This 1992 movie version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World (1912) is assuredly a pterodactyl of a different color. Instead of four adult male explorers, this movie gives us six explorers: three men, a boy, and two women. Instead of recurring descriptions of plant and animal life (in South America), there is a focus on one medicinal plant (in Africa) that heals one pterodactyl, which becomes proof of the lost world to the disbelieving Royal Zoological Society in London.
The movie does present us with beautiful National Geographic-style views, from the very start. Before the camera shows us London, it shows us a jungle: a snake, a hippopotamus, zebras, trees, a mountain. It is awe-inspiring, as are the many views throughout of mountainous terrain—and sheer cliff—and bubbling lake. While the scenery is beautiful to see, it can also be treacherous. Plant-eating dinosaurs lead the expedition leader, Professor Summerlee (David Warner), to extraordinarily tall trees to a trap and down through the trap into a cave, where Summerlee is attacked by something reptilian—-not clear what, which is part of the horror—and he barely escapes. All that rival scientist, Professor George Challenger (John Rhys-Davies), has to say at this scary time is, “Confound it, Summerlee! You frightened them!” The allegedly frightened “them” are, Challenger insists, pterodactyls, his evidence of the lost world.
The Lost World is, above all, an adventure, and the movie captures this well, even without the sportsman of the book, Lord John Roxton. The adventure begins before the expedition, when a woman, Jenny Nielsen (Tamara Gorski), unexpectedly volunteers to join the exploratory group. She is opposed, the opposition is over-ruled, and she becomes part of the group, which so far comprises the scientist, Summerlee, and a journalist named David Malone (Eric McCormack). Then, below the deck of the ship to Africa, Jenny discovers the boy, Jim, who had wanted to come on the expedition but had been turned away (Darren Peter Mercer); suddenly this boy, stowed away in a box (it’s unclear how he’d have survived), becomes the fourth member of the exploratory group. On arrival, Challenger, who’d been turned away by Summerlee in London, re-appears in Africa, and so now there are five members of the group. Before these five people head down the river to the lost world, a couple of local guides are selected. One of them, a woman named Malu (Nathania Stanford), becomes an integral group member. At first, two members of the exploration, then, just before the journey downriver, six!
It seems that the character of Jenny Nielsen in this movie version replaces the adventurer Lord John Roxton of the 1912 book. Actually, it is the boy-—also only a character in this movie–who brings about adventure. He leads Malone (and a vigilant Malu) to a fantastic bubbling lake; on their return to camp, they barely escape a carnivorous dinosaur, only to discover that their camp has been raided and their colleagues gone. The boy wanted an adventure, and he certainly gets one (and another, but that’s a surprise).
Despite alterations, the movie generally re-creates the look of The Lost World and its action. What it doesn’t have, even in a voice-over, are Malone’s words, evoking both his natural surroundings and terrifying events. At one point, Malone writes—
How shall I ever forget the solemn mystery of it? The height of the trees and the thickness of the boles exceeding anything which I in my town-bred life could have imagined… (Doyle, 58)
At another point:
At any instant, it might spring upon me from the shadows—the nameless and horrible monster. (Doyle, 112).
In this movie, voice-over narration provides a minimum of information. Malone’s way with words is gone.
So is Malone’s heroism. In the feminist world of 1992, the expedition to the lost world has no heroes. Rather, the expedition has two women, and it is, above all, a team effort—less colorful but satisfactory in a different and surprising way.
Thomas Gagnon has published essays and reviews in Wilderness House Literary Review and alternative literary blog, The Boston Area Small Press and Poetry Scene. He has published articles about art exhibits in South End News and poetry in cross-disability literary journal Breath and Shadow.