Six Lost Worlds: The Dramatic Adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Novel
(A film article by Mark R. Leeper)
Imagine a land so isolated from the world that it was beyond the reach even of the forces of evolution. On one plateau deep in the remote Amazon rain forest there is a land that has withstood the ravages of time. Here dinosaurs and prehistoric ancestors of man still live.
In 1960 I remember being enthralled with the publicity for the upcoming film THE LOST WORLD. I was nine years old and anything that had to do with dinosaurs was okay with me. I had only recently seen the 1959 version of JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH and loved it. But only three sequences in the film had dinosaurs. (Okay, to be literal, there are no dinosaurs in that film, but at nine I was not ready to make zoological distinctions.) The Sunday comics had ads telling a little teasing bit of the story of an expedition to a plateau with dinosaurs. I was hooked. I guess I still am.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes series of stories, also had a science fiction and fantasy series featuring short, wide, and blustery Professor George Edward Challenger. The stocky scientist was first introduced in his 1912 novel THE LOST WORLD. For this tale Doyle saw the dramatic possibilities of humans interacting with live dinosaurs. He told an irresistible story of an Amazon plateau so isolated that evolution had passed it by and where the dragons of the past still reigned supreme. There are two more novels with the same set of adventurers, though they are not nearly as interesting or famous. THE POISON BELT is about the earth traveling through a field of poisonous ether gas. THE LAND OF MIST is a plea for tolerance for a spiritualist church. Two shorter stories have Challenger opposing an inventor who has created a terrible weapon in "The Disintegration Machine," and discovering the Earth is a living organism in "When the Earth Screamed." Doyle is said to have preferred writing Challenger stories to stories about Sherlock Holmes, though the latter undeniably had greater popularity and perhaps were better written.
The publicity I was seeing in 1960 was for the second of what at this writing are six screen adaptations of the novel. In this article I will review each of the six adaptations of Doyle's novel to the screen. In doing so I face certain problems. First, the earliest version is incomplete. I will have to review what is available, a restored version of 92 minutes. A more widespread problem is that is in my opinion none of the adaptations has been satisfactorily accurate to the novel. Every one of them takes at least one woman along and Doyle did not have a woman on the plateau in the novel. Each adaptation does a lot of inventing as if there was something wrong with Doyle's story. There really is not. If I like a version, it really is mostly in comparison to the other renditions that may not be as good.
THE LOST WORLD (1925)
The 1925 version had the much of the story more faithful to the novel than any of the later film versions, though some incidents occur out of order. One revision is that in the book Challenger brought back only a pterodactyl, and it escapes before it is seen by more than a roomful of people. The 1925 silent film version apparently thought it would be more dramatic to have the animal brought back be a brontosaurus and it does quite a bit of damage when it escapes. This would show off imaginatively the stop-motion animation.
The 1925 film version was the first feature-length film to use stop-motion animation to any great degree. The technician who created the effects was a young Willis O'Brien, who would later be in charge of the effects of KING KONG (1933). In fact, though O'Brien did not contribute the plot to KING KONG, it has strong similarities to THE LOST WORLD, with the animal brought back to civilization being a very large ape.
This first and arguably the best version of Doyle's classic was the first version, a silent film. However, for years it has been nearly impossible to tell with any assurance much about the 1925 version of THE LOST WORLD. There are four or five different versions of this film. Until relatively recently only an edited version a little over an hour has been available. This was much chopped down from the original film. Recently a 93-minute version has become available to the general public on DVD. Reportedly the original release was 104 minutes so only about 11 minutes of the original theatrical release are still missing. However, that is the released version.
Sadly, it is impossible to see at this point what the released film was really like. Production stills shown on the Turner Classic Movie cable channel seem to indicate that there was a great deal more of Doyle's plot that was shot than could possibly fit into the missing eleven minutes. Some sequences that look like they would have not only lengthened the film but made it more faithful to the published story. The stills include the "stool of penance" scene from the novel in which Challenger used as a most politically incorrect way to punish his wife. Also there is indication that as with the original novel Challenger was not chosen as one of the members of the expedition and he uses trickery to join the party after they are on their way. This plot was in the Doyle and was apparently filmed for the silent version and then probably edited out. (Of the adaptations covered in this article only the 1992 television version and the "Alien Voices" audio versions are faithful to the book in this regard.) So while even the 93-minute version indicates large liberties taken from the novel, there was probably sequences shot that could have made for a fairly accurate version that perhaps never came together.
