Tag Dinosaurs

Land That Time Forgot, The (1974)

The Land That Time Forgot (1974)

Journey to a savage world where time is extinct!

During World War 1, the survivors of a torpedoed Allied merchant vessel seize control of the German submarine after it surfaces in a fog bank shortly afterwards. Hoping to sail to a British port, a German officer sabotages the radio and tampers with the compass, meaning that the submarine sails dramatically off course. With fuel running out and the temperatures getting colder, the crew inadvertently discover the mythical lost continent of Caprona in the South Atlantic, surrounded by icebergs but filled with lush vegetation and where dinosaurs still exist. Putting their differences aside to work together, the British and Germans explore the island whilst seeking to refine some of the crude oil in order to fuel their return to civilisation.

 

Amicus Productions, a long-standing rival studio to Hammer in the UK, enlisted the help of American International Pictures to co-finance this ambitious adaptation of Edgar Rice Burrough’s 1918 novel The Land That Time Forgot. I guess they saw that Hammer had diverted into prehistoric territory with a series of ‘lost world’ flicks such as One Million Years B.C. and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth and fancied getting in on the act too as they were a big success. A modest box office hit at the time, The Land That Time Forgot spawned a further trio of lost continent-style adventures, all of which featured lantern-jawed American hero Doug McClure squaring off against a number of puppet dinosaurs on miniature sets.

One of my childhood favourites, The Land That Time Forgot used to be a staple diet of Saturday afternoons around school holidays. It has dated. A lot. I mean even back then, a couple of years before Star Wars hit the screens, it looks terribly cheap and out-dated. But it’s a lot of fun in an old school “they don’t make them like this anymore” kind of way. There’s just something so innocent about this type of film – no pretences about trying to make anything other than wanting the audience to have a good time whilst watching. The first half of the film works better than the second. The scenes involving the U-boat and the back-and-forth nature of who is in control between the British and the Germans make for some nice tension, and the initial trip into Caprona and unfortunate first encounter with a hungry dinosaur set things up nicely. Some great set design and even more impressive matte work really do turn Caprona into an exotic place. But it’s at this point that things don’t really kick in. It’s almost as if the writers don’t know what they can do with the story, so they just have the characters constantly going off in small groups to do some research or look for food and water where they are picked off one-by-one by dinosaurs or cavemen.

There are some of the least convincing dinosaurs ever put to film on show in The Land That Time Forgot but a certain rose-tinted hindsight leaves me unable to fully criticise them.  Literally all the majority of them do is stand there, roar and just allow the humans to pump them full of bullets. The rubbery material bends and flexes away as the dinosaurs move and fight with each other – a far cry from the quality stop-motion effects of Ray Harrhausen but a necessary route to take given how many monsters are on screen throughout the film. Thankfully, the miniature work is top notch and the finale involving the exploding volcano, a boiling lake and the submarine look fantastic, with lots of smoke and red and orange lights illuminating the little model. Derek Meddings was more noted for his work on Gerry Anderson’s puppet TV shows like Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons and it shows, with the miniatures looking nice and authentic. The production design across the board really do a good job of conveying the lost world of Caprona, despite the dinosaurs wobbling all over the place.

There’s a solid supporting cast of actors familiar to UK viewers, with the likes of Anthony Ainley (who would go on to play The Master in Doctor Who), John McEnery (known to school kids the world over as Mercutio from the Zefirrelli film version of Romeo and Juliet), Declan Mulholland (who would portray the human version of Jabba the Hutt in deleted scenes from Star Wars) and a bucket load of actors who went on to appear in Doctor Who or any number of British TV soaps and dramas. It’s McClure’s film though – the producers wanted an American star to sell to the US audience and McClure fitted the bill. Remember Troy McClure from The Simpsons? That washed-up B-movie actor was based upon the likes of McClure. He’s decent enough in this – punch first and ask questions later is his calling card. He takes everything in his stride and is calm and collected in the face of adversity. McClure knows that the material is a little bit hokey but he always gives it his all and tries to make everything else as believable as possible.

 

The Land That Time Forgot spawns a healthy dose of fun and nostalgia for anyone who remembers this from the 70s and 80s; modern viewers will find it less appealing. The special effects aren’t the best but given this was from an era even before Star Wars started pioneering work in the field, it’s an ambitious fantasy film made by a British studio not known for this type of genre who punched above their weight and made an enduring, if flawed, adventure.

