Thursday, May 8, 2008

"The Lost World" [1925]--silent film of significance

This is the first film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's [Sherlock Holmes] classic novel about a land where prehistoric creatures still roam. It stars Bessie Love, Lewis Stone, Wallace Beery, Lloyd Hughes, and Alma Bennett directed by Harry O. Hoyt with Willis H. O'Brien [King Kong, Mighty Joe Young] manipulating stegosaurus, allosaurus, brontosaurus, triceratops, and a pterodactyl.

What is offered here is the Internet edition and runs about an hour but there is a restored edition with a musical soundtrack that is available for about $20 and runs 50% longer with scene pacing and missing footage restored.

Every larger-than-life creature feature, from King Kong to Godzilla to Jurassic Park, owes a debt to the original Lost World, the granddaddy of giant monster movies. Based on an adventure fantasy by Arthur Conan Doyle, it's the story of a maverick scientist (Wallace Beery, under a bushy beard) who finds a land that time forgot on a plateau deep within the South American jungles and comes back to London with a captured brontosaur to prove it. His expedition includes Bessie Love, the daughter of an explorer who disappeared on the previous expedition, and big-game hunter Lewis Stone. The ostensible stars of the picture are all upstaged by Willis O'Brien's dinosaurs, simple models brought to life with primitive stop-motion animation. Hardly realistic by any measure, these pioneering special effects are still a sight to behold, especially the lumbering brontosaur (which receives the most care from O'Brien, both foraging in his jungle and rampaging through the streets of London).

The Lost World was truncated for rerelease in the 1930s and the original negative was subsequently lost. David Shepard meticulously "rebuilt" the film using material from eight different surviving prints from all over the world, cleaning and restoring along the way. The result, which is 50 percent longer than previously extant prints, is still not complete but closer than any version since its 1925 debut. The difference is not merely in restored scenes but in a rediscovered sense of grace in scenes filled out to their original detail and pace. The film moves and breathes once again like a silent film.

The disc features the choice of an original, modern score by the Alloy Orchestra and a classic orchestral score compiled and conducted by Robert Israel (both enjoyable and effective), 13 minutes of O'Brien's animation outtakes (including a couple of isolated frames that capture O'Brien manipulating his models), and rudimentary commentary by Arthur Conan Doyle historian Roy Pilot. --Sean Axmaker

King Kong and the missing 35mm movie camera

The Lost World

No comments: