Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The Land That Time Forgot (1975)

1916. A German submarine commanded by a Captain Von Schoenvorts (John McEnery, about as German as his character name) sinks a British passenger ship. While it's surfacing to recharge the batteries, the submarine meets a force it can't resist - a lifeboat full of the British ship's crew, biologist Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon) and two-fisted American Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure). As we all know, nobody can resist the fist of Doug McClure, and so it takes only a short fight until the submarine's new commander is named Tyler. The American promptly decides that the best direction to point his shiny new submarine in is New England. Or so Tyler thinks, for the German first officer and professional jerk Dietz (Anthony Ainley) is clever enough to sabotage the boat's compass.

When Tyler and his British friends realize this small problem days later, they get so distracted the Germans have no particular trouble taking their submarine back. At least for a time, because the Fist of the McClure punches its way back into command again after a time.

Now truly lost somewhere in Antarctic waters, and lacking in supplies and oil, the submarine eventually travels through an underwater cave into the lost continent/island/place on a volcano crater Caprona, where it is warm and cosy, and food will surely be plentiful.

As it is with places like this, Caprona is full of dinosaurs, cavemen and everything nice. These dangers convince the rather gentlemanly Von Schoenvorts, Tyler and the British that it would be best to just forget about the war at home and work together to find a way to first survive and then escape the continent. The longer the men and woman stay, the clearer it becomes that Caprona isn't your typical lost world - for some reason, the further north the group travels, the more highly developed the cavemen and creatures they meet become (which mostly means the cavemen getting better at guerrilla tactics and getting the knowledge to build shields). There must be a mystery behind it, but - quite disappointingly - the film never explores it pretty well.

Of course, expecting an Amicus adventure movie with Doug McClure that's based on the first Caprona novel of Edgar Rice Burroughs to thoroughly explore the pretty interesting SF-nal concept at its core would be asking too much, even though it credits great yet curmudgeonly SF and fantasy writer and editor Michael Moorcock as its co-writer in Moorcock's only screenwriting credit. After all, Amicus's The Land That Time Forgot isn't really a film out to explore ideas, but one out to show Doug McClure punching out cavemen and shooting dinosaurs while Susan Penhaligon makes slight screeching noises.

Once the film actually arrives at that point of natural awesomeness, it becomes not exactly overwhelming - it's not mad enough for that - but at least pretty damn entertaining, entertaining enough to let me just ignore the film's wasted potential for becoming a fantasy adventure movie with a brain. The Land's problem is how much time it takes to get its characters to Caprona. The film's first forty minutes feature more than just a moment of feet-dragging to get to the appointed running time without having to put much money on screen. Director Kevin Connor (who started a short phase of being Amicus's go-to guy for this kind of adventure movie with the film) really isn't too great at letting his filler look like anything else, and is never able to hide there's no need at all for some of the script's early long-windedness. For example, instead of putting McClure, Penhaligon and the British sailors into one lifeboat from the start, the civilians and the sailors are in different boats only so that the film can spend five minutes it could have used for showing us something interesting on their meet-up. And let's not even start with the weird back and forth in submarine ownership, which is - again - neither interesting nor necessary.

Fortunately, once our heroes have arrived on Caprona, things get quite a bit more interesting, the pace increases and the script stops letting its characters do everything three times.

Connor has, after all, dinosaurs of highly variable quality to put on screen. Worst in show here is certainly the wire-driven pterodactyl McClure encounters late in the movie: it's stiff, it's badly detailed, and its appearance is marred by the fact that Connor doesn't even seem to try disguising the wires it's hanging from; Tsuburaya, dinosaur effect guy Roger Dicken definitely isn't. Some of Dicken's other dinosaurs are a bit more effective, but really, I'm pretty much satisfied with any kind of prehistoric monster as long as it is fighting Doug McClure doing his patented two-fisted kinda-sorta everyman American bit. In that regard, The Land That Time Forgot's only disappointment is that McClure doesn't punch a dinosaur, but only a lot of cavemen of various stages in their development.



Todd said...

I never knew that Michael Moorcock had anything to do with this. Maybe he was jealous of J.G. Ballard's writing credit on When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth.

houseinrlyeh aka Denis said...

But wasn't Moorcock already one point up for writing lyrics for Hawkwind?