 

 ★★★★★★★★★☆ 

 

 

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)

Enter an age of unknown terrors, pagan worship and virgin sacrifice…

A violent tremor interrupts a religious ceremony where three cave girls are about to be sacrificed to the Sun God and one, Sanna, tumbles into the sea below as a result. Eventually being rescued by Tara, a member of a seafaring tribe, the two fall in love to the annoyance of Tara’s current mate. Pursued by the high priests who were unable to finish the sacrificial ceremony and appease the god, Sanna and Tara must battle prehistoric monsters as well as hostile tribes in order to survive.

 

Clearly trying to capitalise on their success of One Million Years B.C. (purely down to some quality special effects from Ray Harryhausen and a poster featuring Raquel Welch in that fur bikini), Hammer sought to continue their foray into the prehistoric monster genre. Following on from One Million Years B.C. and Prehistoric Women prior, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth adheres to the same formula of stunning, top-heavy, scantily-clad women, cavemen with big beards and ripped torsos and a few vaguely dinosaur-like monsters to torment them.

But this 1970 entry into their short-lived dinosaur trek took a bizarre turn – not because of the content but because of their decision to not feature any traditional English dialogue in the script. The cave people all talk in a nonsensical language which was devised solely for the film. So they grunt, shout the same words to each other such as ‘ataki’ and ‘neecro’ and point and gesticulate a lot in order to express themselves. It’s a bit disengaging for the audience, though I can understand the logic and novelty value of them using such an approach. It makes for a more realistic account well as realistic as it can, given we should forget the major flaw in the narrative where dinosaurs and cavemen are existing side-by-side which didn’t happen in real life. Many films, comics, cartoons and games have done that over the years, so this film isn’t the only guilty party.

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth seems to get a lot more love amongst filmmakers, whereas I preferred the cheesier charms of One Million Years B.C. (and the natural charms of Raquel Welch). Steven Spielberg was influenced by the film and threw in a token nod to it back in Jurassic Park with the banner that unfolds at the end of the T-Rex and raptor fight. Whilst Hammer enlisted the help of veteran special effects guru Ray Harryhausen to bring to life the dinosaurs in One Million Years B.C., the producers went for the budget option here with Jim Danforth. Danforth was a decent effects guy but his work pails in comparison to Harryhausen – look at the comparisons between Harryhausen’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Danforth’s Jack the Giant Killer for a nice example. Danforth fares better here and the dinosaurs are pretty good for the most part. The crabs and pterodactyls look decent and are involved in some reasonably entertaining action scenes. The film does have the annoying tendency to throw in a live lizard rampaging through some miniature sets from time-to-time which takes away a bit of the shine from the stop-motion monsters. But whenever there’s a dinosaur on the screen, the film at least maintains audience interest.

It’s hard to rate performances when all the characters do is grunt, scream and cry, and I have to ask myself why anyone half-decent would even attempt to star in something like this. The only noteworthy actor I can recall from other films around the time is Patrick Allen, from Captain Clegg and The Night of the Big Heat. Former Playboy model Victoria Vetri just needs to look good in a tiny bikini and provide the glamour. Every other woman parades around in a bikini and every other man sports a big, bushy beard. It’s very hard to know who is who, and how they’re all connected when they can’t talk to each other. This is where the simplistic plot helps. Throw in some out-of-place nudity (most of it is usually cut from transmission during the day) and lots of panting and grunting, mascara-wearing cavewomen and perfect hairstyles and you have one very sexualised prehistoric place. One other point of note with the cast is the appearance of Drewe Henley, most famously known as the courageous Red Leader from Star Wars.

 

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth is ok for what it is – the limited plot and lack of real dialogue stop the audience from really making any firm connections with the film and characters but there’s enough dinosaur action and top-heavy women to make you want to wheel out your leopard skin budgie smugglers when the sun comes out and start beating your chest.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Jurassic World (2015)

Jurassic World (2015)

The park is open

Despite the problems with the original Jurassic Park, the late John Hammond’s dream of an interactive dinosaur theme park has finally been brought to life. Running for over ten years, Jurassic World had been drawing in crowds from around the world with its thrilling exhibits but attendances have been slipping as the dinosaurs no longer provide the same excitement. Desperate to boost flagging numbers, the genetics team decide to create their own dinosaur using a mixture of DNA from other popular dinosaurs. The result, the Indominus Rex, is a bigger and badder alpha predator which looks every bit the crowd-puller for when it would eventually go on display. But when the dinosaur escapes from its pen, it heads straight towards the tourist areas, devouring everything in its path.

