Harry O. Hoyt's The Lost World Is Found Anew
This isn’t because I can’t find silent films of merit: I can, but it’s just that having grown up (and old) with the vastly improved delivery of sound makes going back to a markedly different format occasionally difficult. For example, the narrative pacing of silent pictures tends to almost begrudgingly allow for the slowest readers on Earth to take in every possible nuance from card inserts (those clips of written speech), and I find myself wishing from time to time for all of it to speed up. While the visuals and performances are enough to maintain my interest, I almost wish there were a way to dub in a vocal track for those of us with ‘challenged’ attention spans (blasphemous, I know), but – as they say – it is what it is.
However, I do a fair amount of research in the realm of Science Fiction and Fantasy, and when a specific title keeps popping up in my reading I almost always add that feature to my ‘must see’ list; and 1925’s THE LOST WORLD has been near the top of said list for some time. It’s a motion picture that has often been linked with the 1933 version of KING KONG for its dynamic use of stop motion animation in storytelling, demonstrating what was visually possible in cinema’s earlier days. The chief reason I’d held off in exploring any available version of the film was that – from what I’d read – there were just no good ‘cuts’ out there: all known prints were destroyed only a few short years after its release, and THE LOST WORLD in its original form was essentially lost to history.
Lo and behold, Flicker Alley – with a host of other contributors – have achieved what was once unimaginable: they scoured collections around the world, and – having located bits and pieces of footage remaining – they’ve assembled as close as we’re likely ever to see a Blu-ray edition of WORLD for today’s discriminating home video audiences. Furthermore, they’ve given their version a 2K restoration along with an entirely new score, making the disc a ‘must’ for both aficionados of silent pictures and vintage special effects.
So does THE LOST WORLD measure up to its reputation?
For those unaware, WORLD is based on the novel by famed Sherlock Holmes literary creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and tells the story of Professor Challenger’s quest to prove his claim that dinosaurs still walk the Earth on a secret plateau in South America. Scorned by London’s science foundations, Challenger (played by Wallace Beery) gathers a crew of interested explorers – including struggling journalist Ed Malone (Lloyd Hughes) – and sails around the world in search of proof. Eventually, they reach their famed destination, only to find themselves caught up in a race against time as a volcanic eruption threatens the survival of man and beast!
All of that said, I could still make an argument for this particular WORLD being more of an acquired taste. The pacing of the first half is a bit slow (there’s an understandable amount of backstory involved in establishing the handful of characters, some of which ends up being a bit superfluous in retrospect), and not every artistic decision Hoyt employs is clear. WORLD's various segments are kinda/sorta set apart via tinting, and – despite my watching closely – I’m not entirely certain what if anything the director was trying to say about a particular sequence by “coloring” it with a certain color; while some viewers may find that interesting, I honestly thought it was more distracting than it needed to be, and at one point I wished everything had simply been left in black’n’white.
To their credit, Flicker Alley and its partners have loaded this release with a wealth of special features. The packaging includes a written essay exploring the film’s restoration challenges; and the disc itself includes a few related short films, image galleries, and an audio commentary by film historian Nicolas Ciccione: it’s a good track, though I found it a bit light on trivia specific to WORLD as Ciccione spends an inordinate amount of time comparing the picture to the original novel as well as exploring ideas unfilmed from the shooting script, but he does draw useful attention to some gaps still existing in the narrative due the film’s disappearance and reemergence practically a century later. All-in-all, it’s an impressive package, one I’ve spent several hours with already and will probably explore a bit more.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at Flicker Alley provided me with a Blu-ray of THE LOST WORLD by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review; and their contribution to me in no way, shape, or form influenced my opinion of it.