'The Lost World' - The 1925 Film
Created | Updated Dec 14, 2020
The 1925 Film | The Television Series | The 2001 BBC Adaptation
The Lost World is without doubt one of the most influential films of all time. It was the first full-length special effects and science fiction film1, the first 'creature feature', a film in which a monster rampages through a city, attacking famous landmarks, and the first film starring dinosaurs.
It was also the first full-length film to feature animation. Although Disney's full-length Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was the first to be fully animated throughout, using hand-drawn techniques, The Lost World paved the way 12 years earlier with a mixture of live action and stop-motion animation2.
Not Quite Black-And-White
The Lost World is a silent, black and white film, although it was originally tinted3 to portray mood and time of day. Tints used include red for the volcano scenes and blue for late night scenes, adding an effective atmosphere. The original organ soundtrack accompaniment is effective if occasionally repetitive. Modern releases of The Lost World on DVD often give the option of viewing the film with more recent soundtracks.
|Sir Arthur Conan Doyle||Himself|
|Edward Malone||Lloyd Hughes|
|Professor Challenger||Wallace Beery|
|Sir John Roxton||Lewis Stone|
|Paula White||Bessie Love|
|Professor Summerlee||Arthur Hoyt|
|Gladys Hungerford||Alma Bennett|
|Mrs Challenger||Margaret McWade|
|Colin McArdle||George Bunny|
|Austin||Francis Finch Smiles|
|Jocko the Monkey||Himself|
Dinosaurs seen in the film:
- Tyrannosaurus Rex
Over 50 dinosaur models were made, based on drawings by Charles Knight6. The animation team was led by Willis O'Brien (who would later animate King Kong). He was assisted by Marcel Delgado, who made the models, and Ralph Hammeras, who made the sets. The dinosaur models were designed around a jointed metal skeleton known as an armature to allow them to be moved realistically in stop-motion animation. The models included internal balloon bladders that could be inflated and deflated to give the impression that the dinosaurs were breathing. A special gel to imitate slobber was also used around the animals' mouths for added realism.
The dinosaurs, with one exception, were animated on sets which measured six by four feet long, which were built three feet off the ground. The trees were all fixed rigidly to the sets with the trunks and leaves all made of metal to prevent accidental movement while the dinosaurs were being animated. The largest set was that used for the volcano and stampede sequence. This was a 75×150 foot stage that featured all 50 dinosaur models.
Although the dinosaurs and the actors are frequently seen on the screen at the same time7, they do not interact with each other apart from at the climatic end sequence where the brontosaurus rampages through the streets of London. For this sequence a full-size replica tail, head and foot of the brontosaurus were built to add to the illusion.
Some of the dinosaur models used in the film were later collected by Forrest J Ackerman8. Although the models were poorly looked after and the outer rubber skin eventually disintegrated, the metallic armatures still survive.
Ray Harryhausen informs us how the models were on display in the early 1930s:
I was also lucky that the Los Angeles Museum had at that time an exhibition... amongst the items on display were model dinosaurs from 'The Lost World'... all of which were gifts from Willis O'Brien. I spent hours at that exhibition learning everything I could from the models and miniature props.
The Plot of the Film
Newspaper reporter Ed Malone proposes to Gladys, who rejects him, saying that she will only marry someone daring and brave. Later that day, he goes to a meeting to report on Professor Challenger's claims that he knows the whereabouts of a 'lost world' populated by dinosaurs. At the meeting, Professor Challenger is laughed at, but a committee is formed to give him the opportunity to defend his claims. His chief critic, Professor Summerlee, agrees to travel with Challenger so he can expose him as a fraud. Lord John Roxton, a famous hunter, signs up to accompany the expedition, and Malone attempts to also, wishing to impress Gladys.
Later, Professor Challenger introduces Roxton and Malone to Paula White, daughter of the explorer Maple White, who is believed to be missing in this lost world. Malone agrees to join the expedition; his newspaper will pay for the costs in exchange for exclusive publication rights.
Challenger, Summerlee, Roxton, Malone and Paula White travel to South America, up the Amazon to a strange plateau. This cannot be reached from the outside world as its vertical sides are unclimbable. They reach this by climbing a neighbouring pinnacle and crossing through using a makeshift bridge from a tree they chop down there. On the plateau, they do indeed discover several dinosaurs as well as a vicious apeman, but are stranded when a brontosaurus knocks the bridge down.
They witness a tyrannosaurus rex attacking a brontosaurus; the brontosaurus falls from the plateau into a pool of mud, where it is trapped. Around this time, Malone realises that he has fallen in love with Paula, who is also admired by John Roxton. Roxton discovers the body of Maple White, as well as a way off the plateau, with the assistance of Jocko the monkey. As the explorers escape, a volcano erupts and the ape-man attempts to prevent their leaving the plateau, but is shot by Roxton. They discover the trapped brontosaurus just as a rescue party arrives, and the brontosaurus is transported to London. Here it escapes, smashing statues, houses and Tower Bridge, before swimming off to sea. Malone discovers that Gladys has in the meantime married a particularly dull man, and her wanting to marry a hero was a girlish whim. Delighted, he runs off to be with Paula, and Lord Roxton gives the happy couple his blessing as the brontosaurus swims into the sunset.
The Lost World is a film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1912 novel of the same name. Conan Doyle was a world-famous writer, best known for creating Sherlock Holmes, but was fondest of his historical novels, including The White Company and Sir Nigel, as well as his Professor Challenger stories, of which The Lost World was the first and finest.
Conan Doyle's novel was the second published work about dinosaurs still existing in modern times, after Jules Verne's 1864 novel Journey to the Centre of the Earth, but the first to be written in English. It was written shortly before the 1918 classic The Land That Time Forgot by Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of Tarzan and John Carter of Mars9, and as in The Land That Time Forgot, scientific accuracy takes second place to the narrative and spirit of adventure.
Conan Doyle originally appeared in a prologue of the film where he examined the models used for The Lost World and sat down in front of a typewriter to write the novel, but this original footage is lost. Instead, modern versions have inserted contemporary newsreel footage of him.
Before the release of the film, in June, 1922, Conan Doyle showed early footage of the dinosaurs to the annual banquet of the Society of American Magicians, to which he had been invited by Harry Houdini. This amazed the society, leading Conan Doyle to later write, It struck me that it would be very amusing if I could mystify the mystifiers.
The main character of Ed Malone is believed to have been inspired by the journalist Edmund Dene Morel, who campaigned against human rights abuses in the Congo Free State and shared Ed Malone's initials, and by Conan Doyle's newspaper editor friend Bertram Fletcher Robinson. Lord Roxton was based on Roger Casement, who investigated human rights abuses in the Congo Free State in 1903. This led to the creation of the Belgian Congo as opposed to being the personal fiefdom of King Leopold II of Belgium. In 1906 Roger Casement was sent to investigate human rights abuses and slavery in Peru, and after The Lost World was published became a militant advocate of Irish independence. Conan Doyle based his character of Professor Challenger on Professor William Rutherford, who had taught him at Edinburgh University, as well as the zoologist Charles Wyville Thomson, who led an expedition to explore 69,000 nautical miles on board a ship named HMS Challenger.
The Lost World's plateau was inspired by Percy Harrison Fawcett's expedition to Mount Roraima on the border between Venezuela, Brazil and British Guyana. Mount Roraima is the highest and largest of the Pakaraima chain of tepui plateaus in South America. A tepui is a 'table top' or flat-topped mountain. There are over a hundred such plateaus in South America and their appearance is identical to that of the plateau in the film, only without the dinosaurs.
Differences between Film and Novel
The film and Conan Doyle's original novel are different in several respects. These include minor changes, for instance in the film the port they leave England from is Liverpool rather than Southampton. The volcano sequence too is a new addition that owes more to The Land That Time Forgot, although the novel does suggest that the plateau may have been formed by the activity of a volcano now long extinct.
The main difference is the ending. In the novel, Professor Challenger brings a baby pterodactyl back to London to prove to the unbelievers that his adventures were true. It escapes, frightens a few people, then flies away. In the film, however, it is a fully grown brontosaurus that is brought to the capital of the Empire; it promptly escapes to rampage through the streets before breaking Tower Bridge.
