The Lost World: Overshadowed at Every Turn
Overshadowed at Every Turn

By Cory Gross

Something sticking in my proverbial craw, a niggly little issue to ponder about, is "what is holding The Lost World back?" Why is it that practically nobody has heard of either the book or the film(s)? Sure, there are buffs who know about it... Dinosaur movie fans mostly... But why has it not assumed it's rightful place in pop culture? The Lost World is the first dinosur fiction novel ever, the first significant dinosaur movie ever, and perhaps one of the greatest adventure stories ever written. How can people not know about it?

Most people do tend to know the basic story of The Lost World, and even the lower-case letter version of it's name, by virtue of it's being one of the main dinosaur-story templates. Everybody knows the story of the lost world where some explorers go, meet some dinosaurs, and maybe bring one back so that it can bring a reign of terror upon civilization. Unfortunately, sometimes this familiarity can backfire. One time I was talking to a group of younger dinosaur fans on an internet chat line, and when discussing The Lost World, both myself and Conan Doyle were insulted over how "obvious a rip-off of Jurassic Park" the book was. Nevermind that it was written a few decades before Michael Crichton's birth, "where are the fences? why wasn't it on an island? reeaalll original there." The idiocy of this needs no elaboration.

I have two theories for this, both of which may be right (or I may just be a pretentious twit who knows nothing). The first one has to do with the personalities and conditions surrounding The Lost World, both in print and film.

Let us begin with the very author of the book... Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. What do you and most people think of when you hear that name? 99.99% of the time, it is Sherlock Holmes, the great detective. That is the character to which the name Conan Doyle is inexorably intertwined, to the expense of ALL his other work. It was for that very reason that Conan Doyle himself created Professor Challenger; to try and dissassociate his name from Holmes. Unfortunately, time as decided that Conan Doyle = Holmes, and there is no way around that. On to the movie, the most famous name attatched to it's production was special effects master Willis O'Brien. But was it The Lost World which garnered this fame? Nope. It was King Kong. In 1925, nobody knew who O'Brien was... It was only after the release of King Kong that he became a recognized and revered figure in the movie industry. It was that creation, a big stop motion ape who beat up dinosaurs, that captured the imaginations of the world and almost every palaeontologist, science fiction author, and special effects worker in the field today. By these two examples, one can easily see that part of the problem of The Lost World is that it is overshadowed by the famous other works of everbody involved in it. In some cases, this may luck out and get people into their works prior to The Big One, but more often than not, nobody but fans and buffs care. How many people have seen THX 1138? How many people even know the film exists, let alone was done by George Lucas? "Oh wait! You mean the guy that did Star Wars!?" This is not to say that Sherlock Holmes or King Kong are bad at all... They are remarkable works. It's only sad that they have to overshadow something that is equally as great as The Lost World.

The second theory has to do with the observation that, so it seems to me, the public likes nice shiny new things." Who cares about some old book or cheesy film...Let's watch Jurassic Park." For all intents and purposes, thats what The Lost World is... A dusty old book and a cheezy old, black-and-white-and-silent = bad, movie. Why be into some silly crap like that when you could like something nice and new and shiny as Jurassic Park? The Lost World has saddly been plagued by many awful and forgetable attempts to make it nice and new and shiny, but it is never good enough it seems. What really, really, doesn't help is when modern films, nice new shiny films, take the name of The Lost World... Thus commiting further injustice to the work by associating their name to it in the public consciousness. At least I can take solace in the fact that in 75-85 years from now, Chricton and Spielberg's work will be as old and cheesy as The Lost World is now. But I digress, that is a rant for another essay.

One good thing about the second problem is that it can be used in favour of The Lost World. The answer? How about somebody go out with the budget and SFX, AND FOR GAWD'S SAKE A GOOD SCRIPT, and make a new Lost World movie... Critically acclaimed material and nifty computer effects would for once give The Lost World the treatment it deserves (remember, the 1925 film is a horrendous adaptation of the book... I personally refrain from cursing up a blue streak about it becuase it has it's own merit as a silent film). Couple this with a media blitz on par with other multi-zillion dollar recent dinosaur movies... Magazines, toys, video games, news stories, you name it. Instead of re-releasing some stodgy old collectors hardcover that you have to special order from a bookstore, why not glut the market with some of those cheap but dolled-up, disposable, paperbacks sold in drugstores? Book awareness is no longer gained through libraries, it's gained by seeing what other people are reading on the bus... And that is how the book must be made accessable. Whether or not anybody follows through with these ideas is another story (if I had my druthers, I would do all that and more).

It is sad, but true, that the only people who really know and care about The Lost World are the buffs and fans... All 5 of us. It's just hard, but interesting, to analyze how such an important peice of literary and film history has ended up being so ultimately forgettable.