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Sunday, January 11, 2015

Month of AlloSundays: The Land That Time Forgot (1974)

Written by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Directed by Kevin Connor
Dinosaur Sequences:  Roger Dicken

Doug McClure:  Bowen Tyler
John McEnery:  Captain von Schoenvorts
Susan Penhaligon:  Lisa Clayton
Anthony Ainley:  Dietz
And STEVE JAMES! as the First Stolu

It's extremely fitting that Amicus made this movie; they were the Pepsi to Hammer Studios' Coca-Cola back in the fifties and sixties, and if I'm watching a movie for the Allosaurus content I'm happy to see the name of a second-tier studio in the credits. Stephen Spielberg and Universal teamed up to give viewers the best Tyrannosaurus Rex that had been seen on film up to that point (and pretty much since then as well). The Other Lizard gets Amicus and Kevin "Motel Hell" Connor. If I was being completely fair I'd point out that Edgar Rice Burroughs and Michael Moorcock are heavyweights in the fantasy literature field, both responsible for game-changing landmark books, but that would undercut my premise so I won't be bringing it up at all.

The opening credits show a small waterproofed cask being thrown off a cliff and into the ocean somewhere; while the people who made the movie have their names on screen the cask bobs on the water's surface and eventually winds up at a tidal pool where a sea captain picks it up off the rocks. He finds a bundle of papers inside (hope you don't drop them in the sea while you're taking 'em out of the cask, buddy) that look like they were torn from a ship's log book, and are covered front and back with handwriting. The voiceover as he reads them lets us know that this is the framing device for the story--I imagine the last shot of the film will be someone tossing that cask off the cliff again (or, from their perspective, for the first time). Whoever wrote the journal and threw it into the ocean says that they've experienced wonders, horror and adventure within three short months.

"It must have been a little after three o'clock in the afternoon when it began" is a bit wordier than "Call me Ishmael", but it serves. June third, 1916, was a bad time to be on a passenger liner in the Atlantic Ocean; the main reason you didn't want to be there is demonstrated by a minor brass chord on the soundtrack and a snorkel popping up out of the ocean's surface. The lurking U-boat has a crew that works like a well-oiled machine, and with Teutonic efficiency they blow the 20,000 ton S. S. Montrose out of the water. It's a pretty nifty model effect, though as always fire and water look unrealistic when used in miniature shots of insufficient size. Too bad for the fourth wall that both elements are in this particular effects shot. But, as always with B movies, the viewer has to be ready to meet the film halfway in order to have fun and not just nitpick it to death.

The only two survivors of the attack on the Montrose are in a leaking life boat. The square-jawed American male is sullenly bailing the craft out with a metal can and a woman in a pink dress slumps against him. They talk about whether or not anyone else made it off the ship and dwell on their chances of being seen or rescued when the man hears singing off in the fog. He shouts to get the other peoples' attention and a group of sailors from the Montrose--riding in a lifeboat that's in considerably better shape than the first one--haul the pair into the more seaworthy craft. The two survivors are known to the sailors, the man is Mr. Tyler and the woman Miss Clayton. The highest-ranking man on the lifeboat busts out the good news:  They have very little fresh water, no food, and the ship sank before the radio man could give out their location; the chances of rescue are minimal at best.

Which means that when U-33 surfaces near the lifeboat, there's a slim chance of survival for the sailors and Miss Clayton. When the sailors open the hatch and go on deck for a breath of air that doesn't smell like used German rations from 1916, they can be bushwhacked by the survivors from the Montrose; it's a miniscule chance but it beats dying of thirst in the North Atlantic. Tyler claims to be an expert on German submarine construction, which is an odd thing for a sweater-wearing American adventure movie lead to be. Turns out his father was a submarine designer, so knowing about this sort of craft is the family business.

The survivors creep onto the hull of the submarine and try to capture as many of the German sailors as they can; it doesn't go completely well for them after they lose the advantage of surprise (taking a belaying pin to a gunfight goes poorly). I liked the fight choreography here; nothing flashy, just a bunch of people trying to choke each other out or beat each other down in the close confines of the ship's exterior. Miss Clayton, ignored by the film for this sequence, turns out to be the only reason that Tyler doesn't exit the movie in the first thirteen minutes. On board U-33, the survivors from the Montrose take over, although not without some difficulty (the first mate destroys the radio when he gets the chance, so the captured sub can't go anywhere near British waters without getting murdered by the Royal Navy).

