Dinosaurs have been a part of film since almost the beginning of the medium. Heck, the first traditionally animated work started a Brontosaurus named Gertie.
And it was a masterpiece.
Similarly, the first special effects driven film also starred dinosaurs. The Lost World, adapted from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle book of the same name, was the most technically advanced film of its time. The dinosaurs in the film were depicted using a new technique were models were moved frame by frame to create the illusion of movement, an art form we now call stop motion animation. So it seems that dinosaurs were the driving force for two kinds of animation medium, and in the future, they would be responsible for a third.
Looks like history really does repeat itself.
When this movie was released, audiences haven’t seen anything like it. It was a completely new medium, and no one knew what the general reaction would be. So, what did they think? Well, here’s what the New York Times had to say:
“(Conan Doyle’s) monsters of the ancient world, or of the new world which he has discovered in the ether, were extraordinarily lifelike. If fakes, they were masterpieces”.
Those are some strong words. Today, we can easily tell that these dinosaurs are models, but remember that such an art form was unknown to the audience at the time. It was twice as exciting for them as it was when we saw CG dinosaurs in Jurassic Park for the first time.
And really, the animation is really good, especially for being the first of its kind, and I can really actually see how audiences could mistake the movie monsters for a real creature (the low resolution helps too). Unfortunately, portions of the film have been lost. I saw a version on Youtube (whether it’s still there or not is beside the point) that claimed to be the longest in existence, but we’ll never get the full experience. However, it did give me a chance to view these animated dinosaurs in perhaps the same mindset as the audience did nearly a century ago. An despite being a silent film (which usually bore me) I really liked it. I was thoroughly engaged in the story and the dinosaur scenes were really cool. However, that isn’t the point of this blog. The question is, were they accurate?
But that doesn’t stop them from being cool.
Now before I go on, I have to say that each dinosaur is basically modeled after a Charles R Knight work, which makes sense given the time. But that means that half of this review will consist of reviewing of Knight’s illustrations. Now, I wanted to eventually make as spotlight post about his work, similar to my Luis Rey post. I’ll still probably do that, but I am afraid this might take from his best work. Oh well, let’s dive on in.
I’ll be going in alphabetical order with the dinosaurs look at for no real reason (back off, it’s my blog!). So that means the first guy we look at is…
You may recognize this guy from the clip above. You probably thought he was a Styracosaurus or something. Nope, he’s an Agathaumus. What’s that you may ask?
Yep, that is all we know of the dinosaur. Most scientist just consider it fragmentary Triceratops remains. But Charles R Knight had a different interpretation.
Well, I’ll give him points for creativity.
The model used in the film is based on this drawing, even though this interpretation is completely speculative. This dinosaur may have never even existed! However, I must admit its a very cool looking creature. And in the film, it actually looks more modern than the other plain-looking (in comparison) dinosaurs. It’s really a cool design, and I don’t mind it’s inclusion. In my head canon it’s some undiscovered ceratopsian or what a ceratopsian would look like today.
Now let’s go on to the main carnivore of the film,
As inconceivable as it may sound, at this time Allosaurus was more famous than T. Rex!
It’s true. Heck, Rexy himself makes an appearance in the film (he is shown fighting the Agathaumus in the clip), but he’s basically indistinguishable from Allo. He has the same skull shape, same stance, even three fingers. In my opinion, there is no T. rex in this movie. It was all Allo.
That being said, I am glad to see this dinosaur have the spotlight. Sure, he looks indistinguishable from any generic large carnivorous dinosaur they could have put in the film, but that was the rule of the time. He is pretty awesome. He takes down basically every dinosaur he sees, even if he’s just killed one.
The look of him is also based on a famous Knight painting.
He looks almost good enough, if it weren’t for the kangaroo Allo in the background. But such was the state of bipedal dinosaurs back in the day. But for the time, you couldn’t really expect anymore.
Now, Allosaurus wasn’t the main antagonist in this movie. I know what your thinking: “What!? A large carnivore isn’t the main bad guy?!” Nope, it’s actually a large herbivore.
We’re used to seeing sauropod dinosaurs in movies being portrayed as peaceful and gentle giants. This isn’t the brontosaurus you see in those movies (and yes, I know it’s really Apatosaurus). They capture the dinosaur and bring it back to London. Guess what happens.
He runs amok of course.
Yeah, to me this makes more sense. He’s still an animal, and being put in an uncomfortable and stressful environment, he will retaliate. Just think of an elephant loose in the city. Then think if that elephant was ten times a big!
Not only that, but he puts up quite a fight with the Allosaurus.
We meet again.
I like how he’s actually pretty active in the movie and isn’t restrained to living in swamps like most artwork at the time suggested.
I would say that’s progress.
Pteranodon looks pretty majestic in the movie when flying, but close ups like the one shown don’t really do it justice. The pterosaur is portrayed like every pterosaur was portrayed back then, as a flying monster that swoops down like a hawk killing large prey. He is shown in the picture feeding a a peccary. To modern dinosaur fans, that is a big no no. We know that Pteranodon was a eater of fish, and taking down such large prey would have been impossible for him.
Stegosaurus doesn’t appear much in the film, his most notable scene is shared with the Agathaumus. He’s pretty standard as far as stegosaurs go during that time, but for comparison’s sake, let’s pull up a Knight picture of it.
Yep, same exact animal. Well, it looks better than the stegosaur from the book.
Look t all those thangomizers! Isn’t that adorable?
I know, I know, it’s Edmontosaurus. Man, early paleontology just loved putting popular images on dinosaurs they only had fragmentary remains of.
And once again, it’s based on a famous Knight painting.
They’re what you’d expect at the time. Upright lizard duck hybrids. Nostalgic looking yes, but not very accurate.
Yeah, about that, some scientist think we’ve kinda jumped the gun when saying the preserved skin was a crest, and you may have been a flat head after all. Just maybe.
Me too. I really do it’s real, I don’t want future generations of paleontologists laughing at us for thinking this.
I will admit I’m kind of a sucker for classic looking Triceratops, even if they aren’t completely accurate. I happen to think these Triceratops look cool, and are another obvious Knight inspiration.
Gotta love that classic look.
But now we think Triceratops and kin looked like rhinoceros porcupines.
Things never stop changing, do they?
This movie was very interesting to watch. One one hand, the dinosaurs are very outdated by modern standards. But on the other hand, they’re pretty spot on for what the science was for the time. In fact, they might be better. Scientists thought that dinosaurs were lumbering and slow moving at the time. But these dinosaurs are fast, active, and lively. Sure, they act more like movie monsters than animals, but progress is progress.
This movie was really a game changer. Not only did it revolutionize cinema, but it also gave the image that the public associates with dinosaurs to this day. This was the first Jurassic Park. This was the first dinosaur blockbuster. And it is still incredible to watch today. As for the dinosaurs, I give them a…
9 out of 1o stars. Remember, I’m judging them by the standards of the time. If measuring by today’s standards, it would be a big fat ZERO.
Next time, join me as we enter a different lost world, on an island in the middle of the Pacific. Next, we review King Kong.
Both of them.