Producer/director Irwin Allen had big plans for this one. He also had the big budget needed to craft a truly spectacular remake of the original 1925 classic silent film. And, he rightly felt that a new movie based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s science fiction masterpiece had better be up to the task. Allen originally intended using the “Stop-Motion animation” technique (made popular by Ray Harryhausen) to bring his prehistoric monsters to life. But, just as production was about to commence, Twentieth-Century Fox, who commissioned the film (and were then experiencing severe monetary shortages, due to production problems with their money guzzling “Cleopatra”) slashed the budgets of nearly every film currently being produced. “The Lost World” was no exception, and Allen’s dreams of a Sci-Fi Spectacular were crushed. Being a resourceful film maker, though, he did the best he could with what he had, and that turned out to be very good indeed.
For his cast, he chose British character actor Claude (“The Invisible Man”) Rains to play the indomitable Professor Challenger, leader of the expedition. As Playboy Johnny Roxton, he cast another British actor, Michael Rennie. David Hedison played newsman Ed Malone, Jill St. John played Jennifer Holmes, daughter of Malone’s publisher and Fernando Lamas was Gomez, the expedition’s pilot. Supporting them were Jay Novello, as a cowardly guide, and Vittina Marcus as a helpful island native girl. Forced to forego his original Stop-Motion technique, Allen had to make do with photographing lizards, alligators and such, adding horns and gills when necessary. The result was pretty much the way it sounds – the creatures this bunch discovered were a long way from prehistoric beasts. Nevertheless, the movie entertains, with truly beautiful wide screen photography, a fantastic collection of colors which really bring the striking sets to eerie life.
As for the performances, they are decent enough. Rains has gotten plenty of criticism over the years for his bombastic Challenger, but that’s the way the character was written, and Rains is true to the material, and highly enjoyable too. Michael Rennie is a bit colorless in his big game hunter part, but he does have some good scenes as well. David Hedison is OK as Malone, who falls for Jennifer (Roxton’s girlfriend) though their romance must have ended up heavily edited, as there’s little evidence of it here. Ms. St John and Ms. Marcus are mainly eye candy, (this WAS the ’60s after all) but act capably enough, though for a woman described as “brave as a lioness”. Jill certainly does a lot of screaming while dressed in a very flattering, if impractical wardrobe (which includes a Toy Poodle). Ray Stricklyn is very persuasive as her rather immature but compassionate brother. Lamas and Novello are the supposed villains of this piece, though Lamas has a reason for his hostility. Allen’s direction is good and the score by Bert Shefter and Paul Sawtell adds immeasurably to the drama and suspense. All in all, the picture is perfect Saturday Matinée fare, and though the script is talky in places, it still delivers the goods at the climax. The movie is a textbook example of a period when celluloid escapism was all viewers demanded, and here, they got it In spades.
Fox Home Video has just released “The Lost World” as a two-disc DVD set, with special features (trailer, newsreels and galleries of promotional material) from the film on disc one, and a restored version (with a few outtakes!) of the 1925 original on disc two. Allen’s film looks wonderful in it’s anamorphic CinemaScope transfer, and after years of suffering through the faded pan-and-scanned prints used for TV and video this is really a revelation. The new stereo soundtracks are equally impressive and make this film, from a producer/director who would one day be known as the “Master of Disaster’, (thanks to such fare as The Poseidon Adventure’ and “The Towering Inferno”) a must have for collectors.