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This BBC adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's fantastic 1900s dinosaur epic is roughly the tenth version ever to grace the moving-picture medium (notice that I didn't say film, digital video or otherwise :).  The story follows a group of adventurers who search after The Lost World of dinosaurs that have managed to exist and evolve since their supposed extinction almost 65 million years ago (whew, that's a long time in anyone's vocabulary).

"Pterosaur forearm ... meet the bumbling professor."
I'm sure that this was the version Dr. Doyle would have liked to have seen when Spielberg first discovered the magic of CGI.  As usual, liberties have been taken with the original story which include the development of a whole new character (a missionary played by Peter Falk of Columbo fame) ... here the ever-classic debate between Theology and the Darwinism theory takes place against two protagonists of extremely opposite ideals.  There is also an additional ecological theme which outlines humanity's impact on both culture and species alike, and a superb ensemble cast of actors grounds everything into reality.  However, this is a 2½-hour dialogue-heavy story which will no doubt affect kiddies attention spans greatly as it doesn't always rely on spectacular visual FX to keep one's interest up (I can just see little Johnny walking out into the kitchen now).  But considering some of the grisly goings-on that the ape-men exhibit, the youngies could be having nightmares for weeks to come anyway.

Ever since the first CGI-created BBC production Walking With Dinosaurs was released, there has been a veritable glut of similarly-themed TV specials.  These lnclude Walking With Beasts and The Ballad Of Big Al, all of which are superb forays into the lives of these long-extinct lords of our planet Earth.  However, if the latest promotional blurb for BBC's Dinotopia is anything to go by, I myself have no interest in watching it based on what I've seen so far.  It defies belief why the BBC thought they could do any better with the concept of talking dinosaurs since Disney themselves proved that this wasn't such a bright idea after all.  Heck, Disney basically managed to stuff up Pixar's original plan of creating a whole dinosaur movie without any dialogue whatsoever - which would have proven for once that subtle CGI storytelling could and would have been possible without the need for cheap, gimicky (and let's not forget, tacky) verbalisation just to provide a cutesy platform for kids to ride on.  Oh well.

"The butler did it ... oh sorry, wrong TV show."
And as much as CGI has been touted as the be-all and end-all of visual FX, I am still not able to suspend my disbelief about what the characters are facing when they do battle with these prehistoric creatures.  Sure, the technology is up to the stage of blending a CGI-created creature within the surrounding environment, as well as emulating dust and debris, realistic muscle weight and camera movement.  But all these enhancements can ultimately destroy a person's "ooh-aah" factor at wondering "How on earth did they get that onscreen?".  We take CGI for granted nowadays as it no longer stands out in the way that the old-VFX used to do.  The once-standard use of models and puppetry created a kind of "hyper-realism" that we have always come to expect in any fantastic settings because we always knew they were not real.  Therefore it can be argued that the "unrealism" of this now-ancient method of VFX (optical as its known) would have at least astounded us with its obvious complexity in imaging - but CGI has spoilt us rotten with its seamlessness and I'm afraid that's just the price of progress today.

Oh, for the return to the days of Ray Harryhausen!

Movie
Professor George Challenger (Bob Hoskins) is the sure-headed and, as some would say, stubborn member of the Museum community in which he presents to the lecture group yet another one of his wild adventure stories ... now its about the existence of living dinosaurs.  Everyone scoffs at this preposterousness, as does Professor Leo Summerlee (James Fox) who just wishes that George would be taken away by the first flying-reptile.  However the worldly Lord John Phillip Roxton (Tom Ward), who never shies away from a good adventure, offers to fund Challenger's expedition to seek out this Lost World.  Along for the ride is a budding young newspaper reporter Edward Malone (Matthew Rhys) who wishes to document everything that happens, however remote the possibility of a real-life dinosaur habitat (at least this would have to be a lot more interesting than writing obituaries).

Friendly.
Following a map made by an earlier Spanish explorer and after several weeks of travelling through the Amazon river, they meet up with their contact Agnes Clooney (Elaine Cassidy) at a catholic mission who agrees to come with them on this extraordinary expedition.  However, this comes under initial protest from the devoutly religious resident missionary Reverend Theo Kerr (Peter Falk).  After a heated debate about whether the dinosaurs were simply the other animals left behind from Noah's Ark, they witness (if only briefly) evidence of Challenger's forthright claims, whilst at the same time shaking Theo Kerr's faith in God right down to the core.  The group soon find themselves unbelievably stranded and the only direction left to travel is to the alleged X-marks-the-spot.

