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Old November 9 2009, 03:27 AM   #1
Gaith
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Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptation

There have been many adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's novel The Lost World, perhaps most memorably (though I've never seen it) the 1925 silent film that served as the special effects warm-up to King Kong. There's been a TV show and a 2001 BBC movie, which I eagerly fired up a year or so ago but quickly abandoned due to the lifeless direction and general shoddiness.

Seems to me that, in our digital effects age, the novel is conspicuously overdue for a big-screen adaptation that doesn't add an anachronistic love interest or otherwise muck up the narrative.

As I see it, there are two main obstacles to doing so:

1) The pacing. The novel's half over before they even reach the prehistoric plateau, and when they do, they dodge a few dinosaurs, have a few encounters with savage "ape-men", and then are adopted by a native human tribe for a while until they sneak back to civilization via a tunnel. It's an episodic book that doesn't readily conform to the three-act story structure.

2) The ape-men plot, which has already been "done" with the Planet of the Apes" series, doesn't hold up all that well, in that it reflects old ignorance about the nature of apes, and can all to easily be read as a Europeans vs. "others" story.

Obviously, for a hypothetical two-hour movie, the gang should reach the plateau in time for the second act, around 35 minutes at the latest. Once there, problem #1 can be addressed by retooling the humans vs. ape-men narrative, not to significantly change the premise, but to amp up the tension a bit. And while the dinosaurs don't really do much in the book, maybe there could be a Jurassic Park-style T-Rex-as-rescuer climax.

As for the ape-men, I think a neat thing to try would be to make their fur whitish. Though it wouldn't really make sense evolutionarily, it could be a creepy and original look, and when pitted against the South American native humans, could go a long way towards remedying the awkward parts of the subtext while still honoring the story and adventurous spirit of the novel.

Any other fans of the book hankering for a good adaptation?
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Old November 9 2009, 03:38 AM   #2
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

I kind of liked the 2001 miniseries and the silent 1925 versions, I also liked the TV series as well. It is interesting to note that Michael Sinelikoff played Summerlee in two different versions, the 1998 and the series.
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Old November 9 2009, 03:53 AM   #3
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

I still need to read the book. There was an audio dramatic adapation a while back as a part of Leonard Nimoy's and John De Lancie's Alien Voices; I don't know how faithful it was, but it was extremely enjoyable (even more so for all the Star Trek actors that were involved).
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Old November 9 2009, 03:54 AM   #4
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

I liked the two 1992 films (The Lost World and Return to the Lost World) with John Rhys-Davies as Challenger and David Warner as Summerlee.

I don't think a faithful adaptation is as important as a good adaptation. If you want the original, read the book. It's called an adaptation for a reason. To adapt something is to change it to fit new needs or circumstances. It's not the goal of a movie based on a book to slavishly copy the book, but to use the book as a starting point for creating a good movie.
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Old November 9 2009, 07:16 AM   #5
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

Well, in terms of "good" adaptations, I think an absence of latex hand puppets playing the dinosaurs would be a decent start...

That's not a knock on the '92 film, honest; I'd just like to see a Lost World with proper CG effects.

@ S. Gomez: You should definitely read the book. It's a lot of fun.

I have wrought my simple plan
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Old November 9 2009, 07:21 AM   #6
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

I remember a Miniseries on BBC 1 many many years ago and I thought it was a good show though I couldn't take the TV show seriously that I saw on SCI FI Channel (UK) a few years back it was god awful.
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Old November 9 2009, 08:29 AM   #7
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

^^ I tried to watch the BBC miniseries, but couldn't. It was awful. There was no feeling or atmosphere to any of the scenes, and certainly no sense of anticipation.
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Old November 9 2009, 03:42 PM   #8
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

Gaith wrote: View Post
Well, in terms of "good" adaptations, I think an absence of latex hand puppets playing the dinosaurs would be a decent start...

That's not a knock on the '92 film, honest; I'd just like to see a Lost World with proper CG effects.

CG effects are not more "proper" than any other kind. They're just one tool in the box. The reason the original Jurassic Park's dinosaurs were so convincing is that in the vast majority of shots, they were live animatronic creatures that were actually physically real, present on the set, and interacting directly with the actors. CG was only used in shots where animatronics couldn't do the job, like full-length shots of the dinosaurs running or jumping. The "proper" way to use special effects is to use the best technique for each shot, ideally to mix multiple techniques so that the weaknesses of each are compensated for by the strengths of the others, rather than foolishly assuming that the more recent technique is automatically superior to older, proven methods just because it's newer and flashier.

Besides, who cares how fake the dinosaurs look when you've got John Rhys-Davies and David Warner?? Special effects only exist to support the story and performances. If those are good, if you find the characters and situations compelling, then you'll buy into what's happening regardless of the quality of the effects. And if the story and performances are bad, then good effects are nothing more than a band-aid.
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Old November 9 2009, 07:38 PM   #9
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

I've read the book, though not in a couple of decades, and remember liking it... I have the 1925 version on DVD.

As a compromise, how about a film of Greg Bear's Dinosaur Summer? That might work well as a movie...
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Old November 9 2009, 08:13 PM   #10
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

^^ See, when I think of a faithful adaptation of the book, a modern-day, sorta-sequel starring a 15-y.o. kid isn't really what I had in mind.

Christopher wrote: View Post
The "proper" way to use special effects is to use the best technique for each shot, ideally to mix multiple techniques so that the weaknesses of each are compensated for by the strengths of the others, rather than foolishly assuming that the more recent technique is automatically superior to older, proven methods just because it's newer and flashier.
Whoah, there, cowboy, no need to throw words like "foolish" around here. I've got nothing against masterfully made (Stan Winston) animatronics, but there's a reason that, with the exception of the sick trike, those practical effects were pretty much only used for shots taking place at night, indoors or both. Dynamic, believable daytime exterior shots of dinosaurs requires CG. And when I said "proper CG", I meant good CG as much as I meant "inherently proper" CG.

