DOC’S JOURNEY INTO HAMMER FILMS #98: WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH [1970]

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Directed by:
Written by: ,
Starring: , , ,

 

UK

 AVAILABLE ON DVD 

RUNNING TIME: 96 mins/ 94 mins

REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic

 

Every now and again, a small tribe sacrifices some blond women to their god, the sun, in return for protection from the many creatures that prey on them. Sanna, one of the sacrificial offerings, escapes when a freak storm interrupts the latest ceremony. She’s found by Tara who takes her to his seaside tribe, a tribe which is more advanced than her own. However, their romance is threatened by Ayak, who’s also interested in Tumak, and Sanna’s tribe which comes looking for her….

People seem to be equally divided as to which is best: Hammer’s first cave people and dinosaurs epic One Million Years B.C., or this follow-up, which, aside from adding some cosmic upheaval, is basically more of the same, rehashing the same story elements. The earlier film was somewhat more convincing, with a grittier, more primeval feel to it, though Jim Danforth’s special effects, while sometimes very good, are more variable than Ray Harryhausen’s. What I found rather irritating, after not having seen the film for well over a decade, was the decision to have far more caveperson speak, but to not subtitle any of it. And was there really any need to add some brief shots of boobs and sexy moments to a film that was, despite breasts constantly threatening to fall out of tight little bras, mostly aimed at kids, replete with scenes of its heroine befriending a baby dinosaur? Small wonder that for years the uncut version was out of circulation. Yet story writer J. G. Ballard [yes, the J. G. Ballard] was far too hard on the film when he said: “I’m very proud that my first screen credit was for what it, without a doubt, the worst film ever made”. There’s a lot of entertainment to be had as long as you try not to think of the considerable absurdities, such as the moon, which was created way before any life whatsoever existed on earth, being formed during the time of primitive man – though of course dinosaurs never existed during mankind either!

When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth was put into production in 1968, with Warners immediately very interested. Ballard’s treatment was much changed by writer/director Val Guest. After the premier Michael Moorcock said to Ballard: “I know one thing you must have written, that stuff with the egg”. Ballard jokingly replied: “It was the only thing they left in”. Harryhausen was busy doing The Valley Of Gwangi so Danforth was asked to replace him. A planned sequence with a Tyrannosaurus was remove because Hammer head James Carreras thought the creature’s stance was like that of gay men! Star Victoria Vetri, who’d been Playboy’s Playmate of the Year, refused to dye her hair blonde, and instead wore a wig. Shot on the Canary Islands, Shepperton and, for some effects work, at Bray, the film’s planned release with Moon Zero Two was delayed till 1970 because Danforth’s effects took so long to do. They got Hammer’s only Oscar nomination. Oddly enough the BBFC only ordered some brief bloody shots to be removed for a ‘PG’ rating, though in the US, where the film was sometimes double billed with The Valley Of Gwangi, the MPAA kept the gore but got the sexual material removed to get a ‘G’ [equivalent to ‘U’]. It’s this version that remained in circulation and which was the one I saw several times on UK TV until 2011 when a Warners DVD was released in the US – and quickly withdrawn because it was uncut but ‘G’ rated. Most current releases are the full cut. The film was a hit, though not of One Million Years B.C. proportions, and the exciting-sounding Zeppelin V Pterodactyl was planned – though never made it past script stage.

The expected shots of rugged landscapes and scene-setting narration lead into three blonde women about to be sacrificed. One breaks free and falls to her death off a cliff edge with her pursuer, then the sun rises and what will later become the moon splits from it, causing winds. I don’t really need to mention the ridiculousness of what is basically a tiny planet, made mostly out of rock, birthed from something which is made of burning gas. Our heroine Tara falls [though Vetri obviously jumps] into the water and escapes to another tribe where they’re trying to keep an Elasmosaurus [basically a Brontosaurus-type thing but with flippers] captive, but it breaks free to kill a few people. We get not one but two brief girlfights, one of them in the water, before Tara has to run again because this tribe doesn’t want her either. Never mind, she makes friends with a baby dinosaur [species unknown] after she’s taken shelter from a storm in an egg. Even the parent likes her and helpfully brings her a dead deer to eat. There’s an undeniable cuteness to some of these moments though the young creature is the least impressive of Danforth’s dinosaurs, looking like it was built in a rush. And, now I’ve finally seen the uncut version, a rather dodgy semi-rape scene where the woman decides to enjoy it, the Tara/Sanna ‘love’ scene which is also oddly forceful with him grabbing her by the throat, and the skinny dipping bit immediately afterwards where you get a full view of Vetri’s breasts, do seem awkwardly shoehorned in.

