“That was partly scary, partly cool, and partly I didn’t know what was going on,” announced our son after we watched the full theatrical version of The Last Dinosaur. Good thing that the Warner Archive people released that edition and not the US TV one, which has fifteen minutes cut out; he’d probably be even more confused by that.
Rankin/Bass had been working with Japanese production companies since the 1960s. While the company will always be best known for its stop-motion holiday specials that were part of every American seventies kid’s childhood, many of these featured animation done by Japanese studios. Rankin/Bass also had worked with Toei on the sixties cartoon The King Kong Show, and with Toho on an incredibly fun movie adaptation of that program, called King Kong Escapes. They also contracted with Mushi for animation for some of their TV specials, so their people knew some people when it was time for some international co-productions.
By 1975, Tsubaraya Productions was looking for new projects to diversify and become more than just the Ultraman studio. With Rankin/Bass, they found B-movie heaven. Thanks in no small part to the incompetent dub jobs by Sandy Frank’s crew, much of Tsubaraya’s seventies sci-fi output is rich in unintentional comedy, but The Last Dinosaur, along with two subsequent fantasy movies, The Bermuda Depths and The Ivory Ape, are a lot more obscure and have a little better reputation. I can’t speak for the other two, but while The Last Dinosaur may not be art, it’s certainly entertaining.
It stars Richard Boone as the world’s richest man, an industrialist and big game hunter, along with Joan Van Ark as a photojournalist, Steven Keats as a handsome scientist, and former Cavaliers backup center Luther Rackley as a Masai tracker who doesn’t have any dialogue. In a premise shamelessly pilfered from Burroughs with a hint of Verne, oil exploration has found a hidden prehistoric valley in the Arctic circle. It’s a much smaller Land That Time Forgot on the other side of the planet, with far fewer monsters.
Naturally, there’s only one tyrannosaur left, meaning they timed this exploration just right, because these things can’t have that long a lifespan. This thing is incredibly violent and lethal. After killing four of the five members of the previous expedition, the dinosaur has one from this party for lunch before taking on a triceratops in a remarkably bloody fight. By the end, the beast has my respect as well as the big game hunter’s. He’s an incredibly ruthless opponent.
Wikipedia claims that the tyrannosaur suit was reused for Tsubaraya’s idiotic cartoon/live-action hybrid TV show Dinosaur War Aizenbourg, but I’m not sure about that. Maybe the body, but they took away the great-looking head from this movie and gave the TV beast a different one. On the other hand, The Last Dinosaur‘s head is shown to be a bit more hollow than something which should have a skull in it when a catapulted boulder betrays its rubber reality.
I’ve never been a fan of Richard Boone – not even in Have Gun, Will Travel, which everybody likes more than I do – but Joan Van Ark is great in this, and I do appreciate the way the actors get incredibly muddy and disheveled in this film. The script has a couple of surprises – it’s not an overnight jaunt, like some in this genre – and an interesting ending. It does go on a bit in between dinosaur attacks, as these sort of films from the era often did, leading to a fake yawn from our favorite six year-old critic, but he came around in the end. I asked him whether he enjoys monster movies because they’re partly scary. “Yeah, and because they have monsters in them.”