The Lost World (1925)

| September 13, 2017

Look back on the history of cinematic special effects artists and consider for a moment how many master/protégé working relationships found the protégé moving on to become as important and influential in their respective fields as the men they studied under had been. When I think about those special make-up effects artists who’ve defined the zombie and slasher subgenres, I immediately go to Tom Savini and his former protégé Greg Nicotero, both of whom got their start working for George A. Romero. Then you have special effects creature creator Rick Baker and his protégé Rob Bottin, who immerged confidently from Baker’s shadow to create some of the most impressive practical creature effects of all time for John Carpenter’s The Thing (1982).

Yet these master/protégé relationships date only as far back as the 1970’s and 1980’s. Perhaps the most important of such master teamings in the history of filmic special effects is that between stop motion special effects wizards Willis O’Brien and Ray Harryhausen. While it’s easy incredibly easy to study the work of those men listed above and even Ray Harryhausen, it’s always been far more difficult to celebrate the work of Willis O’Brien, due simply to a lack in home video market saturation of many of his works.

On a personal level, this has been a problem because I’ve been able to show my son plenty of Harryhausen films, but my ability to readily throw some O’Brien in the DVD player has been limited to King Kong (1933) and the subsequent Kong films. And I didn’t want my boy thinking O’Brien was merely the King Kong guy when his work before that was just as important and impressive. As fate would have it, Flicker Alley released Harry O. Hoyt’s collaboration with effects artist O’Brien, The Lost World (1925), on Blu-ray right as this lack in my son’s O’Brien education was becoming apparent!

The Lost World, only available since 1929 in incomplete 60 minute cuts, is presented by Flicker Alley along with the Lobster Films and Blackhawk Films in a restored 110-minute cut, cobbled together from eleven different prints. As a landmark in stop motion animation, it’s incredible to see just how much of this adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel prefigures the work O’Brien would do in King Kong. O’Brien’s stop motion and miniature work here is an absolute marvel—so much so that the held my five-year-old son’s attention with ease throughout.

What I found in this release though wasn’t just a landmark restoration of a version of The Lost World thought lost to time though. Turning to the special features, I discovered that Flicker Alley had compiled on this disc an impressive collection of O’Brien’s other work from the surrounding decades to supplement the experience of The Lost World. The set also includes the entirely stop motion, comedy caveman short that O’Brien made for Edison, “R.F.D., 10,000 B.C.” (1917); the O’Brien written and directed ghost and dinosaurs short, “The Ghost of Slumber Mountain” (1918); and O’Brien’s unfinished film, “Creation” (1930), which combines live action and stop motion so impressively that it convinced Merian C. Cooper to hire O’Brien for Kong.

In addition to the four films, Flicker Alley has also included deleted or alternate scenes from The Lost World, which is something you basically never see from silent films; an audio commentary by film historian Nicolas Ciccone; an image gallery and a booklet containing an essay by preservationist Serge Bromberg. Flicker Alley have put out a number of impressive and important releases over the years, but for me, as a horror and science fiction fan, their release of The Lost World ranks up there among their most must-own with The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1923).

About the Author:

Jef is a writer and educator in Chicago, Illinois. He holds a degree in Media & Cinema Studies from DePaul University, but sometimes he drops it and picks it back up again. He's also the Editor-in-Chief of FilmMonthly.com and is fueled entirely by coffee (as if you couldn't tell).
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