Tuesday, February 28, 2023

'The Lost World' (1925): Silent sci-fi


The Lost World

Dir: Harry O. Hoyt

Scr: Marion Fairfax

Pho: Arthur Edeson

Ed: George McGuire

Premiere: Feb. 2, 1925

92 min.

The fantasy film took a while to develop. Initial technological limitations meant that not everything that the imagination could conceive could be placed convincingly on film (except for, seemingly, Georges Melies). The fantasy film took a major step forward with this outing, which married innovative animation techniques to a successful adaptation of an early science fiction novel.

Arthur Conan Doyle is best known as the creator of Sherlock Holmes, but he was a writer of catholic tastes and surprisingly broad range, who created work in multiple genres. His most prominent work of science fiction, inspired by writers such as Jules Verne and H. Rider Haggard, is the novel The Lost World. In it, he postulates an isolated escarpment that holds dinosaurs, and other ancient flora and fauna, in abundance. There an expedition led by the irascible and vigorous Professor Challenger meets up with, thanks to stop-motion miniatures and a split screen, Brontosaurus, Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus and more.

As in Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885), the mission is to save a previous explorer lost there. The film adds a love interest; appropriately Bessie Love, a popular actress of the day. A couple of comic servant are shown, one unfortunately in blackface. The travelers manage to escape the plateau, and capture a live Brontosaurus as well. They bring it back to London, where it breaks free and causes a bit of havoc (a narrative strategy to be pursued in King Kong eight years later).

The stop-motion photography is a bit clunky, but no one had tried to execute the painstaking craft of moving small models frame by advancing frame to create the illusion of life before, and everyone who saw the film was astonished. This was the work of pioneer Willis O’Brien, who began by working with clay models, and moved onto rubber figures crafted over metal armatures. In its day, this kind of movie magic was as mind-bending as certain CGI accomplishments a century later.

The NFR is one writer’s attempt to review all the films listed in the National Film Registry in chronological order. Next time: The Phantom of the Opera.



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