The Lost World (1992)


PreCommentary: This version actually resembles Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s plot(very unlike the 1960 version) but eviscerates the masculinistpolitics of the book by replacing Sir John Roxton with a womanand a kid!

Notes: HarmonyGold Pictures / Republic Pictures. 99 min.
George Challenger: John Rhys-Davies
Summerlee: David Warner
Malone: Eric McCormack
Malu: Nathania Stanford
Jim: Darren Peter Mercer
Jenny Nielson: Tamara Gorski

Producers: Frank Agrama, Norman Siderow, DanieleLorenzano
Director: Timothy Bond
Screenplay: Peter Welbeck
Special Effects: Image Quest Ltd.

Summary: It is, appropriately, 1912. Malone bungles into the office ofGazette editor McArdle looking for an adventurous assignment (butno mention of Gladys Hungerford) and is sent to interview Challengerwhose housekeeper (no wife Jessie) warns Malone about her employer. Malone poses as an Italian scientist, but Challenger sees throughit, reveals him to be a Canadian (not Irish) journalist, and wrestleshim down a flight of stairs where a policeman awaits. When Malonedecides not to press charges and Challenger respects this enoughto show him Maple White’s sketchbook: “That, my young freind,is the Lost World”–Africa (not South America; they filmedin Zimbabwe)–and a pterodactyl which Challenger calls a “beast.” Challenger recounts his visit to the dying Maple White, his ownnear fatal stabbing by a thief named Pedro which kept him fromany more than a glimpse of the “lost world, and invokes mockedprophets: “Galileo, Darwin, Challenger!” since the Britishscientific community does not believe his claims. He decidesto dare them all at a meeting later that day.

Challenger interrupts a ceremony honoring ProfessorSummerlee to gather a group to journey to prove his claims. Malonevolunteers, Summerlee agrees to go but not if Challenger is going,a newsboy Jim and a woman Jenny Nielson volunteer but are laughinglydismissed. Jenny turns out to be a wildlife photographer anddaughter of rich American contributors to the sciences, and goes,with animal rights sensibilities sneered at by Malone as “zebras’rights. Jim stows away. Challenger appears when Summerlee openswhat turns out to be a blank map. And with a female guide, Malu,the six row for weeks until landing where they hear native drums. “We must be constantly on our guard.” “Maybethey want their world to saty lost.” When they reach theplateau, most are awed, but Summerlee, still skeptical, rejoins,”We’ve all seen igneous extrusions before.” Pujo (=the book’s Zambo) appears, but another of the party, Gomez, turnsout to have been the brother of the thief Pedro who tried stabbingChallenger and was in turn killed. For vengeance, Gomez yanksdown the rope used to haul the six onto the plateau so that thereis no way back down.

On the trek we see a white peacock and thenapatosaurs. Summerlee falls through the ground into a cavernserving as a pterodactyl rookery. He is attacked but is hauledout of the hole. Jenny grows jealous of Malone’s interest inMalu. Jim (not Malone) climbs to a high spot to get the lay ofthe land and sees a lake and a native. At night he tries to sneakoff to the lake, but Malone catches him. Malu also is out walkingand the three walk to the sulphurous lake. A “maneatingdnosaur” approaches, but Malu gives them some kind of fruitto wipe on their faces and lo the dino sniffs but loses interest.

In the morning the camp has been attacked andthe others are gone. The “skeleton tribe” (they wearwar paint) has a ritual whereby humans–normally other tribesmen,but this time also the Anglos–are sacrificed off a cliff to thecarnivorous dinosaurs. Jim fashions a “balloon from thegods” with Malone’s coat which diverts the tribe long enoughfor a rescue and retreat to the safety among the other tribe. We hear of the splintering of the tribes long ago when the medicinemen convinced some to worship the carnivorous dinosaurs, the “meat-eaters,evil ones.” Summerlee’s extinction theories regarding microbiologyhelp save a baby pterodactyl when he deduces sufficiently fromthe plant-leaf garlands involved in the ritual sacrifice to realizethe antidote to a prehistoric plague grows here. Irrigation andhorticultural benefits to the tribe from these white gods follow. After the skeleton tribe’s leader is hit with a rock and thetribes reunite, the reward asked is to be shown a “way backto our own world.” A hidden cave is revealed by the chief,provided that if need they will come back (which awkwardly smacksof sequel). They vow to. Back at the canoes, Gomez shoots atChallenger. Malone saves him, and instead of killing Gomez, Challengersays, “Let the jungle have him.” Malu stays in Africa,and Jim has an unusually big backpack.

Back in London, the scientic institute declaresat a meeting that despite Challenger and Summerlee’s reconciliation,their tale is insufficient evidence. Fortunately, Jim broughtback the baby pterodactyl. Applause and congratulations follow. At a celebration toast, Jenny is thought to be “transformed”by a dress and an emerald Malu gave her. They drink to “scienceand adventure.”

Malone, Jenny, and Jim visit the zoo wherethe pterodactyl which they’ve named Percival (or Percy) is beingkept. He seems unhappy, so they release him and he flies off,presumably back to “the Lost World.”

Commentary: One could do without the kid and the dishwater-dull triangle,and ape-people would have been more interesting than tribal factions. The dinosaurs are a bit cheesy too. But the movie is lush andChallenger is an especially successful characterization. DavidWarner became very annoyingly ubiquitous in the early ’80s, butthis casting also worked very well. A pointless balloon attemptin Doyle’s book is actually roped into the plot in this film;and other little touches like this endear this film.

The inversion of the sexist, racist, speciesisticpolitics of Doyle’s The Lost World also works better thanone would expect, through the replacement of Roxton with Jennywho, despite the forgettable performance, gives voice to an animalrights perspective without serving merely as a mouthpiece. Therelease of the pterodactyl from the zoo at the end sees this themethrough nicely. Obviously, this is a rarity in dinosaur filmsand flies in the face of the original intention of Doyle’s work.