The Land That Time Forgot


Back when Hammer Films were flexing their muscles with their substantial amount of horror releases and fantasy films, Amicus Productions were carving their own little interesting niche while paddling in the same pool. While the larger studio ejected vampire flicks and Frankenstein sequels at the rate of a jacked up, automatic pitching machine, the production company known affectionately as “Hammer’s little sister” was turning out interesting projects such as adaptations of EC Comics’ Tales From The Crypt and Vault Of Fear, but the movies they were arguably most famous for was a smattering of fantasy/monster movies that featured the rugged quiff and the torn shirt of Doug McClure brawling his way through a succession of rubbery beasts after being stranded in a farway land (seriously, the dude got lost more times than frickin’ Waldo). The best of these was the first, a vibrant Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation called The Land That Time Forgot that fused wartime adventure and pulpy science fiction in order to serve up a prehistoric punch up that positively ripples with dino-might.


While World War I rages, american Bowen Taylor finds his seafaring trip taking in a little more excitement than he’d bargained for when the passenger ship he’s on gets rudely torpedoed by a German submarine. Survivors are as rare than bolo ties at a Mormon convention, but Bowen, saucer-eyed boffin Lisa Claydon and a handful of soggy officers actually manage to hijack the offending, undersea vehicle and capture its captain, the intellectually pragmatic Captain von Schoenvorts.
However, while Bowen’s group and the German crew try to outwit each other and get the sub to a safe harbour, they somehow end up out of fuel and stranded on a hidden continent known as Caprona, a lush tropical place that would be paradise if not for the rampaging dinosaurs lurking behind every tree, positively salivating at the thought of getting some soft, chewy man flesh between their teeth.
Forging an alliance shakier than a shitting chihuahua, the lost humans try to find a way to refuel their craft while not ending up embedded in a huge pile of dino-crap, but the longer the group works together, the more the science loving von Schoenvorts bonds with Bowen and Lisa as they crack the secrets of Caprona wide open with the aid of weirdly cuddly caveman Ahm. However, even a not-so-perfect storm of scaly predators, exploding volcanoes and rampaging cavemen may prove to be as dangerous as the German officer Dietz who has had enough of this German/English team up and has treacherous plans that will play out amid torrents of lava and screaming saurians.


At times I’ve been rather hard on the gloriously rickety fantasy movies of the 1970’s, but there’s something about Amicus’ legitimately endearing slate of adventure flicks that I just can’t find it in me to trash. I mean, why would I want to – because the dinosaur effects predate CGI and are obviously leathery hand puppets (the Ceratosaurus’ comically oval heads made them look like razor-toothed Pac-Men), or that the cavemen come equipped with big, rubbery brows? Flawless effects aren’t the be all and end all, you know, and the fact that a brief – but gruesomely awesome – battle where a Triceratops prison shanks a foe with one of its horns looks slightly less accomplished than an episode of The Muppet Show doesn’t mean it deserves to be written off. Simply put, long before Spielberg changed the world overnight with Jurassic Park, this adaption of Rice Burroughs’ work was mixing science and Saurians as Susan Penhaligon’s doe-eyed biologist and John McEnery’s surpisingly noble German submarine captain get down and dirty with the what makes Caprona tick on a cellular level. In fact, for a movie that chiefly busies itself with having Doug McClure punching out neanderthals and dodging giant teeth, The Land That Time Forgot is smartly proficient in straddling other genres. If you were to make like an asteroid and wiped the dinos completely out of the picture, you’d still have a neatly above-average war movie as the command of the submarine bounces back and forth between the English and the Germans as they wage a mini war of mental chess to thwart the other from making it to a port sympathetic to their nationality. From shattering the radio, to hiding a magnet in the compass, to just simply socking a guy in the jaw with the butt of a rifle (McClure’s speciality), it keeps the sense of adventure keenly alive even if the real stars of the movie don’t lumber on screen until we’re a full half hour in.


However, when the giant lizards finally show up, it’s worth the wait as the movie puts the pedal to the metal to cram in as much varied monster action it possibly can. Starting from a nicely iconic, opening Plesiosaur attack as it goes from violent welcoming party to bullet riddled feast (“Should one drink white or red wine with plesiosaurus, Herr Von Schoenvorts?”) and serving up such sights as a pair Styracosaurus getting the business end of the U-Boat’s sizable firepower and concerningly sweet caveman, Ahn, getting cruelly scooped up in the beak of a Pterodactyl. Do the dinos stir up titters due to their similarity to snarling children’s toy? Absolutely (the Pterodactyl in particular is noticeably more rigid as a chronic masturbater’s underwear draw), but Kevin Connor’s economic and energetic direction keeps the action moving at a brisk pace that allows the floppy beasts to flourish within the appropriately pulpy tone. Are they as elegant as, say, Ray Harryhausen’s flawless work in Hammer’s One Million Years B.C.? Do me a bloody favour – but comparing the two is like comparing Terminator to Terminator 2; they both do the same job equally well, one’s just more low-tech than the other.


However, what really made the film lodge itself in my memory from my time watching it as a kid is the movie has the swaggering dino-balls to go with a down-beat ending that (spoiler warning) sees Bowen and Lisa stranded on Caprona while everyone else is cooked alive as they try to power the sub through the super-heated lagoon as an erupting volcano turns the heat up higher than a pensioner in control of a thermostat. The final scenes (hinted at in the first) sees the two survivors wrapped in furs, heading north through a freezing tundra while they vainly fling messages in bottles into the ocean with no hope of rescue. The fact that you have no idea where they found pen, paper and a bottle in a lava coated, prehistoric wasteland is initially lost in the surprise that the movie didn’t go for a more traditional ending, but matters were soon addressed in a sequel, which, to date, I’ve actually still not seen. Goofy and dated as only a 70’s fantasy movie can be, The Land That Time Forgot is nevertheless an experience I’ve always fondly remembered.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s