Wednesday, May 1, 2013
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970) review
WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH 1970
Victoria Vetri (Sanna), Robin Hawdon (Tara), Patrick Allen (Kingsor), Drew Henley (Khaku), Sean Caffrey (Kane), Magda Konopka (Ulido), Imogen Hassall (Ayak)
Directed by Val Guest
***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity***
The Short Version: Blondes don't always have more fun in this spectacular prehistoric epic that benefits from an exhaustive amount of dinosaur footage supplementing a standard caveman plot that includes the creation of the moon and human sacrifices. Amidst interior sets, an abundance of oceanic sequences, oiled up men and scantily clad (and naked) women, a thick aura of sex runs buck naked through what is ostensibly supposed to be a kids movie. Despite lacking the prestige of the cast from ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., Hammer's dino follow-up has more of an epic feel this time out, aided by a peplumesque score by Mario Nascimbene. The striking cinematography by the unfortunately named Dick Bush is a standout alongside stellar stop-motion animation sequences from Jim Danforth and his assistant Roger Dicken.
Sanna is about to be sacrificed by her tribe, the Rock people, but is saved by the cataclysmic event of the birth of the moon. Washed out to sea by the resulting massive winds, and storm, she's rescued by the more advanced Sand people. Sanna is welcomed, and attracts the attention of Tara, one of the tribes leaders. Tara's woman, Ayak, becomes jealous and tries to get rid of the blonde Sanna. Eventually fleeing the seaside village, Sanna is soon followed by her new bare-chested suitor. Both are pursued by their own tribes and must endure various dangers, dinosaurs and ever changing elements to survive in the evolving, prehistoric world.
Pleased with the box office returns for their initial cavemen vs. dinosaurs epic ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966), Hammer eventually got around to a bigger, more expensive companion piece. With all the problems incurred by the laborious stop-motion animation still fresh in their minds, the execs at the 'studio that dripped blood at the dawn of time' had another go of it; but this time, instead of a returning Ray Harryhausen, it was his fellow animator and future collaborator Jim Danforth (and Danforth's assistant, Roger Dicken). The tumultuous production began in the latter part of 1968 and lasted as late as February of 1970, but the results proved to be well worth the trials and tribulations.
The plot is standard cave dweller drama, and a close approximation of the storyline of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (itself a remake of 1940s ONE MILLION B.C.). Both films not only share similarities in their plots, but also in their casts. Don Chaffey's film had the awe-inspiring frame of Raquel Welch (who did for fur-skinned, stone-age ladies wear what Farrah Fawcett did for the skimpy, bikini clad 1970s) and a tight, toned Martine Beswick. On the other hand, Val Guest's movie has the buxom curvature of Victoria Vetri and the bosomy, bodacious figure of Imogen Hassall.
With this being a tale of prehistory, the language barrier is first and foremost an obstacle in terms of figuring out what the hell is going on; which is where the simplistic plot comes in handy. However, what little language the filmmakers have devised is often mired in repetitive verbage from a handful of words such as "Akeeta!" and "Neecro!" These two words (along with a few others) are spoken so randomly, that it's difficult to surmise their meaning from one scene to the next. There's no Evan Kim (the Asian English speaker in CAVEMAN from 1981) in the cast to give us a translated summation of what's being said; and outside of an opening English narration, it's all prehistoric dialect from there.
As the film begins, we learn (through visual aids) that it doesn't pay to be a blonde (male, or female) in prehistoric times. If you have those lightly colored locks and are a member of the Rock tribe, you're sacrificed to the sun via a fatal whack to the side of the head from a neolithic version of a sling shot. But when this opening pagan sacrifice is interrupted by a storm and the gradual formation of the moon, Sanna's escape prompts the savage Rock people to lay blame for this new, mysterious sky-dwelling orb on her. And the lovely Sanna's problems don't stop there.
The entire film revolves around Vetri's character and her encounters with dinosaurs and other cave people; who don't actually live in caves, but in huts by the sea. The impending human interactions are of the neanderthal mentality that women are secondary, and should know their place in the cave; they're there to be "loved" till the next best thing comes along. Having narrowly avoided execution for her hair color, Sanna now inadvertently brings jealousy to this small seaside community. Head hunk Tara gets eyes for her immediately, sending his dark haired companion Ayak into a state of confusion that leads to a murderous rage (although her evocation sounds more like a temper tantrum). This formulates the second arc of the story that intertwines late in the film.
