THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975)
Rated PG / Color / 91 minutes
Directed by Kevin Connor
Also Known As: Caprona – Das vergessene Land
Purchase it: Amazon.com (Blu-ray) | Umbrella Entertainment (Blu-ray)
WARNING: THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SOME SPOILERS!
Growing up, I developed an intense love for prehistoric creatures (as well as sharks and cryptids), and became a young expert on the subject. I read tons of books, had toys and model kits (particularly those wooden dinosaur skeleton kits that fell apart at a moments notice), and of course, owned a vast VHS library of dinosaur-themed films. And one of my favorites was THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT.
I still remember my old VHS tape of the film fondly. The front of the sleeve had a variation of Tom Chantrell’s classic poster art, but with some questionable additions, such as a giant octopus, a bath-o-sphere/mini-sub hybrid, and a giant manta ray from Hell that had an “attack snorkel” protruding from its forehead! (CLICK HERE for context.)
On the back of sleeve, Video Treasures hilariously used a still from this film’s sequel, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, featuring a bearded Doug McClure, and a scantily clad Dana Gillespie. The combination of dinosaurs and possible cavewoman cleavage made this a must-have for yours truly. (The promise of boobs and Brontosaurs overloaded my preadolescent mind!) But despite the fact that there was a distinct lack of “troglodyte tatas” in the film, I still fell in love with this Amicus production!
Many years later, I tossed out my battered VHS tape, and upgraded to an MGM DVD double-feature of the film, I was content. And then Umbrella Entertainment‘s new Blu-ray arrived on my doorstep and it was once again time to say goodbye to an old friend. After finding a new home for my once-cherished DVD (which now resides with a young dinosaur enthusiast), I sat down to revisit this much-cherished film in high-definition!
As THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT begins, we see someone toss a canister over a cliff and into the sea below. Said canister is later discovered off the coast of England, and contains a manuscript penned by Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure), an American passenger on a lost British merchant ship. The film then goes into a flashback, explaining how Tyler became marooned on what we later learn, is the lost sub-continent of Caprona.
The year is 1918 and World War I is in full swing. A German U-boat commanded by Captain Von Schoenvorts (John McEnery) sinks a merchant vessel that he suspects is carrying munitions to England. Taking advantage of a thick fog bank, the sub soon breaches the surface in order to charge its batteries and allow its crew some fresh air.
Unbeknownst to the Germans, Bowen Tyler, a spunky biologist named Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon), and a small group of British sailors led by Captain Bradley (Keith Barron) have survived the attack. Sneaking aboard the vessel, Tyler and his British companions surprise the Germans and take over the submarine. But that’s not the end of the conflict by any stretch as both sides continually try to one-up each other.
Eventually they agree to sail to a neutral port, but along the way, someone tampers with their navigation equipment. Soon they become lost in the South Atlantic, with their food and fuel supplies beginning to dwindle. And that’s when they find it: A massive uncharted island that Von Schoenvorts theorizes is Caprona (aka Caspak). With nowhere to dock, the commanders eventually discover an underwater passage that leads into Caprona’s interior, and decide to enter it.
With sub-expert Bowen Tyler calling the shots, the U-boat makes it through the narrow underwater entrance, and enters a tropical world teeming with prehistoric life! The land, river, and skies are filled with a variety of dinosaurs, most of which see the new visitors as food. Therefore, for their own mutual survival, the British and Germans call a truce and work together. And with the aid of a friendly Neanderthal named Ahm (Bobby Parr), they discover a source of crude oil that they immediately begin refining.
But escaping Caprona will not be easy. Despite being armed with modern weaponry, the unlikely allies’ numbers being to dwindle, due to attacks by voracious dinosaurs and tribes of evolved cavemen. And to further complicate matters, a volcanic eruption occurs, leading to a final mutiny and a mad dash to secure enough fuel for a desperate getaway. Many will perish, and those that do survive are doomed to remain upon THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT forever!
Revisiting this film brought back some fond memories of my childhood, when I split the majority of my free time between the local library and the video store. Books fed my scientific curiosity, while the films I watched gave me the irrational hope that somewhere in the world, dinosaurs still thrived in secret. Bearing that in mind, it should come as no surprise that I adored THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT. And all these years later, I still very much enjoy this adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ adventure tale!
Though my younger self typically skipped ahead to “the good stuff,” during my recent viewing I found myself totally invested in the back and forth struggle between the German and British sailors in the first act. Von Schoenvorts’ men shortly regain control of their vessel after the daring British raid, but Bowen and friends dole out a little poetic justice by quietly retaking the sub, and torpedoing a German resupply ship. Watching both sides strive to gain the upper hand helps keeps things interesting until we get to Caprona!
Upon arriving within the confines of the lost world, the film becomes a lot of fun as the two opposing factions band together to survive the inhospitable landscape. And the movie wastes absolutely no time in throwing dinosaurs in your face (literally) as a hungry Mosasaurus plucks an unlucky sailor from the deck, and a Plesiosaur attempts to make a meal out of Bowen Tyler. (Ironically, the aquatic reptile is the one that ends up as dinner!) But these river-dwelling beasties are just the tip of the iceberg, as our quasi-castaways soon discover.
