In 1959, Twentieth Century-Fox released an entertaining adaptation of Jules Verne’s classic story, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH to generally good reviews and excellent box office receipts. In an effort to repeat this success, the studio decided to remake the silent 1925 groundbreaking adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale, THE LOST WORLD. To helm the project, Fox hired producer Irwin Allen known for gathering all-star casts in big budget films (a trend that would continue with his big budget disaster films of the 1970s) and his participation in THE LOST WORLD led to his being known as the master of science fiction films and television throughout the 1960s. Now, after a long wait, THE LOST WORLD is finally released by Fox to DVD in a beautifully re-mastered widescreen print along with a fairly well restored print of the 1925 version included as a bonus.
Crotchety old Professor George Edward Challenger (Claude Rains) returns to London after an expedition in the Amazon with an amazing story of dinosaurs being sighted on a forgotten plateau. Since no one (especially his rival Professor Walter Summerlee played by character actor Richard Haydn) believes his story without photos or other proof, Challenger insists that a second expedition comprised of him and Summerlee return to the area and find evidence of the monsters’ existence. After gathering a rather motley group of volunteers including big game hunter Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie), newspaperman Edward Malone (David Hedison), the required female presence Jennifer Holmes (Jill St. John with her poodle and wearing hot pink pants, apparently fashionable in the jungle), Jennifer’s brother David (Ray Stricklyn), helicopter pilot Gomez (Fernando Lamas) and his assistant Costa (Jay Novello), the party makes its way to the lost world where they find an assortment of dinosaurs (actually real lizards with glued-on fins), giant spiders, a beautiful jungle girl (Vitina Marcus), cannibals and other assorted dangers before the final reel runs its course.
One of the biggest criticisms of THE LOST WORLD when it was initially released was the lack of stop motion effects which made the original version such a pioneering effort. Willis O’Brien (who worked on the 1925 original and would later helm the effects department on the 1933 KING KONG, SON OF KONG and MIGHTY JOE YOUNG) was hired by Irwin Allen to do conceptual sketches and some miniature work, but that seems to be the extend of his contribution (O’Brien does receive screen credit as “effects technician”). Instead, live lizards and iguanas with glued on fins and other prosthetics were used and some of the scenes (particularly the battle scene between the two “monsters”) are a little unsettling when one considers live animals were used (one wonders where the A.S.P.C.A. was during filming). As a side note, Irwin Allen worked with Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen before when both men did stop motion effects for Allen’s documentary, ANIMAL WORLD for Warner Bros. in 1956. Allen knew from the lengthy pre and post production for stop motion animation how long the process took and he (and more importantly Fox) did not want THE LOST WORLD to be tied up with effects work especially in light of the fact that they wanted to rush the film out to cash in on the popularity of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH.
Like many of Irwin Allen’s future projects, the cast of THE LOST WORLD is not particularly challenged in the acting department. Claude Rains is the standout as grouchy Professor Challenger following Wallace Beery’s portrayal of the same character in the silent version. Richard Haydn as Summerlee and Jay Novello as Costa are also memorable while Jill St. John is cute if unremarkable and Michael Rennie and David Hedison are rather bland in their roles. Mr. Hedison has often said that he really did not want to do THE LOST WORLD and that he “didn’t believe in the script” and seeing Jill St. John in the pink pants with the poodle made the whole thing seem ridiculous. In fact, he was offered the role of Captain Lee Crain in Allen’s next film, VOYAGE TO THE BOTTOM OF THE SEA (1961), but turned it down (Robert Sterling played the part instead). He later had a change of heart and played the role on the 1963-1967 ABC series.
Fox’s presentation of THE LOST WORLD is a beautifully re-mastered anamorphic widescreen (2.35:1) print with excellent color and a clear and sharp picture. The sound is also great in English 4.0 Dolby Digital (the dinosaur roars sound awesome on this track) and regular 2.0. There are also Spanish and French mono tracks with subtitles in English and Spanish. Special features include a three minute vintage featurette called “Footprints on the Sands of Time” plus a Fox Movietone Newsreel featuring David Hedison making a personal appearance at a New York opening. The original theatrical trailer is also included as well as a comic book adaptation and loads of still pictures (one of which features Willis O’Brien). As already mentioned, the 1925 is included on a special separate disc as a special feature. The print is restored as best as possible with an organ score added and, although not in 100% great shape, this version does serve to let film fans make a comparison between the two films. The one unfortunate thing is that a commentary is not included with either David Hedison (he does do one for Fox’s newest re-release of THE FLY) or Jill St. John or any other surviving member of the cast or crew.
THE LOST WORLD is most definitely a worthy addition to any genre fan’s collection and compliments must be given to Fox for lately releasing a number of great genre titles on DVD. (Joe Cascio)
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