How many firsts can one film have? this historic movie is the first adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's novel of the same name. It was the first dinosaur based fantasy film which inevitably led to more monster/dino movies, the spark that lit the fuse as it were. And it was the first film to show animated models as the main feature within a film, or the main special effect...welcome to the lost world.
This being the first time I have seen the film I was surprised at the fact its basically the very first King Kong film. The plot involves a team of adventures, professors and scientists (and the obligatory female) that venture deep into Venezuela to a large plateau. The reason being firstly to rescue an explorer who has been lost on the plateau and because of his journal that shows sketches of dinosaurs.
So the team set out mainly to rescue but also to try and discover lost dinosaurs and naturally try and bring one back. It wasn't until the later of the film that I realised how much of an early Kong film this was. When they manage to bring a huge Brontosaurus back to London only for it to escape and run amok destroying half of Westminster, I was quite surprised. I really didn't expect to see that, there have been so many similar films that have used this simple premise but its interesting to see the very first of the genre. A little research and you will see the man behind the effects is none other than Willis O'Brien, the man responsible for the mighty Kong and Mighty Joe Young.
But lets not beat around the Jurassic bush here, this film is all about the special effects, it was America's first summer blockbuster if you will. Hell yes it was the first big blockbuster...the film even had product placement in certain scenes, mainly in London at the end.
The film now of course is very rough and has aged badly in places, but in my opinion this actually makes the effects look much better and adds a real sense of grittiness to the proceedings. A combination of stop motion model work and matte paintings set against the scratchy, darkly lit black n white actually brings the whole thing to life and covers any nasty obvious joins that would give away the illusion. Of course the model dinosaurs are somewhat jerky and tend to move erratically at times but in general the creature movements and behavioural habits are surprisingly well created.
When the Allosaurus attacks a baby Triceratops and the parents come to its defense it does actually look quite realistic. Clearly research into the way animals do behave in these situations has been used for the dinosaurs, you half expect a real 'Godzilla-esque' cheese fest but its better than that. The only issue I had with some dinosaur sequences is they felt separate from the characters plot, they didn't really connect in any way, had you taken them out it wouldn't affect the story. Most of them are obviously in there just for the visual spectacle which is fine, you do need some dinosaurs present if you're going down this route. But we mock modern films for doing the same thing don't we hehe.
There is also some brilliant use of scale in the sets and model use. Shots of the massive cliff face they climb to reach the plateau (although I have no idea how on earth they supposedly scaled that cliff as its flippin vertical!), the tree that spanned the deep drop, the mighty cliff face they descended from their cave hideout, the dinosaur fight on another cliff edge...lots of cliffs in the film. They all help to give the film a realistic sense of depth, simple tricks to lull the audience whilst at the same time essential ingredients for adventure yarns.
You can clearly see how the film has influenced so many creature films, from the jungles sequences to the rampage in London, its all very familiar if you've seen other stop motion classics such as Harryhausen's. The later live action sequences are grand too, the amount of extras and cars that we see dashing about in the London sequences is certainly an eye opener. You can see why people in the day thought the film was genuine and it terrified them because it does look like a realistic news reel. I can imagine that various elements of this film scared people back then, this kind of thing had never been seen before. I'll bet the ape-men probably brought gasps of horror as they do look pretty fearsome even now, the black and white accentuates their looks even more.
I can't deny that I did find the plot a little tricky to follow at times. This being a silent film all you get are the odd shots of text with dialog, but at times you don't get much so you're left to guess what's going on. The ending suffers from that to be honest, it fizzles out leaving you kinda wondering what actually happened. One minute there is death and destruction, the next the lead character is kissing the female lead and they drive off into a happy ending. That along with the constant organ (?) soundtrack throughout are the only things that I didn't really like, the music can become irritating as it never really blends properly with the film, seems completely out of place.
Being a monster/creature/dinosaur fan I did enjoy this...musky, grainy, stuffy old visuals included. Its interesting to see the dated effects and the slightly hammy acting and its also interesting historically of course (white guy painted up as a black man! his dialog screen caps also being written as a black man would have spoken at that time...presumably). Its not gonna be for everyone of course and I won't lie and say its a rollercoaster ride of thrills, it can be boring at times, but I think everybody should at least see where it all began.