I personally recommend this 93-minute version as being more entertaining than the 63-minute version that has been available. The shorter version has just the minimal story needed to connect up the special effects shots. The longer editing makes the expedition seems less slapdash and makes the film feel more like a ripping adventure story. The shorter editing has the background story be little more than a frame for the dinosaur sequences. That audiences would settle for that is a testament to the popularity that the Willis O'Brien's dinosaur sequences had with audiences.
It is hard to gage the impact that these sequences must have had since so little like them had been seen on the screen before. Many of the viewers assumed that the dinosaurs were full-scale mechanical creations, and a few were naive enough to believe they were seeing real live dinosaurs. It is hard to believe from the jerky effects, the best possible at the time, that people took them for real. But in fact there were some who did. While the film was in production Marion Fairfax, who wrote the screenplay, thought she would reassure special effects technician O'Brien and told him that if the effects did not work out, the dinosaurs could easily be removed from her screenplay. It is hard to imagine how popular a film they could a made without the attraction of the dinosaur effects.
The variations in plot from the novel are relatively small changes of little consequence until the travelers arrive at the plateau. Perhaps the biggest change was the addition of a love interest for Malone to go with him on the expedition. This is Paula White, daughter of plateau discoverer Maple White, played by Bessie Love. After the crew gets to the plateau the story diverges somewhat more. The novel talks of two tribes of humans. One are half-human Neanderthal sorts, the others are like modern Indians. Doyle spends much of the plateau story of how the modern Indians beat the half-men, proving the superiority of modern man. Frankly, for me this plot is not as interesting as the dinosaur-related plotting. In this 1925 version of the film the two tribes are reduced to one ape man, played by a man with the unlikely name Bull Montana. Montana specialized in playing apes and half-men in the movies. Without particularly good looks he had found his niche playing ape-men. The filmmakers had only one half-man actor so the story more concentrates on dinosaurs. Probably that is not a bad thing. Even at the time the dinosaurs were more intriguing to audiences than a man in an ape costume, however lurid.
Some additional liberties are taken. The zoological meeting takes place before Malone visits Challenger's home. The escape route from the plateau is destroyed by a dinosaur rather than by Gomez. The most memorable variation, and one that would inspire other films, is that instead of bringing back a pterodactyl, Challenger returns with a brontosaurus who then escapes and wreaks havoc in London. This popular sequence probably inspired films like KING KONG; THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS; and BEHEMOTH, THE SEA MONSTER (a.k.a. THE GIANT BEHEMOTH).
I have read a review that said that Willis O'Brien's special effects have still rarely been matched. That comment was well-intended but I think that Willis O'Brien would be among the first to deny it himself. While these effects were a big step forward from O'Brien's previous work, he would do better work for KING KONG in 1933. O'Brien's protege Ray Harryhausen furthered the art a great deal more. O'Brien would probably have been ecstatic to see the JURASSIC PARK films, and perhaps none more than THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK II, which I see as in part a tribute to him and his contributions. Some of the sequences, like a stampede of dinosaurs, are not technically perfect but are ambitious beyond belief for a film this early.
O'Brien was, at the time he made THE LOST WORLD, still having some problems with the smooth fluid movement of the figures he is animating. He also has a tendency to make the creatures of too large a scale. An example is the pterodactyl that seems much too massive in comparison to the spur of the plateau. O'Brien would similarly exaggerate the size of his stegosaurus in KING KONG. Some of his matte scenes, static and traveling, combining images of actors and dinosaurs are well ahead of their time. While O'Brien never let the humans get too close to the dinosaurs, they impressively give scale to the giant beasts. There is one scene in which the humans throw a flaming piece of wood in a dinosaur's mouth. This could not use stop-motion since there is no effective way to animate a flame frame-by-frame. For this effect a hand-puppet seems to have been used.
The acting is sufficient but spotty. Wallace Beery makes the best Challenger of any of the screen versions. He is sufficiently gruff and pushy. Bessie Love as Paula is not so good and her main talent seems to be that she can look frightened well. Arthur Hoyt's Summerlee is almost unnoticeable. One barely remembers scenes he was in. Lloyd Hughes is bland as Edward Malone and reminds the viewer of Harold Lloyd. Lord John Roxton is played by Lewis Stone, who later would play dignified roles like Captain Smollet in the 1934 TREASURE ISLAND and Judge Hardy in the Andy Hardy series. Stone makes an imposing Roxton if not a very interesting one. He seems almost too dignified to be the great hunter.
Unless one counts films like KING KONG, UNKNOWN ISLAND, THE LAND UNKNOWN, or TWO LOST WORLDS, all of which arguably took some inspiration from the Doyle, the next real film version of THE LOST WORLD was released in summer of 1960 with Claude Rains as Challenger.