Video
First impressions count, and this DVD proves how remarkable the potential of this format can be.  In fact, when I eventually popped The Lost World into my PC-DVD system, I found that it was a little too good in my opinion.

The image quality throughout the TV movie AND the documentary is virutally beyond reproach (both are encoded in 16:9).  Each one exhibits oustanding clarity and colour saturation that easily rivals many of the Hollywood blockbusters, but this is no doubt due to production being solely for television purposes and not a cinematic release.  There are absolutely no artefacts of any kind here, film or MPEG - so either a direct-to-digital transfer has taken place, or at the very least the most pristine video mastering has been afforded from the source.  Even the darkest of scenes have a vibrancy of detail that usually disappears in mega-budget film-productions.  However ...

The main reason I have not given this video a perfect mark is that since this production would have all been edited and enhanced digitally, the resultant display (especially on a PC) exhibits an almost "plastic" look that I can't help but notice every few scenes.  Also, the blacks are defined but not exactly deep, to which this fault shows up in the places that your eyes would normally want to adjust to had the environment been overcast or shadowed under.  And funnily enough there is some small but continual evidence of incomplete parts to the image (usually in obtuse corners where the edge of the lens is apparent, which can only be viewed on the PC without any overscan covering it up).  Overall, this remarkable image is more than anyone would expect for a made-for-TV movie.

Not so friendly.
Audio
Ever had one of those days when you swear your 5.1 system has been hooked up properly, only to find that not all your speakers seemed to be working?  Me too.  But a screaming Pterosaur finally put that doubt to rest for good about forty minutes into the show - thank god for valium!  There is a nice lushness to this 5.1 soundtrack that is mostly frontstage directed, so any and all rear-effects will likely go unnoticed.  But people with a keen ear still might appreciate the limited surround and split-rear activity when it does appear, but unfortunately this doesn't give us as much envelopment as one would hope for in a 5.1 soundmix.  However, the subwoofer gets more attention here and it comes into play many times over to enhance the aural environment (both musically and ambiently).

The audio commentary does specifically state that this new DVD 5.1 soundtrack required very different mixing to the television version (more to do with enhancing specific sounds for the DVDs increased dynamic range).  Still, it would have been nice to be wrapped around in sound for a more involving experience, but this also might have constantly distracted us from what was happening upfront - after all, this ain't Jurassic Park.  Most importantly, dialogue is as clear as a bell with no difficulty in audible perception.

Extras
The audio commentary is probably one of the better ones I've ever heard of this ilk - the director and producer both share equal discussion time and provide many interesting insights into all facets of the production.  It feels like these two guys were just laying back in their lounge-suite whilst discussing many of their experiences such as the actors' contributions to the filming, what was real onscreen and which parts were fake (apart from the dinosaurs, dopey!) and the constant challenges of transporting and utilising all the equipment at the various locations.

The documentary entitled "Into The Lost World" is just as informative and packs a lot of interesting and varied aspects into barely one-half hour.   It goes into the life and times of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as both a medical student and an equally well-known prankster as well as what it took for the BBC crew to get everything onto our television screen (from story-to-script adaptation; location scouting; filming techniques and eventual CGI trickery).

"Now I swear ... the next one of you primates ... even touches me ..."
Conclusion
This is probably one of the better book-to-moving-picture translations that has ever graced the telly, let alone the silver screen.  Of course, the script has been given highest priority at the sacrifice of mindnumbing visual FX ... fortunately the BBC has decided to substitute them with more complimentary VFX to help carry the story onward, rather than steering us away from any T-Rex footprint-sized plotholes.  The extras are quite rich in detail despite the limited quantity provided and are definately worth multiple viewings over time.  The one problem with this disc is the lack of chapters (12 in all) which made it difficult to pin down which section of the movie I wanted to view.

Even though this BBC production isn't the most faithful translation of the original novel, it definately keeps within the spirit and intention of Sir Arthur's book.  I would also hazard to say that this adventure lark might well have had the same impression on educational faculties way back in the early 20th Century as what Star Wars did on adolescents of the 1970s - keep in mind that imaginations were a lot more vivid then than they are right now :).

And if you didn't already know this, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is the bloke who created the most famous of all detectives in the western world ... no no, not Inspector Clouseau ... Sherlock Holmes, my dear Watson!


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