History-making music group for UMM - morris mn

History-making music group for UMM - morris mn
The UMM men's chorus opened the Minnesota Day program at the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (Century 21 Exposition).

Thursday, August 29, 2013

"The Lost World" (1960) survived budget austerity

It is easy to use reason to speak uncharitably about "The Lost World."
"For 10 year olds, seemingly made by 10 year olds," is the kind of dismissive remark one can find.
"The Lost World" is a re-make of the classic 1925 silent film. It is one of a stable of movies well-remembered by boomers like me as showing up in network prime time.
Another of these movies is "The Day the Earth Stood Still." One actor is in common with these two movies: Michael Rennie. Rennie was of course "Klaatu." He was a relative unknown at the time he played that space alien, thus he was a good selection, according to a movie historian who suggested the air of mystery was helped.
Rennie worked with the robot "Gort" in the 1951 "Earth Stood Still." I have previously referred to "Gort" as "Mr. Tin Foil" because the special effects for him were barely good enough. Oh, Hollywood and its budgets. People lose sleep over trying to make sure special effects are passable with limited money. Oh, those pencil pushers.
Austerity was a factor making "The Lost World" (1960) what it was. What it was, was a sci-fi flick with special effects that probably didn't quite make it. We see Mr. Rennie in color this time. He does look nine years older. He presents a James Bond-type character in "The Lost World," a member of a party visiting a remote and dangerous place.
Going way back, the original story was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. That's a pretty solid foundation to draw upon. Sir Arthur penned his tale of giant prehistoric creatures so it was set in 1912. Maybe the 1960 movie should have been set then too. It's hard to believe a plateau with dinosaurs would be unknown as late as 1960. The year 1912 was when the Titanic sank - pre-WWI.
The mysterious place is a flat mountain in the heart of remote Venezuela. The history of fiction has many such places. I have written about a favorite childhood comic, "Turok, Son of Stone," that was set in a lost valley in New Mexico. Not only do we have ancient creatures in these places, we have primitive humans too, most likely cannibals, not apt to help any new human visitors. The 1960 movie indeed has such barbaric souls, described by one reviewer as "white-skinned natives who look suspiciously like extras who can't act." (I'm reminded of those bumbling Indians in the 1960s western comedy "Texas Across the River," with Dean Martin.)
"The Lost World" might be an easy target for critics who are ready with the kind of snarky lines that could be followed by a rimshot. Another example: "The jungle sets are almost as impressive as the miniature landscapes that used to come with Lionel train sets."
Rimshot!
A Los Angeles reviewer says: "Don't see this movie without a bottle of Vicodin and a shot of rye."
As I noted at the outset, it's easy to employ reason to take some shots at this movie. Silly rabbit, such a movie is made by people who definitely know what they're doing. The very fact this movie showed up repeatedly in 1960s prime-time TV is a reflection of its effectiveness. Us kids thought enough of it, to jabber about it at school the next day. Same with "The Day the Earth Stood Still," "War of the Worlds" and "The Time Machine."
We came away from World War II movies like "The Longest Day" thinking that death in combat simply meant falling to the ground and being silent - no blood and no prolonged pain.
With sci-fi movies, there's no pretense of being true to life. The imagination is given free reign.
Hollywood just has to be careful not to cross the line into blatant absurdity. Yes, they sweat over this. And certainly, concern must have been felt when the wheels got turning for "The Lost World." The special effects, shall we say, have issues. In telling this story, a little background is in order. Let's talk about the movie "Cleopatra," one of the monumental busts of all time. Liz Taylor had her name attached to that one. I'm not sure if the current "The Lone Ranger" (Johnny Depp) is in league with that. But "Cleopatra," about the Egyptian queen, was such a staggering failure, it dragged down Hollywood budgets for other movies.
"The Lost World" was originally supposed to be made with "stop-motion" special effects. That's what we saw in the 1933 "King Kong." The tanking of "Cleopatra" resulted in slashed budgets for nearly every film being produced. Minus this handicap, "The Lost World" had potential to be a true sci-fi classic, perhaps making the same kind of splash as the later "Jurassic Park."
It has been written that "(Irwin) Allen's dream of a sci-fi spectacular were crushed." Allen was director of "The Lost World." He went on to give us boomers a wealth of sci-fi (e.g. "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea").
