Movies Till Dawn: Prehistoric Pictures

The Lost World” (1925, Flicker Alley) Charged by his fiancée to go on a real adventure, reporter Lloyd Hughes joins an expedition led by Professor Challenger (Wallace Beery) to discover a plateau in South American where dinosaurs are reported to exist. Said monsters were brought to life through groundbreaking stop-motion by Willis O’Brien – the chief special effects designer for “King Kong” – in this lively silent adaptation of the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The film has its merits beyond the effects – it moves at a brisk clip and boasts a vigorous turn by Beery – and some detrimental elements, most notably a blackface character and limp characterization for female lead Bessie Love (surprising for a film penned by a woman, Marion Fairfax). But Flicker Alley’s Blu-ray represents the most complete version of the film, which has existed for almost a century in severely truncated form; as detailed in the exhaustive liner notes by Lobster Films’ Serge Bromberg and excellent (and witty) commentary by historian/filmmaker Nicolas Ciccone, this edition was constructed from eleven different 35mm and 16mm sources, including the Library of Congress, George Eastman House and Czech film archives, and painstakingly rebuilt and remastered (including scenes tinted with the original color scheme) over a period of 25 years.

The end result comes closest to approximating “The Lost World” as it played for audiences in 1925 (a scene depicting an attack by cannibals remains lost), and as such, should be cause for celebration for classic and fantasy/science fiction fans. In addition to the liner notes and commentary – which details differences between the source novel, shooting script and finished film, as well as info on cast, crew and locations (like the LA River doubling for the Amazon) – the remarkable Blu-ray includes deleted scenes (test footage of O’Brien working with his models) found in the original 1925 nitrate, and three projects by O’Brien: the caveman comedy “R.F.D., 10,000 BC (1917), the legendary short “Ghost of Slumber Mountain” (1918), which marks one of the first blends of live action and stop-motion footage, and a clip from the unfinished “Creation” (1930), which convinced producer Merian C. Cooper to hire O’Brien to create Kong.

One Million B.C.” (1940, VCI) Exiled from his prehistoric tribe for brawling with his father (Lon Chaney, Jr.), brutish cavemen Victor Mature is ushered up the evolutionary ladder by Carole Landis and her more civilized people, who teach him table manners and laughter before a volcano and various antediluvian fauna intrude on their relationship. Dawn-of-time drama from producer-directors Hal Roach and Hal Roach Jr. (with pre-production assistance from silent film pioneer D.W. Griffith) may be too primitive for dinosaur-happy kids – the volcano eruption, which earned the picture an Oscar nod for Best Special Effects, remains impressive, but “Jurassic Park” fans will give the gas face to its parade of lizards and animals (pig, elephant, armadillo) tricked out as dinosaurs – so “B.C” is probably best enjoyed as a nostalgia capsule, and as the source for both the 1966 Hammer Films version starring Raquel Welch (with stop-motion special effects by Ray Harryhausen), and monster/disaster footage for countless low-budget creature features that followed. VCI’s 2K restoration improves upon previous grain-steeped home video releases, and includes informative commentary by writer/film historian Toby Roan.

About Paul Gaita

Paul Gaita lives in Sherman Oaks, California with his lovely wife and daughter. He has written for The Los Angeles Times, LA Weekly, Variety and The Fix, among many other publications, and was a home video reviewer for Amazon.com from 1998 to 2014. He has interviewed countless entertainment figures from both the A and Z lists, but his favorites remain Elmore Leonard, Ray Bradbury and George Newall, who created both Schoolhouse Rock and the Hai Karate aftershave commercials. He once shared a Thanksgiving dinner with celebrity astrologer Joyce Jillson, and regrettably, still owes the late character actor Charles Napier a dollar.
This entry was posted in Movies and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply