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How The Lost World Ushered an Era of Live Lizard Dinosaurs

The Lost World Ushered an Era of Live Lizard Dinosaurs” width=”560″/>

From El Dorado to Shangri-La, lost continents and countries have always captured our imagination. But forget about the civilizations — it’s the dinosaurs we’re really interested in. No matter how much we learn about these prehistoric creatures, they always seem to stretch our imagination to its capacity. Turning that imagination into movie reality is another challenge altogether and — until the advent of CGI, that is — one with which filmmakers have struggled for decades.

One of the first instances of dinosaurs on screen was the 1925 movie adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. The flick used rudimentary stop motion animation to depict its dinos. These creatures may not have fooled anyone, but at the time having them interact with humans was pretty impressive.

In 1940, the filmmakers of One Million B.C. had a bright idea: Instead of using herky-jerky clay figures, they could create “real” dinosaurs by dressing animals up in costumes. Their experiments met with limited, if not hilarious success, such as when they took a pig and put it in a rubber Triceratops costume to have it fight a man. The same was done with a Rhinoceros Iguana, whose death led to the creation of animal protection laws in movies. For the next two decades movie studios fearful of lawsuits reverted back to using stop motion, traditional cel animation, and recycled footage from One Million B.C. It wasn’t until 1960 that a filmmaker revisited the idea of real animals in rubber suits.

When Irwin Allen set out to make his own, modern adaptation of The Lost World, he pushed to create the dinosaur effects, again, in stop motion. However, budget constraints forced him to improvise. By using actual footage of lizards, affixed with prosthetics, cut into footage of human actors reacting, he set the basis for pretty much every dinosaur movie for the next 20 years (Valley of the Dragons, Vampire Men of the Lost Planet). In fact, this technique proved to be so popular, and more importantly, cheap, dinosaurs were finally seen on television in shows like Time Tunnel and Lost in Space.

Hollywood later continued its awkward flirtation with realism by shifting over to animatronics, which in some quarters could be considered a massive step down from even stop motion. In movies like 1985’s Baby…Secret of the Lost Legend, for example, the animatronic dinosaur was able to fully interact with human actors without having to be spliced in later. However, the movements of the dinosaurs were, for lack of a better word, robotic. Eventually, animatronics were confined to facial characteristics and theme parks. It wasn’t until 1993’s Jurassic Park that CGI provided a viable alternative — the final death knoll for the era of live lizards.

Sure, interposing close-ups of lizards with wide shots of human beings to create a giant monster effects might seem cheesy now (and at the time it probably was too). But who’s to say that dinosaurs don’t look exactly how Irwin Allen depicted them? Whaddaya mean Steven Spielberg?

To see a full schedule of The Lost World on AMC, click here.

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