The For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon is aiming to raise $10,000, which will cover laboratory costs for the film’s preservation as well as a new score for the film’s web premiere. As the group has done in the past the preserved work will be available free of charge to everyone online at the NFPF website. Before you read on please consider making a donation. If you’ve stopped by this site it’s likely you are a fan of motion pictures meaning it’s your responsibility as well as mine to do all we can to ensure the legacy of early films lasts as long as possible. Visit and like the For the Love of Film: The Film Preservation Blogathon Facebook page to stay current on updates and prizes secured for this event. And donate – any amount.
“With every American film saved, we rescue a piece of our history.”
Since this edition of the Film Preservation Blogathon has a science fiction overarching theme my topic is the first film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s tale about prehistoric creatures still roaming the Earth. That is, Harry O. Hoyt’s The Lost World (1925), which has had an interesting road to preservation in its own right. Before I get to the film and its story, however, I must thank Kimberly Bastin of Flicker Alley for sending me a screener copy of the film to view for this commentary.
Not having seen The Lost World for quite some time I often credit the masterful King Kong (1933), one of my all-time favorite movies, with setting the stage for the many monster movies that followed. It’s common knowledge, for instance, that the stop-motion animation used in Kong influenced the great Ray Harryhausen whose work remains a landmark in the history of dimensional stop-motion animation. But it was the work of Willis O’Brien the stop-motion animation pioneer who was responsible for Kong’s majesty. O’Brien and Harryhausen worked together years later on Ernest B. Schoedsack’s Mighty Joe Young (1949) and the stop-motion torch was officially passed.
As impressive a work as King Kong remains it was his work in the landmark 1925 film The Lost World that set Willis O’Brien apart. Not only does Kong owe the animation and much of its story to this silent predecessor, but the film’s legacy extends to Godzilla, Jurassic Park (1993)and their respective prequels and sequels. Although it is largely forgotten today The Lost World must be recognized as a major milestone in the history of cinematic special effects and its legacy duly noted. Thanks to the film preservation efforts of George Eastman House and individuals the world over we have this groundbreaking film to enjoy today – almost in its entirety.
For decades The Lost World could be seen only in an abridged version of about an hour in length, which is what I remember seeing of the film prior to viewing the edition available from the Blackhawk Films Collection presented by Flicker Alley as part of its Manufactured-On-Demand (MOD) DVDs. This version, which is a rerelease of what was the 2001 Image Entertainment version of The Lost World includes portions of eight prints making it the most complete reconstruction of the original work possible. How The Lost World came to be lost makes for quite an interesting story. Here’s an abridged version:
Upon its original, 1925 release The Lost World was a ten-reel, almost 108-minute movie. The movie made the circuit at that length until 1929 when the widow of the film’s producer who held the rights to the story entered into an agreement with the film’s distributor, First National, to withdraw The Lost World from circulation. At that time all known positive prints and negatives were destroyed with only a five-reel, abridged version of the movie approved for distribution to schools, churches, etc. That edited, 35mm negative used to create subsequent 16mm negatives survived and ended up at George Eastman House in the 1950s. Through the years the original trailer and 35mm excerpts of the movie were found and held at the Library of Congress and with private collectors, which combined with the original, abridged version represented the most complete 35mm print of The Lost World known to exist. (Silent Era) This compilation of the movie also included animation outtakes by Willis O’Brien, which are included in the Flicker Alley rerelease.
In any case – fast forward to 1992 and the news that a nearly complete 35mm print of The Lost World was being held at the Filmovy Archiv in Prague, Czechoslovakia. George Eastman House initiated a reconstruction project and more than $80,000 was collected to cover the costs. (Silent Era)
It gives one pause to even consider that an influential film like The Lost World might have been lost forever. It certainly opens one’s eyes to the importance of film preservation and why events such as the Film Preservation Blogathon deserve attention.
In a couple of decades when kids step into multiplexes to see Jurassic Park XXIII we should all hope they’re familiar with the one that started it all. And the story – even decades from now – is likely to be recognizable because as far as I’ve seen these monster descendants don’t stray far from the 1925 screen adaptation by Marion Fairfax, based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel.
Now to The Lost World, which aside from a few noticeable bumps where I assume the missing pieces should go, looks terrific in the Flicker Alley rerelease. The film is accompanied by affecting, adventurous music composed and performed by the Alloy Orchestra. The prehistoric creatures directed by Willis O’Brien include a Stegosaurus, Allosaurus, Brontosaurus, Triceratops and Pterodactyl while the 1920s humans directed by Harry O. Hoyt include Wallace Beery, Bessie Love, Lewis Stone and Lloyd Hughes. The encounter between the species is – as previously mentioned – a familiar story. Led by Professor Challenger (Beery) an expedition goes into a remote part of the Amazon to prove that a world long thought lost is still in existence. Challenger (is that a great name for a character or what?!) is mocked when he tells the masses of the lost world, but it doesn’t take long for his esteemed expedition mates to find themselves close to prehistoric creatures. Accompanying Professor Challenger is a famous scientist (Hoyt), a journalist (Hughes), a hunter and explorer (Stone), and the daughter of an explorer who disappeared in an earlier expedition (Love) to be faced with prehistoric creatures.
Adding to the adventure in The Lost World, which there is plenty of, is a romantic component also present in all its successors – a love story forged in peril. And then of course you get the character with the dumb idea to bring one of the creatures into modern civilization without forethought about the chaos that will ensue. Interestingly The Lost World features a Brontosaurus front and center in (then) modern-day London causing all sorts of havoc. In subsequent movies featuring dinosaurs the Brontosaurus is usually portrayed as the tame sort that grazes while more evil cousins like the T-Rex do all the dirty work.
The Lost World makes for excellent entertainment with interesting characters despite the missing pieces. There is little doubt, however, that the main reason to watch this is for the special effects. Specifically the work of Mr. O’Brien, which by all accounts survived in its entirety after the preservation efforts were completed. This movie, the ‘found’ The Lost World is a great example of why we should do all we can to ensure other classics don’t go extinct.