Review Date: 1/8/12
Visual Effects: Willis O'Brien
Cast: Bessie Love, Lewis Stone, Wallace Beery, Lloyd Hughes
Welcome to the land of love and dinosaurs! The first film adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World" was a dinosaur extravaganza courtesy of stop motion animation pioneer Willis O'Brien. Made nearly ten years before the monumental "King Kong" (1933), O'Brien's work seems a bit crude and clunky, but his attention to detail and animal behavior is superb. The eccentric and wild-haired Professor Challenger (crazed Wallace Beery) puts together an expedition to the Amazon basin to rescue Paula White's father and prove that living dinosaurs exist. His team consists of Paula (Bessie Love), academic rival Prof. Summerlee, big game hunter Lord Roxton (Lewis Stone), and newspaper reporter Ed Malone (handsome Lloyd Hughes). There's no poodle in this version, but there is a monkey named Jocko. Once the party reaches the plateau of The Lost World, a brontosaurus cuts off their means of escape, leaving them stranded in a strange and hostile land. They run into numerous dinosaurs, get attacked by a primitive caveman and his chimpanzee pal, and survive a volcanic eruption.
The film is billed as a "romance adventure", and the romantic plot is given the most attention. Since it's a silent film, the narrative is often confusing and the characters' motivations are unclear. The reason that Malone goes on the expedition is to prove to his snobby girlfriend that he is man enough for her love. He then falls in love with Paula during the trip, which appears to cause some emotional anguish for Roxton. This is never explained and Roxton's behavior seems to become devious and shifty as a result. Unfortunately for Malone, Paula won't return his love because of Malone's promise to his unfaithful girlfriend, but everything manages to work out in the end. Apart from a rampaging dinosaur running through the streets of London, which is what Prof. Challenger has to deal with. The humor is odd and misplaced, making the adventure much more light-hearted than it should be. There are no scantily clad cannibal girls, man-eating plants, giant diamonds, or blood feuds, and Paula can take care of herself as opposed to Jill St. John's useless character in the 1960 version. There is, however, a character in black-face, which is odd. Additionally, the dinosaurs actually look like dinosaurs instead of being lizards and alligators with prosthetics glued onto them. An interesting film from a historical perspective and a delight for stop motion animation fans, but otherwise it can be challenging to sit through.