The dinosaurs in the film were brought to life with puppets created by Roger Dicken, a UK special effects veteran who would go on to work on WARLORDS OF THE DEEP (also directed by Kevin Connor), ALIEN, WHITE DOG, and THE HUNGER. Dicken’s puppets were chosen over the use of stop-motion, both as a cost-saving measure and because they had a “more fluid look.”
While far from convincing, the dino puppets certainly do their job, and you can tell that there was a genuine effort to make them seem like living creatures. In one sequence, a pair of hungry Allosaurs drool as they charge through a jungle toward some hapless humans, while in another, a Ceratosaurus delivers a primal shriek after being mortally wounded by a Triceratops that is protecting its nest. And there’s also a fleeting moment where we see a lone tear roll down the snout of a vanquished Styracosaurus. These brilliant little touches imbue the dinosaurs some semblance of life, and greatly aid in the audience’s suspension of disbelief.
Though puppetry was the primary effects method, there were also several huge rubber mock-ups created for THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT. These static creations only show up in the handful of scenes that required a close encounter between man and thunder lizard, (i.e. Anytime someone is devoured by a prehistoric creature), while the vast majority of the human and dinosaur interactions were created using front projection. (A fairly effective technique that Connor would use again in AT THE EARTH’S CORE).
THE LAND BEFORE TIME has a fantastic cast led by Doug McClure as the brave, intelligent, and seemingly unkillable Bowen Tyler. Though he initially turned down the role when it was first offered to him, McClure had a change of heart after Samuel Z. Arkoff co-financed the film. Doug proved to be a major asset for the production, and his experience in shooting action scenes for film and television proved useful during LAND’s fight scenes.
Also worth mentioning is John McEnery, who portrays Captain Von Schoenvorts. He gives a noteworthy performance as a level-headed German U-boat commander, and it shocked me to discover that he was a British actor that was overdubbed! And on that note, a great deal of praise must also go to Anton Diffring (who appeared in Amicus Productions’ THE BEAST MUST DIE) for expertly supplying the Germanic dialogue for the character. (Seriously, this dub job is so well done that you probably wouldn’t have known anything was amiss had I not made mention of it!)
Susan Penhaligon portrays Lisa Clayton, the lone female character in the film. While one would typically assume that she would simply be a “damsel in distress,” she surprisingly proves to be a strong female character. As a biologist, Lisa is more excited than terrified about the prospect of being trapped in Caprona, and on several occasions she shows that she is capable of handling herself. During the film’s first act, she shoots someone to save Bowen Tyler, and later aids him and the others in escaping their quarters so that they can take back the U-boat.
Rounding out the remainder of the main cast are Anthony Ainley, Keith Barron, and Bobby Parr. Ainley plays Dietz, Von Schoenvorts’ second in command, and he’s rather cold-hearted and doesn’t work well with others. For Dietz, the war isn’t over, which leads him to make the disastrous decision to mutiny during the film’s climax. Barron stars as Bradley, the loyal and trustworthy leader of the British survivors. Sadly he gets a bullet in the gut for refusing to ditch Bowen and Lisa on Caprona. And finally, there’s Bobby Parr, who plays the lovable Ahm.
Ahm is a the only friendly native they across, and he proves to be a valuable ally. Not only does he lead them to a deposit of crude oil that they can refine and refuel their submarine with, but he sheds some light on the island’s other inhabitants (e.g. the Bo-Lu, Sto-Lu, and Galu), and the strange path evolution has taken on Caprona. Sadly Ahm is carried off in the maw of a hungry Pterodactyl, and fails to realize his dream of evolving into a “Galu.”
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT is a rather faithful adaption of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ story, and definitely delivers the goods. While some of the effects look dated, many of them still hold up remarkably well, especially the miniatures used in the film. (The U-boat in particular looks quite realistic in many shots!) Along with its strong cast, decent pacing, multitude of dinosaurs, and artfully subtle (yet ultimately forgettable) soundtrack, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT has withstood the test of time, and earned a rating of:
Packaging: THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT comes in a standard (Aussie) amaray Blu-ray case. The cover is an amalgam of the movie’s classic poster art, and the VHS cover art. It keeps the best aspects of both and looks pretty sharp. And if you do not like the rating symbol emblazoned on the bottom left corner of the sleeve, you can instantly solve that problem by flipping it over!
Audio & Video: Umbrella’s HD transfer showcases the film in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio and I’m very much satisfied with it! There is a lot of film grain present, but this movie has never looked so good! In fact, the picture clarity is such a big improvement over previous formats, that you can see the wires on the Pterodactyl that scoops up Ahm in its beak! The audio (DTS-HD Mono) is also quite good, with gunshots, dinosaur roars, and Douglas Gamley’s score all coming through crystal clear on my speakers!
Special Features: I was shocked to discover that this disc only contains the movie! Yes, you read that right Vault Dwellers: THERE ARE NO EXTRAS! If that’s a deal breaker, then there’s always the Kino Classics release, which contains a trailer, a vintage behind-the-scenes featurette, and a feature-length commentary with Director Kevin Connor (who also shot MOTEL HELL)!
Final Verdict: I’m mostly happy with Umbrella’s Blu-ray of THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT, though I must confess that I am disappointed by its complete lack of extras. That being said, this is an enjoyable film, and the disc’s first-rate audio and video presentation is enough to let it skate by with a rating of: