AVAILABLE ON BLU-RAY AND DVD
RUNNING TIME: 97 mins
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
Famed biologist and anthropologist Professor Challenger returns from a trip to the Amazon Basin and immediately knocks Global News reporter Ed Malone down the plane steps. At a London Zoological Society lecture, he talks of live dinosaurs on a plateau and is met with ridicule. He then challenges the Society to mount another expedition to verify his story. Along for the ride are Malone, big game hunter John Roxton, Jennifer Holmes the daughter of the Golbal News owner, Jennifer’s younger brother David, rival professor Summerlee, Latin American guide Gomez and his pal Costa….
I was a dinosaur lover from a very early age and I distinctly recall my first viewing of the 1960 remake of The Lost World, especially my incredulity and irritation when Professor Challenger identifies a prehistoric creature as a Brontosaurus yet the lizard with some plates stuck on its back [looking far more like a Stegosaurus] was absolutely nothing like one. I sided with the guy who then says to him: “You’re insane”. Back then I just couldn’t understand how a film could get something so wrong. Of course films can often get things wrong and this version isn’t much beloved by monster movie fans though I imagine it would have thrilled many kids back in the day who weren’t in the know. My initial plan was to just review the 1925 The Lost World but was curious to see the 1960 version after about 20 years as long as I could obtain it cheaply – so am now throwing in this review too. No, it’s not very good, a bland, pedestrian and almost wholly unconvincing effort whose employment of the much derided technique of using actual lizards with things stuck on them certainly isn’t its only problem but could be its most notable. They did this first in One Million B.C. [not to be confused with its remake One Million Years B.C.], but that 1940 movie is otherwise really rather good and certainly interesting. This one is neither and one may wonder how it all went so wrong.
In fact it could have been marvelous. Willis O’ Brien, who of course did the special effects for the original, had been trying to set up a remake for many years. At one point Universal agreed to make it with Jack Arnold directing but he fell ill and the project was cancelled. Eventually 20th Century Fox picked it up and Irwin Allen, the producer later famous for his sci-fi TV series and disaster movies, happy to make it. He wanted to use stop motion for the dinosaurs and even got O’ Brien, whose career was full of unmade projects, to do lots of pre-production sketches of dinosaurs, but Fox drastically slashed the budget of this and several other films because the costs of Cleopatra were spiralling out of control. This also meant that Allen’s plan to cast Trevor Howard and Peter Ustinov in support to Claude Rains also couldn’t come to fruition. David Hedison didn’t want to play Malone because he thought the material was lacking [he wasn’t wrong], but was talked into it and afterwards was offered the lead of Allen’s hit TV series Voyage To the Bottom Of The Sea. No doubt helped immensely by the fact that Fox’s similar but far superior Journey To The Centre Of The Earth had been a hit the previous year, The Lost World did score big at the cinema. Oddly enough, the BBFC passed it uncut, yet One Million B.C. had to be censored to remove some shots of obvious animal cruelty. Footage from The Lost World turned up in several later Allen productions as well as Hammer’s When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth.
This version opening with a plane landing immediately gets one thinking how absurd its updated setting is, because the plateau and its inhabitants would easily have been spotted from the air by 1960. On the other hand, later on we’re told that the plateau is unscalable and can only be reached from above, which is quite a good device. Right from the beginning it’s obvious that this one bares hardly any relation to the novel at all, despite the amusing sight of the reporter-hating Challenger assaulting Malone in full view of loads of people. We get the speech, but some of the characters and their relationships have been tweaked. Malone no longer has a fiancee so has less motivation to go on this crazy journey, and Roxton is already involved with the female heroine Jennifer who here is the daughter of the owner of Malone’s newspaper. Challenger forbids Jennifer to come but she turns up at the last civilised outpost anyway with a younger brother David in tow. Summerlee, two South Americans and Jennifer’s pet poodle make up the rest of a slightly larger expedition. Once again they’re following in the footsteps of others, but we do get to the plateau quite quickly and the build-up to the first dinosaur is well done, it being night-time and some genuinely effective roars getting louder and louder. In fact even the shots of the partially glimpsed big lizard moving behind some trees are quite effective. However, the day for night shooting, as it is elsewhere in the movie, is just atrocious. Not a single nocturnal scene looks anywhere near nocturnal.
The staging and writing is generally shoddy throughout though. Cast members tend to stand there and pose while somebody delivers some information. Out of the two Latin Americans, one of them tries to assault Jennifer [which, though lasting only a few seconds, seems out of place in such a kid-aimed production] and the other turns out to be a devious sort who’s really after some diamonds [there’s a crude link to the fabled lost city of Eldorado] as well as being out for revenge against Challenger for leaving his brother to die during his earlier expedition – yet changing sides towards the end for some dumb reason. Our two love birds fall out for an equally dumb reason, and we then see the obviously fickle Jennifer fixing her gaze on Malone, clearly ‘targeting’ him, though there’s no sense of a romance following. Meanwhile her little brother falls for a pretty native girl whom the group immediately decide to ‘capture’. Eventually, after one has almost had enough of the acres of horrid scripting and poor handling with the odd ill-treated lizard thrown in, we do eventually get quite a good finale, possibly inspired by the one in Tarzan Escapes, as the group tries to escape through a secret passageway down to freedom. It delivers a few thrills, but then the volcano erupts and all we see is an explosion in comparision to the original’s big set piece, though this is in keeping with a film that also can’t be bothered to show the helicopter being knocked by a dinosaur off the cliff edge. And then an egg hatches, Challenger again shows his lack of knowledge by calling it a baby Tyrannosaurus Rex, and the thing then thankfully ends with no return to civilisation.
The animal stars are obviously poked and prodded to make them fight each other, doused in chemicals to make it look like they’re in lava, and full of adornments which must have been painful to wear. Their scenes do make good use of miniature trees and rocks and better-than-average back projection, the technicians obviously doing their very best to make the most out of what they’ve got. The sets themselves though, some of which look they were recycled from Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, tend to lack imagination – it was obviously thought that spraying some plants in the studio forest set with different colours and adding a few large paper fungi were all that were required to realise a tropical jungle. There’s a chase through a tunnel made from a spider’s web material which is promising, only for a superimposed green day-glo toy spider to suddenly pop up for a couple of seconds in a pitiful attempt at a scare. I’m actually a great fan of old style effects, but this film should be have been a great deal more technically impressive than it turned out to be.
I’ve read criticisms of Rains’s performance, and the 71 year old actor is somewhat miscast, but he makes the most of the role despite the often nonsensical dialogue he’s given. Michael Rennis also seems wrong for Roxton and the less said about future Bond girl Jill St. John the better. Another 007 alumni and the best of all Felix Leiters Hedison is quite likeable as Malone but must have been told to act as goofy as possible [main characteristic in the first half – a cold which comes at the worst times]. The score by Bert Shafter and Paul Sawtell often feels appropriately adventurous and has some exciting passages though nothing really memorable. I’m a big fan of dinosaur movies and other lost world-type tales like She, but I have to say that this version of The Lost World is a loser in most respects and for us adults a bit of a chore to get through in places. As for kids – it may entertain some who are too young to see Jurassic Park, but you’re better off showing them One Million Years B.C. or The Land That Time Forgot.