Christopher wrote: View Post
Special effects only exist to support the story and performances. If those are good, if you find the characters and situations compelling, then you'll buy into what's happening regardless of the quality of the effects.
Thanks for the Film 101 lesson. But see what you did there? You heavily implied a false choice between professional, state-of-the-art effects and good storytelling. My ideal Lost World adaptation would feature both. Unless you'd like to argue that that's not possible?

But look. According to the above review (the only one on IMDB), the '92 movie features "a spunky young photographer girl [who] managed to force her way onto the expedition by confronting period sexism in the novel" and "a stowaway kid who wanted adventure, and later proved handy." Oh, and "dismay at keeping animals in zoos, and a wholly un-British regret at having intruded on another culture’s world." If you like this movie, I'm happy for you. Maybe it's good in spite of the dino hand puppets. But it sure as heck isn't a faithful adaptation of Doyle's novel.
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Old November 9 2009, 08:20 PM   #11
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

The problem isn't a technical one. The problem is that most if not all of the elements from the story have been stolen and/or bastardized by other franchises and the telling of this story -- much like the original post read -- would come across as a really lame rip-off despite it having come first.

I mean, it would literally come across as a mash of Planet of the Apes and Jurassic Park. Even the original poster crammed them together with his proposal for a T-rex-saves-the-day scenario.

The story is neither popular enough or unique enough anymore to really warrant an accurate or even semi-accurate adaptation. Jurassic Park alone pretty much crushed any hope of a modern-dinosaurs story coming across as anything but a rip-off.
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Old November 9 2009, 08:37 PM   #12
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

Gaith wrote: View Post
^^ See, when I think of a faithful adaptation of the book, a modern-day, sorta-sequel starring a 15-y.o. kid isn't really what I had in mind.
Oh I'd like to see a new "faithful" adaptation too, but I figured something like DS would stand a better chance of being green-lit, and might be cool if done right.
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Old November 9 2009, 09:16 PM   #13
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

Gaith wrote: View Post
But see what you did there? You heavily implied a false choice between professional, state-of-the-art effects and good storytelling. My ideal Lost World adaptation would feature both. Unless you'd like to argue that that's not possible?
I'm not talking about an ideal adaptation. I'm defending the 1992 adaptation, saying that it's a good and enjoyable story regardless of the quality of its effects. It would still be good with better effects, but that's a matter of budget, and I don't think good stories should be discriminated against on the basis of money. They did the best they could with what they had, and that's not a bad thing.


If you like this movie, I'm happy for you. Maybe it's good in spite of the dino hand puppets. But it sure as heck isn't a faithful adaptation of Doyle's novel.
Like I said, "faithful adaptation" is something of a contradiction in terms. An adaptation is supposed to adapt, i.e. to change something to fit new circumstances, whether it's a new medium or a new generation of audiencegoers. A good adaptation captures the essence of the original while bringing something fresh to it. If it were just a note-for-note copy, what would be the point? If you want the original story, read the book.

The first two Harry Potter films are the most faithful adaptations of their respective novels, and they're also by far the weakest films in the series. I'd rather have a good adaptation, regardless of its fidelity, than a faithful adaptation regardless of its quality. Can an adaptation be both good and faithful? Theoretically, sure. But that doesn't mean faithfulness should be the priority. Quality should be the priority, and if making a good movie or TV series requires being less faithful to the source, then you change it and more power to you.
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Old November 9 2009, 09:59 PM   #14
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

Checkmate wrote: View Post
The problem isn't a technical one. The problem is that most if not all of the elements from the story have been stolen and/or bastardized by other franchises and the telling of this story -- much like the original post read -- would come across as a really lame rip-off despite it having come first.
I agree that that'd be part of the challenge. But just because elements of the novel have become familiar doesn't mean they aren't still exciting or marketable in their own right. The 2001 Planet of the Apes made $362m worldwide; Jurassic Park 3, $368m. Disney's Dinosaur, $349m. And ticket and dvd revenue for PJ's King Kong has totaled over $700m. Besides, if audiences never went for familiar concepts, there'd be no sequels or remakes at all.

So, I don't see any reason why a modestly-budgeted (for the adventure genre), well-acted and well-made Lost World couldn't do well. Besides, while Jurassic Park and Planet of the Apes aren't new to mainstream audiences, their mashup would be.

Christopher wrote: View Post
I'd rather have a good adaptation, regardless of its fidelity, than a faithful adaptation regardless of its quality.
I'm not sure we're using "faithful" in the same sense here. Per my OP, I'd be more than willing to tweak the narrative in order to achieve the best dramatic structure possible. By "faithful", I mainly mean faithful to the spirit, tone and era of the book. That means no women in the expedition (though there could be an important one in the human tribe), no stowaway kid and no modern-day PC sensibilities grafted onto the period clothes.

The trick would be to keep the focus on Malone's inner journey to self-confidence throughout the adventures. That's the key dramatic arc of the book, and a faithful adaptation should keep it front and center.
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Old November 10 2009, 01:24 AM   #15
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Re: Conan Doyle's "The Lost World": still lacking a faithful adaptatio

I don't think including a female lead has anything to do with "PC sensibilities" (which has become a meaningless shibboleth anyway). It's more to do with audience appeal and filmmaking formula. Show most any movie executive a script with no female characters in it and they'll insist on adding a sexy babe to make the film more marketable. That's about as far from "PC" as you can get.
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