Based on author David Grann's nonfiction bestseller, The Lost City of Z tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment who regard indigenous populations as "savages," the determined Fawcett – supported by his devoted wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland) and aide de camp (Robert Pattinson) – returns time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925. An epically-scaled tale of courage and obsession, told in Gray's classic filmmaking style, The Lost City of Z is a stirring tribute to the exploratory spirit and those individuals driven to achieve greatness at any cost.
Man's obsession and drive to conquer the unknown can make for a thrilling story. It can also lay the ground work for a damned impressive bit of epic filmmaking. These are films that feature simple people striking out into a world that is beyond them. A place and a time that the audience hasn't seen before and populated with a people and a culture they would otherwise never encounter. David Lean mastered the epic with films like The Bridge on the River Kwai and Lawrence of Arabia. Many filmmakers attempt the grand epic film and few complete the journey. With a fantastic cast, writer and director James Gray strikes out towards epic filmmaking with The Lost City of Z, impressive period production design, and beautiful Amazon jungle locations, but the final film misses a few steps and falls short of its goal.
Major Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is a man of respect, but not one of stature. He's liked and respected, but that respect and appeal only reach so far within British society. As he's living down his father's poor legacy, he's constantly at odds having to fight for name and rank. His wife Nina (Sienna Miller) does what she can to bolster his spirits and encourages Percy to conquer his dreams. When the opportunity to explore, survey, and discover the origin of the Amazon river lands at his feet - Percy makes it his mission in life to not fail in this assignment. Aided by Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), Fawcett strikes out into an unexplored land. Tasked with finding the source of the Amazon, Fawcett instead discovers an obsession, one that would bring him back to the jungle again and again in search of an ancient civilization.
The Lost City of Z is an incredible piece of modern filmmaking that you just don't see very often. Made with a minimal budget (by modern standards), writer/director James Gray mounted an impressive production shot on location. His cast, including lead Charlie Hunnam as Fawcett, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, and Tom Holland as Fawcett's son Jack, give this film everything they've got. Hunnam proves he's a fierce lead when given great material to work with and Pattinson show's he's come a long, long way since his days as a sparkly vampire. There's a notable excitement in the air of the film as our explorers strike out into the unknown as the audience is along for this journey through hardship, pain, and suffering. It's epic filmmaking at its finest, but the final film feels entirely too restless to let the imagery or importance of the moments resonate.
Based on the 2009 book by David Grann, The Lost City of Z simply moves too fast. It's a story that travels decades through multiple explorations into the Amazon as well as a trip to the battlefields of France during WWI before one last final expedition. For a runtime that comes in under two and a half hours, that's too much ground to cover. This film, for the mysterious subject matter it crosses, needs a lot more time to breathe - at least another hour if not more. Too much happens too fast. We watch Fawcett and his team suffer on a raft as their supplies dwindle during the first expedition. We see them finally reach the end falls that feed the river - but the audience isn't given any time to feel and understand the importance of the moment before Hunnam's Fawcett simply looks left and discovers ancient pottery that spurs his life's obsession. There is a constant rush to the finish line that unfortunately undercuts the dramatic weight of many key moments.
However, this film is not without merit. The Lost City of Z is a grand piece of filmmaking that should be viewed and appreciated. Fawcett's story is an important one because it challenged social conventions while giving exciting and inspirational stories. His exploits into the Amazon were the foundation for the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and H. Rider Haggard. Factor in the numerous expeditions into the Amazon that were dedicated to finding Fawcett's whereabouts after his last team disappeared and you have the makings for a terrific, epic film. Finding the remnants of this civilization was his obsession, it's just unfortunate that the film doesn't fully capture Fawcett's journey.
The Lost City of Z earnestly tries to take audiences on that quest. It gets part of the way there, but as the film rushes through important events it loses itself more than it discovers. I read Grann's book years ago and when this film project was originally announced with Brad Pitt attached to star, I thought it would make a great miniseries event or a very long film that would have to focus on specific parts of Fawcett's story. As a standard length film, The Lost City of Z is still very good, it captures key highlight moments but doesn't quite nail the full scope of the picture it's trying to paint. Fawcett was a very complicated man who alienated friends and family alike. Charlie Hunnam delivers one of his best performances as Fawcett and the rest of the cast is excellent in their respective roles. This film is absolutely worth viewing, if nothing else, it should inspire you to pick up the book and read some more about these turbulent expeditions into the unknown regions of the Amazon.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Lost City of Z arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Broadgreen Pictures and Amazon Studios. Pressed onto a BD-25 disc, the disc comes housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case. The disc loads to trailers for other upcoming Amazon Studios releases before arriving at an animated main menu with traditional navigation options.
The Lost City of Z features a lush and beautiful 2.39:1 1080p transfer. With fine film grain intact, this 35mm sourced image is truly striking in a number of scenes. The material shot on location is particularly beautiful looking as the film moves away from dreary drab 1900s England and embraces warmer earth tone colors with bright primaries. The WWI scenes are especially impressive as they run in stark contrast to the jungle sequences with cooler colors. Facial features, costuming, and the impressive makeup work is on full display. Black levels are deep and inky allowing for some terrific moments of three-dimensional depth to filter into the scene. There are a few moments where contrast can bloom a bit, the scene around the 40-minute mark where Fawcett first returns to England and is telling his story to an assembly of men can appear a bit hot and flatten the image, and there are a few soft dark shots where it can be difficult to decern what is on screen, but those are the only grievances I have with this transfer. Free of any banding or notable defects, this is a very good looking image transfer.
Packed with an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix, The Lost City of Z gets a lot of subtle surround activity creating a nice sense of immersion. This is especially true during the Jungle expeditions and the scenes in France during the war. Conversational moments where Fawcett is having more personal one on one conversations can sound a bit more front loaded as there just isn't anything else happening to spike up the activity. Dialogue is crystal clear throughout. Sound effects are well layered and work to give the mix a nice sense of atmosphere. Christopher Spelman's score works beautifully with the film and can add a notable LFE push during many sequences. All around this is a flawless audio track.
The Lost City of Z comes packed with some genuinely decent bonus feature content. James Gray's audio commentary, in particular, is a great listen as the writer/director shares a number of details and anecdotes about shooting on location and the complicated system they used to process film and view dailies. The rest of the supplementary material is pretty routine EPK material but still worth looking at.
Audio Commentary Featuring writer and director James Gray
Adventure in the Jungle (HD 2:21) This is, unfortunately, a very brief but interesting EPK feature.
From Novel to Screen (HD 3:10) This brief EPK looks at adapting the book into a film.
Expedition Journal This is an interactive collection of stills from the film that you can click on with your remote and view.
The Lost City of Z is a decent movie about a fascinating explorer and his obsession with discovering an ancient civilization he's convinced exists. Given its compressed timeframe for telling a story that spans decades, the final film doesn't fully capture the grandeur and weight of Fawcett's explorations, but it does give you a good idea. Watch the film for the beautiful scenery and impressive performances even if the dramatics don't quite hold up. Amazon Studios brings The Lost City of Z to Blu-ray in fine order with a terrific A/V presentation. The audio commentary is fantastic while the rest of the bonus feature content may be a bit anemic. All around I'd say The Lost City of Z is worth a look. It's not the flawless piece of epic filmmaking that I had hoped it would be, but it's still good and a worthwhile watch.