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Friday, December 19, 2008

The Land That Time Forgot (1975) review


Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), Susan Penhaligon (Lisa Clayton), John McEnery (Captain Von Schoenvorts), Anthony Ainley (Deitz), Bobby Parr (Ahm)

In the year 1916 during WW1, an Allied vessel carrying civilians, the SS Montrose, is torpedoed by a German submarine. The survivors manage to board the sub and successfully take control of it. After the two sides continuously plot to overthrow the other, the group become lost. With supplies and fuel dwindling, the two opposing factions decide to work together. They find a strange continent in the icy region of the Atlantic ocean, but strangely, the water surrounding it is warm. Christened Caprona by an early Italian navigator named Caproni, the ice encroached island has no place to land. Traversing a winding underwater cavern, the U-boat ascends into a river.

The group find themselves in a strange land filled with prehistoric creatures. With dangers lurking at every turn, the lost travelers haven't enough fuel for a return trip. The group journey North across the land of Caprona in search of fuel. The further north they go, the more highly advanced the creatures and inhabitants become. They later find crude oil deposits and build machinery with which to refine the lubricant for use in the subs engines. Attempting to leave, the mysterious volcanic continent threatens to rip itself apart to keep the involuntarily exiled travelers from escaping The Land That Time Forgot.

The first in a series of popular fantasy adventure movies from the team of producer John Dark and director Kevin Conner. A highly ambitious British film from Amicus Productions, the chief rival to Hammer Films. Hammer had done their own series of prehistoric epics beginning with ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966). That film featured stop motion animation by famed animator Ray Harryhausen. The film was so successful a follow-up was ordered albeit somewhat hesitantly considering the length of time it took for the stop motion effects to be created.

The next film, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970) also featured stop motion animation, but from Harryhausen's protege, Jim Danforth. The third prehistoric film from Hammer, CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT (1971), didn't feature any dinosaurs at all. Amicus had been interested in bringing Edgar Rice Burroughs' novel, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT to the screen for some time even before Hammer had stepped onto the prehistoric playground.

The film was very successful for both Amicus (the most successful Amicus film at the time) and US distributor, American International Pictures. The effects utilized for the film as well as the subsequent three fantasy films from the Dark/Conner team was a combination of puppets and mock up monsters suspended by wires. The effects are fine for those viewers that aren't strictly bound to CGI effects. Some of the effects work better than others, but regardless, it's an entertaining adventure from start to finish.

The set design is amazing with the makers getting full use out of Shepperton Studios, the home of Amicus. Some years later, the famed Pinewood Studios would acquire Shepperton. The Director of Photography on LAND, Alan Hume, does an admirable job capturing the colorful landscapes and fauna of the lost world of Caprona. Hume also took the job of DP on the three other Connor directed monster movies. Hume would later perform photographic duties on several of the Bond pictures in addition to the comedic prehistoric opus, CAVEMAN (1981) starring Ringo Starr among a cast of other recognizable faces.

Doug McClure leads the cast to Caprona in a role that suits his former cowboy persona on THE VIRGINIAN television program. McClure replaced Stuart Whitman who was originally cast. Apparently, Whitman never received his full compensation to not participate in the picture and McClure was a likewise unwanted commodity as well. At the time, he was going through a divorce and a spate of drinking which kept him in a volatile mood from time to time. However, according to Susan Penhaligon, McClure was always a gentleman with her. McClure is very good and any hint of rambunctious behavior behind the scenes isn't evident in his pulpy performance.

McClure would take the lead role for AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976), in which he would be paired with a rather spunky Peter Cushing. In 1977's THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, McClure took a 'Guest Star' credit and only appears during the finale although he's the main focus of the story when Patrick Wayne journey's to Caprona to rescue him. It's the only film in the series that is a direct link with one of the other pictures. The fourth film, WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS (1978), isn't a Burroughs tale and also isn't an Amicus picture. Columbia handled distribution in the US.

THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT isn't really an Amicus production either, as the company had already dissolved by the time that film was finished. It does carry a credit of Max Rosenberg's name. Billed as an AIP production, it could be viewed as the truly last Amicus picture. The excellent score by John Scott hasn't the Amicus flavor about it and separates it from the others with the main distinction being the similar dinosaur effects work. McClure furthered his career in the fantasy and horror genres starring in such movies as HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP (1980) and THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS (1982).

The rest of the cast handles the material admirably although there are a number of throwaway performances from actors whose sole reason for being is to become dinosaur chow or to be violently killed by neolithic attackers.

John McEnery, who plays the somewhat honorable Captain Von Shoenvorts, the leader of the German forces, was dubbed by Anton Diffring. The first 15 or 20 minutes of the film are very well handled, having the American and British survivors take command of the Nazi sub only to have the Germans take the vessel back, only to lose it once more. During the final switch, the Allied survivors get some poetic justice on their German captors. When the sub is to rendezvous with a Nazi supply ship, Tyler quietly launches torpedoes destroying the enemy vessel in recompense for the prior destruction of the civilian ship.