THE LOST WORLD (1960)
The 1960 version of THE LOST WORLD was the first version I ever saw, not too surprising for anyone of the Baby Boomer generation. Most critics think that it is a totally ugly dog. I can sympathize with that point of view, but do not agree. It certainly is a giant step down from the 1925 version. But in the context of a 1960 film, it comes off a bit better. The 1950s had several gaudy adventure films of much the same style, films like RUN FOR THE SUN. In years to come the same sort of film would be a special effects extravaganza, but in the 1950s filmmakers would use real settings.
Infusing a little bit of science fiction into that formula is a welcome variation. One can almost reconcile oneself to the film in that context but then one remembers how badly the "dinosaur" effects are created. And there is Frosty the Poodle. The film just has its good and more than its share of bad moments.
The 1960 version of THE LOST WORLD, directed by Irwin Allen (who also produced and co-wrote the screenplay with Charles Bennett), boasted the name of Willis O'Brien as "effects technician." Sadly the dinosaur effects were created by the later illegal practice of using live lizards, perhaps enhancing their looks by pasting horns or plates on them, and then having them fight other such lizards. It was cruel to the animals and only the least discerning audiences could suspend disbelief and think of these things as dinosaurs. Part of what makes dinosaurs dinosaurs is that they stand straight upon their legs the way an elephant does. Lizards have legs that go out to the side. Dinosaur bodies can support more weight because their legs are like columns under them for support. The previous year lizards were used to good effect in JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH to simulate Dimetrodons. However, Dimetrodons were not lizards and not dinosaurs.
This version is not a very good rendering of the story, in spite of introducing color to the adaptations. It nonetheless was my introduction to Doyle's story and as such it has fond memories for me. Rains is too thin to play the barrel-chested discoverer, but otherwise he is not too bad at playing Challenger. He has the personality approximately right. His acting is the best thing about this adaptation. On the other hand, choosing comic actor Richard Hayden as Summerlee was a fiasco. His performance grates on one's nerves whenever he is on the screen. He acts as if he is in some other movie. Michael Rennie makes a decent Roxton. He has the self-assured quality that Doyle would have appreciated. David Hedison is a little old to play Edward Malone and have the sort of boyish enthusiasm and insecurities that Doyle gave that character.
Irwin Allen updates the story to roughly 1960. The film opens with Challenger returning from the Amazon to report his discoveries of live dinosaurs on a plateau of South America. With Challenger's traditional hatred of reporters he clouts Ed Malone trying to interview him. Malone is pulled from the ground by Jennifer Holmes (Jill St. John), the daughter of his publisher.
At the geographic society Challenger reports having seen dinosaurs. The skeptical audience suggests a return visit to verify his findings. In return for funding, Challenger is saddled with a reporter on the expedition, Malone. He also gets Professor Summerlee and big game hunter Lord John Roxton. At a stop in South America the expedition picks up two local guides, pilot Manuel Gomez (Fernando Lamas) and lackey Costa (Jay Novello). (Manuel and Gomez are two different characters in the novel.) Also joining the expedition more or less by blackmail are Jennifer and her brother David (Ray Stricklyn) as well as a poodle named Frosty. The siblings are no invention of Doyle, but the choice of the name Holmes is likely an allusion to Doyle.
The expedition takes helicopter to plateau, getting magnificent views from overhead. They land the plateau but see no sign of dinosaurs. That night they hear a large beast in their vicinity, terrorizing them. They soon find their helicopter was crushed and kicked over the side of the cliff. We get a glimpse of a large lizard with a neck frill. Challenger identifies it as a brontosaurus, but what we saw did not look anything like a brontosaurus. In any case the explorers find they are now stranded on the plateau. The next day they are menaced by man-eating plants and more dinosaurs. One of the latter splits up the group and Malone and Challenger as one subgroup finds a native girl. Malone follows her and finds her, even at the cost of running through the web of a four-foot-wide tarantula spider.
Malone brings her to camp where only Roxton recognizes that capturing her could mean trouble from the rest of her tribe. Relations are about to degenerate into a fistfight when Roxton finds a strange diary. It was kept by Burton (not Maple) White who discovered the plateau in partnership with Roxton. White's diary says he is waiting for Roxton to rescue him and that he is looking for legendary diamonds. Roxton was part of that team, but let the others down. He never came to them. Now he has come again with Challenger, but with of motive of looking for the diamonds. Jennifer is deeply disappointed in the man she was hoping to catch.