Captain von Schoenvorts addresses his crew, telling them that they are to obey Tyler, at least for now, and that the craft is no longer under German control. The Montrose survivors still plan to get the U-Boat to England, where it will be captured by the Royal Navy and kept out of service for the rest of the Great War. There's some "good news, bad news" that happens soon after; the sub finds a British warship, but even though they're signaling that U-33 is under English control via an Aldis lamp, the Royal Navy craft either doesn't see the message or doesn't believe it and commences trying to shell the U-boat to death. They have to crash dive in order to get away from the barrage (bet the guy who trashed the radio room wishes he hadn't done it now, eh?) and the sub sustains damage. The dive and escape attempt takes the submarine a little past its crush depth to rest on the ocean floor. Once the English ship leaves the area, U-33 continues with the sketchy plan of fleeing westward and finding an American port before they run out of diesel fuel and everyone starves to death.

Again, thanks for smashing the radio equipment, jerk.

Dietz, the second in command, tampered with the compass by sticking a magnet in it; Tyler notices when the compass says one thing and the rising sun says another. Turns out the gigantic flaming mass of plasma in the sky is right and the altered compass is wrong; shortly after this is discovered the Germans regain control of their ship. The sub captain also politely informs Tyler that he plans to have the man shot for piracy after they rendezvous with a supply ship somewhere in the area of ocean that Dietz has steered them to. Shortly after this, he returns to his cabin--where Miss Clayton has been staying, so she's not surrounded by sweating sailors leering at her all the damn time--and Clayton, a biologist, asks von Schoenvorts why he's so dedicated to violence and killing when he's got things like a microscope in his cabin (showing he is an educated man interested in science). He responds that even the most cursory study of nature shows that everything is trying to kill everything else just to survive, which is a heck of a point to score. He also says that the Montrose was running guns in addition to carrying civilian passengers (which is why it exploded so violently when it was torpedoed), and that by sinking the boat he prevented those munitions being used against his own countrymen. Honestly, I like movies where you find yourself agreeing with the antagonist. As George R. R. Martin said in an interview, the villain is the hero of the other side.

Miss Clayton jimmies the lock on the key cabinet for the ship and lets the Montrose crewmen out of their prison cabin. They silently overpower the German crewmen, and fire a torpedo directly at the rear-projection of a supply ship as von Schoenvorts watches in shock. Tyler and the others resume control of the submarine and go on half rations to preserve the week's worth of food and fresh water that they have left (since the supply ship was destroyed before they could get so much as a tin of Spam from it). After journeying for a while, Tyler and von Schoenvorts conference in the captain's cabin; Tyler informs the German captain that they're lost and von Schoenvorts can't quite keep from smirking when he says he'll help figure out where they are (which is somewhere in the ocean full of icebergs, so they went WAY off the usual routes at some point).

Later, the principle cast is on deck (I really liked the ice on the submarine's rigging here; it helps sell that they're in freezing and remote waters) looking at a mountainous icy continent that von Schoenvorts thinks could well be a legendary lost isle found by an Italian explorer in the 18th century. The explorer named the continent "Caprona" after his own last name, but couldn't find a safe place to anchor to explore it. U-33 is better equipped to try finding a harbor around Caprona, and if the Anglo-German crew doesn't find some way to take on fresh water and get food, they're all going to die. An underground river flowing into the ocean from a semi-submerged tunnel provides a point of entrance for the craft and they make their way to the lost world. I hope you like shots of kelp waving in the currents underwater, because you'll be seeing a lot of them here.

Steering the craft through the underwater currents and narrow caverns is beyond Tyler's abilities so von Schoenvorts takes over at the till. They get hung up on a rock ledge and lots of nautical terms have to be shouted at people before they get clear of the navigational hazard. U-33 surfaces in a tropical lagoon and a dinosaur attempts to take a bite out of the periscope (Tyler wisely refuses to tell anyone what he saw, because they'd think he had gone insane).

There's the requisite "everyone looks at the new place" shots here, and they're about as well managed as anything you'll ever see from Amicus. Plenty of awe and wonder on the actors' faces, while the scenery looks forbidding--flickering lightning in storm clouds, huge jagged mountains in the distance and a hostile-looking sea serpent that nobody has caught a glimpse of yet are intercut with the shots of the crewmen and Miss Clayton on the deck. And she's the one who recognizes the screeching reptiles gliding through the air as pterodactyls, being the only one who knows biology in the group. She's looking the wrong way to warn one of the Expendable Meat crewmen about the sea serpent that hauls him off into the water, leaving a cloud of blood and a single boot floating in the lagoon. Great, now the dinosaurs know that humans are tasty and oblivious. It isn't bulletproof, though, so Tyler and another crewmen are able to kill it with a rifle (notice that there's no muzzle flash when Doug McClure pulls the trigger; the blanks must not have been working that day on the lagoon set) and a submachine gun. This means that the first fresh meat the crews get to have since their voyage started is some kind of prehistoric reptile. I imagine it tastes like chicken.

