In revolution torn China, Robert Conway (Ronald Colman) is in charge of getting foreigners out of China before they get hurt. He, his brother George (John Howard), a paleontologist, an American girl and a few others get on the last plane without a moment to spare. Mid-flight, they realize the plane is heading in the opposite direction and they crash land in the snowy Himalayas. It seems they’re doomed to freeze until a band of natives miraculously stumble upon their wreckage. They are led to Shangri-La, a beautiful valley sheltered on all sides by the mountains.
The men are suspicious, everything seems too good to be true. Who are these people, how did they get here are they going to eat them? The High Lama (Sam Jaffe), leader of his people, keep everything very vague and mysterious, not satisfactory at all to the men.
Robert is told the story of the mysterious land, how the people don’t age and there are no laws. It seems that Robert has found his utopia and may even have a hand in running the beautiful place. But George could ruin everything, hell-bent on returning to England.
The concept of Utopia has never been any closer than a dream for mankind. In an early scene on the airplane, Robert daydreams aloud about what he wishes he could do if appointed to Foreign Secretary. He talks of an England with no army, no threat of violence to others and in turn the rest of Europe follows suit and eventually the world. George just laughs and thinks the whole idea is foolish.
This poor film seems to have chunks missing, a little disclaimer said that in the restoration there is more audio with missing images. It’s sad realizing that pieces, that I thought would be pure gold to the film are gone, but the story is still present through the audio playing. At these times, a still image is shown on screen, usually to show you who is talking or where the setting is. Remember those slideshow movies they used to have in schools? They were dinosaurs in my time, but I remember a few. Anyway, those missing pieces feel a little like that, but it’s only a few minutes of the whole film, so try not to let it turn you off.
Before you order this on Netflix, make sure you don’t read the second half of the summary, they ruin the great twist of the film for you. The end is a bit of a whirlwind, but I was disappointed in Netflix feeling like they had to hold my hand over a little rough patch. Really, their summary gives away nearly everything but the last minute, not cool Netflix.
Lost Horizon is a wonderful film and I’m so glad it has been restored this well. Outside of the technical difficulties and Godzilla style toy plane crash, I found myself very involved with the story and enjoying the characters. Today, concepts of a utopian society feel cheesy, unsophisticated and threatened in such vulgar ways (Avatar anyone?). In Lost Horizon the whole idea is dignified, not preachy and has a feeling of inner peace.
“Yes, my son; When the strong have devoured each other, the Christian ethic may at last be fulfilled and the meek shall inherit the earth.”