Other differences include additional characters. The love interest of Paula White, the search for her lost father Maple White and the subsequent love triangle between Malone, Paula and Lord Roxton are all additions to the film.
The film also excludes the plateau's indigenous native human population as well as all but removing the 'Missing Link' apeman culture.
Along with the addition of the character Paula White, there is the plot element of the love shown by Jocko the Monkey towards her. Jocko was instrumental in rescuing the explorers by his climbing the great heights of the plateau in order to save Paula. This idea was later to feature prominently in special effects creator Willis O'Brien's next finished film, the 1933 classic King Kong.
The Making of the Film
In 1920 Willis O'Brien first proposed a full-length adaptation of The Lost World, and by 1923 had persuaded First National Pictures to fund it. Filming took over 14 months between 1923 and 1925.
The script for the film was written by Marian Fairfax in such a way that it could be adapted should the untried dinosaur effects not work. The film was designed to succeed even if all the dinosaurs were left out. First National Pictures were worried about whether this all-but-untried technique would work even though Willis O'Brien had, between 1914 and 1917, made five short stop-motion animated films featuring dinosaurs.
In fact, the dinosaur filming techniques were very successful; more than enough dinosaur footage was created, with over ten minutes of dinosaur footage filmed that was not used in the film. Many of these scenes were kept in storage in the Warner Brothers stock shot library, and are now available to view as extras on DVD versions of the film.
The film also makes the most of the Amazonian setting by showing a plethora of jungle animals10. These include capuchin monkeys, chimpanzees, lizards, snakes, alligators, jaguar, macaw, spectacled bears and sloth. Many of these are the clever use of stock footage, but add greatly to the spirit of adventure of the film.
Dame Jean Conan Doyle, daughter of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, when interviewed in the early 21st Century about her father's reaction to the film, stated that he was pleased with it and amazed at the animation.
The original 105-minute version of The Lost World was destroyed in 1929 by First National Pictures when it was believed that a sound remake version of the film would soon be forthcoming.
A 50-minute copy of the film existed, and for decades this was the only version available. Then, in 1992, an almost complete version 94 minutes long was discovered in Prague. Although ten minutes of the original film have been lost, including the original prologue and scenes relating to the journey to the plateau, the spirit of the dinosaur adventure remains intact.
Many films have been influenced by The Lost World. The following are perhaps those that it has had the greatest influence on:
After the worldwide success of The Lost World, there were plans to make a sound-version remake. However, this was not to be. The film studio First National Pictures, who had been in favour of the project, were undergoing a turbulent time. Formed during the Great War, the studio began as an alliance of independent cinemas who began creating their own films in 1924. In the late 1920s, this new film studio was considered an attractive target by the established film studios, with Paramount buying out some of the independent cinemas supporting First National and Warner Brothers purchasing a controlling interest in the studio in September 1928. In this corporate takeover environment, all attempts to make an expensive effects film such as the sound remake of The Lost World were at first delayed and finally abandoned.
With the rights to remake The Lost World tied up with First National, Willis O'Brien attempted in the early 1930s to make a similar film with a different studio, RKO11. This was to be named Creation and the plot was very loosely based on Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel The Land That Time Forgot12, with some elements re-used from The Lost World. These include the female lead having a pet monkey, in this case called Chico rather than Jocko. Creation also featured a volcano eruption, a family of triceratops and fights between dinosaurs. However, as this expensive film was being made during the time of the Great Depression, this too was abandoned after filming began for reasons of both cost and an unoriginal plot.
Many of the models made for Creation, however, and some of the planned sequences were later re-used in one of RKO's most famous films, 1933's King Kong. This featured a mysterious, just-discovered land with dinosaurs still living there, as well as the eponymous giant ape. The ape is captured and brought back to civilisation, but escapes and rampages through a huge city, in this case New York. Ray Harryhausen, in an interview about how he worked, stated:
I submit drawings and I work very close with the writers and they'd write these drawings into the script in a logical way. Willis O'Brien worked this way too. He submitted many ideas for King Kong. Some of his ideas came from Creation, so many ideas came from The Lost World, which were incorporated by the writer and, of course, they get the credit for it.