David tries to comfort the native girl and in the process discovers that she knows how to use a rifle. He is about to tell the others when the group is attacked. The native girl escapes and Malone follows. He loses her and Malone returning through the forest finds Jennifer. The two are returning to camp when they find themselves in the paths of two fighting dinosaurs. They must hide as the two titans fight. This is a rather sadistic piece of footage when one sees that these are live lizards pitted against each other. Eventually they fall over the side of the plateau.
Jennifer and Mallone return to camp finding it empty. They realize that the others have been captured. In moments they find that they are also prisoners of the natives. Taken to the native city they find drum-beating ceremonies in progress. They are reunited with their fellow explorers.
Just when they realize they are to be eaten the native girl comes along to rescue David. With a little effort she is convinced to help the whole group escape. He takes them to find a blind Burton White (Ian Wolfe). White tells them there is a path thought the plateau to the base. How it got there in a volcanic plateau is hard to understand. Why would lava take such a path? But the expedition takes this path past deadly people-grabbing tendrils and a graveyard of dead dinosaurs.
The entire plateau is starting to erupt and explode. They expedition uses fire to keep back the pursuing natives. They find the diamonds, but also more trouble and another dinosaur. As they leave the plateau blows itself to pieces.
This version invents its own subplots, but which version does not? The script is not great, but it would have made for at least a good adventure film had the dinosaurs looked like dinosaurs.
For those in the audience who would recognize Willis O'Brien's name, in the credits as "effect technician." He was reportedly asked his opinion of the possibility of lizard special effects and told the producers how bad those effects were. They paid him for his opinion, ignored it, and put his name in the credits. That probably was the plan from the beginning. The film had moments, but overall was not very good. The plot is confused with a previous expedition that was bungled, a treasure hunt for diamonds, and a revenge plot. Perhaps the capper of mistakes was to have the woman expedition member bring a poodle. There is no adventure film so exciting that it cannot be ruined by the presence of a poodle. The Disney film THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD made the same grievous error. Perhaps it was supposed to be a counterpoint of Gertrude the Duck of the previous year's far superior JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, also from Fox. However, while the duck worked well, Frosty the poodle served only to demonstrate how silly this expedition was. With the exception of the dog, the writing is not really bad--it just fails to be very interesting. It might be best appreciated if one just does not look at the screen once the expedition reaches the plateau.
With all its faults, at least this film does not talk down to its audience and does not have the juvenile feel of the 1992 and 1999 versions. It has a sort of empty, Technicolor, wide-screen, 1950s feel. The plateau never looked so good as seen from above at a distance.
This was a bad and disappointing version of the Doyle, but it would neither be the last such, nor would it be the worst. Irwin Allen was aiming for an adult audience while relying on a teenage crowd (not unlike the soon to begin Bond series). The next version would wait thirty-two years, just three years short of the interval between the silent and first sound version. And the new version was definitely made with a younger audience in mind.
THE LOST WORLD (1992)
The 1992 version of THE LOST WORLD, a Canadian production directed by Timothy Bond (who previously directed episodes for the television series "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and "War of the Worlds") and written and co-produced by Harry Alan Towers. The film is shot in Zimbabwe and apparently was made together or in tandem with a sequel, RETURN TO THE LOST WORLD. To accommodate this location the plateau is moved from South America to Africa. The transplant gives the story a sort of H. Rider Haggard feel that would be okay, but it is not Doyle.
Towers's script starts reasonably faithful to the Doyle but quickly shows its loyalties are more to sending (condescending) politically correct messages than to the text by Doyle. Male chauvinists everywhere are given a come-uppance by a strong female on the expedition. Because the script is already being written on a juvenile level, a boy is added to the expedition to give children someone to identify with.
As in the book, Malone (Edward McCormack) passes himself off to Challenger (John Rhys-Davies) as a scientist, but he does not have the knowledge to maintain the ruse. Malone is, incidentally, made a Canadian to give the Canadian audience a one of their own to care about. Challenger attacks Malone, the police intervene, and Malone endears himself to Challenger by choosing not to press charges. The forming of the expedition is pretty much like in the manner of the novel though they end up with woman reporter Jenny Nielson (Tamara Gorksu) and a twelve-ish boy Jim (Darren Peter Mercer). The character of Roxton has been eliminated and there is no equivalent. As in the book but few film versions it is decided that it is Summerlee (David Warner) who will lead the expedition and Challenger will remain behind. Not to worry, Rhys-Davies is too big a star to not be included in the expedition.
More invented characters come along. On the way the expedition is joined by a female Noble Savage in a revealing two-piece outfit. She is Malu (Nathania Stanford) and can be counted on to have politically correct thinking as everybody raised in the bush would have. Also along is the nasty Gomez (Geza Kovacs). One more piece that harks from the book--in the end the expedition brings back to London a pterodactyl, though the story of the pterodactyl is somewhat different from Doyle's tale.