 

The last Jurassic Park film from the original run, Jurassic Park III, came out in 2001, yet the franchise never really died a death. Rumours were abound for years about a muted fourth sequel and every other month it seemed that a new director, cast or script was floating around. Finally fourteen years later, Jurassic World emerges from its embryonic state to unleash more dinosaur carnage upon the world. Would cinema audiences still have the same affection for big-budget dinosaur films when, in the years since 1993’s Jurassic Park, there have been hundreds of CGI monsters ranging from Godzilla to King Kong?

The original was a ground-breaking motion picture, one of the first films I can remember going to see in the cinema, and one that certainly changed the way studios looked at special effects. Spielberg’s classic still has the raw ability to mesmerise and wow audiences, particularly that awe-inspiring first T-Rex attack which is a masterfully-staged scene. The two sequels provided ample thrills and I don’t mind either of them to be honest – they both get far more bad rep than they deserve. However, if there is an overriding problem with the Jurassic Park films is that the central idea – that of dinosaurs escaping captivity – is rather limited in scope. People have to get onto the island and become trapped. The dinosaurs have to escape. That’s about it. Jurassic World sadly offers little alternative to that premise, rehashing the same story again. You’d think that these dino-experts would learn from their past mistakes!

Jurassic World reboots and remakes the original in equal measure. You’ll lose count of the number of nods to the original and some of the scenes are just flat-out lifted from it. At the same time, the film tries to establish its own presence in an attempt to build a platform for future sequels. The most interesting concept here is seeing how the grand vision of ‘Jurassic Park’ has finally been brought to life after the testing phase in the original. Watching the park burst with vitality as hordes of energetic kids rush from one attraction to the next, seeing Sea World-like exhibitions entertaining scores of tourists, going ‘aww’ at the petting zoos (only instead of goats and lambs they are baby dinosaurs) and laughing at merchandise stands going overkill with the novelty tat really hammers home the original intentions of John Hammond and the gang of suits sponsoring his plans in the first one. With CGI coming on in leaps and bounds since 1993, the actual park can be brought to life in this fashion and it’s to the film’s credit that you really can believe this is a fully-functional theme park. There are loads of nice touches, right down to the teenage slacker who works on one of the rides who really couldn’t care less about his job. These sequences really build upon and expand the original’s ideas, something the previous two sequels should have done.

Quickly moving on from this sickly Disney World-esque utopian theme park, Jurassic World gets down to the usual business of having the dinosaurs escape. Let’s face it, we don’t want to see baby dinosaurs hatching from eggs or being fed in a zoo – we want to see the big meat eaters causing havoc. Over twenty-two years since the original came out (saying that makes me feel really old) and it seems as though the dinosaur special effects haven’t got any better. The T-Rex in the original is still one of the most impressive movie monsters of all time. Ironically, like the notion that the theme park is struggling to keep people hooked due to its inability to impress them anymore, the film suffers from the same fate. T-Rexs weren’t good enough to keep people flocking back and so bigger and nastier dinosaurs were introduced – the Spinosaurus in Jurassic Park III and now the Indominus Rex. The Indominus might be gigantic compared to the T-Rex but it’s just another computer-generated dinosaur with little personality and character – something you might see in one of The Asylum’s overblown ‘mockbusters.’ Perhaps it’s the reliance on CGI to bring to life not only the dinosaurs but the surrounding landscapes and scenery which takes me out of the new special effects sequences. There’s nothing to immerse the audience anymore – look at how masterfully Spielberg crafted the T-Rex attack scene in the first film, shot outdoors with rain, effective lighting and mixture of animatronic models and post-production CGI. I’d kill for something half as exciting and engaging nowadays. Jurassic World has plenty of big, loud action set pieces but there’s just nothing you wouldn’t see playing a video game version. For such a landmark film series which raised the benchmark for special effects in 1993, Jurassic World falls back upon the terrible 21st Century Hollywood ‘bigger is better’ mantra which is destroying the summer blockbuster like never before.

Despite seemingly being everywhere right now, Chris Pratt does make for a likeable and charismatic lead man. This is the kind of role he’s beginning to do his sleep and Pratt adds a nice mix of action and humour in what is essentially a token hero role. Bryce Dallas Howard is pretty appalling in her role, though through a terrible script rather than any fault of her own. Throw in more stereotypes like the angry head of security or the Asian park owner, and couple that with two wholly uninteresting and annoying child characters, and you have one of Jurassic World’s main weaknesses. The characters are subject to all of these horrific situations, but you never really once care for their safety or well-being.

