Lost Horizon is a bizarre film that starts off as an airline disaster movie and morphs into a musical. I can’t stress the latter element enough. Approximately 40 minutes into the punishingly lengthy 149-minute running time, the singing starts. Musicals are generally so polarizing that this information may be enough to make some flock to the film, while repelling others. The song score, by Burt Bacharach and Hal David, is perhaps simultaneously the film’s greatest asset and biggest weakness. I don’t particularly like the batch of tunes, but at least they provide something of interest amidst an otherwise deathly dull drama. The 1973 film has been issued by Twilight Time as a Blu-ray limited to just 3,000 copies and available directly through their distributor, Screen Archives.
The film is a remake of the 1937 Frank Capra-directed Lost Horizon, itself based on James Hilton’s novel of the same name. Directed by Charles Jarrott and written by Larry Kramer, the remake is populated by an all-star cast, including Peter Finch, John Gielgud, Sally Kellerman, Michael York, and George Kennedy (the latter feeling particularly appropriate, given the airline disaster element). The opening act revolves around the hijacking and subsequent crash landing of a plane in the Himalayas. The group of passengers who survive the crash, led by United Nations diplomat Richard Conway (Finch), meets a strange fellow named Chang (Gielgud) and quickly find themselves in the land of Shangri-La.
Shangri-La is a utopian society free of pestilence, inclement weather, and pretty much anything that could be construed as negative. It’s in Shangri-La that the song and dance numbers begin. While things weren’t all that compelling up to this point, the songs effectively kill it. The songs themselves are sometimes awkward and almost always corny. The choreography is often laughable. Many of the actors don’t do their own singing, with only Kellerman, Bobby Van (as entertainer Harry Lovett), and James Shigeta (as Shangri-La resident Brother To-Lenn) demonstrating their actual vocal skills. The remaining cast members lip-sync. As bad as it all is, again it’s more interesting than the banal dialogue scenes.
The various newcomers to Shangri-La learn and progress, becoming quite enamored of the place. But things are not exactly as they might seem. Relationships blossom, with George (York) taking up with Maria (Olivia Hussey) and Richard with Catherine (Liv Ullmann). It’s George, however, who smells a rat and wants out of what the others appear to believe is some sort of paradise. It’s all kind of a ponderous mess, punctuated with garish musical numbers. The staging is elaborate, but the whole thing smacks of inconsequentiality.
Regardless of any sour feelings I may have towards the movie itself, Lost Horizon looks outstanding in its 1080p, AVC-encoded transfer. Framed at 2.35:1, the image boasts vivid colors that really underline the quality of the cinematography by Robert Surtees. There’s quite a lot of intricate costumes and exotic scenery throughout, all of which features a high level of fine detail. The source print was very clean, resulting in a presentation free of specs or scratches. I can’t imagine anyone will have complaints over the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix. With all the musical numbers, audio is especially important here and the mix is pleasingly full-bodied. The singing has great presence. The music is, appropriately, the star of the mix and fans of the score will be in heaven.
A small assortment of supplemental features accompanies Lost Horizon. Customarily, Twilight Time has included an isolated score track that strips the songs of their vocals. The instrumental score is presented in DTS-HD as well. A short vintage featurette, “Ross Hunter: On the Way to Shangri-La,” provides a look behind the scenes. There’s also a brief alternate scene and a few trailers. Probably the best extra is the 24-minute reel of Burt Bacharach’s song demos. The audio is paired with a slideshow of various stills.
While I found Lost Horizon to be exceedingly tacky, those unable to resist old school musicals may find plenty to love.