One Million Years B.C.


Sometimes history disgorges a movie that’s almost impossible to judge by normal standards. Be it the Un-P.C. clowning of Troma movies to the experimental art house leanings of Nicholas Winding Refn, some flicks are just too off-base, eccentric, or just plain fucking weird to pass a simple opinion of good or bad and then simply move on.
A magnificent example of this first-world conundrum is Hammer films foray into prehistoric fantasy, One Million Years B.C., a motion picture that, thanks to a furry bikini or two, remains defiantly iconic despite being crazier than a shithouse rat.
Oh, you think that definition was harsh? Well, what else would you call a movie that chooses to take such an amusingly stylised approach to the life of a caveman but still opts to have no spoken dialogue whatsoever except an opening narration and endless repeated barking of names like “Tumak” and “Loana”? Where else would you find the peerless stop motion wizardry of Ray Harryhausen share the screen with a giant, rear-projected iguana fresh from the pet shop?
Where? One Thousand Years B.C. – that’s where.


Somewhere vaguely near the dawn of time (the booming voice of the narrator makes it seem far more impressive than I can), the all brunette members of the rock tribe live a brutal and self serving existence with their rules of the strong surviving meaning that they treat each other like moody, spiteful fourteen year olds. The leader of the tribe is the bullish Akhoba and like most shit-heel dads, he is content to let his two sons Tumak and Sakana fight among themselves if it means his rule is safe. However, after the former son challenges his father over a piece of meat, the surpisingly handsome caveman is beaten and expelled from the tribe.
Wandering the wasteland while trying to avoid the odd 40 foot iguana, Tumak finally makes is way to the ocean and stumbles across the all-blonde shell tribe just in time for them to save him from a turtle the size of a trailer home. Before we have time to wonder if the presence of a giant turtle mean the makers of the film might not actually know what dinosaurs are, we are introduced to the radiant vision that is Loana, a kind stunner whose appearance (Hollywood smile, toned abs and nary a split-end in sight) immediately catches Tumak’s eye and he’s nurtured back to health thanks to his saviour’s more advanced ways.
Proving his worth after brawling with an Allosaurus, Tumak is nevertheless banished again for an altercation with the jealous Ahot (Tumak? He gets walked over so much he should be call “Tarmac”) – but this time, he has the consolation prize of having Loana leave with him. However, the balance of power has shifted in the rock tribe and after Shakana has Lion King-ed his old man off a cliff and become leader, he’s none too pleased to see his brother return…


So, I’m genuinely not sure how One Million Years B.C. was received when it was first released (although I’m willing to bet any prehistoric experts had a fucking aneurysm), but to watch it now is like hitting a jackpot of ridiculousness. While later films like Quest For Fire would try to keep things vaguely accurate, this film’s poster has the audacity to bare the legend “THIS WAS THE WAY IS WAS” despite being as realistic a portrayal of prehistoric life as an episode of the fucking Flintstones. Not only do we have primitive men slugging it out with dinosaurs (only slightly off by 65 million years) but the sheer presence of Raquel Welch and her infamous fur bikini is enough to provoke snorts of derisive scoffing as her flawless appearance seems to suggest that cavemen invented spa days before they even invented the wheel. Opposite her is John Richardson’s Tumak who, with his piercing blue eyes and his voluminous hair, bears more than a passing resemblance to a feral Barry Gibb from the Bee Gees and between him and the rest of the equally game cast, you’re in for an hour and forty minutes of primal bellowing and more gutteral grunts than a professional tennis match.


However, while it’s fun and easy to mock old movies that play fast and loose with historic facts, to be too smug is to miss something of an important fact. As brutally ludicrous as One Million Years B.C is, it’s also something of a kick ass fantasy film that features all the screaming monsters, oily torsos and gratuitously tacked on chick fights you could possibly hope for. Adding inordinate amounts of class to proceedings is the always flawless work of Ray Harryhausen who not only helps create a tangible skyline of turbulent volcanoes and angry looking filters, but also gives us some top-notch, pre-Jurassic Park, dino-related mayhem that ranks among some of the best he’s ever created. Not only do we have Tumak and the shell tribe convincingly fight with and pull off a truly awesome kill-move on an Allosaurus that in actuality was only about a foot tall, but we also get a stonking Triceratops/Ceratosaurus smackdown and some hot pterodactyl action that no doubt went a long way to causing numerous generations of kids to fall unequivocally in love with dinosaurs.
However, while the kids were staring at the giant lizards, everyone else was staring at Raquel Welch whose historically inaccurate attire was key to the movie capturing the zeitgeist much in the way Dr. No did the second Honey Ryder emerged on the beach. While it must seem a little strange to modern audiences that a movie packed with dinosaur fights and massive, film ending earthquakes ended up having a “chick in a bikini” as its main attraction, but to give it credit, it’s certainly a striking image.
Taken with even an ounce of seriousness, One Million Years B.C.’s poe-faced approach to half naked actors running around rocks in fuzzy booties is far more giggle-inducing than awe inspiring (I’m still confused about that giant turtle), and yet if you roll with the camp and treat the whole thing as an over-serious, fantasy romp (like you’re supposed to) then the movie is a non-stop ride that wears it stupidity on its sleeve with a sense of well deserved pride.


While seemingly devoid of common sense, One Million Years B.C. has personality for days and thanks to an epic polish from Harryhausen’s magical talents and the staying power of that piece of underwear, it’s proudly taken its place in cinema pre-history by clubbing subtlety over the damn head…
Awesomely primitive.


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