Of course the two lovers can’t get any peace. Tara has a jealous admirer who may have been her man before though I’m not sure. Both of their respective tribes are after them. And of course you’re never far away from a prehistoric monster, be it a Chasmosaurus [like a Triceratops] who lives in a cave so woe betide anyone who enters, or a Rhamphorhynchus [Pterodactyl-like creature – this film doesn’t like to feature the better known dinosaurs so only dinosaur freaks like me probably know what they are] which carries off Tara to its lair. A carnivorous plant and a boa [good tense moment when Sanna is hiding from pursuers and the snake moves over her] also provide some thrills. The film seems to run out of story in its final quarter and Guest doesn’t quite keep an extremely lengthy pursuit sequence from starting to drag a little, but at least we get the tide going in so some big crabs can attack people, then a tidal wave that takes so long to reach the shore that people can build rafts and fight in them. There’s a couple of obvious stock shots here, as there is elsewhere, the nadir being two magnified lizards fighting, actually taken from the 1960 version of The Lost World, the footage misframed so it looks squashed to boot.

The stop motion animaton is generally up to Harryhausen’s standards, though the latter tended to bring some personalality to his monsters which Danforth doesn’t seem to try to do. A few moments of sloppiness, like flames and smoke which suddenly disappear halfway up the screen, indicate that the budget wasn’t really high enough for a successful realisation of everything [nothing new for Hammer]. The caveperson language consists of just 27 words, whcih I guess makes sense because these primitive people [albeit not so primitive that they can’t give a Viking funeral], though I got tired of hearing “akita” [“look”], “neecro” [“bad”] and “agoba” [not sure what that means] over and over again. I wouldn’t be surprised if the language was more involved in Ballard’s treatment, about which little seems to be known. And I wouldn’t be surprised if it was the bosses at Hammer who got Guest to overhaul things, though directorially Guest certainly seems to enjoy making the film, with fine use of landscape and even some shakycam during a “frenzy” sequence. And cinematographer Dick Bush gives us lots of nice dawn and dusk shots. There’s much more obvious use of sets than in One Million Years B.C. though.

The characters aren’t as well defined as the ones in the earlier film, and the men in this time don’ t hold a candle to the toughies that inhabited that film. Robin Hawdon is just bland, and Victoria Vetri projects an nice aura of innocence but can’t really act, truth be told. Mario Nascimbene returns as composer. His score is very mono-thematic, though he adeptly adjusts his main tune so it can be grand, romantic, or even humorous. A chase motif appears here and there, though there’s less percussion and odd sounds here. On the DVD I watched, there were some moments where the music seemed to begin during an action scene and then cut out after a secnd. I don’t know if these rather jarring bits were in the original print. I have a feeling that they probably were, as When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth does show signs of being rushed in a few other places. I reckon that One Million Years B.C. has the edge, but there’s still something very appealing about both pictures, their reduction of things to the most basic perhaps getting closer to pure cinema then many more overtly artful efforts.

Rating: ★★★★★★½☆☆☆

Dr Lenera
About Dr Lenera 2010 Articles

I’m a huge film fan and will watch pretty much any type of film, from Martial Arts to Westerns, from Romances [though I don’t really like Romcoms!]] to Historical Epics. Though I most certainly ‘have a life’, I tend to go to the cinema twice a week! However,ever since I was a kid, sneaking downstairs when my parents had gone to bed to watch old Universal and Hammer horror movies, I’ve always been especially fascinated by horror, and though I enjoy all types of horror films, those Golden Oldies with people like Boris Karloff and Christopher Lee probably remain my favourites. That’s not to say I don’t enjoy a bit of blood and gore every now and again though, and am also a huge fan of Italian horror, I just love the style.

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