Eccentric professor Wallace Beery and his expedition head off in search of dinosaurs.
The first film version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s splendid novel of high adventure, and still the most-rewarding. It circulates in several cuts, most pruned of significant footage (a love triangle among the explorers almost disappears completely, and the ‘comical’ black servant Zambo loses a lot of embarrassing inter-title dialect), but the restored 93-minute version is highly recommended as an example of state-of-the-art special effects circa 1925.
The explorers are a broad-strokes lot, though Beery enjoys exploding as the scrappy Professor Challenger, Lewis Stone is dignified as the big game hunter and Love winning as the tagalong heroine written into Doyle’s all-male drama. The main attraction, however, is Willis H. O’Brien’s pre-King Kong stop motion monster effects: here, his dinosaurs tear bloody chunks out of each other in their fights, a brontosaurus rampages through London (smashing the Blue Posts pub), a family of triceratopses see off a fiendish allosaurus (‘the pest of prehistory’).
The film cleverly includes some real nature footage early on, with the hunter lecturing the girl on the habits of sloths or miniature bears, subtly preparing us for similar tid-bits about the habits of extinct animals. The other interesting denizen of the Lost World is a fanged ape-man (Bull Montana), who acts like a precursor to Kong as he hinders the explorers’ escape from the volcano-shattered plateau. It was remade in 1960 with Claude Rains, Jill St John and iguanas with stuck-on fins and horns, and there have been TV versions with John Rhys-Davies, Patrick Bergin and Bob Hoskins; Michael Crichton had the cheek to lift Doyle’s title for his sequel to Jurassic Park.
The two-day, $1 million shoot wrought some memorable images, not least the first sighting of the monsters and the brontosaurus charging through London.