Over plesiosaur and white wine, Captain von Schoenvorts puts forth a proposition worthy of Joe Stewart--everyone on board will ignore the war in Europe and work together; if they find a way out of Caprona, they will sail U-33 to a neutral port and the Germans will surrender. That's quite fair, and Tyler goes along with it (possibly because he's to be installed as a nominally unaffiliated tie-breaker to resolve disputes between the German and English crews).

Miss Clayton and Captain von Schoenvorts immediately start doing science, taking water samples and trying to figure out exactly what kind of territory Caprona is (they theorize that it's a massive volcanic crater that is able to heat the territory enough to support plant life; maybe the Antarctic warm zone from The Land Unknown was actually Caprona all along). The water samples from the lagoon show bacteria that neither scientist can identify; von Schoenvorts declares the need for a fresh water source that isn't teeming with mystery germs so the submarine is anchored, a boat lowered and a multi-national crew goes out to stand in front of a pretty good matte painting and start exploring. I really liked the German captain's enthusiasm for everything in front of him--I think that would be a fully justified and human reaction to finding oneself in a completely unprecedented environment.

Two crew members find a small pond and take a water sample, neither one realizing that they're being watched by a band of cavemen crouching in the tall grass. And then a pair of rather endearingly realized Allosaurus show up, and all I can say is "it's about time". My own theory is that the Neopets creators, being from Wales, caught this movie on Saturday afternoon telly and created the Grarrl to look more or less like these creatures.

Thing One.

Thing Two.

The crew draw a bead on the dinosaurs, because they are jerks, but an attack from the cavemen means that they have more immediate concerns. In theconfused melee, one of the cavemen gets knocked out and Tyler scoops him up to haul him away from the dinosaurs. The sailors shoot both of the dinosaurs, which collapse next to each other. I bet they were a mated pair. These characters are jerks. Although it was nice that von Schoenvorts actually identified the poor things as the correct species.

The caveman wakes up, runs off, gets snagged by Tyler, and they start the tentative process of bridging the gap between each other in order to communicate. And then Tyler punches the poor guy unconscious so they can drag him back to the submarine. The caveman, named Ahm, was trying to tell everyone not to go south of the clearing where they shot the dinosaurs. Back on the ship, Ahm manages to communicate to everyone that he knows of fire that comes from the ground; a leap of not-entirely-convincing deductive reasoning clues everyone in to the presence of oil in the region. It would take time and effort, but von Schoenvorts believes that they have enough gear on the sub to refine the oil into something that would get them home (though it would be rough on the engines, to be sure).

Ahm guides the crews back to his territory (and let's appreciate the unintentional irony that the first thing the 20th century people do when they meet Ahm is punch him out; the second is planning to take the petrochemicals from his land). The sailors force Ahm to go past a boundary marker (a tree full of skulls; I'd certainly not go past it) and are observed by a more advanced cave person tribe. That tribe, the Stolu, appears to hate Ahm (a member of the Bolu) and also everybody else. They attack the U-33 cast members while they're taking a nap around a campfire in broad daylight (Amicus could usually be counted on for a couple day-for-who-gives-a-shit scenes) and wipe out some of the day players. Ahm attempts to explain either that the territory of the Galu lies beyond that of the Stolu--and therefore farther from the Bolu's home turf) or that the Bolu are going to reincarnate or evolve into Stolu and Stolu will become Galu. I didn't follow it at all, but Miss Clayton appears to think she knows what he's talking about.

Ahm brings the group to a deposit of oil on the surface of a pond, so they can start trying to figure out how to refine it and top up the U-33's tanks to get home. While we're treated to yet another "everyone walking through Caprona" scene, the movie pauses to give us a fight between an Triceratops defending its eggs (which look big enough to have killed the dinosaur that laid them) and something that looks like an Iguanodon but probably isn't. If I were eleven, I'd be able to tell you exactly what it is but I'm afraid a lot of my dinosaur information got dumped as I got older. The trike fatally gores the "Allosaurus with a nose horn or something" dinosaur as everyone looks on. A Styracosaurus shows up immediately after the rumble and wanders around, eventually meeting up with another one of its species. Sadly, the scenes matting von Schoenvorts and Tyler into the scene with the dinosaurs aren't quite realized as well as the ones from The Land Unknown; fifteen years of advancement in special effects don't mean much if you haven't got the budget to use them.

