The three ages of man: child watches this film for the dinosaurs, teenager for Raquel Welch, mature male for the dinosaurs now he knows who Ray Harruhausen is.
Guilty pleasures multiplied. Add the Mario Nascimbene (The Vengeance of She, 1968) score to the delights of Raquel Welch in a fur bikini and Ray Harryhausen’s sensational stop-motion animation. Generally dismissed as high-level hokum, it features an intriguing gender role reversal, and is virtually, not to be too academic about it, a throwback to silent cinema, minus the title cards that helped audiences a century ago work out what was going on. Everything relies on facial expression and gesticulation.
Luckily, there’s not too much in the way of narrative complication. Tumak (John Richardson), the son of the chief of the Rock Tribe, is chucked out into the wilderness for standing up to his father. He probably wouldn’t be crying too much about that, given the strong rule over the weak, old men are left behind to die, and the feeble are last in line for food. Plus, his brother Sakana (Percy Herbert) is prone to stabbing people in the back.
Reaching a distant shore, Tumak is rescued by Loana (Raquel Welch) of the Shell Tribe who takes an instant fancy to him, helping protect him from a huge marauding creature. But his aggressive temperament doesn’t sit too well among this peace-loving democratic group either, despite him saving some kids from another marauding creature. But when he’s chucked out this time, Loana goes with him.
But you know that any journey pretty much takes them into the heart of dinosaur heaven, and Tumak makes the mistake of retuning to his own tribe, where Loana is made unwelcome by Nupondi (Martine Beswick), Tumak’s previous squeeze. It’s power politics all over again until marauding creatures and a convenient volcano intervene and matters can be settled.
All eyes are on Loana and her miraculous bikini until a dinosaur appears, which occurs at frequent intervals. Then you can’t take your eyes off Ray Harryhausen’s creativity, at first expecting the match between humans and his wizardry to be so obvious the illusion will be shattered, but once you realize that is not going to be the case you just sit back in wonder.
Harryhausen has made dramatic improvements in his techniques since previous highpoint Jason and the Argonauts (1963). Cleverly, he builds anticipation by matte work to present scenes of live creatures. The first, the warthog, is of normal proportions, and its capture suggests man’s domination over beast. But that proves a false assumption. Anything later is just gigantic – iguana, turtle and tarantula. In normal circumstances only the giant spider might appear a threat but in the distant past it would appear any creature bigger than man looked upon humans as an easy meal.
And that’s before the allosaurus rampages into sight and a pteranodon swoops out of the sky snaring Loana and then has to battle a rhamphorhynchus over its prey, almost as if Harryhausen was determined to animate the most difficult creatures possible in order to prove his innate skill.
Sure, hostility is much easier to telegraph than other emotions and a fair bit of the picture is people getting cross with each other, but meet-cute between Loana and Tumak involves little as significant, glances and eye contact the core of communication. It’s pure cinema. Stripped of any meaningful dialog, the camera captures everything we need to know. It’s a brutal world, dog eat dog, man eat warthog, dinosaur eat woman, every living thing is a snack of one kind or another and when they’re not killing for food they’re battering each other out of power lust, rivalry or jealousy.
And although nobody could have guessed the impact Ms Welch would have on the male pulse, Hammer had previous in the department of introducing a stunning female into a tale, and it may be pure coincidence that both Loana and Ayesha in She (1965) were woman of power, rather than mere playthings of men. Ayesha is introduced in stunning fashion, her presence pre-empted, most of the picture prior to her appearance serving merely to build her up. Obviously, Ursula Andress did not disappoint but she was introduced in majestic fashion rather than catching fish at the seashore. Albeit Loana sported a bikini, so did all the other fisherwomen and director Don Chaffey resisted the temptation to present her in more statuesque fashion, regardless of the image presented on the poster.
Just as it’s hard to underestimate the iconic impact of Raquel Welch in a fur bikini, so, too, is the work of Harryhausen. And I would also add the innovative score of Nascimbene, with sounds Ennio Morricone would have been proud of.
Despite myth to the contrary, it’s rare for an unknown to emerge from a movie a real star, but Raquel Welch certainly did, though her image on a million posters might have had something to do with her sudden success.
As he did with Jason and the Argonauts, Don Chaffey keeps the story spinning along, makes the best of the lunar landscape and raw actors like Welch and John Richardson (She). Michael Carreras (The Lost Continent, 1968) based his screenplay on One Million B.C. (1940).
The problems of creating believable dinosaurs were so evident that nobody really tackled pre-history until Steven Spielberg waded in with Jurassic Park (1993). It’s a measure of how successful this effort is that the director eschews the cute kids that seemed endemic to the later genre and had his characters facing up to the monsters rather than running away like crazy or expecting that somehow man could control them.
Much more entertaining than I expected, high class special effects, strong narrative, and more than enough to wonder at.