Yet another adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Challenger adventure comes under review thanks to the Sci-Fi Chronicles book, but despite having a pretty damned great cast, this one flounders, and you need look no father than the ‘ahem’ dinosaurs to know why. And while Irwin Allen made quite a name for himself in television series and disaster movies, this one is a bit of a miss, but still has an amazing cast…
Claude Rains, himself, takes on the role of Professor Challenger, he’s joined by Michael Rennie as big game hunter, Lord John Roxton, and 007 alumnus (though they hadn’t done them yet) David Hedison as reporter Ed Malone, and Jill St. John as Jennifer Holmes, daughter of Malone’s boss.
As in previous tales, Challenger arrives back in London after his travels in the Amazonian rainforest, with proclamations of an isolated plateau, rife with prehistoric life. These claims are met with derision, and he issues the dare to those brave enough to come with him to return and see for themselves, and perhaps return with a living specimen. He initially kiboshes the idea of a journalist (he hates journalists) joining them, but when Holmes (John Graham) foots a generous part of the cost of the expedition, Malone is allowed to tag along. And away we go!!
On arriving in South America, everyone is shocked that Jennifer (a woman!!) has arrived to join the expedition as well, and she weasels her way onto the team through a bit of blackmail and the promise of further reimbursement from her father. Her character is subject to rampant sexism, and she, herself is a caricature of a stereotype we’ve grown to know well, the spoiled, little dog-carrying socialite, who in this film, is not so much on the hunt for a dinosaur but for a husband. She has her eyes set on Roxton, but you know things are destined to work out between her and Malone, simply because they hate one another.
Setting out together via helicopter, they land on the plateau, and are soon marooned there, learning that there are dangerous natives amongst the wildlife, and that Roxton is actually there for another reason completely, having known of the existence of the plateau long before the expedition set out, believing it to be the long-lost realm of El Dorado.
The music, style, pacing and some rampant sexism (which is almost laughable if it wasn’t so offensive) edge right up alongside camp to give it a healthy nudge, especially when seen from today’s perspective. And then there’s the ‘dinosaurs’… Iguanas and the like with fins on their back or horns on their head. Um yeah. All I could think when I saw these creations was that they should have called Ray Harryhausen instead. And I found myself wondering what kind of professor Challenger is if he thinks any of these creatures resembles the brontosaurus, or tyrannosaur that he claims they are.
I also got a chuckle that when the ‘dinosaurs’ started fighting, the sound used would also turn up in the Star Wars films as the sound of TIE fighters!!!
Overall, this one ended up being a terrible, downright laughable film.
But the journey through Sci-Fi Chronicles continues!