The People That Time Forgot (1977)

There’s a bit about fifty minutes into The People That Time Forgot where the heroes are being led on horseback toward a fairly good matte composite of what’s clearly a drawing of a city that looks like a bunch of giant skulls. Now, up to that point, this has been a perfectly good adventure film with dinosaurs and cavemen, with lots of great location filming in Spain. Then they go into the drawing and it’s all a laughably obvious set at Pinewood, with a volcano that’s not so much “lava” as it is “lava lamp,” and for the final twenty minutes, the ground keeps exploding and makes little Rick Wakeman keyboard noises along with the booming. Few films fall so far, so fast, as this one.

It’s not so much a sequel to The Land That Time Forgot as it is its inverse. That film starts with a half-hour of power struggles about the U-boat before it gets to the mysterious continent of Caprona. This one begins in the icy waters of that huge island, and within six minutes, the “amphib” seaplane bringing our four heroes inland is getting divebombed by a pterodactyl. And it’s a good pterodactyl, too. The winged dinosaur in the original film was probably that movie’s weakest part, a big inanimate prop swung around on a crane with huge, thick wires. This one is a proper puppet with a moving jaw. It’s Kevin Connor and Amicus Productions letting us know they’ve learned from some of that movie’s mistakes. Shame the company folded once the picture was finished; after twenty years as the chief British rival to Hammer in the world of horror and science fiction, they closed down and The People That Time Forgot was released through American International and MGM.

Dinosaurs are a much smaller part of the action in this one. It’s set a few years after the original. Doug McClure’s character, Beau Tyler, had last been seen throwing a “message in a bottle” into the seas of Caprona containing specimens and a detailed account of events. So a childhood buddy, played by Patrick Wayne, comes to the rescue, financed by a British newspaper. The niece of the paper’s owner is played by Sarah Douglas, best known as Ursa in Superman II. Also along, a scientist played by Thorley Walters and a mechanic, Shane Rimmer. And they’re all eclipsed by blues singer Dana Gillespie and her barely-there cavegirl costume.

Incidentally, before this movie, I knew Gillespie best as part of David Bowie’s glam-era retinue. She was part of the gang that appeared on the John Peel show in ’71 to promote Hunky Dory, and she sung a downright terrific rendition of “Andy Warhol.” So see, I’m not nearly as focused on her breasts as this movie’s cinematographer was.

So anyway, this chugs along as a perfectly good seventies adventure film, punctuated by better special effects and an ongoing competition between Wayne and Rimmer to see who can say “hell” and “damn” the most. Gillespie’s cavegirl character, Ajur, leads the heroes to the tribe called the Nargas that had abducted Tyler a few months before. The Nargas are wearing quasi-samurai armor for some reason. I was rolling around some kind of explanation – maybe a Japanese ship crashed here in the 1600s or something – and then we get to the drawing of Skull City and things get interminable.

The Nargas leader is played by the huge Milton Reid, who was usually holding axes and standing next to big gongs without his shirt on in lots of these sorts of movies. There’s a volcano god and of course the ladies have to be sacrificed, because this is, in fact, this sort of movie. The menfolk, including Doug McClure, who finally shows up without saying either “hell” or “damn,” rescue everybody, get out of the Pinewood set and back to Spain and have the big climactic gunfight while the ground explodes making “peee-sssshewww!” noises. Climax achieved, the film still has twenty minutes to go.

Marie’s theory is that the production company brought all the explosives they could carry to Spain, and by golly, they weren’t going to finish this movie until they’d set off every one of them. At one point they get cornered in a cave by a small four-legged dinosaur with a rocky, armored carapace and the camera keeps showing us the trembling roof and stalactites. An eternity later, one of them finally falls and impales the beast. Then there are more explosions and Shane Rimmer yells at the airplane’s engine to start. Apparently Caprona is alive and, unhappy that the wrong body fell into its volcano – well, given the choice of Reid or Gillespie, who can blame it? – it’s trying to keep them all from leaving. Nevertheless, it is all astonishingly fast-forwardable.

So, over to our five year-old critic, who was very excited by all the action, babbled at the evilness of the bad guys, and hid his head under his blanket during an unintentionally hilarious bit where the heroes are trying to rush through a narrow tunnel with monster heads lunging from the walls at them. I kept imagining the monsters on the other side of the wall standing at awkward angles trying to fit their necks through the hole, somehow figuring that this was a sensible way to find food. Anyway, he said that the best part of the movie was the airplane having the dogfight with the pterodactyl. I actually agree with that almost completely. That was the best part of the movie that didn’t have Dana Gillespie almost naked in it.

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