Movie: It's funny that the old classics keep coming back in one form or another. Such is the case with a story penned a great many years ago by the famous author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Lost World. I've seen a number of movies over the years that were directly attributed to this work and in recent years, a television show was made for syndicated television (with a cast of unknowns, mostly from Australia). The series is now over, having lasted three seasons, and now the first season is available on DVD. With twenty-two episodes (twenty if you don't count the first two as part of the season since they aired well in advance of the others), the first season established the premise and characters, most of which showed some growth as time went on.
The episodes started with the brief set up and then the usual narrated blurb: "At the dawn of the century, a band of adventurers set out to prove the impossible, the existence of a pre-historic world. The visionary, the heiress, the hunter, the scientist, and the reporter, all chasing the story of a lifetime. Stranded in a savage land, befriended by an untamed beauty, together they fight to survive in this amazing world of lost civilizations and terrifying creatures. Always searching for a way home, a way out of… The Lost World."
In any case, the show was set in 1920. The leader of the expedition, George Challenger, was a visionary scientist with a sort of renaissance set of skills; the heiress was Marguerite Krux, a women with a lot of money and greed to boot but also hiding a shady past; the hunter was Lord John Roxton, patterned after the big game hunters of yesteryear; the scientist was Dr. Summerlee, a man sent to verify the claims of the lost world by a skeptical society of fellow scientists; the reporter was Ned Malone, a former war correspondent with a heart of gold; and the jungle girl was the lovely Veronica Layton, a gal abandoned by her parents long ago but still hoping to find them.
Each character brought their own sense of reality to the show, with none of them perfect although only Marguerite being seriously flawed. Each week, they would try to get out of a jam, be it from dinosaurs chasing them, various tribes of lost people attempting to use them, or some other crisis, at the same time they searched for a way off the plateau containing the land they were stuck in. As time progressed, the show revealed the plateau to be a sort of nexus of time and space, one where even modern day science would be lost. The biggest complaint fans seemed to have revolved around the cheap special effects (the CGI dinosaurs looked like something taken off a videogame from ten years ago) and the formula of the episodes. I didn't catch many episodes from the first season until this DVD set, although I've seen a number of them and watching them in order helped explain a lot of things. Here's a breakdown of the scenes for the first season:
Episode One: The Journey Begins: (April 3, 1999):
After a man dies in his presence, explorer George Challenger finds a map to a lost world, full of dangers and mysteries, located in the Amazon jungle. He goes back to London and convinces a group of interesting people to join (and finance) an expedition to the Lost World, one in which they may never return.
Episode Two: Stranded: (April 3, 1999):
Marguerite makes a deal with a local chieftain to get off the Plateau. The deal is to hand over Veronica to the chief for marriage, something she wants no part of. Like all such schemes, things don't work out as planned and the team must fight a variety of threats in order to save the chiefs daughter, Veronica's virtue, and their own necks.
Episode Three: More Than Human: (October 2, 1999):
In order to conserve ammunition and protect the crew from larger dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex, Roxton searches for materials to build a large crossbow. Life has a funny way of messing with them when a T-Rex attacks them during the search. They run away and fall into a whirlpool that transports them to a world much like Planet of the Apes, where the Roman Empire is still around, but run by lizardmen, led by a recurring character, Tribune. Forced to fight in the gladiator ring, will Roxton be able to save his friends and keep the technology of gunpowder out of the hands of these creatures?
Episode Four: Nectar: (October 9, 1999):
Summerlee is stung by a large bumblebee, one large enough to qualify as a means of transportation, and the resulting poison means Ned, Roxton and Veronica must find a way into the hive for the ingredient to save their companion. The phrase out of the frying pan and into the fire came to mind with this one.