The reporter Jenny Nielson appears inspired by the real person Nellie Bly. She is a slightly aggressive feminist. On the other hand John Rhys-Davies makes a passable Challenger in stature and temperament. He is, after his earliest scenes and though he feuds with Summerlee, less strident and more boyishly likable than in the Doyle.
The choice to do the film in a didactic and juvenile fashion that makes it a very bad disappointment after a start that is at least decent. The dinosaurs were rubbery and cute with rough edges rounded off and so was the writing. The script looks for every politically correct lesson that can be wrung from the plot. Doyle, of course, had no women on the expedition. The first two film versions each had one woman along. This version has two attractive women and a plucky youngster. Things are going downhill.
I will not say much about the sequel, RETURN TO THE LOST WORLD. It is not an adaptation of the Doyle, but only inspired by it. The story involves European entrepreneurs who want to exploit the petroleum in the no longer lost world and the team returns to the plateau to protect it. It is not the most original or engaging story and did not really need this particular prehistoric land to tell its story. The sequel certainly underscored that Maple White Land was a noble and wondrous world that needed to be preserved. The 1998 version had a very different attitude toward Maple White's mysterious land.
THE LOST WORLD (1998)
a.k.a. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE'S THE LOST WORLD
Six years after the Canadian production of THE LOST WORLD, the story was again adapted in the United States with some unusual variations. Even the title was modified. Following the films BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA and MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN, it became popular to include the original author's name in the title of films based on classics. It somehow promised that the content fidelity to the original work. BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA added a love interest for Dracula that Bram Stoker would not have recognized, and MARY SHELLEY'S FRANKENSTEIN had Victor bringing his bride back from the dead in precisely the way that the character in the book did not. Still, it was popular for a while to put the author's name in the title. Hence in two years we have two different films titled SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE'S THE LOST WORLD. This is the first. To make things even more confusing the two versions each has the same actor playing Summerlee. It must take a lot of explanation on his resume that these really are different films. This film proves its loyalty (or lack thereof) to the original text by starting in Mongolia, of all places.
The 1998 film opens with Maple White finding a pterodactyl egg and paying for it with his life. He lives long enough to pass his notebook and other interesting evidence to his traveling companion and partner G. E. Challenger (Patrick Bergin, who does not look anything like Doyle's Challenger). When Challenger returns to London with his claims that dinosaurs exist, showing notebooks as his evidence, as usual in adaptations he is met with skepticism and is offered the means for an expedition. Amanda White (Jayne Heitmeyer) recognizes her father's notebooks and insists on being part of the expedition. Mr. Summerlee is ambivalent about being asked to go on the expedition, but after a moment agrees. Unique in this version, Summerlee is actually a fairly decent and interesting character and one the audience cares for. Michael Sinelnikoff makes a very acceptable if not highly memorable Summerlee. He does such a good job that in the unrelated production the following year he repeated the role, though that part was not as well written. He is, I believe, the only actor to repeat a role in two unconnected productions of THE LOST WORLD. He also plays the role in the "Lost World" television series, of which I will say more later. John Roxton (David Nerman) is demoted from being the book's English lord to being an obnoxious American hunter who later proves to be of villainous intent. Arthur (!) Malone the reporter also joins the expedition played by an unmemorable Julian Casey. Bergin's Challenger gets along neither with Summerlee nor Roxton, though the audience likes Roxton considerably less.
Using several conveyances of the period, which seems to be the 1930s or so, the crew makes its way to Mongolia and the plateau out of time. The final step involves a helium balloon to ascend the plateau as a sort of getaway after the team has just rescued Ms. White. In the best traditions of KING KONG she had been kidnapped by natives and stretched out on a rack. Having just been rescued and ascending to a land of vicious dinosaurs, Amanda White literally found herself between a rack and a hard place. And a hard place, the plateau is. The travelers find their land of dinosaurs--particularly vicious dinosaurs--and two warring tribes. One of the tribes are Neanderthals one more modern. In the end of an uncomfortable stay only Challenger and White make it out alive, though Malone is left behind on plateau like an Edgar Rice Burroughs hero.
We initially see a "brontosaurus" with some features that are wrong for the animal. Perhaps some effect artist tried to get creative. However, it turns out that the inaccuracy is a feature, not a bug. With hundreds of millions of years of evolution. it appears dinosaurs have diverged from those in the fossil record. Other adaptations have implied that once you got to know this plateau it was a groovy place to be. Perhaps one of the best touches of this version is that definitely is NOT the case in this adaptation. This is probably the goriest adaptation, and the plateau is a painful and dangerous place to be. Perhaps inspired by JURASSIC PARK this film has the meanest and most nasty dinosaurs of any version. The dinosaur effects seem to be in large part digital, though perhaps some mechanical effects were used also.