For some reason, Tyler tells the U-33 crew to use the deck gun against the herbivores that hadn't actually threatened him or anyone else (well, he is the token American). They die and von Schoenvorts says something about trying to figure out the secret of Caprona because their lives might depend on it. Whatever, dude. All you've done so far is kidnap Ahm, shoot dinosaurs and build a cargo cult refinery. Eventually von Schoenvorts figures out that different parts of the island have animals from vastly different epochs; apparently all the different animals in Caprona evolved along the lines that they would have in the rest of the world or something. According to the journal (remember the journal? As a framing device? Tossed off a cliff at the start of the film?) the farther north along the big river one goes, the more evolved the animals are.

This gets dropped in favor of a scene where the oil derrick works and everyone can start doing chemistry on their buckets of crude that have been siphoned out of the ground. It's been a while since there was a fight scene, so one of the Brits picks a fight with Dietz, the German second in command. I can't believe we don't get more time with dinosaurs because of this. Also,way to settle disputes between the two crews, Tyler. When the antagonist is a better leader and more sensible than you, I find myself wondering why he isn't the hero all along.

Ahm gets hypnotized by the Galu, I think, or possibly another group of Stolu. They give him a spear and all walk off; nobody at the U-33 camp seems to care about this and OH STOP PUTTING IN SCENES OF EVERYONE WALKING AROUND BECAUSE I DON'T CARE ANY MORE. Miss Clayton gives a pretty awesome "everything in Caprona evolves over the course of its own lifetime" speech while observing a Stolu encampment from a distance (including nudity filmed from about half a mile away or so, because Amicus is classy that way). The Galu attack, I think, or maybe it's the Stolu again, and kill a day player. Tyler pursues them, because that's really a good idea at this point in the expedition. While he's off playing hero, the tribe I'm pretty sure is the Galu wipe out more of the crew from the Montrose and the U-33. Miss Clayton gets kidnapped and a pterodactyl shows up to frighten Ahm and Tyler. Ahm gets carried off in a sequence that DVD resolution does absolutely no favors to.

Meanwhile, the Galu are inflicting the Male Gaze on Miss Clayton and also kicking each other in the face. Tyler shows up without a gun to try and pull off some kind of rescue when the volcano that Ahm vaguely alluded to earlier goes up in a blaze of stock footage for absolutely no goddamned reason whatsoever. Tyler and Miss Clayton run back to the refinery; some rocks crush various Galu but neither 20th century character, and the long-overdue appearance of quicksand occurs. It can't be good news for the film that the big finish is the most tedious and painfully overlong sequence in the whole mess. Tyler has to murder his way out of a Galu ambush and everyone really earns their stunt pay when actual flaming props get dropped on the set. The few dinosaurs left alive by Tyler and his compatriots get killed in the lava flow or boiled in the lake.

Dietz flips out and shoots a couple people, including the captain, then gets the submarine moving before Tyler and Clayton are on board. That turns out to be for the best, though, as what I'm pretty sure is an underwater volcanic eruption superheats the submarine and kills everyone on board--whoa, the 70s bummer ending makes it to Amicus! All that's left is for Tyler to write up his adventures and toss the cask with the bundle of papers in it off a cliff. Just like I figured would happen from the credits...

It's a real shame that the first half of this movie is so well done and the second half is so meandering and pointless; the actors all do a perfectly fine job but they're at the mercy of a script that does them absolutely no favors once they get to the lost world. I shouldn't be dreading more scenes with dinosaurs and volcanos, really, but that's what happens in this one. I'm not familiar with the source novel, but after having seen the film I have no desire to read it because it might have been a very close adaptation.

It's too bad, really. All three of the Allosaurus movies have lost worlds in them, because it's hard to justify finding a dinosaur in the 20th century otherwise. This one was made almost two decades later than the previous selection, but it would appear that the filmmakers learned nothing at all about pacing or story construction in the years since The Land Unknown got produced. Nothing else to do now but anticipate the Ray Harryhausen movie for next week, which is several orders of magnitude better than this one.

"And wouldn't you know it--I got dressed for the completely wrong lost civilization."


  1. Where if fails can be marked by every moment the movie drifts from the source material which explains why "The People That Time Forgot" is an even worse movie because not one bloody thing in it is from the book...okay well that's not totally true they both have a guy named Tom and there are dinosaurs, but that's about it.

  2. "Allosaurus with a horn on its nose" probably rounds up to Ceratosaurus in a movie from 1975.

  3. Yeah, but it's so obviously the same puppet with a horn on its nose that I feel justified in not looking that up.