I have two ways of watching movies through my Lovefilm subscription. With the first, DVDs are posted to me through the antiquated Royal Mail postal service, and I try and get through them as quickly as possible before forgetting to return them. By-and-large I use this part of their service to catch up on recent films that I missed at the cinema, as well as box sets of TV shows. This rental list is full of the usual stuff … heavy duty Oscar-nominated performances, worthy minor independent hits, blockbusters, well-reviewed foreign arthouse flicks and a small sub-category that I probably ought to call ‘sci-fi barking’, since it basically consists of films like Alien or Blade Runner that I find out my wife has never seen, which subsequently leads to me barking incredulously and insisting we rent it immediately.
The other method I use is my ‘watchlist’ – a list of hundreds of titles I’ve put together to watch online in case I’m ever left alone in the flat with an hour and a half to spare, and find myself gripped by a sudden urge to watch films like 1975’s The Land That Time Forgot. (Hey, I’ve got to be specific here with the year. C. Thomas Howell actually went as far as remaking this a few years ago.)
Having just finished watching said film around five-to-ten minutes ago, I’m left with a strange feeling of ennui. There are some serious gaps in the list of movies that I’ve seen during my life to date; the kind of gaps that might make a casual passing reader wonder why the hell I’m writing a blog about films in the first place. We all have them, I guess; I’ve never seen Dr Strangelove, for example, nor have I ever sat down to enjoy the supposedly-wonderful cinematography of Brokeback Mountain. I’ve never peeped the early wonder of Méliès’ A Trip To The Moon or marvelled at the inspiring vision of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. And here I am, at precisely 11.45am on Sunday the third of February 2013, sitting here wondering why I have just wasted 90 minutes that could have been filled with any one of those recognised classics.
Trying to evaluate just how much my life has been enriched (or not) by sitting through The Land That Time Forgot is a fruitless task, though. In truth, I only watched it so that I could then enjoy the process of writing about it afterwards. Yet, despite the fact it’s clearly dreadful, I did find myself enjoying certain moments. There are certainly worse ways to spend an hour and a half.
A mid-1970s adaptation of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel remastered recently by Studio Canal, it stars Doug McLure as Bowen Tyler, a square jaw that has developed the ability to walk and throw haymakers that make The Classic Cinema Punching Noise You Never Actually Hear In Real Life Fights. McClure is a bit of a cult figure, partly due to the fact he pops up to do the exact same thing in several similar creature features, such as the sequel to this film (The People That Time Forgot, which I’ll probably see at some point in the future, but only after I’ve watched Dr Strangelove; that’s a new life rule I’m going to strictly enforce), At The Earth’s Core and Warlords of Atlantis (which I saw as a kid and remember as being particularly ace). He also pops up in Cannonball Run II (possibly Ricardo Montalban’s finest moment, as well as Burt’s) and, famously, inspired the creation of The Simpsons’ resident B-movie legend Troy McLure.
It’s 1916. We first meet Tyler, along with biologist Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon) after the Lusitania, their boat of choice, is sunk by a German submarine. They’ve somehow managed to escape alive in a small wooden rowboat that is rapidly letting in water (though Tyler doesn’t seem too concerned, and scoops the excess out with the kind of urgency you’d only expect to see from the world’s most bored teenager). After stumbling across a merry band of jobbing English, Welsh and Irish character actors (handily doubling up as more survivors from the downed vessel) they subsequently capture the German u-boat with little more than a few bits of iron and a couple of planks of wood. Hurrah!
The first 30 minutes of the film is simply a tedious series of fights between Tyler’s men and the u-boat crew, led by Captain Von Schoenvorts (John McEnery). Von Schoenvorts captures the submarine back. Then Tyler and his merry band re-capture it. Then Von Schoenvorts captures the submarine agai….wait, no, Tyler and crew are back in control. We find out that McLure’s character is some kind of submarine expert, thanks to a hastily whispered line about his father being the number one sub shipbuilder in the US (what luck … the odds must be hundreds of millions to one!). At times you wonder whether the film might have been better titled The Plot That Time Forgot.
Eventually the two warring factions settle down long enough to discover the lost island of Caprona, though how anyone could have lost it given that it’s absolutely massive and has an angry, lava-spitting active volcano slap bang in the middle is beyond me. Early 20th Century carlesness aside, Caprona is home to a bunch of animatronic dinosaurs and a couple of tribes of neanderthals, who seem to bizarrely evolve as the European/American party travels toward the northern point of the island.
And that’s when The Land That Time Forgot picks up. Post-Jurassic Park it’s hard to get too excited about giant papier-mache dinosaur heads lolloping around and popping out of the water, or to be fearful of pterodactyls that are clearly on circular wire routes and thus can’t deviate from their path; you have to wonder whether anyone was thrilled in the 1970s too, but I’ve always loved this kind of sub-Harryhausen nonsense. There’s something weirdly comforting about seeing a crew of men, few of which have actually been lavished with speaking parts, being gradually picked off one-by-one by a bunch of giant wobbly creatures. Maybe it’s because I watched a lot of those types of films in my formative years.
An early scrap between a plesiosaur and Doug McLure’s Square Jaw actually made me laugh out loud; when the defeated creature eventually flops onto the deck of the ship, it doesn’t resemble the giant, slain terror-wreaking carcass of pure fucking evil dinosaur that it perhaps ought to. Far from it, in fact. Instead it’s actually kind of a cross between a tired old sock puppet and how you’d imagine Kermit The Frog looked after cameras stopped rolling on The Muppet Show and Jim Henson removed his hand. Understandably, the film cuts away before your eyes can take in the full horror, though you can get a good idea here. But before I mock too much I should point out that the budget for this film was pretty low, and however cheesy it looks by today’s standards I’m more impressed by the clearly-inventive thought processes of filmmakers working with scale models and financial restrictions than I will ever be by those with the financial clout to employ massive technical teams to come up with hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of blue screen special effects.
It’s perhaps a bit cruel after all that to suggest that the cast is actually out-acted by the model dinosaurs, but The Land That Time Forgot isn’t really the movie to watch if you want to see memorable or nuanced performances (and that may well be the understatement of the year so far). Neither Penhaligon nor McLure are able to do much with the hackneyed dialogue they are fed, and for vast periods director Kevin Connor appears to have been happy to dispense with any interaction between characters and let the action do the talking. But, y’know, what criteria are we judging this by, exactly? Is it fair to impose on it the same standards we expect from films by Fincher, or Scorsese, or Wenders? Of course not. It is what it is, and that’s a bunch of fake dinosaurs chasing a square jaw with limbs around an imaginary island. And it’s pretty good as ‘that film’.
Eventually, after Tyler’s 400th haymaker causes a volcanic eruption on Caprona, the film ended abruptly, and I considered what my next step should be on this rainy overcast Sunday. As I added the sequel to my Lovefilm watchlist for a future Sunday morning viewing my cursor briefly hovered over the play button. I paused, thought of Dr Strangelove, and minimized the window.
Directed by: Kevin Connor
Written by: Michael Moorcock, James Cawthorn
Starring: Doug McClure, Susan Penhaligon
Running Time: 87 minutes