Tuesday, June 10, 2008

The Lost World

Last night I watched The Lost World, the silent movie masterpiece. (2001 DVD by Image Entertainment, from the Blackhawk Films Collection.) This particular edition was assembled from pieces of eight different surviving prints of the movie, and it was about half an hour longer than any version I'd seen before. It's still not the complete film as it appeared in theaters in 1925, but it's probably the closest restoration possible. They did a fine job of repairing the film, minimizing scratches, shakes, and other damage; it does not seem cobbled together at all. The picture quality is much, much nicer than I'm accustomed to seeing in a 1920s vintage film.

For being 83 years old, the movie stands up surprisingly well. I was really struck by the high quality of the stop-motion animation used for the dinosaurs. I've seen many films from the 1950s and '60s that fall far short of these effects. They even went to the trouble of animating the dinosaurs' breathing, a touch of detail I've rarely seen with stop-motion effects. The dinosaurs' bellies swell and shrink with each breath in a way that makes them seem almost real. Clear your mind of all the fancy CGI effects you've seen and imagine sitting in a dark theater in the Roaring Twenties. The experience must have been absolutely chilling.

The movie was groundbreaking. There are echoes of this film in almost every monster movie and adventure flick that came after, from King Kong to Indiana Jones. (When I saw the little graphic of the boat sliding across the ocean, all I could think of was Indy's airplane trailing a line on the map.)

One of the neat effects was the use of color. Yes, it's a black and white film, but some scenes were tinted for effect. So scenes inside well-lit buildings were in sepia, while night scenes were in blue, jungle scenes in green, and a sunrise in red. This was very effective in setting the mood.

The human story is kind of bland, but let's be real--we're watching the movie for the dinosaurs. The beasts represent the best paleontological knowledge of the time. Sadly, much of it is quite antiquated. The dinos are taildraggers, with the bipedal ones standing upright like meerkats. And there's the brontosaurus. Egads! Well, sure, we know now that the so-called brontosaurus was really the skeleton of an apatosaurus with the skull of a camarasaurus slapped on, but back then, brontos were in! And these were no slow, lumbering beasts. No! These fast and agile dinos could hold their own in Jurassic Park.

As for the humans, we've got the nerd boy who proves himself and becomes a manly man; the big game hunter, a decent guy who gets kind of shafted in the end; the crazy scientist with wild hair, wild beard, and wild eyes; the forgettable, bespectacled entomologist; and an incredibly annoying waif-like heroine. She obviously has some courage, because she goes on this expedition, wears pants, climbs mountains, and so on, but she looks clinically depressed all the time, pursing those tiny rosebud lips and looking up sadly with those enormous doe-like eyes. I'm not sure why the hero (nerd boy) falls in love with her, unless he is some kind of vampire that feeds off sorrow and misery. And back at base camp, we've got a generic white guy and his bumbling companion, a painful racial stereotype character in blackface. This offensive caricature is my main complaint against the movie.

Still, from a historical perspective, this is an incredible film. Well worth an hour and a half of your time.

1 comment:

Maryann Miller said...

Hey, Anj, great review. If you are interested, you should consider joinging BloggerNews.net and posting the review there.

We just saw the new Indiana Jones movie and I was disappointed. My husband said he loved it and considered it as good as all the rest, but I just found the acting a bit flat, and Harrison Ford was definitely not on top of his game.