Notes: A&E Network Studios.
Professor George Challenger: Bob Hoskins
Professor Leo Summerlee: James Fox
Lord John Roxton: Tom Ward
Edward Malone: Matthew Rhys
Theo Kerr: Peter Falk
Agnes Cluny: Elaine Cassidy
Maree: Nicole Whippy
Gladys: Joanna Page
Professor Illingworth: Robert Hardy.
Written: Tony Mulholland
Producer: Christopher Hall
Director: Stuart Orme
Special Effects: the people who worked on the Discovery Channel's Walking with Dinosaurs (1999) -- you could just tell they were dying to do something dramatic with these state-of-the-art creations.
Summary: In 1911, Professor George Challenger and native helpers face upper Amazon river rapids and Challenger loses a bag down the river. Back home, newspaper reporter Edward Malone hopes to impress girlfriend Gladys with proof of an adventurous spirit. He convinces his editor, McArdle, that he should attend a dinosaur lecture by Professor Summerlee, an event Challenger interrupts by bringing forth a bone, not a fossil, of a pterodon's wing. He is mocked by the crowd and one fellow who speaks derisively of notions of taking a rocketship to the moon. Challenger sneers at Summerlee for forgetting "what real science is": "getting your hands dirty again." Challenger wants to organize an expedition to Brazil. Lord John Roxton, big game hunter and playboy, will fund half the adventure. Challenger is not enraged at Malone being a newspaper reporter and volunteering to go along, which the editor reluctantly agrees to allow. Summerlee bids good-bye to his family; Gladys is giddy in the brief presence of Roxton.
At an outpost the expedition hires Samuel (not Sambo) as the "lead bearer." The team meets Theo Kerr, a missionary who, after he delivering the line, "Professor Challenger, I presume," reconstructs the tiresome "religion vs. science" debate, and his niece Agnes Cluny. The Reverend has written an anti-Darwinist book.
Malone has a run-in with a tarantula that Agnes is not freaked out by, since her parents were, uh, botanists. Roxton is impressed. At dinner, accompanied by opera on a phonograph, discussion turns to native fear of "curipuri," a superstition that takes the form of birds or lizards. Kerr insists that the earth is 6000 years old, not millions of years, and that fossils are evidence of creatures that did not make it to the ark. Summerlee is arrogant and scoffing, but Challenger later reveals that his selection of science as a career disappointed his devout parents -- his father was sad when he asked for his forst microscope -- and he berates Summerlee's insensitivity: "Now I don't know if there is a god, but I do know man is no substitute if there isn't."
Agnes will go with the expedition and Uncle Theo asks if it's charity or ambition. Malone runs into a fetish, alternately considered a "cheap indian trick" and "curipuri." Uncle suspiciously joins and a leak in a bag Malone is carrying attracts deadly coral snakes. Was it only Summerlee's insect specimens? They find a cave and gunpowder marks suggesting that the passage to the plateau has been intentionally blocked.
Antagonism breaks out between Summerlee and Challenger, the latter informing Summerlee that "it's been a while since you've done any real science." Agnes plays a joke on Malone, telling him to mix leaves with urine as an insect repellent. A tribal fetish scare sends the native guides running. Uncle Theo turns up unexpectedly (like Challenger in the book), suspiciously persuading the expedition to head north-east instead of north. Discussion turns to snakes vs. piranhas, and a coral snake attacks Malone; we all suspect it was after the insect specimens Summerlee has been collecting. "Everything in this place wants to eat me," whimpers Malone.
They come to the plateau and discover a cave system with paintings of iguanodons and tribal warfare. But the cave passage is blocked. Nevertheless, Challenger insists, "This is real science: in the field!" Summerlee snipes back, "Perhaps you'd spend less time in the field if you had anything to go home to!" (There's no Mrs. Challenger in this version; instead, Summerlee is made into a family man.)
While Summerlee captures a huge moth, a pteranodon, harpy-like, steals their pig barbecue. Assertions, especially by the Reverend, that it was an Amazonian vulture fall flat. After they wander around the plateau for a while, Challenger thinks he has found a way up, but face a treacherous log crossing. Uncle doesn't want Agnes to go. Challenger is petrified but Roxton tells him that crossing is as "easy as falling off a log." Uncle Theo declares, "That place belongs to the devil. It is no part of God's kingdom." So he strands the others on the plateau by knocking off the log (taking the role of Gomez in the book so that we avoid the inherent racism).
After some wandering, a paranoid Malone fingers his gun and encounters a baby iguanodon he names Figaro. A giant iguanodon appears and Challenger says, "We're perfectly safe. It's an herbivore." Later it appears Roxton has killed Figaro for dinner, but it turns out to have been another small iguanodon instead, so it's perfectly okay. When we see an adult iguanodon, "It's perfectly safe; it's an herbivore." "All my life, I never thought ... I never dreamed ..." stammers Summerlee. Challenger kindly remarks, "I know."
