THE LOST WORLD (1925): The Lost Film Returns on a Stellar New Blu-ray from Flicker Alley

On September 19th, Flicker Alley will release the original silent The Lost World on Blu-ray in a painstakingly 2K restored edition, the most complete version that has been available since its original exhibition.

As detailed in the essential booklet that comes packaged in this new edition, the road to rediscovering The Lost World was a long and arduous one, spanning decades, involving the coordinated support of owners of various materials, and culminating in a miracle of cinema — a nearly complete version of the film running 110 minutes — almost double the runtime of “highlights” versions that have traditionally been available.

The story is well known; a team of scientists and explorers (and skeptics) treks deep into the South American jungle where the famous — and infamous — Professor Challenger claims to have discovered a world where dinosaurs still roam, trapped in a preserved ecosystem high atop a plateau.

Challenger is joined by the film’s primary protagonist, a young reporter named Ed who seeks to achieve greatness in order to impress and woo the target of his affections. Other members of the party include their mutual friend Sir Roxton and a young woman named Paula, whose father was lost on the previous expedition.

After a first act that sets these pieces into place, the team sets about their trek and it doesn’t take long for them to spot the plentiful beasts that roam the plateau, offering many wonderful scenes of stop motion animation showing the dinosaurs in action – attacking the group, fighting each other, fleeing from threats, etc. One particularly memorable scene features a colorized torch that approximates a tinted version of an earlier print.

Not that a film of this vintage doesn’t come without showing some wrinkles. Some aspects of the filmmaking will naturally feel antiquated, such as the intertitles that seem to hang on the screen forever. But the biggest issue — unsurprisingly for a film of this vintage — is of a cultural nature. Among the party is a blackface character who displays the stereotypes of the era, making googly eyes and pursed lips, and speaking in exaggeratedly boorish dialogue.

Similarly, the character Paula becomes a love interest for Ed, but doesn’t have much function in the story except to provide the key member of an awkward love-quadrilateral, and to constantly look terrified at every new antediluvian threat that rears its head.

Despite whatever connotations a silent film may suggest, The Lost World is immensely engaging. While obviously dated, the stop motion effects look absolutely sublime, and the film’s adventurous spirit shines through the limitations of its format, culminating in a sequence that is a clear progenitor to King Kong, in which a dinosaur is brought back to civilization but breaks free to wreak havoc in the streets.

The Package

The attractive package includes a transparent “Criterion-style” case and a 16-page booklet.

About half of the booklet is dedicated to Serge Bromberg’s detailed account of the fascinating history of the restoration, which is well worth reading. Another page is dedicated to composer Robert Israel’s thoughtful explanation of the new musical score, with the balance of the booklet relaying various production notes and credits.

The restoration is a necessarily invasive one, given the assemblage of materials and impossibility of knowing exactly what audiences saw in 1925. Ancient intertitles have been replaced with high definition ones that are easier to read, and the film’s colorful tinted palette employs a bit of guesswork to codify scenes the way they may have once looked — yellow indoors, green in the jungle, blue at night, etc. The bold colors are a bit too vivid for my taste, but what the hell do I know? Similarly, a new musical score has been created to accompany the newly expanded restoration, without being intrusive or repetitive.

What it really comes down to — and this is key — is that this has all been done very lovingly and reverently, trying to preserve the original elements and intentions to the greatest possible degree.

Special Features and Extras

Deleted Scenes (9:25)
Black and white test footage “from a 1925 original nitrate transfer”. My favorite part of these snippets is that the puppeteers can sometimes be seen in the shots, revealing their true scale.

Short Films by Willis O’Brien

Three films from the effects pioneer responsible for the film’s stop motion sequences.

  • R.F.D. 10,000 B.C. (1917, 8:59)
    Set in prehistoric times, a rural mail carrier with a dinosaur-drawn car competes for the affection of a cave-woman. Produced by Thomas Edison, this entirely stop-motion comedy is mainly of interest a technical curiosity and “Modern Stone-Age” backdrop that preconfigures The Flintstones.
  • The Ghost of Slumber Mountain (1918, 13:32)
    An explorer is visited by a ghost who leads him to a magic telescope that can view the dinosaur-filled past.
  • Creation (1930, 5:17)
    An unfinished film mixing live action and stop motion animation; which served as a proof-of-concept for King Kong.

Audio Commentary by Nicolas Ciccone

Image Gallery

Author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, seen in the film’s introduction.

A/V Out.

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Except where noted, all 16:9 screen images in this review are direct captures from the disc(s) in question with no editing applied, but may have slight compression inherent to file formats. All package photography was taken by the reviewer.

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