Just over a year ago, I felt motivated to watch and review the 1975 adventure film The Land That Time Forgot, part of a trio of adaptations of Edgar Rice Burroughs stories that made it to the big screen under the stewardship of Kevin Connor. It features Doug McClure as Bowen Tyler, a square-jawed sailor who ends up battling a bunch of dinosaurs and pre-historic savages on a lost island in the midst of World War II, although before you get all excited and imagine a cross between Jurassic Park and King Kong I ought to mention that at one point McClure enters into a fight with what is clearly a sock puppet. The acting in the film isn’t up to much, the effects are limited by a low budget and in that year-old review I crudely pointed out a more accurate title would be The Plot That Time Forgot. Still, it’s not completely devoid of merit, and you might find some nostalgic value if you, like me, grew up watching films like this: I can happily sit through anything that features a lost world, a journey under the sea, an exploration into the earth’s crust or a giant papier-mâché creature or ten (though it certainly helps that they rarely stretch beyond an hour and a half). If either of the words ‘Atlantis’ or ‘Sinbad’ appear in the title then so much the better.
McClure and Connor teamed up again in 1976 for At The Earth’s Core, a second Rice Burroughs adaptation that at least had the distinction of featuring a certain Mr Peter Cushing. By the time they re-united for the follow up to The Land That Time Forgot it appears as though their desire – as well as any belonging to the rest of the cast and crew – to continue making variations on the same theme had disappeared. This third McClure / Connor adventure in as many years years seems laced with disinterest, and a keen ear may even hear the faint rustling of a fulfilled contract being filed away.
The effects are worse than before (yes, even compared to the sock puppet), but where previously a lack of funds had been compensated for (to an extent) by innovation and a degree of belief, The People That Time Forgot suffers as a result of an even lower budget. Studio Amicus Productions endured financial troubles in the mid-70s and folded before the movie was released, and coupled with the fact that big blockbusters like Close Encounters Of The Third Kind and Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope – both released in the same year – changed people’s expectations of cinematic thrills forever, it’s no wonder that The People That Time Forgot’s run in the cinemas ended quickly, and with little fanfare. Dare I suggest this one should have been titled The Film That Time Forgot?
Set several years after the events of The Land That Time Forgot, which ended with Tyler marooned on the lost island of Caprona, Cpt Ben McBride (Patrick Wayne) arrives in the area with the intention of finding his missing friend. He is accompanied by paleontologist Norfolk (Thorley Walters), mechanic Hogan (Shane Rimmer) and photographer Lady Charlotte Cunningham (Sarah Douglas), who – in case the name has fooled you – happens to be as rough as a cat’s tongue driving down the train tracks. (I’m joking, of course. She’s as posh as a swan sandwich.) Why these expeditions always have to include a paleontologist is beyond me; it’s almost as if they expect to find dinosaurs or something, despite popular science suggesting that the beasts became extinct over 66 million years ago. A paleontologist on an expedition is a sure sign you’re going to run into trouble, and should you ever find yourself in the presence of one in the future, I strongly recommend you throw them out of the plane or boat you are travelling in as quickly as possible.
Anyway, the foursome approach Caprona in a model plane on a wire, but they are attacked mid-air by a pterodactyl (also clearly on a wire), and subsequently perform a crash-landing that I can only describe as ‘distinctly underwhelming’. Their only means of escape is therefore temporarily buggered unless they can either fix it or communicate with a nearby ship, which happens to be moored nearby and is filled to the brim with fine English seamen. In the meantime, though, the party sets off to explore the island and to see if they can find Tyler.
Naturally they do, but along the way they encounter a couple of really quite terrible models of dinosaurs, some of which barely move, and also hook up with a cave-girl named Ajor (Dana Gillespie), who walks around displaying her ample cleavage and has somehow managed to get her hair styled in a perm despite the fact that the presence of a high street hairdresser on the island is unlikely at best. (I can’t really let this pass without further comment, seeing as the director focuses on them a lot. Dana Gillespie’s cleavage is the most striking element of this film by a mile. The aspect ratio of The People That Time Forgot is officially 1.85 : 1 but Gillespie’s breasts often threaten to go way outside of the frame edges and transform the viewing experience into mega-widescreen. At times they smash right through the fifth and sixth walls, never mind the fourth.) It transpires that Tyler is being held by a race of Samurai-style warriors called the Nargas, who include among their number one David Prowse, and battle commences before giving way to the usual daring escape / island destruction (etc. etc and indeed etc).
Despite being utterly naff, I actually enjoyed this Nargas-related segment ever-so-slightly. For around 20 minutes the film forgets all about those immobile dinosaurs and – dare I say it – it’s like watching a low-budget version of Raiders Of The Lost Ark or Indiana Jones And The Temple Of Doom (it’s probably coincidence that the man responsible for the special effects here, David Harris, worked with Steven Spielberg on the latter). There are fist fights, sword fights, near-sacrifices, tarantulas and our heros even get chased back to their plane by the angry spear-hurling primitives. In other words: it’s fun. Wayne and McClure are in their element during these scenes – the pair never seem to tire of smashing the jaws of Nargas bad guys or peeking out from behind rocks to fire their guns – but almost as soon as the film gets into a more pleasing and typical action adventure rhythm for the first time it’s over: dodgy dinosaurs and awkward, wooden performances return to the fore once again.
There aren’t too many creatures here, and sadly the flying dinosaur/human hybrids that are apparently contained in the novel were not included in the film because of the tightened purse strings. As a result, in order to fill up time, the dinosaur battles that do occur drag on for way too long; an interminably tedious plane dogfight with a pterodactyl at the beginning of the movie, for example, goes on for so long I found myself wondering whether the film would actually include anything else. It might all be easier to sit through if the creatures were more believable, but they’re not, which is a real shame as a creature feature stands or falls by its models and effects. Even the characters aren’t afraid of them. When they come across the pterodactyl at the start of the film no-one bats an eyelid, not even the paleontologist Norfolk, and the first dinosaur on land encountered by the group is treated as if such beasts are ten a penny back in the towns of the UK and the US. Now I’m no hardened expedition veteran, granted, but I imagine I would be screaming something along the lines of ‘BOB HOPE’S FLAMING THIRD EYE IT’S A FUCKING DINOSAUR!’ at the top of my voice for at least 45 minutes straight if I saw one. Possibly even 50.
While I could just about make a case for recommending the camp predecessor, I can’t really do so for this turgid, lazy stab at Saturday morning cinematic entertainment. The acting is resolutely dire by all involved, the story in its entirety could be written on a beermat and there are even fewer ideas on show than in The Land That Time Forgot. There’s no wit, hardly any charm and very little excitement, but on the bright side McClure and Connor would triumphantly return a couple of years later with Warlords Of Atlantis. If I ever review that classic on this blog I guarantee you it’ll get a full 10.0 score. Citizen Kane Schmitizen Kane.
Directed by: Kevin Connor
Written by: Patrick Tilley, Edgar Rice Burroughs
Starring: Patrick Wayne, Dana Gillespie, Doug McLure, Sarah Douglas, Thorley Walters
Running Time: 87 minutes