Thursday, July 7, 2005

THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT / THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT

One of my favorite MGM Midnite Movie discs is the perfect Saturday afternoon adventure double feature: THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT and THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT. These pre-JURASSIC PARK dino-adventures may lack the slick CGI saurians and rocket sled pace of today's special effects blockbusters, but they're chock-full of old style adventure, charismatic actors and matinee charm.

For a few years in the early-to-mid-Seventies, producer John Dark and director Kevin Connor made a series of fantasy adventure movies based on and/or inspired by the works of pulp writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of Tarzan. These films (all starring beefy TV cowboy Doug McClure) were the aforementioned LAND and PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, AT THE EARTH'S CORE and WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS. (AT THE EARTH'S CORE was released as by MGM a single-movie disc a few years ago, and is supposed to be re-issued this Fall with WAR GODS OF THE DEEP, a Vincent Price fantasy.)

Produced by England's Amicus Studios, and released in the United States by American International Pictures, LAND is one of the last old-fashioned fantasy films produced before STAR WARS came along and re-defined the genre forever.

Doug McClure (you may remember him from such TV series as THE VIRGINIAN and movies like HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP and THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS), stars as Bowen Tyler, an American passenger on a British liner that is torpedoed by a German U-Boat during the first World War. When the U-boat surfaces, a handful of survivors, led by the gung ho American, manage to take control of the sub.

After McClure demands that the Germans take them to a neutral port, the two crews battle back and forth for command of the submarine until they somehow manage to get hopelessly lost. Just as supplies are about to run out, they come across the lost continent of Caprona, and discover that it is a world where evolution works differently, and dinosaurs still exist (along with cavemen).

The story is pure classic pulp, with plenty of hair-breadth escapes, fistfights, gun battles, volcanic explosions, and a great climax. There's plenty of rugged, two-fisted action, and a true sense of wonder to the film that should entertain all but the most thoroughly jaded.

Many of today's viewers may laugh at the puppet and mechanical dinosaurs (although the plesiosaur that attacks the submarine still looks pretty cool to me), and the make up on the Neanderthals is admittedly pretty shoddy. But the miniature work is excellent, the action scenes are well-staged, and while nobody's going to win an Oscar here, the performances by the cast of talented British character actors (especially Susan Penhaligon, who makes a delightful damsel in distress and Anthony Ainsley as the sinister Dietz) are just right for a movie like this.

LAND was one of my favorite adventure films when I was growing up, and I still enjoy it today.

THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT, American International Pictures' sequel to LAND, was released in the Summer of 1977. A square-jawed aviator, played by Patrick Wayne, son of John, and star of the same year's SINBAD AND THE EYE OF THE TIGER, leads an expedition to the prehistoric island of Caprona in search of adventurer Doug McClure, still marooned there after the events of the previous film. The expedition consists of Wayne, his mechanic (Shane Rimmer; THE SPY WHO LOVED ME), a female reporter (Sarah Douglas; SUPERMAN, SUPERMAN 2, BEASTMASTER 2), and a paleontologist (character actor Thorley Walters). After their biplane is forced down by an attacking pterodactyl, the adventurers discover a beautiful cavegirl (the gorgeous Dana Gillespie), who eventually leads them to Skull Mountain and the evil, samurai-like Nagas, who have McClure locked away in their skeleton-strewn dungeon.

PEOPLE is a full-blooded, old-fashioned Saturday matinee adventure, with vicious cavemen, clunky (mechanical) dinosaurs, an evil Tor Johnson lookalike, volcanic eruptions, swordplay and plenty of heroic derring-do. As in SINBAD, Wayne makes an handsome, whitebread, hero, while Douglas, an underrated actress who's appeared in tons of fantasy films, makes the most of her spunky girl reporter role. Gillespie provides the eye-candy, and Walters and Rimmer provide solid support. McClure, who shows up late in the film, looks a little tired of these cut-rate lost world epics, but acquits himself adequately.

The production design and special effects have a charming, nostalgic cheesiness about them, with obvious matte paintings, miniatures and mechanical monsters adding to the cliffhanging fun. Although primitive by today's high-tech standards, I'll take this kind of hand-crafted filmmaking over today's CGI-dominated 3D toons any day. The photography is magnificent, making good use of the rugged, prehistoric-looking locations, and the score by John Scott is rousing, if a bit sparse.

MGM's disc includes trailers for each feature, and that's it. Both movies look great, and the original mono soundtracks are crisp, clear and devoid of background hiss. If you can still find it, it's a great deal for just a few bucks.

Now, if MGM would release WARLORDS OF ATLANTIS, my Dark/Connor/McClure collection would be complete!

BUY: The Land That Time Forgot/The People That Time Forgot