 

Jurassic World’s multi-million-dollar approach lacks the darker touch that Spielberg brought to the table and with it, an air of underlying menace to make the dinosaurs actually scary and the film thrilling. Maybe it’s just the cynic in me thinking that I’ve seen this all before somewhere – I bet if I was twelve-year old again I’d fall in love with the film like I did with the original. Jurassic World isn’t a terrible film but it won’t exactly do to Hollywood what the original did back in 1993 – if anything, it is more a sad product of the current blockbuster system than it is a pioneering force for change.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda (2014)

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda (2014)

A love story

Scientist Rico Symes has crafted the latest predatory super-weapon for the military by splicing together DNA strands from a pterodactyl and a barracuda, creating a creature known as Pteracuda. During a routine test mission, the creature goes rogue after a terrorist hijacks the computer controls. Capable of flight or swimming, Symes knows that Pteracuda poses a massive problem and so tracks down the surviving offspring of the original Sharktopus, now in a sanctuary in a local aquarium. Fitting it with a transmitter, Symes gives Sharktopus a simple command: to find and destroy Pteracuda.

 

I was a little generous in my review for Sharktopus, stating it was ‘everything a cheap, goofy and enjoyable monster movie should be about’ but I could clearly see where the enjoyment was coming from and with such a ridiculous premise, it ran with it as best as it had any right to do. A few years later and Roger Corman is back with even more bizarreness but far less originality. A sequel to both Sharktopus and Piranhaconda (though I don’t get the connection with the latter film), Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda continues the trend of combing the names of two random creatures to make a new monster. Pteracuda was the dumbest name I’d ever heard – well until the sequel Sharktopus Vs Whalewolf went into production! Apparently, a bunch of combi-names was tossed around on Twitter with fans voting for the one they wanted. At least Corman is giving in to people power.

Do you expect anything remotely resembling a plot? No? Good, didn’t think so. You won’t find that here. Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda gives us the bare minimum story of military experiments, terrorists, innocent civilians who get wound up in the mayhem and plenty of unnecessary characters to throw into the way of the monsters every few minutes. Honestly, Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda doesn’t even run like clockwork – the clock has well and truly stopped here and the nonsensical plot developments would only be surprising to an unborn baby and that’s about it. Top secret government weapon that goes haywire and the people responsible attempt to bring it back and cover it up. That’s it. Let’s see what else the film has to offer.

Unlike many other giant monster showdowns of late, particularly the awful Mega Shark Vs … films, Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda does feature a lot of lengthy tussles between the titular creatures, so much so that it actually gets boring watching them. I know, I know, it appears I’m far too hard to please when I complain that there wasn’t enough in Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus and now there is too much in this one. Usually the creatures fight off in a titanic battle at the end of the film akin to the old Godzilla films but Sharktopus and Pteracuda cross paths a lot throughout the film, which was pleasantly surprising as it meant a lot more CGI effects which would have driven up the cost of this film significantly.

Like pretty much all of these CGI slugfests from Sy Fy or The Asylum, the eventual fight scenes fail to connect with the audience. You know that what you’re watching is just two computer-generated monsters fighting off because there’s literally no sense of gravity or weight to them. Don’t get me wrong, the fights do go on for a few minutes a piece but whilst they’re scrapping, the motions and movement are just too fast: tentacles flying across the screen, wings flapping all over the place, teeth gnashing and so on. Real creatures wouldn’t be able to react like that and so in trying to crank up the excitement of the film, the fights just become frenzied free-for-alls in which your eyes and ears are bombarded with as much as possible within the time frame.

Continuing on another irritating trend, both Sharktopus and Pteracuda have a tendency to kill humans by biting their heads off. Most likely because it’s a cheap and easy special effect to pull off in post-production, literally every giant monster of the past few years has killed its human prey like that. Since when did carnivores become so picky and just go for the human head? It’s so annoying, especially when I think of some classic monsters movies and the memorable ways in which people were killed and eaten alive (Quint’s graphic swallowing in Jaws always springs to mind). Having said that, the bulk of the kills are for non-characters who may say a handful of words at best before they’re fed to the fish. People die all too often in this and it becomes a chore. So when someone with a meatier role falls victim to the monsters, there’s no shock value.

