2017 Milwaukee Film Festival – Day Six – THE LOST WORLD with Alloy Orchestra
The centerpiece of the Milwaukee Film Festival is the Oriental Theatre, a 1927 movie palace designed to show silent movies in opulent style. Obviously, it doesn’t get used for that purpose much these days, but every Milwaukee Film Festival makes showing one silent film there an event. This year that event was 1925’s THE LOST WORLD with the great Alloy Orchestra brought into town to perform live accompaniment.
THE LOST WORLD is based on an Arthur Conan Doyle featuring the hot tempered Professor Challenger leading an expedition into the Amazon rainforest to attempt to rescue a lost explorer on a plateau filled with dinosaurs. Among Professor Challenger’s companions is a reporter hoping to prove that he’s a brave interesting hero for his girlfriend back in London, the lost explorer’s daughter, a rich big game hunter who has an eye out for the daughter, another professor that’s more interested in insects than people, and a monkey. Beyond the challenges of surviving dinosaurs, are intrepid band of adventurers also need to deal with an evil missing link and an exploding volcano while trying to find some way to bring proof of their exploits back to London.
Arthur Conan Doyle himself makes a brief appearance at the beginning of the film acknowledging that the story of THE LOST WORLD is nothing more than a boyish adventure. And then the film goes to show it, being knowingly self aware of its silliness and making it something of a strength. It’s something of a comedy adventure film with Wallace Beery as Professor Challenger clearly having fun as the hot tempered expedition leader.
THE LOST WORLD is also something of a prototype to KING KONG. There’s an expedition to a remote, forgotten part of the world, prehistoric creatures battle in stop motion animation courtesy of Willis O’Brien and his team of technicians, there’s something of a love story on the expedition, and the film ends with the expedition bringing back a prehistoric creature to a modern city only for the creature to bust loose and cause havoc. Clearly, the makers of KING KONG learned their lessons well as they sidestep the problems that keep THE LOST WORLD from having the same classic status. THE LOST WORLD spends a good chunk of time on the setup whereas KING KONG wastes little time getting Fay Wray on the ship and the expedition underway. Kong himself has a ton more personality than any of the creatures presented here and that personality translates into an emotional connection between beast and audience. THE LOST WORLD spends so much time winking at the audience and engaging in spectacle that it never aspires for anything deeper.
That said, THE LOST WORLD is still a delight. Sure, it’s silly, but it’s so good-natured and eager to please that it gets you to laugh with it not at it. The special effects may not be particularly sophisticated compared to modern films, but they’re still effective enough and endlessly charming. It’s very easy to appreciate the craft and sweat that went into making the film. Alloy Orchestra adds immeasurably to the experience. Live music adds a ton of energy to any room.
And it doesn’t hurt at all that Milwaukeans will come out in droves at least once a year for the silent film extravaganza. The Oriental Theatre was packed and the audience was very appreciative giving a standing ovation to Alloy Orchestra at the end. THE LOST WORLD won’t be the best film that plays at the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival but it will be a film that’s fondly remembered as an experience.
You’ll have to wait until 2018 for another chance to see a silent film at the Oriental Theatre, but we’re not even at the halfway point of the 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival. The 2017 Milwaukee Film Festival continues through October 12, 2017. Tickets can be purchased online at the Milwaukee Film Festival website or at box office locations at various venues.