The people behind "The Lost World" could not turn to CGI, naturally. Their task was to produce a dinosaur story, so, they employed a technique that has been called "slurpasaurs." They used monitor lizards, iguanas and crocodiles affixed with horns and fins. The creatures were filmed in a way making them (hopefully) seem dinosaur-size. This meant creating "roars" for their sounds.
As kids, I think we watched without laughing. The movie passed muster as "perfect Saturday matinee fare - celluloid escapism."
Actor David Hedison said years later he hated the movie. The pot saying something about the kettle. A commenter has written "Hedison shows why he was perfectly suited to a career as a Love Boat passenger." (Orson Welles once commented that he wanted his tombstone to include: "He didn't do Love Boat." (To understand the humor, you have to understand the cynical '70s.)
There is a "dinosaur" combat scene in which a monitor lizard fights a caiman. I guess PETA wasn't around then.
We get a few sexist comments like one would expect in a movie of this vintage - pre-political correctness. ("Texas Across the River" crushed political correctness so bad, it apparently has vanished from cable TV. Ah, the '60s.)
Jill St. John is a female heroine in "The Lost World," feisty in early stages of the movie, submissive and resigned for the rest, unfortunately. Amazingly she was just 19 years old when the movie was made. She became one of those proverbial "sex symbols." In the movie she has a poodle named "Frosty." Kudos to Frosty as the most credible animal in the movie.
Actor Hedison, we should note, went on to act in Irwin Allen's "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea" (TV), as right-hand man to the Richard Basehart character. "Admiral Harriman Nelson," Basehart's character, was the underwater version of "Captain Kirk." He didn't become as famous or iconic.
"The Lost World" was made at a time when science was still thrashing about trying to determine just what kind of creatures dinosaurs were. There was a school of thought that dinos were big dopey versions of modern lizards. Eventually we realized dinos were not reptiles but rather, their own genus: "dinosauria." Their physiology and habits were nothing like reptiles. The movie creatures were faint echoes of dinosaurs. We suspended reality. And we still can, because this is what movies induce us to do.
Jill St. John wasn't the only eye candy in this movie. She vied for that attention with "the hot cave girl" played by Vitina Marcus.
That Venezuelan plateau includes carniverious plants and giant spiders. Movie critics at the time gave a mixed assessment. Director Allen cut his teeth with sci-fin on this project, and I sense the genre grew into a labor of love for this influential TV figure.
In the storyline, a professor leads a group of diverse characters to the plateau deep in the Amazon jungle. Claude Rains plays the boastful and outgoing "Challenger." ("Professors" have to come across as a little eccentric.)
Rains' character is a biologist and anthropologist. He dares the London Zoological Society to mount an expedition to verify his spectacular claim, based on a previous visit to the Amazon basin: live dinosaurs!
Hedison plays a young reporter. Rennie is "Lord Roxton." Jill St. John is "Jennifer Holmes." In Brazil the party is joined by a local guide, Fernando Lamas, who really nails Ricardo Montalban (or is it the other way around - "rich Corinthian leather").
The expedition party manages to escape the plateau during a volcanic explosion, a T-rex egg in their possession. The egg hatches and we see. . .a gecko! Oh, but it's a baby T-rex.
In 1966 Allen tried to sell a TV series based on "The Lost World" but was unsuccessful. He did use some stock footage from the movie for his later TV projects (like "Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea").
Claude Rains entered this project with a reputation as a British character actor ("The Invisible Man"). Jay Novello plays a cowardly guide - a pathetic character who was overdone, in my view. Of course, the Novello character is the one who is "eaten alive" by a dinosaur. He had just found spectacular diamonds and was trying to stuff them away. Moral of the story: don't be greedy!
The filming is wide-screen and does have a beautiful, panoramic quality in many places, the "Lionel train set" comment notwithstanding.
It is a testament to Irwin Allen's judgment that "The Lost World" with its many special effects shortcuts, was taken seriously enough to become a staple for TV and cable. One of those snarky critics observed that "it's remarkable to discover that a wooden stick might act as a dam for molten lava." A critic mocks the Lamas character "sacrificing his life to save the others by letting a doll that looks like him fall into some lava." Wise guy.
In reality, people flock to such movies wanting to be entertained, and this is the only criterion that professionals like Irwin Allen gave credence to. Boomers were enthralled quite nicely by "The Lost World." The tragedy is that "Cleopatra," of all things, might have kept the 1960 flick from being a truly enduring classic.
A thought lingers: Maybe try some plastic dinosaurs from the dime store in with that Lionel train set!
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - bwilly73@yahoo.com

No comments:

Post a Comment