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BMZ Review: Lost Worlds: Life in the Balance
By Elizabeth Kaye McCall


“Lost Worlds” Logs Hair-Raising Adventures
Written by: Elizabeth Kaye McCall
Source: Freelance
Date: June 2001


Category: Reviews

For filmgoers reared on “Mission Impossible” blockbusters, spine-tingling stuntwork comes with the ticket.   In contrast, the hair-raising helicopter ascents up the sheer sides of Mount Roraima, highest point in Venezuela’s remote “table mountains,” were shot during a real scientific expedition in “Lost Worlds: Life in the Balance,” a large-format lesson in biodiversity.

Thunder and lightning explode like a crazed pyrotechnic display as “Lost Worlds” opens to long-abandoned temples of the lost city of Tikal in Guatemala, where a black jaguar, liquid muscle, glides unfazed by Nature’s power.  “It was once the heart of Mayan civilization,” remarks Harrison Ford, an active environmentalist, who made time to narrate “Lost Worlds” in the midst of another film project.  “What happened in this lost world?” he asks, as the intoxicating mystique crafted by Academy-Award nominated director Bayley Silleck (“Cosmic Voyage,” “Concerto for the Earth”), is suddenly chucked for a breakfast visit to a New York highrise apartment. 

When Ford says, “Water comes from a faucet, or does it?” heed those words.  An animated (and seemingly realistic) sequence instantly propels you through the wet interior of New York City’s water system until you come up for air 80 miles north in the Ashokan Reservoir.  Water immersion is far from over. 

Cross country, submerged in the Pacific, this time the view is beds of kelp, thankfully restored along the California coast.  Floating on the surface, the once near-decimated sea otter is reclining, happily chomping away.  Human awareness and efforts can make a difference in restoring natural order, like with the sea otter, the voiceover reminds.  But even sea otter populations still have a ways to go.

On to a quick sweep of endangered species in the rain forest.  “We’re changing the world too quickly for animals to change with it.  Scientists are working against time,” the narrator warns as a South American Tapir enjoys dinner.  Preaching aside, the statistics are alarming—more forest cleared in the last 50 years than in all of previous history. 

Finally we meet the central storyline, an expedition to the legendary “Lost World” of Venezuela’s high plateau.  Led by three biologists, much of the 10-week shoot this expedition involved turned into a high-risk survival challenge for the crew.  (There were 29 weeks of principal photography in the entire film.)  To reach Mount Roraima, tallest of the rugged Tepuis (“table mountain” in the Pemón Indian language) at 10,000 ft., four helicopters carrying the scientists, film crew and 4,000 pounds of gear were forced to travel with a minimum fuel load—just enough to reach the summit and return. (The production brought its own helicopter mechanic and replacement parts, by the way, and the IMAX® camera used was the same one that reached the top of Mount Everest in the film “Everest.”)

Vividly shot, the helicopter’s dizzying ascent up a sheer rock wall culminates in a landing amidst a quagmire of ferocious protrusions that look like the set for a Luke Skywalker spaceship escape.  Weather changes so fast atop Roraima, pilots don’t turn off the helicopters to unload, if they can even land at all.   

“Seeing is believing,” we’re told about Nature’s ability to diversify in ways not imaginable.  Who would have expected to find carnivorous plants in a lunar-looking landscape like Mount Roraima, or the show stealer—a little black toad that walks and rolls instead of jumping.  A hard act to follow by any account, as “Lost Worlds” lurches to New York’s suburbs.  Then, as children and soil become fervent lecture fodder (which is about as welcome as a TV commercial break in the midst of your favorite show), we’re warned that the balance of life could tip without our knowing it. 

“It wouldn’t be the first time,”  the voice reminds as the Mayan city of Tikal returns, reclaimed by jungle and jaguar.  While this seems the perfect stopping point, a final swoop to Venezuela’s plateaus unfolds.  But maybe it’s worth the trip.  This time, the vantage point atop Angel Falls, brings a cascade from the world’s highest waterfall, top-to-bottom on the giant screen.  “Mission Impossible,” beat that.
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BMZ Guidelines:  A strong theme and too many good intentions for a 40 min. film turn a noteworthy scientific adventure into an uneven mix of spectacular and mundane with diffused momentum.   Even so, large format connoisseurs will find the Venezuelan segment (and black toad) fascinating.  Just forgive the preaching.

IMAX® is a registered trademark of IMAX Corporation.

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Additional BMZ Reviews of Lost Worlds: Life in the Balance

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BMZ Review of LOST WORLDS by Herb Lash

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