Growing up in Atlanta in the seventies, one of the channels we could watch was a local UHF station, WTCG-17, which evolved over time into TBS. Ted Turner, who owned the station, seemed to have a limitless love for monster movies. The Land That Time Forgot probably first aired around 1977, and at least twice a year after that for the next decade. I imagine that it must have been one of Uncle Ted’s favorites. It was certainly one of mine.
Land was based on a novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and it was the first of four fantasy adventure films that Kevin Connor directed that starred Doug McClure. McClure had been a television heartthrob and leading man, but he kind of became the Gerald Ford-era version of Vin Diesel on the big screen, convincingly square-jawed in the face of outrageous special effects. McClure was the obligatory American lead in a British production, leading a cast of familiar faces like Anthony Ainley, Susan Penhaligon, Keith Barron, and Gordon James.
This was a good year to rewatch Land, as it’s set an even hundred years ago! In 1916, a German U-boat sinks a British merchant ship, but the survivors take the U-boat when it surfaces. For half an hour, control of the submarine goes back and forth between the parties as they sabotage each other’s efforts, and, more than a week later, they end up so far south and so off course that they find a cliff-walled land mass that Captain Von Schoenvorts deduces must be Caprona. This is a legendary island that some Italian explorer claimed to find two hundred years previously, but it does not have a beach or any way to land. However, it does have a river flowing through a cave into the ocean, so they dive and go check it out.
Daniel was surprisingly good through this part of the film, but really came alive when the U-boat navigates the underwater river. “It’s just like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea,” he shouted. When they surface, the fun really starts.
I kind of remember as a kid there being lots and lots of humans vs. dinosaurs movies from the seventies. Most of them are long forgotten now, and I bet none of them have aged as well as Land. The special effects are charming in an unreal way, apart from a hilariously poor pterodactyl which is swung around on wires as thick as your arm. The animosity between the secondary characters, while their leaders wish to keep peace in the name of science and refining oil to refuel the U-boat, is really fun. You can see why Anthony Ainley won the role of the Master on Doctor Who five years later, because he’s so evil and underhanded here.
Plus, there’s a genuine sense of urgency and danger to the story, as the various tribes of natives – tribes from different stages of human evolution, a plot point the movie doesn’t really take time to address – keep attacking the U-boat’s crew and inflicting gruesome casualties. You want to see a movie where German sailors are repeatedly impaled in the spine by the jawbones of dead tyrannosaurs? This is for you.
Truth be told, I had forgotten how violent the film was, only that I adored it when I was a kid and watched it whenever I was aware of it. In those days, WTCG’d run a short ad for a Saturday afternoon screening during a Monday repeat of Gilligan’s Island and I’d be on pins and needles all week ready for more of Doug McClure and the sailors filling allosaurs with hot lead, and I certainly did not spot that inanimate pterodactyl statue as a fraud.
The violence didn’t faze Daniel, although the dinosaurs did scare him a bit. In a rotten bit of luck, he crawled on Mommy’s lap for safety and proceeded to whack the living daylights out of her legs, so she made him move and it broke his heart to the point of anger. He spent the climax of the film sad, heartbroken, and furious, grumbled loudly in an awful pout instead of paying attention to what was happening, even when the volcano – inevitably – erupted and he should have been bouncing off the walls as two of his favorite things, dinosaurs and hot lava, collided. He stormed upstairs at the end, growling that the movie was not cool at all and that he hated it.
A couple of hours later, calmed, happy, and having had a nice lunch, he gladly volunteered that the movie was totally cool and that he was super scared of the dinosaurs. Good man.