Sunday, November 2, 2014

In short: The Lost World (2001)

For my tastes, this BBC version of Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel is an exemplary adaptation of a novel with many a problematic aspect (at least from the view of contemporary racial and romantic politics) that would make an unchanged adaption awkward to unpleasant.

So Stuart Orme’s film keeps the general shape of Doyle’s book – in fact, it hews much closer to it than a lot of other adaptations – but changes motivations, details, and characters to something more approachable to contemporary ethics while keeping the charms of old-fashioned adventure, romance, dinosaurs and ape men intact. At the same time, the film never falls into the trap of changing things up for change’s sake, keeping many details of Doyle’s novel intact, and rejigging others in a way that doesn’t so much suggest deconstruction as loving and knowing critique. Many of the changes are of course obvious: what if we look at the hidden plateau’s native human population as if they were actual human beings? Why not have romantic politics not quite as constrained by the horrors of Victorian sexual and emotional values? Why not make Challenger (embodied with a most excellent mix of grouchiness and enthusiasm by Bob Hoskins) slightly more personable (less random hitting of journalists here), and express ambiguity towards Lord Roxton’s (Tom Ward) Great White Hunter-dom? And so on, and so forth.

Personally, in an intellectual climate right now that on all sides tends heavily towards the black and white views of shouty bullies, I also found its pleasant to encounter a movie that does express ambiguity towards Roxton or Victorian values instead of plain loathing, actually trying to understand (perhaps even respect, where possible) the differences instead of going the easy way of total condemnation of everything; there’s quite a bit about the times and their morals that deserve little more than condemnation of course, but going to the effort of actually putting things in context to decide which do and which don’t still is worthwhile.

All this does for the most part work in the film’s background – apart from a kitschy yet likeable bit of ecological and/or anti-colonialist business right at the end – while Orme takes great pleasure in realizing most of the great set pieces of Doyle’s novel and adding various adventure movie standards to boot. Add to that a lively acting ensemble (also including Elaine Cassidy, Matthew Rhys, James Fox and Peter Falk), tolerable to excellent effects, and very pretty photography, and it’s very difficult for me to argue against this version of The Lost World.

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