Anthony Ainley as Dietz is the true antagonist of the picture. He appears to have much respect for his Captain, but at the beginning after the Germans have sunk the civilian vessel, Dietz asks if there is an order to surface to look for survivors. Capt. Von Shoenvorts declines, yet Dietz responds with, "Survivors may live to fight another day." The Captain then says, "They are in enough trouble already...besides, these were civilians." As the Captain walks away there is a look of unmitigated and deceitful envy on the face of Dietz.

He secretly harbors desires to command his own unit and this materializes during the finale when Dietz shoots his Captain and takes over the doomed submarine. Ainley played a much different character in THE BLOOD ON SATAN'S CLAW (1971) in which he played a priest who is seduced by a harbinger of the Devil.

Derek Meddings was in charge of special effects on the picture and his work here would foreshadow some great things to come. Meddings would tackle effects chores on a number of big movies including a slew of the James Bond movies and big budgeted fantasy pictures such as SUPERMAN 1 and 2, KRULL and the 1989 version of BATMAN.

Monster designer Roger Dicken was in charge of the ambitious dinosaur sequences seen in THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT. He also created special effects for several Hammer films including WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970) in which Dicken worked alongside fellow luminaries, Jim Danforth and Dave Allen. Dicken was Danforth's assistant here but on LAND, Dicken was on his own.

Douglas Gamley composed the score which has that Amicus sound to it, but given the nature of the film, Gamley peppers the score with at least one rousing composition which is saved for the finale. The scene in question has Tyler and Lisa racing back to the refinery as the land explodes around them. The group has left without them, though. As the U-boat makes its way back across the now burning river, Tyler and Lisa watch as the sub is destroyed from the boiling water and overwhelming heat.

During the finale, Caprona (described as a gigantic volcanic crater) begins to seemingly erupt destroying life on the island. In the third film, also during the finale, Tyler tells his friend, McBride that the land is alive and will stop their escape. Tyler states that the volcano controls everything. This adds a mystical element to the narrative making Caprona a living character. Taking what is said by Tyler in the third film, the erupting of the volcano in LAND seems to be in retaliation against the stranded travelers attempting to escape the island. By destroying the sub and its inhabitants, Caprona's secret remains hidden away from the eyes of modern man. The film ends as it began, with Tyler tossing a canister with notes detailing Caprona and the creatures residing therein.

In another comparison between LAND and the third film, it's mentioned that the further north you travel, the more advanced the creatures become. Tyler mentions during the closing moments of the film that he and Lisa are moving further northward to find even more intelligent species. This notion was expanded upon by the time the third movie rolled around (a direct sequel to LAND). In THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977), the most highly advanced race were the Nagas who spoke perfect English and dressed in Samurai regalia and fought with Samurai swords. However, beneath their masks hid deformed visages.

While the MGM DVD is gorgeous to look at, there's a bit during the finale when McClure is duking it out with a cave man wearing a leopard skin outfit and the audio (the punching sound effects) is briefly out of sync. Part of their wonderful line of 'Midnite Movies', THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT is available as a double feature with its direct sequel, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT.

While it is essentially a kid friendly movie, there are a number of violent scenes such as people being impaled on spears, or killed with stone axes, or the prerequisite, death by dinosaur. Both movies come highly recommended for adventure and fantasy film buffs as well as those that have grand memories of catching monster movies on the Late Show as I did this pulp oriented double bill of perilous adventure and dinosaur thrills.

This review is representative of the MGM DVD. This film is only available on a double feature disc paired with the third film, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT. A British region 2 disc is also available.


Anonymous said...

I have very vivid memories of seeing this film in the cinema as kid.By mistake i walked into the wrong theatre room and having missed the opening credits i realised i was watching THE ISLAND AT THE TOP OF THE WORLD,a really good Disney viking themed fantasy adventure.
However i did find the right theatre straight afterwards and LAND totally blew me out of the water!! One of the best fantasy action adventures ever with the added tension excitement of the WW1theme.At the time i thought the dinosaurs special effects were top notch ,though i remember finding the ending upsetting.In retropect the bleak conclusion is very powerful and sets up nicely for the sequel.
I was checking out the dvds on Amazon and noticed that the British releases include a "making of" feature.
Also found out that both LAND and PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT were the first two parts of a trilogy with the final book being called OUT OF TIMES ABYSS so if there are remakes on the horizon maybe thet could emulate Peter Jackson and produce three films at the same time.

Sean M

venoms5 said...

I wasn't fortunate enough to have seen LAND in the theater but enjoyed it immensely on the Late Movie in 1980 when they ran a double feature with the third film, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT.

The Burroughs books all had multiple parts to there respective series if I'm not mistaken. AT THE EARTH'S CORE was based on the second novel of Burroughs' 'Pellucidar' series if I remember right.

Kooshmeister said...

If I have a gripe, it's that this review refers to the Germans as Nazis. They're the Imperial German Kaiserliche Marine, not the Nazi German Kriegsmarine. Nazis didn't exist in 1916 (though it's common in WWI fiction to disingenuously portray the Imperial Germans as "proto-Nazis").

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