(1974) Directed by Kevin Connor; Written by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock; Based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; Starring: Doug McClure, John McEnery, Susan Penhaligon, Keith Barron, Anthony Ainley and Bobby Parr; Available on Blu-ray and DVD (Out of print).
“It’s like a geologic exhibit. A world of life outside of time, yet representing almost all the ages of the Earth. Wonderful!” – Captain Von Schoenvorts (John McEnery)
A hearty thanks to the best blogging partner anyone could hope to work with, Gill Jacob from Realweegiemidget Reviews, for co-hosting The 2nd Great Hammer-Amicus Blogathon. It’s a multi-blogger extravaganza, featuring the work of two tremendous film production companies. Check out all the sensational submissions over the next few days! Here’s my first of two reviews…
Amicus productions made its first foray into Edgar Rice Burroughs territory with The Land That Time Forgot. It represented a new direction for the company, as a departure from the horror fare that distinguished much of Amicus in the ‘60s and early ‘70s. Its inception was not without friction behind the scenes. Despite the company’s name (meaning “friendship”), things were less than amicable between producers Milton Subotsky and Max J. Rosenberg. In a 1985 audio interview with Subotsky, his relationship with business partner Rosenberg was falling apart at the seams, and was allegedly locked out of the film’s production. After the initial cut was received poorly, he assisted with the re-editing. He further accused Rosenberg of re-negotiating his salary as producer and reducing his cut of the film’s profits (Source: 1985 Phil Nutman interview). Subotsky would hang on for one more film* (another Burroughs-based adventure, At the Earth’s Core) before parting ways with Amicus.
* Co-producer Subotsky had checked out of Amicus by the time the inevitable sequel, The People That Time Forgot (1977), made its debut.
In 1916, the U-33, a German submarine, torpedoes a British civilian ship, sending it to the bottom of the ocean. All seems lost for the handful of survivors, cast adrift in two lifeboats, when the U-boat surfaces. Somehow, the survivors manage to surprise the German crew and hijack their submarine (How they manage to do this against a U-boat with a full complement of officers and sailors is beyond me. Did they forget to use the periscope?). Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure), the survivors’ de facto leader eventually forms an uneasy alliance with the sub’s captain, until they can reach a neutral port. The combined crew/conspirators encounter an as-yet-uncharted land of Caprona, where dinosaurs and hostile natives co-exist side by side.
The headstrong alpha-male Tyler probably isn’t the best choice for a leader. He makes a point that his father built submarines, but that doesn’t necessarily make him a competent commander, as subsequent scenes prove. It’s hard not to cringe when he orders the sub crew to negotiate a series of tight turns in an underwater cavern. Our unease isn’t due to the tricky maneuvers, but because he has no business telling them their job. Eventually, he defers to the U-boat commander’s experience. Tyler doesn’t fare much better on land either, with his trigger-happy inclinations, choosing to shoot first and ask questions (maybe) later. Of all the characters, the soft-spoken, even-headed Captain Von Schoenvorts is the most three-dimensional. If not for the war, he would have devoted his time to more cerebral endeavors. He could easily have been written off as a monster devoid of a conscience, but we see that he regrets his wartime decisions (Instead, that role is reserved for first officer Dietz, who has an unfortunate sadistic streak). Rounding out the cast of characters is another shipwreck survivor, Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon). She’s proves to be more than a pretty face, as a biologist conducting research. In one of the film’s brief thoughtful moments, she enjoys a fleeting philosophical discussion with the captain.*
* Von Schoenvorts observes, “The study of nature, Miss Clayton, has taught me that life is founded upon killing and destruction. The sea swarms with living things. They prey on one another to survive.”
Let’s not forget about Ahm (Bobby Parr), one of the land’s proto-human residents. Poor Ahm, if only he had been a bit more evolved. He’s introduced as an adversary, but adopted as a sort of mascot by the crew. Even in Caprona he’s not at the top of the heap, where several stages of early hominids reside. But what he lacks in brains, he makes up in heart. I don’t want to spoil things for you, dear reader, but it’s not too difficult to guess who’s going to end up Pterosaur chow.
I’m not a WWI historian, but considering the budgetary limitations, the submarine looks surprisingly authentic. The cramped interior of the U-33 is the single-most impressive set piece in the movie. Similarly, the submarine/ship effects by Derek Meddings are quite effective. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the dinosaur effects, which are a major step down, ranging from passable to comical. The prehistoric critters work best in close-up, with wider-angle shots revealing the limitations of the effects. An Allosaurus performs a drunken shamble, puppet Triceratops battle it out, and barely articulated Pterosaurs soar on visible strings.
The Land That Time Forgot is a throwback adventure story that could have easily appeared ten or 20 years previously as a Robert L. Lippert or Irwin Allen production. Some might argue that the film takes too long to get to Caprona, but I enjoyed the leisurely pace as the characters were established, soaking in the gravity of their situation. It helps to keep a healthy sense of naiveté when watching The Land That Time Forgot. When the source material was written, the world was a much bigger place. Today (and in 1974, when the film was released), with satellites mapping every square inch of the Earth’s surface, it’s harder to accept that a sizable island could exist without anyone’s knowledge. Lower your expectations a notch or two (this isn’t quite Das Boot meets Jurassic Park) and give your brain a rest. It’s a movie firmly rooted in the past, as Saturday matinee material, meant to be enjoyed with heaps of popcorn and your favorite sugary beverage.