They come upon a pteranodon nest and when Summerlee exudes, trouble starts. Summerlee is bitten. Challenger asks Roxton in a private moment about their odds on the plateau, which seem grim since only a "religious lunatic" knows where they are stranded. An allosaur ambivalently attacks at night and Summerlee claims, "It's a creature from hell."
Malone climbs a tree and sees what will be dubbed Lake Gladys. On the way down he encounters an ape-man. They visit the lake. Roxton shifts gears: "Roight. Dinnah." Challenger: "Warm-blooded, if possible." Agnes and Malone fight about Roxton's flirting before an allosaur attacks them. They run like hell and fall into a pit. When the dinosaur follows, it lands on wooden stakes, impaling itself. But who dug that pit?
The ape-men capture Challenger and Summerlee, so Roxton arms the others. They see plateau indians in canoes land and explore. Agnes makes a connection with them and Roxton demonstrates gunpower so they all join up in an alliance against the ape-men. The ape tribe bash the skull of a native and eat him. Challenger and Summerlee, horrified, exchange mutual admirations. When Summerlee is about to be killed next, Roxton rescues him and a battle breaks out. Roxton would exterminate all the apes but Challenger stops him: they are a "new species! They must be preserved!" They have rescued the son of the chief native and are shown caves and a bit of enigmatic history -- a devil left and ruined the escape route (obviously Uncle Theo, since explosives were involved). Challenger is fascinated by the ecological balance, Summerlee by the concerns of escape. Roxton flirts through Agnes' tranlations with the daughter of the chief. But "the women of this tribe hunt and fight with the men, until they are married."
Challenger declares the ape-people "the missing link" and insists "the killing must stop" despite the indians' inclinations with their prisoners. Agnes clashes with Roxton on the issue of hunting, with Roxton's assertion of the "cruelty of Nature" seeming like the rubbish that it is. As the weeks go by, a glider plan fails and Agnes smirks at Malone entertaining the native children. The chief's daughter offers Roxton a bucket of blood and the heart of a kill. The ape-people bury a dead infant and Challenger tries to gain their trust to study them more closely. Agnes laughs at Malone's description of Gladys as "tiny" and "delicate," and they take a swim. Summerlee makes an explosive concoction.
An ape draws a dinosaur in the sand and the prisoners start bellowing. Again, the son of the chief, Achille, and Roxton want to exterminate the ape-people, but Challenger blocks the proposal. Agnes and Malone see dinosaurs headed toward the village and it turns out that the apes were calling them. One dinosaur breaks the defense stakes while the natives run. Some throw spears while the apes cover themselves in feces. They cover Malone and the dinosaur avoids them. Roxton shoots one dinosaur dead in the throat. The chief spears the other through the face but is thrown. When Roxton is smacked down, it's up to Malone to shoot the dinosaur, which he does. Roxton laughs hysterically.
Summerlee has blown open the cave hole, and when the chief dies and Achille turns on the white men, Challenger grabs a bag with a giant egg in it and we all bid a hasty retreat. Roxton is attacked by an ape-man who takes his knife and is killed by Achille. Roxton and Achille have a stand-off until Roxton passes out, presumably dead. The chief's daughter cries and Achille softens.
"Oh thank God, we're back in the real world," says Summerlee, until we hear Uncle Theo ranting: "The devil made that place." In a struggle with a gun between Summerlee and the insane missionary, Theo is shot and dies in Agnes' arms. Natives in canoes rescue the others.
The British public cheer the explorers on their return. Gladys is not at the dock though. Malone's boss McArdle wants to capitalize on the discovery. Malone visits Gladys and finds that she's engaged to Mr. Arthur Hare. But "I named a lake after you!" Malone seems to be taking it well, but, says Gladys, "promise you won't do anything rash." No confirmation that her Mr. Hare is a second assistant clerk, or whatever Conan Doyle ironically designated in the novel.
Challenger is scheduled to talk and there are rumors that he'll be awarded the Chair of Zoology at Oxford. He publicly unboxes a pteranodon hatchling and names the species in honor of Summerlee, but the photo flashes scare the creature and it flies about the room, ultimately escaping out a window. Agnes in the meantime is also retreating from the chaos. Amid the chaos and noise, Malone tells Summerlee they shouldn't reveal what they have found to this lot, and Challenger agonizes but ultimately agrees that to reveal their discoveries would mean "the death of the plateau." They tell the crowd it was a trick -- an Amazonian vulture. Instead, Summerlee will tell of "unique insect species! Exciting new plant life!"
Agnes respects what Malone has done. Challenger alludes to a map to Atlantis that he may pursue. Malone and Agnes are in love, and Malone may write a novel, or perhaps join Challenger in another exploration. There's a suggestion that Roxton may be alive and living with the chief's daughter.
Commentary: This is the best of the 871 film versions of The Lost World. The politics of the Doyle book are reversed, but often with the use of some other facet of the book, so the final effect is that it seems closer to the book than the other filmic renditions.