Ray Harryhausen was possibly the greatest proponent of stop-motion animation in the film industry. He was Willis O'Brien's protégé, and worked closely with him on Mighty Joe Young. In his book An Animated Life, Harryhausen describes how he was influenced by The Lost World.
It was in 1925 that I saw The Lost World. This was heady stuff for such a young mind... Although I was only five at the time, The Lost World made a huge impression on me, especially the scene where a huge brontosaurus falls off the plateau and into a lake of mud where it lies struggling... The image of that brontosaurus kept reappearing in my mind's eye, and from that moment I knew I wasn't alone in my fascination with dinosaurs.
Harryhausen would also incorporate the breathing techniques used in the dinosaur models in The Lost World in his later films, in particular 20 Million Miles to Earth (1957).
After Willis O'Brien's death in 1962, Harryhausen brought one of O'Brien's unmade projects to life – 1969's Valley Of Gwangi.
The Jurassic Park Trilogy
The Jurassic Park movies are not direct adaptations of Conan Doyle's novel, as the dinosaurs are created by scientists from preserved DNA, rather than still living in the wild. Nevertheless, they owe much to the novel and the 1925 film. The second film in the series, which is even named Jurassic Park: The Lost World, ends with a dinosaur brought back to civilisation, where it escapes and goes on the rampage.
Up is a charming Pixar animated film that has many similarities with The Lost World. First of all, much of the film takes place on a tepui plateau in South America. This, known as Paradise Falls, is described in the newsreel at the start as 'a lost world in South America'. The black and white newsreel footage itself appears very similar to The Lost World, and Paradise Falls has a pinnacle next to the plateau on its right, just as in the film The Lost World the plateau is shown with a pinnacle to its right.
Up's character of Charles Muntz comes across as an evil cross between Professor Challenger and Lord Roxton. Physically he is like Lord Roxton as he is portrayed in the film, old and with a thin moustache, and like Lord Roxton he is a hunter13. Like Professor Challenger who was mocked on his first return from South America, Charles Muntz too was mocked and vowed to return with living proof – which in The Lost World Professor Challenger does with the live brontosaurus. In Up, however, it is a live bird that is brought back.
The plot of Kevin the bird seems loosely based on a section from the novel The Lost World where in both Chapter 16 'A Procession! A Procession!' and Chapter 15 ' Our Eyes Have Seen Great Wonders' a bird similar to Kevin in Up appears. This is described as a great running bird, far taller than an ostrich, with a vulture-like neck and cruel head which made it a walking death...the great creature, twelve feet from head to foot.
Russell in Up is the equivalent of Ed Malone in the 1925 film version of The Lost World, where he comes across as an average, clumsy comic man, rather than the international rugby player of the novel. Just as in the film Ed Malone embarks to impress one woman, his intended fiancée, but gets another, so Russell begins the film hoping to impress his distant father but gets another father figure in the form of Mr Fredricksen.
Remakes and Subsequent Adaptations
There have been several remakes and other versions of The Lost World. Almost all of these have been called 'The Lost World'. These include:
- The Lost World (1960), an Irwin Allen film.
- The Lost World (1992) and sequel Return to the Lost World (1992), both well made with a good cast starring John Rhys-Davies and David Warner.
- The Lost World (1998), with Patrick Bergin as Professor Challenger - a poor, cheap film where the action takes place in Mongolia rather than South America.
- Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World, 1999-2002, an entertaining television series with Peter McCauley as Challenger.
- The Lost World, a high quality 2001 television two-part adventure made by the BBC, starring Bob Hoskins and James Fox.
For the most part these have used inferior effects to create the illusion of dinosaurs. Techniques have included filming lizards and alligators from low angles to make them look big – in the 1960 movie, an iguana unconvincingly portrayed an iguanadon – as well as using people in rubber costumes. With the invention of computer-generated effects, the quality of the dinosaurs improved immensely.