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Friday, July 20, 2012

When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth

Following up on Hammer Film's hit, One Million Years B.C., ('66) which starred Rachel Welch, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (WDRE) was a worthy sequel. For some reason, dinosaur and caveman movies are tagged as sci-fi, when they are really just fantasy films. But, since they show up on sci-fi movie lists, they are included here too. Victoria Veltri stars as the leading cave girl, Sanna. Robin Hawdon stars as the leading cave guy, Tara. Despite the title, the story is more about cavemen not getting along too well with each other. Val Guest, writer of the Quatermass stories, wrote and directed.

Quick Plot Synopsis
The narrator tells us that this is a time of beginnings, of darkness and light. The beginnings of man living with man, of love and fear of the unknown. The Rock tribe is gathered on a high cliff at dawn, to sacrifice three blond women to their sun (god). Just as the sun comes up, a fuzzy partially-formed moon appears in the sky, causing great wind. Many are blown over the cliff, but one of the sacrificial women, Sanna (Vetri) falls in the sea and lives. She is picked up by a raft of fishermen from the nearby Beach tribe. Having their human sacrifice survive is bad magic (apparently), so Kingsor and some Rock men come to fetch her. At the beach village, blonde Sanna is a curiosity. Tara (Hawdon) takes a shine to Sanna, much to the jealous displeasure of his already-girlfriend, Ayak. She stirs up the other women to declare Sanna to be "Neecro" (bad magic). Sanna escapes into the desert. The delegation of Rock men arrive looking for Sanna. They search but are attacked by a chasmosaurus. Sanna hides in the woods and sleeps in an open dinosaur eggshell. Mamma dinosaur arrives and assumes Sanna to be one of her babies. Tara is carried off by a pterosaur to it's pinnacle nest. He kills it, but also sees Sanna and Mamma dinosaur. He tries to save her, but Sanna's in charge. She takes him to her cave. Caveman style romance ensues. A Rock tribe man saw where they were. More men come. They see the smoke from Sanna's fire and have the two surrounded. They escape by swimming out into the surf. Tara is captured. Sanna is saved by Momma dinosaur. Tara is to be killed for being Neecro, but the execution is interrupted by a tsunami. Everyone runs in circles screaming. Giant crabs appear and attack people. Sanna appears, frees Tara and they take to a raft. Kingsor tries to halt the incoming wave with authoritative arm raising. It fails. Tara, Sanna and a couple from the Rock tribe survived on the raft. The fuzzy moon becomes the solid moon. They watch a very fast lunar eclipse. Ramp up triumphal music, roll credits. The End.

Why is this movie fun?
Aside from all the shapely cave girls in skimpy costumes, the dinosaur and live-action integration is pretty well done. The landscape of the Canary Islands lends visual appeal too. It is interesting to see how modern tastes and socio-political cause d'jour write (or re-write) history.

Cultural Connection
Movies about primitive man battling dinosaurs have been around since silent films. The Lost World 1925 is the best known. Despite the lecturing of evolution pedants, the populist mind has no problem with caveman vs. dinosaur. Some argue that this popular comfort with the idea suggests a lingering "race memory" -- that maybe early man did have to deal with dinosaurs.

Going, Going, Gone -- Comparing caveman movies over the previous 50 years, one can see how cave clothing got skimpier and skimpier. In 1923 cavewomen in Buster Keaton's Three Ages wore ragged-edged leopard skin dresses with one strapless shoulder!. In 1940, cave-babe of One Million B.C., Carol Landis, wore a ragged-edged leather miniskirt dress. In 1966, cave-hottie Rachel Welch wore an even more ragged leather one-piece swimsuit with many cutaways. In 1971's WDRE, cave-vixen Victoria Vetri (playmate of the year, 1968) wore essentially a bandeau bikini. There wasn't really enough of it to make ragged. In the uncut version of the film, she wore even less than that, appearing nude in the "love" scene and the skinny dipping scene.

Tough Love -- Notable in WDRE are depictions of tough caveman "love." One Rock tribe man carries off a screaming Rock woman to his cave. She fights (sort of) and screams a lot. He tosses her onto his pile of hay and rips off her top. She kinda likes things rough, apparently, as she smiles and makes "love me" eyes at him. In another scene, Tara feels romantic for Sanna in their cave hideaway. So, in suave caveman style, he grabs her by the hair and rips off her cave-ini. (Good thing cave-girl-wear fastened with easy snaps.) He tosses her nude form onto a pile of furs. She kinda likes it and makes "love me" eyes. Modern male story writers liked to assume that primitive women were turned on with some roughness.

Fading Idealism -- In1940's One Million B.C. and the 1966 remake, One Million Years B.C., the story features a mean tribe, the Rock men, and a nicey-nice tribe, the Shell men. In OMBC and OMYBC, the Rock tribe are projected "capitalist" (selfish) while the Shell tribe is spun as "socialist" (sharing). WDRE alters that dualism a bit such that the Rock tribe are ritualistic and authoritarian. The Shell tribe are still nice and communal, but not as clearly cast as the purely nice ones. The pessimism of the 70s was seeping into cinematic caveman culture.

New Moon -- An odd feature in WDRE is that it purports to depict when the moon was formed. The vague glowing mass just arrives all of a sudden -- interrupting the Rock tribe's (wasteful) sacrifice of three pretty blondes. The fuzzy moon creeps out the Shell tribe too, so they also blame Sanna for it. (Can't a blonde get a break?) Near the end of the story, the cloudy mass suddenly coalesces into the moon we all know and love. This causes the fateful tsunami that wipes out the old authoritarian establishment, making the world anew for the lovers. If evolutionists have trouble with dinosaurs and cavemen, astronomers will have seizures over this fanciful story of the moon's creation.

Pre-Leet -- A minor point is the name of the Rock tribe leader -- Kingsor. This is so Leet, but more than ten years before Leet appeared. Could this indicate that the seeds of Leet were lying dormant in mankind, just waiting for the 80s BBS environment to make it sprout?

Bottom line? There's really nothing science about the fiction in WDRE. It's a fantasy story. Fans of sci-fi with aliens, saucers, rockets or nukes, will find their cup empty. Fans of dinosaur films get some action. Fans of films with glistening young women in bikinis will find their cup overflowing.


Randall Landers said...

You know, I've never even heard of this film. Got a growing list of films to watch for.

Anonymous said...

Gotta pick you up on something - and you knew it was coming!

You say "Despite the lecturing of evolution pedants, the populist mind has no problem with caveman vs. dinosaur".

Sorry - nothing to do with "Evolution Pedants" - but everything to do with seperating reality from a (fun) piece of fiction. Now, while some evolutionists might get their panties in a bundle over this, it is not because they are evolutionists - but because they are merely pedants.

Nightowl said...

Hey Annon,
Maybe my being surrounded by Evolution Pedants is a local phenomenon. They like to invoke evolutionary timelines as the reason why dinosaurs and cavemen simply cannot share a steamy jungle.

But then, I'm also surrounded with Biologist Pedants who chafe at any anthropomorphism of animals. There goes 99% of Disney.

You are right, though, that there are always Reality Pedants who kvetch over any jot or tittle that doesn't match their understanding of the current universe. "Pfft. A '63 VW Beetle could NEVER pop a wheelie..."

Metal Mark said...

I like this one a lot. Saw it for the first in 1998 (I think) when Tim Burton was hosting Monsterfest on AMC. The steady pace and the great locations really help make this worthwhile.

Darci said...

This film (and its predecessor, "One Million B.C.") benefitted greatly from the special effects by Jim Danforth. For comparison, see "Creatures the World Forgot" (which didn't employ Danforth).