Episode Five: Cave Of Fear: (October 16, 1999):
With their supply of sulphur running low, the group searches for it in a sacred burial ground (they need it for gunpowder to make bullets), finding some. Unfortunately, they also find some headhunters that don't appreciate their ancestors' remains being messed with. They are brought before the queen of the savages, an English woman, who offers them a deal to save their lives, one that is a lot riskier than it appears.
Episode Six: Salvation: (October 23, 1999):
Summerlee saves a native girl from drowning and is branded a witch by the local tribe leader, Tolmec (Lani Tupu of Farscape and from the first two episodes of Lost World). The tribe practices a weird religion based on a mixture of Aztec and Christianity, with Summerlee put on trial. Challenger acts as his lawyer, with the stakes high for himself since a conviction means they both die.
Episode Seven: Blood Lust: (October 30, 1999):
Roxton is bitten by a vampire-like man and gains enhanced sensory abilities. The man's lover, Calista, seduces him and gets him to attack his friends. At the same time, Ned and a native fight to the death for Veronica's hand, something she rails against completely.
Episode Eight: Out Of Time: (November 6, 1999):
A group of druids caught in a time loop of sorts believe Marguerite is their savior based on an ancient prophecy. With Ned and Roxton backing her up, she must find a way to fulfill her role or they will all be trapped forever. At the same time, Veronica takes a shine to an abandoned baby, one that the apemen want themselves.
Episode Nine: Paradise Found: (November 13, 1999):
The crew happens upon the guide to Veronica's long lost parents who is far older than he should be. Finding a map, they investigate what happened to him, hoping to find Veronica's parents, and encounter a valley where immortality is commonplace. They soon find that paradise has a steep price that they are unwilling to pay.
Episode Ten: The Beast Within: (November 20, 1999):
Malone dies and is revived by a shaman but the effort changes the healer into a beast with no soul. Malone is forced to hunt him down or Summerlee will die in his place. The gals, on the other hand, find that they must rely upon one another or perish, something neither of them will concede given the bad blood between them.
Episode Eleven: Creatures Of The Dark: (November 27, 1999):
After headhunters chase Malone, Challenger, Veronica and Marguerite into a deep mine, they are trapped by a race that want to maintain their secret existence from the outside world. Unfortunately, volcanic activity presses the issue and to stay in the city will mean death.
Episode Twelve: Tribute: (January 15, 2000):
Roxton, Challenger and Veronica upset an age-old agreement between a village and a group of killers, forcing the team to act as protectors (sort of like the Seven Samurai). The villagers learn that freedom is not without it's cost as do the team. In a separate story, Marguerite, Summerlee, and Malone find a German flying ace with a plane, one who could take them back to civilization if not for less than fond memories of Marguerite's past.
Episode Thirteen: Absolute Power: (January 22, 2000):
Challenger stumbles upon a scientific find of the century and soon gains tremendous powers to control time and space. The cost is his humanity and soon the choice between loyalty and principle becomes moot when he props himself up as a God. Will the consequences of his new found power be death for the team?
Episode Fourteen: Camelot: (January 29, 2000):
A young king, in a medieval kingdom ruled by absolute law, takes a fancy to Marguerite, who spurns his advances. When given a choice between marriage and death, she does what she always does, take the expedient route to save her neck. When one of the king's advisors is found to be treacherous, the team has to save themselves and the young king or both will perish.
Episode Fifteen: Unnatural Selection: (February 5, 2000):
The team ran into another scientist, Dr. Hargrove that is acquainted with Challenger. When they find out what kind of genetic experiments he has been taking part of, they seek a means to escape but is it too late for them? The episode was inspired by the novel, The Island of Dr. Moreau.
Episode Sixteen: Time After Time: (February 12, 2000):
Malone, Challenger and Marguerite run into a man who can get them off the plateau at the same time Roxton and Veronica encounter a women who Roxton accidentally shoots. Both parties find that their situations are far more complicated than they appear at first, both with potentially deadly consequences.
