Movie audiences love dinosaurs. Ask the makers of Jurassic World, a reboot of Steven Spielberg’s venerable franchise that raked in over $1.5 billion this year. There is something about seeing humanity’s ambitions crumble in the face of a massive, toothy lizard (or are they supposed to be a giant featherless bird now?) that just captures the imagination of the inner 5 year-old in all of us.
So if you enjoyed Jurassic World, you will dig The Lost World (1925), the granddaddy of giant monster movies. Adapted from Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel, the story of The Lost World should be familiar to anyone who has watched King Kong or The Lost World: Jurassic Park. The film is about an eccentric scientist, Professor Challenger (played by Wallace Beery in a Karl Marx beard), who ventures to a South American plateau deep in the heart of the Amazonian jungle where dinosaurs still exist. When he captures a Brontosaurus and lugs it back to London, the beast escapes and runs wild in the streets, smashing buildings, stomping on people and trashing cherished national landmarks. Exotic locations filled with equally exotic creatures? Check. Implicit critique of man’s hubristic ambition? Check. Way cool special effects? Check. Lost World has all the hallmarks of the genre even though it came out 90 years ago.
Audiences at the time were blown away by footage of triceratops, allosauruses and stegosauruses. Though they might seem about as terrifying to today’s jaded audiences as a Gumby cartoon, they were nothing short of a revelation in the 1920s. In 1922, Conan Doyle showed clips of the movie without revealing its origins to The Society of American Magicians, an audience that included none other than Harry Houdini. The next day, The New York Times breathlessly wrote that Conan Doyle’s “monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world which he has discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces.” In fact, the dinosaurs were the handy work of Willis O’Brien who would take his experience on this film and make the 1933 masterpiece King Kong.
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Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veeptopus, featuring lots of pictures of vice presidents with octopuses on their heads. The Veeptopus store is here.