Making up a little for deficiencies in the writing the film has a terrific look. The art direction by Sylvain Gingras has an antique Indiana Jones tone. Several interesting vehicles are used to bring the explorers to Maple White land, especially a sort of half-track bus. While the transplantation from a South American jungle to snowy Mongolia seems all wrong, it is not a bad setting for an adventure story. It is reminiscent RKO setting their SHE (1935) in Tibet rather than Africa.
In the end, with Malone marooned in Maple White Land as a sort of Robinson Crusoe with dinosaurs, it is expected his adventures might continue. No sequel was made. However, someone in Canada had a very similar idea. Why not have a TV series set on the plateau? So nearly at the same time Canadian producers made their own version of the story, but handled it as a TV pilot and sold an entire TV series on the premise.
THE LOST WORLD (1999)
a.k.a. SIR ARTHUR CONAN DOYLE'S THE LOST WORLD
Richard Franklin directed the 1999 version of THE LOST WORLD as a two-hour (minus commercials) pilot for the Canadian TV series of the same name. In fact the series sold and apparently ran in Canada and the United States. I was less than pleased with the pilot, which was very much of a television quality.
The setup is only vaguely correct and the people never do get off the plateau because then we would not have a continuing television series, would we? The focus is not even on the characters that Doyle created. They are lessened in importance compared to new strong (female) characters.
After an action prolog in which we see a man attacked by something big in a jungle, presumably a dinosaur. He finds tall, handsome explorer Challenger (Peter McCauley, very unlike Doyle's version). He dies in his camp, but not before he leaves Challenger his journal and photo negatives of pterodactyls. Challenger returns to London with tales of this lost world that he has not visited. He tells the geographic society of his discovery. They are skeptical, but suggest a special expedition. There are the usual three volunteers: Ned Malone (William deVry), Lord John Roxton (William Snow, a Pierce Brosnan look-alike), and Dr. Summerlee (Michael Sinelnikoff). Michael Sinelnikoff, as I said, also played Summerlee in the American version the previous year. In that he was a major character. Here, though he plays the same role, he has a lot less acting to do.
In one more variance from the book, Challenger seems to have no enmity toward Malone. When the question of who will fund the expedition arises a mysterious and beautiful woman steps forward, Marguerite Krux (played by Rachel Blakely) and volunteers on the proviso that she can come on the expedition. Krux irritatingly has attitudes of 1999 and not at all of 1912. She complains about museums of "dead things." She wears brief outfits in the jungle. They nicely show off her cleavage but would be roughly the equivalent of ringing a flying insect dinner bell. She also seems to like skinny-dipping. The Victorian Doyle would probably have been scandalized by this adaptation of his book.
The group travels to the rain forest. Along the way they survive an attack by headhunters. They also survive the crash landing of the balloon they brought for their ascent onto the plateau. The landing of the balloon is never shown, probably as an economy measure. (The credit sequence shows the splintered piece of plateau that is the way the explorers in the book get onto the main plateau. The film never actually uses that entrance, choosing a perhaps more visual balloon ascent.)
On the plateau the explorers find Veronica, a Sheena-like jungle girl clad in a brief leather two-piece. She also is an abundant source of cleavage and is the last survivor of a previous expedition that included her parents. She has grown up on the plateau, and she lives in a fantastic tree house beyond anything Tarzan imagined. It even has an elevator.
The characters are not well developed. Roxton proves to be a likable bounder. The other males are bland and uninteresting. Krux would be a character of some interest if she were a little less 1999 and more 1912.
The special effects are generally indifferently executed and there is not much real interaction between humans and dinosaurs. The large beasts are seen most frequently from distance. The prehistoric animals are an audience attraction, but they are a background detail that rarely fits into the plot. In fact, before the dinosaurs are first seen by the expedition, nobody even thinks to ask Veronica if there are dinosaurs on the plateau or not. The actual purpose of the expedition just never comes up. Now that is really relegates the dinosaurs to the background and concentrates more on the ape-men. Of course, Doyle did much the same. The effects might have been good if seen in Willis O'Brien's day but are really not up to 1990s standards. The images of the beasts are just never really integrated into scenes with people and frequently there are bad matte lines. When a pterodactyl grabs Roxton and carries him off the lizard undulates in air with the wing-beats, but Roxton remains rigid.
