Home Video Hovel: The Lost World, by David Bax
As adventure movies go, Harry O. Hoyt’s famous 1925 The Lost World starts off hitting all the right notes. An explorer’s journal has survived after a South American expedition—the explorer has not—and it purports the discovery of dinosaurs and other prehistoric beings still alive on an untouched plateau. Most in the scientific community are skeptical but a crackpot professor (Wallace Beery) and a young man (Lewis Stone) eager to prove himself to his paramour decide to make the trip and see for themselves.
In these early scenes, Hoyt builds tension and establishes characters with a remarkable economy and sophistication. Once the explorers arrive at their destination, though, he allows the spectacle to take over to the movie’s detriment. Though the result is impressive from an early special effects standpoint, it becomes less and less emotionally engaging as it goes on. Not helping matters is an overreliance on intertitles, a trap into which silent films can fall that usually marks an awkward, lumbering descent to their own doom.
Furthering the restless discomfort of The Lost World’s latter half is the inclusion of white actors in blackface as the party’s guides. Maybe, on an intellectual level, one can make excuses for the attitudes of the time but, in practice, all the rationalizations in the world don’t make it any easier to sit through. And then here come those intertitles again, relaying the guides’ dialogue in mocking, insulting pidgin English.
But, hey, why am I going on about all of this? Chances are, if you’ve decided to purchase and watch the Flicker Alley Blu-ray of The Lost World, it’s because you wanna see that sweet, sweet stop motion dinosaur action. On that note, I’m happy to say, the movie does not disappoint. Even before we get to the primeval beasts, in fact, Hoyt has already presented us with what’s practically a nature documentary. From crocodiles to sloths to everything else you’d hope to find in South America, the parade of real animal footage kicks off as soon as the party sets out. Once they reach the plateau, Hoyt kicks it up a notch with meticulously staged stop motion battles between t-rexes, triceratops, brontosauruses and more. Is it worth it for the racism and boredom of the other stuff? Probably not. But, as an artifact of early fantasy cinema, it’s noteworthy enough to be a collectible.
Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray comes from a 2K 2016 restoration that sourced more than ten separate elements to create the most complete reconstruction yet of The Lost World. Due to the varied sources, there is some inconsistency throughout in terms of density, dirt, etc. But the overall result, including the tinting and the direct coloring of torch flames, is outstanding.
Special features include an audio commentary by film historian Nicolas Ciccone, restored outtakes and deleted scenes, two short films that predate The Lost World, an unfinished 1930 feature by King Kong director Willis O’Brien and an essay by Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films.