Thursday, September 7, 2017

Review: 'The Lost World (1925)' Blu-ray

No movie has been more influential on the still-popular giant monster genre than King Kong, and no movie was more influential on King Kong than Harry O. Hoyt’s 1925 adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. A band of adventurers journey to a mysterious jungle where they encounter a menagerie of stop-motion dinosaurs that menace and fascinate the folks. They manage to bring one of the giant creatures (an Apatosaurus, not a giant gorilla) back to the big city (London, not NYC) where it runs amok on a major monument (London Bridge, not the Empire State Building). There’s even an amorous primate who only has eyes for the leading lady.

One of the big differences between The Lost World and King Kong is that the characters are motivated by love rather than the thirst for fame and glory. Lloyd Hughes’s Ed Malone joins the expedition because his completely caring and not at all sociopathic fiancĂ© will only marry him if he has had strange adventures that involve risking his life. Bessie Love’s Paula White gets on board because she wants to save her father who had been marooned in the lost world during a previous expedition. This makes the characters more likable than King Kong’s cast of misogynistic butt heads. Jules Cowes’s servant in black face is painful to watch—you can’t expect to watch a silent-era jungle picture without at least one extremely offensive characterization—but the film is sweet as a whole despite the dangers posed by a leering ape man (his toothy makeup suggesting that The Lost World was influential on another key horror classic: Mamoulian’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde), a fire-spewing volcano, and those prehistoric beasties.

And let’s not get too hung up on our human cast, because it’s clear who the real stars of The Lost World are. Allosaurus, apatosaurus, edmontosaurus, triceratops…oh my! While primitive compared to the more polished stop motion in Kong, the special effects of The Lost World which include work by Kong’s main animator, Willis O’Brien remain a joy to behold.

The film itself is also more of a joy to behold than it has been in eons since much footage seemingly stranded in the cinematic lost world has been recovered. Once only available in a meager and allegedly less-than-coherent hour-long cut, the film is now basically back to its original length (apparently, only a cannibal sequence remains missing). The restoration looks great on Flicker Alley’s new blu-ray release of The Lost World. Some sequences are pretty scratched up, but most are relatively clean and some are downright pristine, which is good news for a near 100-year-old movie, half of which has spent most of that time in limbo.

Flicker Alley gives this landmark release its due respect with a bestiary of bonus features. There are nine minutes of “deleted scenes,” though these are more like animation tests that find the various dinosaurs simply going about their business rather than anything that expands the narrative or action of the film. The most fascinating bits of this bonus involve brief stills of the animators in shot setting up the dino models. There are also two complete short films with animation by Willis O’Brien. The cooler of the two is the completely animated, nine-minute R.F.D., 10,000 B.C., a sort of Flintstones precursor in which prehistoric people tool around in dinosaur-drawn carts. There’s also the thirteen-minute Ghost of Slumber Mountain, in which a guy encounters a ghost, a giant bird, and more dinosaurs during a camping trip. Most historically significant is five minutes of O’Brien’s legendarily incomplete film Creation. This is the footage that got him the King Kong gig. Audio commentary by film historian Nicholas Ciccone, an image gallery, and booklet essay round out a lovingly assembled package.
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