Famed stop-motion animator Willis E. O’Brien made motion picture history when he animated a series of dinosaurs confronting modern humanity in the 1925 version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. The SFX of this film were astounding at the time — and early tests are said to have convinced some who saw it that O’Brien had found a way of photographing the past. Sure, to us, in these post-Jurassic Park days of almost seamless CGI techniques, O’Brien’s creatures appear much less real — but we’re a jaded and less naïve bunch who have, possibly, seen too much for our own imagination’s good. Yet somehow, even today, director Harry O. Hoyt’s The Lost World works its magic and you can easily be drawn into the onscreen wonders. At any rate his depiction of a brontosaur rampaging through the streets of London remains a milestone in the development of the giant monster genre and shouldn’t be dismissed. Without it, there may not have been a King Kong — which was, of course, O’Brien’s next SFX masterpiece and an even-more influential film.
The thing is, there were many dinosauresque disappointments in O’Brien’s subsequent career. One was a script he wrote in the early 1960s, “King Kong vs Frankenstein”, intended as a second sequel to King Kong. Below is one of Obie’s conceptual sketches for his proposed film:
The script got caught up in studio politics and, via a series of (from O’Brien’s point of view) unfortunate, even treacherous circumstances, ended up being made by Japan’s Toho Studios as King Kong vs Godzilla. Originally he was promised stop-motion, but of course what eventuated was classic daikaiju eiga suitmation — hardly calculated to make O’Brien happy.
Yet before this he’d been disappointed by another version of The Lost World, one produced and directed by Irwin Allen in 1960. This one is as far from the classic stature of the 1925 film as the Brazilian jungle is from London. Moreover, where in the early film the dinosaurs had looked like dinosaurs, in this one they looked like lizards with frills and horns stuck on them. This, for example, may have been intended to be a Stegosaurus (with a touch of Triceratops around the head), or maybe some sort of Dimetrodon (which were, of course, pre-dinosaurian reptiles rather than dinosaurs). It could also be a Irwin Allen version of a Spinosaurus, though I don’t think that particular critter had been discovered in 1960:
But what they really were was indeed lizards (usually monitor lizards) with frills and horns stuck on them!
Allen’s The Lost World doesn’t have a good reputation among dinosaur fans, it being a little difficult to take the dinosaurs seriously when every school kid knows what a Brontosaurus or a T-Rex looks like — and they definitely do not look like the critters in the film. Sadly, Irwin Allen had at one time intended that the dinosaurs would be created using stop-motion techniques and Obie had been promised the job. But budgetary (and in all probability time) constraints put the kibosh on the idea — and once again Obie was to be disappointed. So were his many fans.
Still, there is a certain odd appeal to the monitor lizards with spikes stuck on them, especially in the conceptual drawings of production illustrator Maurice Zuberano.
And just for the sake of completeness, here is the protagonists approaching the lost plateau:
Maybe if the dialogue hadn’t referred to the creatures as Tyrannosaurus Rex, Brontosaurus, Stegasaurus etc., and had chosen to treat them as some sort of mutant form of dinosaur, Allen might have gotten away with the total lack of iconic familiarity. And after all, it would make sense. It is very unlikely that the ancient dinosaur species, albeit isolated from the rest of the world, would remain unchanged for millions of years…
Finally, here’s a comic version of the movie that came out at the time:
Thanks to Todd Tennant for all the visual material and for providing the impetus behind this article.