The Lost World (1925)
Directed by: Harry O. Hoyt
First National Pictures, 1925 (the version we watched was the 93 minute restoration available for instant streaming from Netflix – yes, we’re still talking to Netflix)
For those of you who haven’t seen it, a quick summary of the movie’s premise: After her father, Maple White, was lost on an expedition to the Amazon, Paula White shows her father’s diary to Professor Challenger in hopes of convincing him to lead an expedition to retrieve her father. Professor Challenger takes the drawings in Maple White’s diary as evidence that dinosaurs are still living in the far reaches of the Amazon. The academic community around him, however, finds those same drawings a bit less compelling.
Tired of being excoriated as a crank by the press, wild-haired paleontologist Professor Challenger dares his critics to join him on an expedition to bring back proof. Big game hunter Sir John Roxton, a skeptical fellow professor named Summerlee, intrepid reporter Edward Malone, and of all people, Challenger’s own butler, Austin, all take him up on the challenge. Along for the ride is Paula White, who continues to hope that her father has somehow survived his year with the dinosaurs.
What we thought: Wait, what kind of dinosaur is that?
Watching silent movies with preschoolers is great fun. Maybe it was the overtly campy music, maybe it was the overwrought expressions of the actors, or maybe it was the fact that you could see the bumps and ripples in the clay used to make the dinosaurs, but none of us had any worries that the movie would prove to be too scary for our little Caterpickle. Plus, it was fun for the readers in the crowd to take turns reading the bits of dialogue as they flashed across the screen so that the pre-readers among us could follow along.
It was also really interesting to see which dinosaurs they knew about in the 1920s, and what they thought of them. A swimming Brontosaurus (now called an Apatosaurus) features prominently in the movie. This reminded me immediately of the debunked theory that to support their weight the larger sauropods would have lived in water. My husband pointed out however, that for much of the movie, the Brontosaurus is shown on land. He just swims in the Thames at the end as he hightails it out of London. Which raised the question: could sauropods swim? To which my daughter naturally replied, “Mommyo, why don’t you ask Caterpickles?”
Other dinosaurs in the movie are nearly as antiquated as the stop motion animation used to portray them. The movie shows a Trachodon, a hadrosaur-like dinosaur, being eaten by an Allosaur. Although considered for years to be the prototypical hadrosaur (duck-billed dinosaur), the fossil evidence for the Trachodon is limited to a few teeth, and modern paleontologists have pretty much written the Trachodon off.
Another species that appears in the movie but not in modern paleontological papers, is the Agathaumas, a dinosaur that resembles a Triceratops with extra spikes on its neck frill and back. (Truth be told, when I saw the Agathaumus fighting with the T. Rex, I assumed that the filmmakers simply didn’t really know what a Triceratops should look like.) As with the Trachodon, the fossil record for the Agathaumus is pretty scanty, consisting of hip bones, hip vertebrae and a few ribs. Turns out those particular bones look pretty much the same in all ceratopsians, so paleontologists are no longer certain that the Agathaumus is a distinct species.
And apparently the filmmakers believed (or assumed their audience would believe) that Ape-men lived side by side with dinosaurs.
The stop-motion animation looks odd to us, but what did people think back then?
While my daughter and I were enthralled by the dinosaurs (the Brontosaur was her favorite, but “the Allosaur was too grabby”), my husband was struck by the stop-motion animation, and wanted to know what the contemporary viewers had thought of it. A search of our local library’s archives after the movie turned up two reviews from the 1925 issue of the Boston Globe. Turns out this movie was the first to employ stop-motion animation, and it was hailed as a technological marvel in its time.
“Conan Doyle’s Story of Prehistoric Life Shown on the Screen With Amazing Effect” was the headline of one review published in the Globe on Feb 3, 1925. “A truly marvelous revelation of what the art of photography can accomplish… all the thrills which could possibly be packed in a single evening.” (Can you imagine what this guy would have said if he’d seen The Lost World: Jurassic Park?)
The second review, from October of that same year, was considerably shorter, just a brief mention that the movie was currently screening at the Olympia on Washington Street and an assurance that audiences would enjoy the vaudeville, which was headlined by Shura Rulowa, staged by Joseph Hahn, and featured a company of dancing girls in a “Ballet Russe.” You’ll also be glad to know that the Civic Comedy Four gave an amusing performance, and that the gymnastics performed by the Youngsters at the screening was top-notch.
All that entertainment for about 25 cents. Life was really different then, wasn’t it?
And now it’s your turn. Seen any old movies lately?