This one has been a favorite of mine for a very long time.
Now, I’ll admit that I’m a sucker for any movie with dinosaurs in it. But not all dinosaur movies are created equal: one can point at a few, incredibly expensive and incredibly awful examples, too terrible to be saved by their excellent dino effects — and at a few outstanding efforts that transcend their low budgets and primitive visuals. This one falls closer to the second category, although it is actually quite an impressive production, even if the dinosaurs aren’t up to the Harryhausen standard. I would compare it to two of my favorite lost world films from around the same time, Hammer’s The Lost Continent, and the Rankin/Bass – Tsuburaya Productions co-production, The Last Dinosaur (1977), both of which offer a great deal of imagination and skill, even if the monsters aren’t quite so good.
Amicus Productions — Hammer Films’ greatest competitor — only made a few science fiction films, and none of them try for the sober horrors of Hammer’s Quatermass series. In fact, three of them were actually aimed at children.
However, they did make their own, very distinctive series of SF films in the studio’s final days, based on stories by Edgar Rice Burroughs: this film, its sequel, The People That Time Forgot (1977) and At the Earth’s Core (1976). A fourth film (with an original story) by the same creative team, Warlords of Atlantis, came out in 1978 after Amicus’ collapse, but was released instead by Columbia. Doug McClure appeared in all four.
What I love about this one is its pulpy feel: Burroughs was one of those ridiculously prolific pulp writers who amassed a huge following, not because of the literary perfection of his work, but because of his ability to tell exciting stories. He is most famous for creating Tarzan, but he also wrote the John Carter of Mars stories, as well as series set in the center of the Earth, the old West, Venus, the Moon, and anywhere else he could think of.
The movie starts out as a simple adventure story at sea: a U-Boat torpedoes a British freighter. The survivors and the crew battle for control of the sub, but end up stranded off the coast of the mysterious island of Caprona and form an uneasy alliance.
It is almost an hour into the film before they encounter the first prehistoric creatures, but, before long, they are dealing with sea monsters, pterosaurs, primitive apemen, volcanoes, and, of course, lots of dinosaurs!
A lot of people have complained that the dinosaurs are less than impressive, although they actually do not look particularly bad, particularly when you compare them to the creatures in most other such films: I believe they were done as rod puppets, years before someone thought up the idea of go-motion. Certainly they are miles better than the lizards with attached fins that appeared in the remake of The Lost World.
The major exceptions to this is the pteranodon and the plesiosaur, which are both full size props: neither one seems to have many moving parts. But I find that the obviously fake nature of the effects are part of this film’s considerable charm. It is a fun B-movie adventure, full of twists and turns, a few interesting ideas — and a weird, possibly supernatural, notion of everything on the island evolving upward and moving towards the North.
Anthony Ainley, who would later play The Master on Doctor Who plays one of the German sailors, and John McEnery brings a great deal of intelligence and sympathy to the German Captain — even if Anton Diffring’s voice is dubbed over his (something I’ll confess I never noticed!)
For some inexplicable reason, the reborn Mystery Science Theater 3000 chose this one as one of their first targets. I suppose that makes about as much sense as their decision to do This Island Earth for their theatrical movie.
I suppose a lot of people have been spoiled by the blockbuster dinosaur movies out there which usually boast of tens of millions of dollars worth of CGI dinosaurs. Few of them are anywhere near as entertaining as this one, no matter how real their monsters look. If you can accept its limitations, this is an excellent lost world film — perhaps not the best, but good enough that it stands out from the herd, rod puppets or not.
So don’t be afraid to give it a try and remember: you need to keep travelling North…
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