This version is more just a castaway story than a serious adaptation of Doyle's book. It is reminiscent of the old children's program "The Land of the Lost." The pilot is less interested in telling Doyle's story as in setting up the television series.
This brings us to the television series. Episodes I have seen have not been very interesting and not very faithful to the Doyle. They seem to freely move into the area of fantasy and have a lot of female flesh. Some of the writing is painfully bad. While searching for a way off the plateau the trapped explorers find what Challenger calls an "ocean"--on the plateau. He wants to find a sea route off the plateau. How exactly does he think that would work? How do you have an ocean lapping at the top of a plateau?
But even while this "sci-fi" series was being produced techniques for creating animal images on film improved. And Doyle's story was, as always, the perfect showcase for the new effects. So two years later the story was filmed a sixth time.
THE LOST WORLD (2001)
It is not like previous decade had not had several adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's THE LOST WORLD. But after the BBC finished their "Walking with Dinosaurs" with very realistic-looking effects, I suspected that the next natural thing to do with this technology for creating lifelike dinosaurs was to juxtapose them with humans. No respectable non-fiction presentation could do that. One would have to do a story in which humans interface closely with the dinosaurs. There is only one classic, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's THE LOST WORLD. (Note: JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH does have humans in viewing distance of an ichthyosaur fighting a plesiosaur, but these are not really dinosaurs and it is only one sequence.) So once again the Doyle was adapted.
The BBC, in cooperation with the A&E cable network, brought us a new version about 165 minutes long. The special effects combine CGI and full-scale models to give us state of the art visuals and dinosaur images that look realistic and fit our current paleontological knowledge.
This was, at least to my taste, the best version of the story we are likely to get for a while. Willis O'Brien who created the effects for the 1925 THE LOST WORLD and then was heartbroken when lizards were used in the 1960 version of the film would have been very pleased to see this version. Doyle might have been a little less pleased with the liberties taken with the plot. But still it was done on a relatively intelligent level.
Bob Hoskins takes a turn playing Challenger, a scientist with the reputation for being a crackpot. He outdoes himself when he claims that on his last expedition to South America he found a remote place where dinosaurs still live. The Royal Society is skeptical but fits out an expedition of four led by Challenger and the bland intellectual Summerlee (Edward Fox this time), a skeptic who has no patience for Challenger's claims or eccentricities. There is also game hunter Lord Roxton (Tom Ward) and news reporter Edward Malone (Matthew Rhys). The expedition finds the plateau where Challenger saw the dinosaurs all right, but their means of exit is destroyed in a way closer than usual to the Doyle, though still somewhat revisionist. They have to face the now all-too-real dinosaurs that Challenger reported seeing.
None of the cinematic versions of the novel have been really faithful. The newest version only roughly follows the Doyle and creates two new major characters. Agnes Clooney, raised in the jungle near the site of the plateau has lived in the jungle all her life and will act as a guide at the plateau. Theo Kerr (Peter Falk) is her uncle, a Bible-thumping missionary at odds with Summerlee over the issue of Creationism and Evolution. This is a more intelligent revision than in previous versions, but one wonders why it is always found necessary to revise the Doyle plot.
While the triangle of Challenger, Summerlee, and Kerr contest science, a romantic triangle of Clooney, Roxton, and Malone sprouts. The novel is "revised" throughout. In the novel, Challenger is the most irascible character with a reputation for violence against newspaper reporters like Malone. Hoskins loses this dimension and seems to be the most pleasant and amiable of the expedition members. The story starts as great fun, though in the last hour the writing is disappointingly pedestrian.
Among the modifications from the Doyle is the effort to humanize the sub-human ape men on the plateau. In the book they were cruel killers who entertained themselves dropping their enemies over cliffs. That aspect was considerably toned down for this television version. This is the longest version yet made so there is more emphasis on South American color than there was even in the novel.
The special effects are certainly what sets this version apart from previous cinematic adaptations of the novel. Still, the dinosaurs, while more real-looking than previous version, are not quite integrated with the people. When we see an entire dinosaur, requiring CGI, it cannot quite interact with the people superimposed in the scene. It was much like early Ray Harryhausen rarely had the creatures he created interacting directly with people. When need be, he could have cowboys lasso a dinosaur, but such effects were used sparingly and it showed. In this LOST WORLD we see even less such interaction. People will be chased by a dinosaur that looks realistic, but on a different plane from the people. What does that mean? It is hard to describe.
Admittedly, in the 1950s it was very easy to describe what was wrong with the special effects of a film. In the 21st century complaints with the special effects are more abstract and harder to explain. But some limitations are still obvious to the eye.
