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The Lost World (2001)
Director: Stuart Orme

review by Donald Morefield

Written by Tony Mulholland and Adrian Hodges, from the 1912 novel by Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World was broadcast by BBC1 in two 75-minute parts, as the focus of family viewing for Christmas 2001. It starred Bob Hoskins as intrepid voyager Professor Challenger, on the trail of dinosaurs rumoured to live on an isolated plateau in South America. He has a map showing the way and so, with the backing of adventurer Lord Roxton (Tom Ward), and a gazette newspaper - represented by earnest young reporter Edward Malone (Matthew Rhys), and the grudging support of a sceptical Professor Summerlee (James Fox), Challenger leads his explorers into the unknown. Along the way, they pick up Reverend Theo Kerr (Peter Falk) and his pretty niece Agnes (Elaine Cassidy) who prove both great help and a terrible hindrance to the expedition's success.
   This quest has been filmed before. Once during the silent era, The Lost World (1925), starring Wallace Beery, with stop-motion animation by the great Willis O'Brien, and again in 1960 by Irwin Allen, using photographically enlarged reptiles for its footage of monsters. This TV version makes use of Jurassic Park style digital effects so it brings a remarkable degree of realism to the encounters with iguanodons, pterodactyls, and bigger more ferocious man-killers. Unlike many straightforward British monster movies of the 1970s, this production is derived from an intelligent script, which has at its heart the anti-Darwinist argument between science and religion. If the uppity Summerlee is seen to be risking his scholarly reputation, Fox's weak performance in the supporting cast verges on camp. Falk brings a much-needed gravitas to all the dino-hunting antics in his missionary role, and provides most of the dramatic tension when he betrays Challenger's group.
   If this lively and genuinely entertaining serial has any faults, you will probably find them in the scenes involving war between tribal Indians and cannibalistic ape-men during the second half. This is largely contrived to showcase yet more dinosaur attacks, and validate a romantic denouement. Also, there's the curious failure to create an entirely convincing prehistoric ecosphere, with a full range of plants, insects and other small creatures on the remote mountaintop. It's especially odd because our jungle travellers come across deadly spiders and poisonous snakes before they reach the plateau but not after. Once in the lost world all the dangers they face are wondrously large dinosaurs - miraculous, but easily spotted. Although Summerlee makes a fuss over the discovery of a butterfly, this find is forgotten when the camp's spit-roast is snatched away by a huge flying lizard. A defining moment for this version of the story, which undermines its general seriousness.
   As we see the principal characters discuss the contradictions between the fossil record and biblical creation, it's a shame that more credence wasn't given to the science fiction tropes within the plot, instead of just concentrating on simplistic adventure storytelling. It's notable and rather sad, too, that the clash between atheist Summerlee and devout Kerr comes down to their struggle for a gun.

Related pages:
tZ  - The Lost World (1925) review by Steven Hampton
tZ  - Jurassic Park III review by Ceri Jordan
The Lost World
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