Vetri looks fabulous in her role -- which consists of basic facial expressions and lots of cleavage (which the camera shows us at regular intervals). Speaking of that, the outfits seem to have gotten skimpier in this second dinosaur outing in Hammer's stone-age trilogy. There's at least one nip-slip and some striking nudity that feels out of place in what is supposed to be a kid friendly movie. The skin is welcome, but out of place. Granted, the picture was cut for both its British release (both in 1970 and cut even more during its re-release in 1973) and its North American release in 1971; which eliminated all traces of sex and nudity entirely.
The film, bearing a G rating on the box with a 96 minute running time, was released on DVD in 2008 and caused a minor stir. It was akin to its original British theatrical release when some folks saw the film expecting a kiddie style monster movie and got scenes of sex, bare bosoms and buttock's interspersed with the dino action. A 100 minute uncut version was what ended up on the WB disc. A recall was allegedly ordered, yet copies remained on Best Buy store shelves (the film, paired on DVD with MOON ZERO TWO was a BB exclusive) for a good while afterward. Now out of print, the picture was not re-released with the actual G rated version cut for content, nor has Warner bothered to place the film among their Archive library.
It bears mentioning that if all cavewomen looked like Vetri, Hassall and Konopka, the prehistoric era wouldn't be such a bad place all things considered. Regarding the flesh and blood aspects present in the finished product, whether intended or not, there's a sexual energy present that is at odds with the rest of the picture. But seriously, what else was there to do during an anachronistic prehistoric era but have sex and fight dinosaurs? The men are, for the most part, toned and oiled up while many of the women are fit and wear as little as possible. The pictures sexual current is discussed below.
One scene has Sanna evading capture by hiding in a tree. A huge python slithers down from the branches and, while she remains as still as possible, it wraps around her mid section sliding down her leg and onto the ground. Of course, the camera gives us some nice shots before the snake uncoils from Vetri's luscious frame. The implications are obvious, but possibly not intended. Ditto for a similar moment when Sanna again tries to hide from her pursuers only to discover her cover happens to be a phallic shaped man-eating plant! Barely escaping with her life, she is forced to cut away her hair to keep from being devoured by this bizarre looking, penile shaped plant creature.
Another scene has a caveman whisk a woman away for what appears to be an intended rape. Ultimately, the woman stops fighting and welcomes the advances. Her top is torn away and as they begin their dalliance, the scene cuts away.
When Sanna and Tara finally engage in stone-age sex, it's in a cave by a lake. Nascimbene's romantic cues swell on the soundtrack as Tara grabs her gently by the hair. She goes to her knees. Tara then drops down and they indulge their lust. The scene continues with them now swimming in the lake. Sanna exits the water on a nearby rock so that we can all see her bare breasts. Tara then swims over to her and drapes her left leg over his shoulder all the while kissing it. So while there's a lot of sexism throughout (that will piss off the PC crowd), this is one moment where a bit of male submissive behavior is present.
While Imogen Hassall is gorgeous, possessing a mesmerizing waistline, she's no Martine Beswick -- failing to display the level of sexuality and dominating presence Beswick emanated in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. She comes off a tad virginal in her pouty reception of being rejected when Vetri's character distracts her man before unwittingly stealing him away permanently. When she tries to kill Sanna, it seems more like a schoolgirl quarrel than anything else. Thankfully, the numerous scenes with dinosaurs takes precedence over the occasionally lackluster human drama.
The dinosaurs, and other assorted special effects, are the main stars of the picture. Danforth (along with his assistant Roger Dicken; David Allen also did some animation) created some truly spectacular set pieces. Everything from the numerous matte paintings, to the stop-motion animation, to the cinematography are all top notch. The effects wizards efforts were noticed as the film got an Oscar nomination for their work. The stop-motion alone took 17 months to complete, not to mention nearly two dozen additional matte paintings were ordered than originally planned. The budget was high at 2.5 million British pounds (roughly US 6 million), but the production was anything but smooth sailing.
