King of the Lost World (2005)

Rating: C-

Dir: Leigh Scott
Star: Jeff Denton, Bruce Boxleitner, Sarah Lieving, Rhett Giles

You have to admire Asylum’s sheer gall, fearlessly riding the coat-tails of the year’s biggest movies. After taking on H.G.Wells War of the Worlds, they now turn their sights on another public-domain writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Best known as Sherlock Holmes’ creator, he also wrote The Lost World, a proto-Jurassic Park, in which an Amazonian plateau provided a refuge for dinosaurs up to the present day. In his story, an expedition led by Professor Challenger deliberately went there; here, a plane breaks apart and crashes, so the survivors try to find the cockpit so they can call for help.

A variety of giant bugs, creatures, local tribes and, of course, the oversized primate that features prominently on the cover (with the word KING particularly notable…) all interfere, as does the mysterious Lt. Challenger (Boxleitner), who seems to have a different agenda. Initially, this mixes Lost with The Land That Time Forgot well; unlike Jackson’s version, it wastes no time at all (the crash happens right away), and gallops on apace. However, after the best character dies and everyone else is captured by “natives”, both film & fun come to a grinding halt. Quotes used advisedly: these tribesmen come straight from central casting; the leader even has a beer-belly, f’heavens sake.

At first, I thought they might be survivors of a previous wreck – that’d explain the perfect teeth, for example – but no such intelligent justification ever appears. While the film finds great locations that really don’t look like Southern California, the CGI is ropey, especially the ape. And there’s no counterbalance: while War made up in heart and character (and no shrieking Dakota Fanning) for its lack of spectacle, King can’t pull off the same trick, and ends up feeling mostly like a shallow cash-in. If the execution comes up short, some credit is still due for having the Kong-sized balls necessary to try.