Mar 21, 2017

On Blu-ray: Stop-Motion and Skin in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)

While fantasy movies with stop-motion creatures have a reputation as being for kids, that has not always been the case. The Hammer Films production When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970) is an example of a more adult take on the genre, at least in the original version, before US studios made a few edits to make it family friendly. Now the uncut UK version of the film is available on Blu-ray from Warner Archive.

One Million Years B.C. (1966), featuring Raquel Welch in a fur bikini, was a hugely successful British production. It inspired Hammer to produce another dinosaurs and skin adventure fantasy. Though this take on cave life can drag, impressive dinosaurs, attractive performers and an amusing script made up entirely of an invented "cave language," make this an entertaining flick.

There is a loose plot involving Sanna (Victoria Vetri), who is about to be given up for a ritual sacrifice, when she is rescued by Tara (Robin Hawdon), a man from another tribe. A coincidental celestial change makes the old tribe pursue Sanna, certain she has brought on trouble with her escape. This light framework holds together a heavy helping of dinosaur scenes, a cast of actors hired to be eye candy and a sprinkling of sex scenes.

Effects designer Jim Danforth's dinosaurs still hold up. He gives them a sense of danger and play, and they are part of several still appealing action scenes. While these figures dominate the film, in some respects it is more accurate to call this movie Hot Bods of the Prehistoric Age or maybe Sex and Dinosaurs. All of these cave people seem to work out, and their glistening, tanned torsos and scant loin cloths and bikini tops are presented without subtlety. 

I've often noticed a distinct youth quake vibe in British movies of the sixties, whether or not they take place in that time. It isn't the same as in American films attempting to tap into youth culture, which were often so literal, and tended to come off like a dad trying to learn slang from a book so he could seem hip to his kids. The Brits had a way of weaving the feel of the times into whatever they made, so whether it is Alexander the Great or When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, you feel like you are watching a real troop of hippies, and you can't help but wonder what the parties were like after hours.

There are some draggy spots where everyone's just running around screaming "Akita!" "Neeco!" while the musical blares away, but you can generally count on a spontaneous dino fight or sexy cave people clinch to liven things up before it gets too painful.

This is one case where subtitles are essential, because the Hammer cave people language is actually transcribed for your reading pleasure. Apparently there are around a couple dozen words in this lexicon, so it doesn't take long to feel like you're getting fluent in cave talk.

American studios imported the film with some scenes of brief nudity edited out, though none of the more violent images, hoping to reach a family audience. The version on this release fully restores all scenes.

The picture quality is almost too good for a flick of this genre. Sometimes the crackles and dirt are part of the fun, but at least you can get a good look at the dinosaurs and company.

There are no special features on the disc.

Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.

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