Since Ray Harryhausen was busy with THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969), Hammer went with Jim Danforth (JACK THE GIANT KILLER, THE 7 FACES OF DR. LAO). While a highly respected animator in his own right, Danforth didn't have the clout Harryhausen did (outside of doing the painstaking animation on ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., Harryhausen was also a producer on that movie), so he was at the mercy of the company. According to anecdotes from Danforth in Wayne Kinsey's invaluable book, Hammer Films: The Elstree Years, Danforth -- among others -- was not happy working on this production.
With the film going over schedule and budget, some of the planned effects sequences had to be omitted. One of these involved an attack by giant red ants. A scene of a stuntman being assaulted by a three foot long mechanized ant monster was shot, but went unused. Some shots meant for this sequence exist in the finished film; these include the shots of Tara and Sanna running around this charred, volcanic landscape towards the end (see insert photo).
Another sequence that had its dinosaurs discarded entailed two Pterodactyls attacking the Sand people during the climactic tidal wave scene. The scene as it appears in the film is reduced to a battle against the elements minus the monsters. Having encountered giant crabs moments prior, the inclusion of flying creatures might have been overkill after the battle with the man-sized crustaceans.
Speaking of overkill, if extended stop-motion animated monster attacks aren't enough, the filmmakers deemed it necessary to insert stock footage of real lizards (from the 1960 version of THE LOST WORLD) doctored to look like dinosaurs battling to the death. Oddly enough, scenes of lizards dressed up to look like dinosaurs was first seen in the original ONE MILLION B.C. from 1940. The gruesome, real life battle to the death of the alligator and iguana masquerading as prehistoric reptiles from THE LOST WORLD (1960) turned up in other 60s SciFi movies as well. This cheaper "special effects" alternative, ie real animal violence in American productions possibly influenced the practice as seen later in Italian jungle and mondo movies.
Going back to the reptiles of the animated variety, Danforth's dino work is incredible -- and some of the best such effects ever seen onscreen. It's not too far of a stretch to say his efforts here surpass that of Harryhausen in some respects. The sequence with the Rhamphorynchus for instance, is a top notch, seamless melding of stop-motion photography and live action. The earlier sequence with the captured Plesiosaur is a marvelous bit of animated magic in its own right; it's made even more successful by Dick Bush's colorfully ornate photographic work.
The aforementioned disaster scenes of calamity, and characters battling violent seas and storms could be a fitting analogy for the tensely heated production history. Although it was a box office success, and got Academy Award notice, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH failed to gain the same level of notoriety and reputation that ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. (1966) has managed to accrue over the years. The third film in Hammer's caveman series -- CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT (1971) -- featured no dinosaurs at all.
Victoria Vetri never became the next Raquel Welch, but she did appear in lots of television (mostly) before and after her dinosaur romp. She also graced two additional exploitation pictures in the 1970s, those being Stephanie Rothman's GROUP MARRIAGE (1973) and Nicolas Meyers's INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS (1973).
If nothing else, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (1970) was influential on other filmmakers. It can be felt in the low budget PLANET OF DINOSAURS (the Styracosaurus attack in that film mirrors the Chasmosaurus chase here) and also in the mega-budget JURASSIC PARK (a banner with the title 'When dinosaurs ruled the Earth' falls to the ground in front of a roaring Tyrannosaur) from 1993. The lighter scenes with Sanna, a cute baby dino and the mother dinosaur that takes her as one of her own may have influenced a similar plot device that cropped up a few years later in the LAND OF THE LOST television program. The look of this monster seems to have been the template for a goofier looking beast in the silly, but infinitely fun CAVEMAN from 1981.
The shortcomings are few -- the film suffers from a lack of cohesion and characters who have little interest. Some of the effects don't fit (the intrusive, mock dinosaur lizards), and the nudity -- while pleasing to the eye -- feels out of place. The director and writer J.G. Ballard may hate it, but the film has its share of devoted followers. The monsters make the movie, and thankfully, Dinosaurs definitely Rule this picture.
This review is representative of the Warner Brothers double feature DVD paired with MOON ZERO TWO (1969).