Judge Patrick Naugle's Utopia looks nothing like Shangri-La.
Sing your heart out.
When a group of travelers are hijacked after fleeing from a revolution, their plane crashes into the Himalayas Mountains where they are rescued by the citizens of the magical Shangri-La. The rag tag group, including its leader Richard Conway (Peter Finch, Network), a magazine photographer (Sally Kellerman, M*A*S*H), a crusty engineer (George Kennedy, The Naked Gun), Conway's younger brother (Michael York, Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery), and a nightclub comedian (Bobby Van, That's Entertainment, Part II), are bewildered upon their entrance to this new and hidden paradise. As time passes they get to know the residents of this secret utopia (including its lamas played by Arthur's John Gielgud and Barefoot in the Park's Charles Boyer), each finding themselves drawn to its power of amazing health and happiness. Yet the amazing benefits of Shangri-La can only be found within the town's narrow confines. Will these strangers decide to return to the real world, or stay in paradise forever?
Frankly, I'd never even heard of Lost Horizon before seeing it on the list of potential reviews a few weeks ago. When I performed a little legwork to see who was in the cast, my curiosity was piqued—George "Disaster Movie" Kennedy, Michael "Basil Exposition" York, Peter "I'm Mad As Hell!" Finch, Olivia "Juliet" Hussey, and Sally "Hot Lips" Kellerman? Yes, please. A story about a planeload of people ending up in what is essentially paradise? Sure! Songs by 70's schmultz-meister Burt Bacharach? Well, two out of three ain't bad.
Lost Horizon was an enormous flop upon its initial theatrical release in 1973. The film came at the end of a musical cycle that hit its high note with the 1965 smash The Sound of Music; Lost Horizon would end up being the low, low note in the genre, essentially killing it off. I can see why Lost Horizon ended up being both a critical and financial failure for Columbia Tristar. Truth be told, Lost Horizon is a slog to get through, an odd mish-mash of action, music, comedy, drama, pretension, and some of the stiffest choreography this side of Frankenstein's monster attempting to break-dance.
The tone of Lost Horizon is all over the map. British director Charles Jarrott (The Boy in Blue, Mary, Queen of Scots) can't seem to steer this ship in only one direction, which means viewers get a haphazard, disjointed movie going experience. One minute characters are blowing up buildings, and then they're hiking through the mountains, and the next they're covered in silken robes singing their hearts out like Julie Andrews hopped up on peyote dust. The movie includes everything but the kitchen sink, and even that may be in there somewhere in the background of one of the dance numbers.
The acting ranges from bad to good, depending on the scene and the actor. Peter Finch is solid as the group's leader, although he doesn't really exude much charm or personality. Sally Kellerman is smoldering as always as the drug addicted Newsweek writer who spends the first part of the film flailing about in the airplane as it hits turbulence (my favorite unintentionally humorous moment in the movie). Bulky character actor George Kennedy plays an engineer whose presence feels rather perfunctory. An overly effeminate Michael York spends his time overacting while Bobby Van (who could pass as Patrick Duffy's doppelganger) gives the worst performance as a cut-rate comedian who appears to be performing bits that were stale about a decade before he was born (I'm surprised he didn't pull out a Jimmy Durante "Ya-ch-ch-ch-cha!"). The best, however, is saved for last as John Gielgud shows up in red garb and a bright red pointed cap that makes him look like the world's oldest living Crayola crayon. Gielgud is the only one who seems to be enjoying his time on screen, smiling and offering sage advice to others as if he were a combination of Gandhi, Confucius, and Deepak Chopra…if all three were high on pot.
Lost Horizon is filled with laugh-out-loud moments, including dance numbers and set pieces that seems so out of place they could have almost come from an entirely different movie. One sequence in particular—a "fertility dance" to end all fertility dances—features oiled up bodybuilders in loin clothes leaping around like they were trying to anger a Zulu god of carnal pleasures. It's all so over-the-top and ridiculous that it's hard to believe anyone can look upon it without giggling like a little school girl. The screenplay by playwright Larry Kramer (Women in Love) never gives the characters much to do but sing and be amazed by Shangri-La's mystical qualities (which pretty much consist of a lot of flower gardens and singing children). The songs were composed by Burt Bacharach with lyrics by Hal David, and the less said about those, the better.
I can how some viewers may regard Lost Horizon with campy nostalgia; it's the reason I love Return of the Killer Tomatoes and Bride of Re-Animator. Although it's generally a pretty bad movie, I will give Lost Horizon this: it's never very boring as every few minutes or so a new weird song arrives or a character shows up in an odd new costume. As a musical it fails on many different levels. As a '70s train wreck, Lost Horizon certainly is something to look at.
Twilight Time's Lost Horizon is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.40:1 widescreen in 1080p high definition. Fans of the film will be thrilled to know that the transfer looks great, far better than a film of this caliber probably deserved. The image is bright and cheery and the picture is (usually) very clear and sharp. There are a few moments where the transfer shows its age (light grain and imperfections), but overall this is a very attractive high def re-master. The soundtrack is presented in a fine DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix in English. The overall effect is good, but not great—the biggest boost this early 1970s musical gets is from the songs, which practically leap out of the speakers. Sound effects are present, but they are rather scarce compared to the musical numbers. Also included on this disc are English subtitles.
Twilight Time is notorious for not including a ton of extra features, but fans will be happy to note Lost Horizon (originally a Sony catalog title) includes a few fine supplemental materials including two TV spots, a theatrical trailer, a teaser trailers, a short vintage featurette ("Ross Hunter: On the Way to Shangri-La"), an alternate scene, some Burt Bacharach song demos, and an isolated score in DTS-HD 5.1 Surround.
Note: Lost Horizon is being released in a limited issue of only 3,000 units.
It's clear why Lost Horizon hasn't gained much traction among movie fans; it's one of the least impressive big budget musicals Hollywood has ever released.
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Studio: Twilight Time
• Alternate Scene
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