The Lost World, released 2 February 1925, is actually classified as a fantasy adventure film, but it not infrequently shows up on lists of silent horror films, and it just has the atmosphere of a horror film. It was the first film adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel of the same name, and stars Wallace Beery, Bessie Love, Lewis Stone, Lloyd Hughes, and Arthur Hoyt. Playing themselves are Jocko the capuchin monkey and Mary the chimp.
Young newspaper reported Ed Malone really wants to marry his girlfriend, Gladys, but is challenged to perform some brave, daring feat before he’ll be considered worthy. The perfect chance comes when the eccentric Professor Challenger appears at the Zoological Hall, claiming proof of dinosaurs and other bizarre creatures still walking the Earth. Ed gets into the meeting with the help of his friend Sir John Roxton.
Everyone ridicules Professor Challenger, but a few people decide to accept his offer of returning to South America to see if he’s a liar or not. Ed volunteers himself, and gets in a lot of trouble when he’s forced to admit he’s a reporter. No reporters were supposed to be let into this private meeting. However, Ed manages to save his hide by saying his newspaper will finance this mission not to prove dinosaurs still exist, but to try to rescue Maple White, the explorer whose illustrated diary carries the supposed evidence.
The motley crew of adventurers sets off for South America, and what a lost world they stumble into.
Everyone sees the evidence of living dinosaurs and other odd creatures, but that’s only half of the reason why they came there. They also came to rescue Maple White, who was left stranded on top of a very high plateau accessible only across a precipice. To this end, they climb onto the plateau and cut down a huge tree to serve as a bridge.
Once they’ve all safely crossed over, a Brontosaurus knocks down the makeshift bridge, leaving them stranded as well. Two servants were left behind down below, but they can only wait and watch. One of these servants is an obvious white man in blackface.
The intrepid, stranded adventurers are forced to evade discovery and attack as best they can, all while watching huge dinosaurs going about their business. They also have to deal with a volcanic eruption and an “ape-man” (an obvious person in a monkey suit) stalking and menacing them. In the chaos of the volcanic explosion, an opportunity for escape opens up, but getting away from all those dinosaurs is only half the battle. They still have to return to London and prove their story, without any dinosaurs getting loose.
Not only was this the first film to use stop motion animation, it was also the very first film to be shown on an aeroplane. It was shown on a flight from London to Paris in April 1925, and was an extremely risky undertaking. Nitrate is highly flammable, and the plane was made out of wood and fabric. However, this wasn’t the first dinosaur film, as that special honor is claimed by Winsor McKay’s legendary 1914 cartoon Gertie the Dinosaur.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle said Professor Challenger was his favorite of all of his characters, before even Sherlock Holmes.
For years, The Lost World was only available in a cut running about an hour, but thanks to the wonders of film rediscovery and restoration, we now have a near-complete print cobbled together from eight different prints. Nitrate is so flammable and deteriorates so easily, so it’s a miracle we even have so many surviving films from the nitrate era. It wasn’t until 1952 when safer, more durable film stock took over.