This is probably the best version of THE LOST WORLD since the 1925 version. It will probably be a while until a better version of THE LOST WORLD is made.
Sadly after the one reasonably good film version in 1925, there are no satisfying versions of Doyle novel. All versions have been too anxious to introduce new characters, frequently love interests. And some try to make political points. This is just not a novel that has been treated very well in its film adaptations. Ordering them best to worst, identifying them with the person playing Challenger and the year I would say:
1. Wallace Beery 1925
2. Bob Hoskins 2001
3. Patrick Bergin 1998
4. Claude Rains 1960
5. John Rhys-Davies 1992
6. Peter McCauley 1999
It should be noted that the 1997 film THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK is based on the Michael Crichton novel of the same name. Nothing that I have ever seen has ever connected it with the Doyle's THE LOST WORLD. I nevertheless notice that there are several plot parallels to film versions of THE LOST WORLD. One man claims there is an isolated place in South America where dinosaurs can be found. There is an expedition to find the place. After a struggle against the dinosaurs, one is brought back to a modern city where it escapes and goes on a rampage. It is hard for me to not see this as a sort of tribute or homage to the film versions of the Doyle.
There have also been audio versions of the story. Unfortunately, I do not know of where any but one are available. BBC Radio did productions of the story in 1938, 1944, 1949, 1952, 1958, and 1975. I have not heard these versions, nor would I know even where to search for them. Any pointers from readers to where to find these or other adaptations would be welcome. I have heard an audio-book abridgment read by James Mason. He was chosen, no doubt, because of his association with two classic films based on more classic science fiction books, TWENTY THOUSAND LEAGUES UNDER THE SEA and JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, albeit books by Jules Verne not Arthur Conan Doyle. The one audio dramatization I have heard was not one I had much hope for and it was about what I expected.
ALIEN VOICES: THE LOST WORLD (1996)
"Alien Voices" is an audio theater company specializing in science fiction stories. It is built around three actors associated with three different series of STAR TREK. The actors are Leonard Nimoy (formerly Spock), John de Lancie (Q), and Armin Shimerman (Quark). "Alien Voices" seems frequently also associated with the cable Sci-Fi Channel. The drama group seems to specialize in doing the classic science fiction stories from the likes of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and Arthur Conan Doyle.
There are a number of faults built into any "Alien Voices" production. The first is that the three actors are overly familiar and overly associated in other roles. They also have characteristic voices. That makes it almost impossible to lose them in their character. Through ego, I suspect, they don't want to be lost in the roles either. One does not have Lord John Roxton as a character so much as John de Lancie DOING Lord John Roxton as the character. The acting is uniformly weak. They use their own voices rather than using dramatic tricks to change them and at the same time other actors are exaggerating accents unrealistically. Thus the actors and scriptwriter make very clear that they do not take the material seriously and they do not expect the audience to do so either. It is supposed to be all in good fun, but it makes it very hard to appreciate the stories. In any case the length of the stories is on the order of forty-five minutes, which it really not enough time to do justice to the novels they are adapting and too much time is spent on the humor. In addition, what is there is not faithful to the novels. That is not uncommon in dramatic adaptations, but they take particularly large liberties. In the case of THE LOST WORLD, Summerlee is a woman and becomes a love interest for Edward Malone. There are little sexual double entendres and other references that the Victorian Doyle would never have wanted in a novel intended as wholesome entertainment for "the boy who's half man or the man who's half boy."
The story is told as the newspaper editor McArdle (Leonard Nimoy with no effort to sound Scottish) reading dispatches from Edward Malone. Just how these dispatches are supposed to get to London from the top of the plateau is unclear, but in this version not a lot of time is spent actually on the plateau. That part of the story, what should be the shank, is much abbreviated. In fact, there are only two encounters with dinosaurs on the plateau. While that part has a few of the essentials from the novel, it is the least compelling sequence of the dramatization. That may be because the virtues of that part of the story are mostly visual.
In any case this adaptation is at best half-hearted and of all the versions in covered in this article, it is the one least likely to capture the imagination of a young new-comer.
There has never been a fully satisfying adaptation of Doyle's novel. After a span of ten years in which there were four cinematic versions, it seems unlikely there will be another one for a while. However, that was what I would have thought after three adaptations and we got still one more. As special effect technology improves, the fascination that virtually everybody has with dinosaurs, will lead more people to try to render them realistically on the screen. Then they will want to put them in adventure stories. Some of Edgar Rice Burroughs is a possibility. But really there is only one major classic adventure story with dinosaurs. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote it in 1912. It's THE LOST WORLD.
Copyright 2007, Mark Leeper