapes when showcased and is dismissed as some sort of bird by the public, as no one gets a good look at it. When Malone had dinner with the other expedition members at Roxton's apartment, Roxton showed them the blue clay, which, when cut open, was revealed to contain diamonds. Their estimated worth was £200,000, and they split the money among themselves. Challenger said he would use his share to open a museum, Summerlee would retire, Roxton would have another expedition back to the lost world, and Malone (having returned to England to find the woman he loves already married) would join Roxton in his planned return to the plateau.
Notes: While uncredited in the film's official beastiary, a Tyrannosaurus does appear in a scene where it kills what appears to be a Triceratops/Styracosaurus hybrid. It is clearly marked as being a Tyrannosaurus in that it is much larger, has a different appearance, and only two fingers.
Allusions/references from other works
In 1915, the Russian scientist Vladimir Obruchev produced his own version of the "lost world" theme in the novel Plutonia, which places the dinosaurs and other Jurassic species in the underground area of Russian Siberia.
Doyle's title was reused by Michael Crichton in his 1995 novel The Lost World, a sequel to Jurassic Park. (Its film adaptation, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, followed suit.) At least two similarly named TV shows, Land of the Lost and Lost, nod to this source material.
Allusions/references to actual history, geography and current science
The characters of Ed Malone and Lord John Roxton are inspired by the journalist E. D. Morel and the diplomat Roger Casement, leaders of the Congo Free State reform campaign, that Conan Doyle supported. The setting of the adventure is believed to have been inspired by Doyle's hearing reports of expeditions to Monte Roraima.
Film, TV or theatrical adaptations
The novel has been adapted to film many times, the first time in 1925, with screen legend 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 warmup for his work on the original King Kong directed by Merian C. Cooper). This version has been deemed "culturally significant" by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry.
The novel was also adapted to film in 1960, 1992 and 1998. A sequel to the 1992 film, Return to the Lost World, was also released that year. The novel also inspired a 2001 television series.
A 1999 television movie based on Journey to the Center of the Earth contained several aspects from The Lost World; a war between a tribe of primitive humans and a tribe of "missing links". However, the "missing links" in this adaptation were not ape-men, but rather reptilian humanoids, called "Soroids" by the human tribe.