If you (and your kids) like "Lost in Space," you're going to like Irwin Allen's version of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adventure.

James Plath's picture

You've got to love Irwin Allen . . . or not.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Lost World" gets the "Lost in Space" treatment from Allen, complete with those stagey-looking forest paths and tunnels completely made out of spider webbing. Some of the rocks look just as phony, the dialog is just as campy, and the adventures are just about as accurate as if his old Robinson family were still roaming about strange planets populated by strange flora and fauna. In fact, some of the giant red water-lily shaped plants and the clinging tendril vines seem as if they were reused from the old TV series, they're so similar.

That's not the only TV presence. David Hedison ("Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea") plays a reporter who goes along on this expedition to prove that a wacked-out professor isn't THAT nuts . . . and that he really did see dinosaurs on an isolated plateau somewhere in the Amazon jungles.

Some of the early footage is gorgeous, but that soon gives way to obvious soundstage sets and Allen's trademark treatments. Even veterans like Claude Rains, as the specious professor, or Michael Rennie as the playboy-hunter who tags along, can't save this one from an ultimate tedium that sets in around the middle of the second act.

The thing is, Allen pitched "Lost in Space" at kids and their parents, with the emphasis on the juvenile and the hope that mom and dad would think it campy fun. He uses the same approach here, and it might have worked in 1960. Certainly, shots of the crowd at a premiere show kids that are so freshly scrubbed and golly-gee naïve that they'd be awestruck by the simple prospect that dinosaurs might exist during contemporary times.

But kids today? My nine-year-old son, who was a dinosaur expert by age five, got the giggles every time another terrible lizard took the stage. I giggled myself, because Allen used the same technique that filmmakers did with the old Buster Crabbe Flash Gordon serials. They glued crowns, horns, collars, spiny plates, and spikey tails onto common monitor lizards, iguanas, and even a baby caiman! It's the latter that looks the most ridiculous, and probably kept them from running the usual disclaimer at film's end (that no animals were harmed during the making of this film). As the baby caiman with his sharp teeth takes on the cartilage-jawed baby monitor, you get the feeling that the monitor had a few bumps and bruises by the end of the shot.

My point is, the special effects in this show are right out of the '20s, and the artificiality of the sets doesn't exactly reinforce the illusion that the dinosaurs and this lost world are believable. Campy? Sure. Real? Not really. It also doesn't help that Professor Challenger, the supposed expert of the group, keeps pointing out dinosaurs and identifying them as something else. A baby "T-Rex" looks like a tokay gecko-not even close-while a lizard without long necks is identified as "a brontosaurus." Kids today are pretty sophisticated, and won't tolerate such silliness. Like, what T-Rex do you know of that's capable of surviving in a lava pit? No, if Allen's "Lost World" is to be appreciated, it's to be appreciated as another example of '60s campiness and light entertainment.

It all begins with a jolly laugh, as Professor Challenger is ridiculed in a public forum, during which he challenges his rival, Professor Summerlee (Richard Haydn) to go back with him to the site. Money is only briefly an issue, for the head of a news organization puts up the cash IF newsman Ed Malone (Hedison) can go along. Also volunteering is billionaire-adventurer Lord John Roxton (Michael Rennie), an egotist who thinks that the publisher's daughter he's been dating has shown up at base camp against orders because she wants his "title." If that's the case, why did she bring along her brother (Ray Stricklyn)? Professor Summerlee comes along, and rounding out the expedition is a timid local guide named Costa (Jay Novello) and a guitar-strumming helicopter pilot named Gomez (Fernando Lamas).

In the early going, the narrative actually has a head of steam, and we can forgive some of the miscues and obvious "Lost in Space" re-steps. But as those re-steps start to mount and become missteps, the expedition (and the plot) really lose steam around the two-thirds point of the film. When a feature about dinosaurs doesn't hold the attention of juveniles, you know you've got a problem. It slows down and gets talky just about the time we crave more action, and bogs down further when "natives" are introduced--including a girl who looks about as prehistoric as Raquel Welch did in "One Million Years B.C." Oh, yeah, and they speak English and shoot rifles because of an earlier expedition. And that's not even considering the diamonds that further muddy the plot. Kids may forgive a slow start (it takes 34 minutes before we hear the first guttural roar), but when a film slows down after it gets going, young viewers are going to start fidgeting.

Still, this version of "The Lost World" might be a welcome addition to family video libraries because there are so few adventure films out there that aren't frightening for the youngest children. This one is pretty tame in all respects, with a G rating.

It's brave of the studio to include, as one of the bonus features, the first film adaptation of Doyle's novel, because the black-and-white 1925 silent movie actually has some special effects that are more interesting than Allen's baby lizards and caiman. And the dinosaurs LOOK like recognizable dinosaurs, rather than made-up creatures from another planet. The entire film is included, and it might be a great way to introduce children who know how to read to that part of America's movie history.

"The Lost World" is presented in 2.35:1 widescreen. There's a slight graininess throughout, but the colors, as you'd hope, are bright and fully saturated.

Audio options are an English Dolby 4.0 Surround, and English 2.0 Stereo, and a French or Spanish Mono track. Subtitles are in English (CC) and Spanish. For 4.0, the sound is actually pretty decent.

The big treat here is the complete 1925 black-and-white version of "The Lost World" starring Wallace Beery, Bessie Love, Lloyd Hughes, and Lewis Stone. Slow in spots, it's nonetheless fascinating, with some memorable scenes (as when a brontosaurus takes the log-bridge the explorers used to cross into the lost world and drops it down a huge crevice, stranding them, or when a group of small dinosaurs feed on another).

The other extras that relate to the Allen film really don't amount to much. The original theatrical trailer is included, along with a comic book (that you can't read--too small) and still gallery. A making-of featurette is only so-so. The best of this bunch is actually a Fox Movietone Newsreel showing a busload of kids being taken to see "The Lost World."

Bottom Line:
If you (and your kids) like "Lost in Space," you're going to like Irwin Allen's version of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle adventure. But be warned that it's hokey, and your juvenile dinosaur experts will get quite a laugh.


Film Value