Entry updated 23 May 2022. Tagged: Film.
US silent film (1918). Herbert M. Dawley Production. Directed by Willis H O'Brien. Written by Herbert M Dawley and Willis H O'Brien. Special effects by Willis H O'Brien. Cast includes Herbert M. Dawley and Willis H O'Brien. Original version 40 minutes; cut to 12 minutes. Black and white.
Jack Holmes (Dawley) tells his two nephews of his visit to Slumber Mountain. Deep in the forest, he and his friend Joe arrived at the cabin of the late Mad Dick, a hermit. Joe says he had once seen him go to the mountain top and "gaze through a queer looking instrument". That evening at their camp Jack hears a voice calling him to the cabin; breaking in, he finds it filled with "bones and books about prehistoric animals" then discovers the instrument Joe mentioned – a box with lenses and a small cone protruding. The ghost (see Supernatural Creatures) of Mad Dick (O'Brien) appears, luring him to the mountain top, "and bade me look through the instrument."
"In the distant, mysterious nooks of the mountains I beheld grotesque reptiles and birds of the Prehistoric World ... a thunder lizard [Brontosaurus] 100 feet long appeared out of the mists of 40 million years [sic]." (See Dinosaurs; Time Abyss.) Then he watches a giant bird, probably a Gastornis. Next, two Triceratops clash, before a Tyrannosaurus appears, to fight and devour one of them. The Tyrannosaurus then pursues Jack, his pistol shots having no effect ... then he wakes up in the camp. It was only a dream – his nephews are unhappy with the reveal.
The instrument is clearly a Time Viewer, likely the earliest in film and one of the earliest Technology-based examples in any medium – the story "L'historioscope" by Eugène Mouton (in Fantaisies, coll 1883) seems to be the earliest. Confusingly, some sort of Time Travel seems to take place at the end, with the Tyrannosaurus threatening Jack – but then, this is a dream sequence within a tall tale.
Originally circa 40 minutes, it was cut after the premiere to 12 minutes as the theatre considered it too long; subsequently an 18-minute version (as described above) was compiled – the remaining footage is lost, its content unknown. The film was a success, the stop motion scenes being the main draw, and led to O'Brien being hired to do the special effects for The Lost World (1925). As the dinosaurs do not appear until after 10 minutes in the 18-minute film, it may have been felt that the original version simply took too long to get to them (it has also been suggested, probably due to a scene in the extant version, that some gay subtext was removed). Though the movie uses live actors and animated models, they never appear in the same frame together.
The film is forgettable until Jack goes into Mad Dick's cabin. The special effects – particularly of the Gastornis and Tyrannosaurus – would have been impressive at the time; the ending is anticlimactic. A subsequent film, Along the Moonbeam Trail (1920), also featured Jack, his nephews and dinosaurs. [SP]
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