Saturday, September 30, 2017

The Lost World (1925)

Jurassic Park wasn’t the first movie about live dinosaurs in modern times.  Before Dennis Nedry ever laid eyes on that canister of embryos, Maple White got lost on a plateau filled with all manner of prehistoric reptiles.  The Lost World, not to be confused with the Jurassic Park sequel, is a silent movie based on a book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  Several versions exist; the one I had available was the one running 64 minutes, which had been released in 1991.

The version I watched starts at a newspaper’s office.  A clumsy reporter named Edward Malone manages to land a story about Professor Challenger, a rather strange man.  He’s considered crazy because he’s put forth that dinosaurs still exist in a remote section of the Amazon Rainforest.  He holds a meeting, but bars any sort of reporter.  Malone manages to get in with Sir John Roxton, a friend of his.  At the meeting, Challenger announces that his intent is not to clear his name, per se, but to look for volunteers for an expedition back.  Both Roxton and Malone volunteer, as does Professor Summerlee.  Joining them are Paula White, Challenger’s butler, and a servant.

They find the plateau and soon discover that there are, indeed, dinosaurs.  Getting there and back will be tricky, as they need to cut down a tree to use as a bridge.  Shortly after arriving, a brontosaurus moves the tree so that it falls down, leaving the party stranded.  They see all manner of dinosaurs on the plateau, many of them fighting with each other.  Maple White’s remains are eventually found.

The party does manage to find a way back to their base camp and eventually return to London with a live brontosaurus.  This angers the people that Professor Challenger has gathered to show proof of living dinosaurs; they feel that they’ve been had once again.  However, the brontosaurus manages to find its way to a bridge that collapses.  The people rush to see the dinosaur swim down the river and presumably escape.

It’s not often that I get to watch silent films.  I’d imagine that many are old enough to have fallen into the public domain, but it’s not the kind of movie you’d see on HBO or Showtime, which tend to favor movies that were made a little more recently.  I would think that Netflix would pick up as many as they could just to have the additional titles available for streaming.  It is interesting to note that this was the first in-flight movie to ever be shown.

Having grown up with sound, it’s somewhat distracting to have to read the text on interstitial cards.  Characters would sometimes have conversations, leaving me to assume what they were talking about.  Any convention as to such dialogue has since been lost to me.  Some things, I could infer like greetings.  Others were probably small talk.  I would imagine audiences of the time would have a better understanding of what was being said.

As a silent movie, it relied more on visuals, which were pretty decent considering the age.  Today, we have a lot of stop-motion TV shows and movies, such as Robot Chicken.  It’s fairly easy to recognize stop motion.  At least here, it wasn’t obvious enough that I couldn’t suspend my disbelief.  Motion wasn’t that jerky, although it was unevenly paced in a few scenes.  It’s exactly what you might expect of a movie from 1925.  Scenes with live action against a stop-motion background were done almost seamlessly.  I don’t know how much of this is due to restoration and how much was part of the original technology, though.

Being that the movie is based on a book by a well-known author, I don’t think this movie should be that difficult to find.  I got it as part of a nine-movie set.  It’s exactly the kind of movie sets like this would be likely to include.  I don’t think it would be worth buying such a set just for this movie, but it is worth considering.

I think the biggest concern for most people will be the culture shock.  It’s definitely not the kind of movie you’d see today.  It does have the generic piano music that’s normally associated with silent films.  It’s obvious mostly during the moment between songs, but I didn’t find it to be too much.  I’ve grown accustomed to having a lot of dialogue, which isn’t really present here.

There’s very little that would be inappropriate for children.  The fighting between dinosaurs isn’t particularly gory.  There was an ape man that might be a little scary for very young children.  I think mostly, children might find the entire idea of a silent, black-and-white film to be either silly or boring.  It’s the kind of movie that a school might show the kids that couldn’t go on a field trip.  It’s expected to be safe rather than popular.

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