Hollywood Flashback: 'Lost World' First Brought Dinosaurs to Life in 1925

The Lost World (1925) - Photofest-H 2018
First National Pictures Inc./Photofest

Universal's 'Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom' — set to hit theaters June 22 — has rich ancestral lineage to the silent film, which was the first feature film to use stop-motion ani­mation special effects.

Universal's Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, out June 22, has a rich ancestral lineage that stretches back through 1933's megahit King Kong to the mother of all dinosaurs-gone-wild movies, the 1925 silent film The Lost World.

Based on a novel by Sherlock Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle, World was the first feature film to use stop-motion ani­mation special effects by pioneer Willis O'Brien, who went on to work on Kong. He was able to combine miniature rubber-composite dinosaurs with live-action footage of humans by using a split screen.

On World, O'Brien created about five seconds of footage a day. The technology was so revolutionary that when Doyle showed an early test reel to the Society of American Magicians in 1922, The New York Times couldn't decide whether "these pictures were intended by the famous author as a joke on the magicians or are genuine pictures."

Besides using the same production technique, both World and Kong have similar plotlines. In World, a brontosaurus brought by adventurers from the Amazon to London gets loose, crashes off the Tower Bridge, then swims away down the River Thames. In Kong, adventurers return to New York from mythical Skull Island with "Kong, the Eighth Wonder of the World," and the giant ape gets loose, develops a relationship with Fay Wray and plunges off the Empire State Building.

Both films premiered in New York, with World at the Astoria and Kong at Radio City Music Hall, where it played five times daily along with a stage show with a top price of 99 cents ($19 today). World was released before THR began publishing, but the paper covered Kong's production extensively with this news item running Jan. 11, 1933: "Radio Picture and the police department of Los Angeles are trying to find two men, who worked as extras on the 'Kong' set Thursday night and did not show up for their pay checks. Studio and cops are not worried about the pay checks but about a machine gun that disappeared."

This story first appeared in the June 20 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.