That would assume you’d give a toss about any of the characters in this film. Robert Carradine has a bit of a blast as the sort-of-slimy scientist, only he doesn’t really do anything truly evil. Rib Hillis is the stock mercenary tasked with leading the mission to stop the weapon. Hillis doesn’t really get much chance to shine in the role until the end but comes off little better than your generic hero. If there is one saving grace from Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda, it’s in the form of the lovely Katie Savoy. Though her weakly-written marine biologist role is an awful character who serves little to no purpose, she’s one of the most naturally attractive women I’ve ever seen in a film like this. I’m smitten! There’s also a really random cameo from TV talk show host Conan O’Brian, who I’m sure owed Corman a favour to appear in this. Maybe he was a big fan of the original Sharktopus?

 

Sharktopus Vs Pteracuda is a cheap sequel to a cheap film, where special effects seem to revert back in time and all sense of what a film should be has been thrown out of the window. Though I guess when you see two giant hybrid monsters pummeling each other in the air and underwater every ten minutes or so, it’s kind of irrelevant how bad everything else is.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Ice Road Terror (2011)

Ice Road Terror (2011)

When workers at a diamond mine located at the end of a long ice road in northern Alaska decide to plant explosives deeper than they ever gone before, they aren’t aware that in doing so they will awaken a dormant prehistoric creature which proceeds to terrorise the camp. This isn’t good news for two ice road truckers taking the dangerous trip up along the road to deliver explosives to the mine and are about to encounter the beast for themselves.

 

It’s been a while since I’ve seen any Sy Fy Originals and boy, I wish I hadn’t bothered. Another one off the monster movie conveyor belt, it’s no real surprise for me to want to wind the clock back and retrieve the valuable ninety minutes I spent watching. Presumably filmed as a response to the international popularity of reality TV show Ice Road Truckers, Ice Road Terror features the usual Sy Fy tropes in abundance and makes sure it ticks pretty much all of the boxes on the ‘Original’ checklist.

Forgetting any plausible reasons why this prehistoric monster has been completely alive for millions of years (like what has been eating?) and is able to quickly scarper out of the uncovered cave when it’s blown open (without any hint of being blinded by the sun or a bit of stiffness in the legs for being caged so long), the story doesn’t really go any further into explaining what it is or why it’s there, save for an obligatory Native American nick name that it’s given later in the film. Whilst this may appease some, I was wanting to know more about the creatures as I’m getting sick of being taken for a ride.

Ice Road Terror does the usual Sy Fy trick of showing us the monster within the opening few minutes of the film. It looks awful, like some sort of komodo dragon, and does the usual things that a Sy Fy monster needs to do: eat all of the minor characters; be unable to break down weak obstacles when the main characters are in peril; seems to hang around the same location for the entire film in order to re-use animation; growls or roars like a normal animal; and is never satisfied with the copious amount of food it gets. The monster is badly animated but it’s only what I’ve come to expect from Sy Fy now. Whilst its design looks fairly unique (though given the climate of the film, you’d expect something cold-blooded rather than a warm-blooded lizaerd), the way it is brought to life through computer animation leaves a lot to be desired. As is the case with a lot of these films, there’s only so many frames of animation and the same shots are repeated over and over again, sometimes using movement which makes no sense given the different situation. But hey, it saves some money!

Bargain basement effects coupled with lots of quick editing and camera shaking to give you the illusion that everything is more exciting than it really is. Thankfully, I’m not that gullible and can see through it. Ice Road Terror is surprisingly dull. There are enough action scenes in the film but as I’ve already said, they’re pretty badly put together with the effects and lack of excitement. You never feel as though any of the main characters are under threat despite the best efforts of the screenplay to throw in some perilous moments. It’s just a case of seeing them survive one scene and getting themselves into another predicament where the monster will kill them if they screw up. We never really get to know of them either as the film just goes straight into the story, unleashing the monster within the first few minutes and then having the undeveloped trio of main characters arrive at the site shortly afterwards. Given Sy Fy’s track record, I don’t think it will have made much difference in the long run but a bit of characterisation would have been nice. It’s for these reasons that the film is unengaging. You literally don’t care what happens to anyone. You won’t remember their names. The film ended and I was sat there shrugging and thinking about the next film I was planning to see. See it, move on.

The monster is well fed at the start, with the construction workers providing a healthy source of protein. Sy Fy do allow their films to get bloody when needed and the red stuff is on show here. Nothing too major but enough of a splattering to keep genre fans happy. There’s even a few shots of intestines and the like but it looks like a lot of the decent practical make-up effects are ruined with daft CGI blood smears on the camera and the use of a red lens when needed.

