In May of this year, Netflix released the highly anticipated film, The Lost City of Z. The film is based on the 2009 biography of the same name by David Grisman. The book tells the story of explorer and adventurer Henry Stanley, who travelled to Africa in the early 20th century in search of the fabled city of Z. The film adaptation picks up where the book left off, beginning in 1914, as Europe is on the cusp of entering the First World War.
While the story of Henry Stanley and his search for the fabled city of Z is one of adventure and excitement, the story of his grandson, Robert Pattinson, who played Stanley in the film, is one of tragedy. On July 2nd, 1914, Robert’s father Charles tragically died of pneumonia, which may or may not have been caused by the Spanish Flu. In October of that year, Robert’s mother, Emma, died of heart disease. Now, as World War I was about to begin, the young Pattinson was sent to live with an aunt in England.
The Lost City of Z is not only a story of tragedy but also one of triumph. The film is inspired by one of the most colourful periods in history, the era of exploration and adventure that was known as the ‘Roaring Twenties’. While many knew this as a time of joy and freedom, it was in fact the beginning of the end for many leading men of that time. The vast majority of them would die young, in great part due to the stress and strain of living up to the standards set by young women at that time.
The Film’s Artistry
The Lost City of Z is largely regarded as one of the best films of this year. The Hollywood Reporter, who ranked the top ten films of the year so far, placed The Lost City of Z at number four on their list, lauding it as “packed with enough suspense, intrigue and adventure to satiate the most ardent fan.” In their review of the film, critics praised it for being “enlivening” and “intriguing” as well as “breathtaking” and “astonishing.” The film was also nominated for Best Picture at the 2014 Golden Globes.
The casting of Robert Pattinson as Henry Stanley was met with much praise. THR described him as “an absolute marvel” and “perfect for the part,” while Empire magazine called him “fantastic” and “perfect for the part.” Likewise, Roaring Twenties Magazine called him “perfect” and “astonishing,” hailing him as “one of the most exciting new talents to emerge in cinema.”
The Film’s Achievements
On the surface, The Lost City of Z appears to be a fairly standard story of adventure and tragedy, wrapped up in a package worth roughly 13.5 million US dollars. However, the story behind the success of this film is one of cinematic achievement.
When David Grisman wrote the book that the film was based on, he did not set out to make a best-seller, but rather, an unusual and daring feat for a non-fiction title.
In a 2010 interview with NPR, Grisman said that he approached his publisher with the idea for an alternate history novel, in which Stanley turns out to be a fictional character created by Grisman, and not the real deal. The novel would explore the consequences of different developments in history, with most of the action taking place in an Africa recreated in all its glory, complete with extinct animals and dangerous creatures such as lions and hyenas.
If you have never heard of the Roaring Twenties, it’s time to change that. This was a time of flappers, gamblers, and jazz; of huge social gatherings and grand parties, when the world seemed to be at the whim of the young, the adventurous, and the talented. The Lost City of Z is a stunning recreation of that time, using sumptuous period dress, props, and sets. The film’s art departments, particularly its set designers, did an outstanding job in bringing the roaring twenties to life.
The film is also notable for being the first ever made completely using computer-generated imagery (CGI). The visual effects team, Reel FX, worked with director Martin Scorsese to create a unique look for creatures and environments that would not have been possible to create using traditional methods. Scorsese was so impressed by the results that he had the FX team work on other aspects of his filmography including The Wolf of Wall Street and The Aviator.
One of the most unique aspects of The Lost City of Z is the fact that it begins in 1914, at the onset of World War I. To add a further twist to the story, the film is set almost entirely during the last year of World War I, as Europe is on the cusp of entering a period of great social upheaval and unprecedented bloodshed.
In a 2009 interview with Entertainment Weekly, Grisman said that the ‘roaring twenties’ were a unique period in history, and that he was particularly proud of the way that his novel reflected that moment in time, in all its glory.
“There are certain scenes in the book that are almost beyond description,” he said. “You have to experience them to really understand what I mean.”
So, as the world waits for the next instalment of the adventures of Stanley and his descendants, who will inherit the family’s legendary fortune, we can rejoice in the fact that we got to experience a little of what the Roaring Twenties were like, in all their glory, on the big screen.