Episode Seventeen: Prodigal Father: (February 19, 2000):
Veronica's father reappears after being set free by Malone, Challenger and Marguerite. They soon find that his secrets are far more dangerous, as is a native trying to kill him, than they bargained for.
Episode Eighteen: Birthright: (February 26, 2000):
In a tale centering on Egyptian folklore, the team encounter a mummy who promises to help them if they assist him in restoring his kingdom. The best laid plans soon go astray when they find out he's not what he initially seems to be. Using science and luck, the team craft a means to escape but are soon caught up to by the guards.
Episode Nineteen: Resurrection: (March 4, 2000):
In another tale involving a lost race, a group of Norse Vikings kill Roxton and capture Marguerite. A mystical boy appears and offers Roxton a deal to return to life, one that is not as sweet as it sounds when the details play out.
Episode Twenty: Prophecy: (May 13, 2000):
Part of the team meets a gypsy with the gift of seeing the future. After she predicts Malone's imminent death, she steals their guns and supplies, leaving them defenseless. The other team, in this case Summerlee and Challenger, find that the raptors are learning from their encounters, something thought impossible previously. Note: this episode and the following one were aired in reverse order compared to the DVD set.
Episode Twenty One: The Chosen One: (April 22, 2000):
A mystical monk is left in the team's care by his dying mentor. They are asked to get him to a group that will use him to fulfill a prophecy and free his people. Sadly, his skill is weaker than the job requires and his enemies are a lot more cunning than expected.
Episode Twenty Two: Barbarians At The Gate: (May 20, 2000):
Tribune, having screwed up and given the secret of gunpowder to a group of raiders, seeks the teams help in ending the threat of the new menace, one he helped create. The group has little interest in doing so until the raiders make it apparent that they are going to take over everything in sight is left unchecked. The episode ended in a cliffhanger with much of the team separated from the others.
Okay, the show was cheesy and had little socially redeeming value but it was also fun for what it tried to be. Who could deny the eye candy that was Jennifer O'Dell (Veronica) or the rare glimpse of Rachel Blakely's (Marguerite) body (or body double, depending on whom you believe)? The show was silly in many ways but it was still worth checking out for the various issues it explored (that were far deeper than the surface stories). If certain episodes looked hastily made or the way the producers started mechanically breaking the episodes up (each week there would be two main stories, each with part of the team, probably filmed at the different times to lower the budget), so be it. I just wish the region one release had some of the extras the region zero set had and that the picture was improved for the DVD set.
I'm going to rate this as Recommended as is, but I sure hope that future seasons include something more because that's how you get fans to buy sets: by providing a great package deal full of extras. With twenty-two episodes lasting about 43 minutes each, there was a lot to see here, much of it good.
Picture: The picture was presented in the television standard of 1.33:1 ratio full frame, as originally shot. The show had a fair amount of grain and minor video noise with some episodes looking like the compression rate was set inappropriately (not quite like a VCD but close). I understand the original budgets for the three-year series were low but an effort could have been made to clean up the DVD transfer.
Sound: The audio was presented in 5.1 Dolby Digital surround with some use of channel separation. The dynamic range was not extensive but the show was made for syndicated television and the DVD's sounded better than how I remember the show sounding on cable. The vocals were usually clear and the music basic, adventure style scores, with okay sound effects.
Extras: There were no real extras other than some actor biographies listed on the six slim line cases the boxed set contained and a brief synopsis of the episodes on the back of those cases. Another company has a boxed set out that has a variety of extras so this aspect of the release disappointed me.
Final Thoughts: I thought the show was interesting and wish the producers would at least make a mini-series to finish it up properly. As it stands, I also hope for the rest of the show to be released on DVD since this boxed set made it seem a lot better than it did with commercials and an irregular schedule. For those wanting a taste of the show, I think the episodes run in syndication on cable (just too early for me to watch) but be forewarned, it's easy to get hooked like I just did. Fans of Farscape will note that Anthony Simcoe (D'Argo) had a small role in an episode too.