I’m not even going to bother covering the cast. Never heard of them before watching. Most likely will never hear from them again after watching. They were given impossible tasks to begin with as their characters aren’t developed in the slightest. I didn’t care for any of them. They’re never put into any real danger. And by the end of the film, everything is wrapped up into a neat little package as far as attempted story arcs go. Same old Sy Fy.

 

Ice Road Terror is one of Sy Fy’s worst efforts. Cashing in on a popular television show and recycling the same monster movie garbage that it’s been spewing out for years now, Sy Fy is really scraping the barrel. The formula is stale, the execution is uninspiring and devoid of life and the end result is just a complete waste of time. So I guess the next one off the conveyer belt will be along soon….

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Triassic Attack (2010)

Triassic Attack (2010)

The skeletons are out of the closet!

The dean of the local university wants to expand the campus but this means bulldozing through a swathe of local businesses including a Native American fossil museum. The disgruntled owner of the museum uses some mystical powers to bring to life the museum’s three dinosaur skeletons to life which proceed to wreak havoc on the small town.

 

You should know what to expect by now from a Sy Fy Original with a name like Triassic Attack. The random title generator seems to have gone into overdrive this time around, with a daft name that screams attention and sums the plot up in two words. Why bother with timely exposition when your title can do the job in a split second? (Thanks for setting the trend, Snakes on a Plane). I’ve seen this film dozens of times before, mainly thanks to Sy Fy, with slight alterations made between each one including the type of monster and occupation of the main characters. Is there any point in going into too much detail on this? I knew full well what I was getting myself in for when I sat down to watch.

Triassic Attack could quite easily be chopped up into a brief highlight reel and no one would notice the difference because there is that little to get excited about. You’ve got actors going through the motions in roles that they’ve most likely taken for a free holiday to Eastern Europe. You’ve got special effects guys making dinosaurs in their spare time between takes on more important projects. You’ve got a director who was actually over in Bulgaria filming Lake Placid 3 (in an acting role) for Sy Fy when they must have thought “hang on, let’s save some more money and have this guy direct our next dinosaur flick” and roped him in to taking the hot seat. Ferguson’s direction is as flat as his acting was. This is hardly a director’s film though, more like a cut-and-assemble job which has been rushed along the Sy Fy production line.

The fossil dinosaurs are certainly unique in the fact that the animators didn’t have to spend time in coming up with unrealistic textures and colours for the skin. However they virtually do the same thing as every other Sy Fy dinosaur movie has done including roaring (which is impossible given their lack of muscles and vocal chords!) which is a real shame as the novelty of skeletons coming to life could have been so much better utilised. The T-Rex skeleton swallows a frat boy at one point only to have him fall out of the bottom of its skull because it has no throat. It’s a funny moment as the script at least appreciated the fact that these were only skeletons but it’s one that is a few and far between. You’d have thought that by coming up with the idea for the film, the script would be more inventive in how it treat the skeletons. But that’s asking too much from Sy Fy. They had the same script as they usually do, swapped the monsters around and then forgot to tailor it to the new monster’s needs.

Do I need to comment on the acting? It’s awful across the board, with two Scottish leads (Steven Brand and Kirsty Mitchell) doing their worst American accents and English actress Emilia Clarke as their teenage daughter fairs no better. Game of Thrones fans should take note of this early appearance of Miss Clarke about a year before she became famous as Daenerys Targaryen and began disrobing for the enjoyment of males the world over. Clarke shows none of the same feisty nature as she has on the show and judging by this performance, it’s amazing how she ever got her big break. Though I bet it’s not like she goes around trumpeting the merits of Triassic Attack and has probably slumped to the bottom of her (as it stands) very slim résumé.

I’m not sure that in 2010, we should still tolerate the daft idea of Native Americans having some sort of mystical powers which can do all sorts of weird and wonderful stuff when called upon in television and film. Horror films love the Native Americans and their spiritual and supernatural superstitions and yet again the token ‘medicine man’ character is here to both destroy and then eventually save the white man. I was quite expecting a few smoke signals or a war dance from him at some point. It’s beyond ridiculous but Triassic Attack isn’t the only recent horror film to fall guilty of that (Monsterwolf springs to mind, another Sy Fy flick).

 

Not to be outdone, Sy Fy would make the totally-unrelated Jurassic Attack a couple of years after this. With a whole host of prehistoric eras to go through, it’s only a matter of time before Devonian Attack or Cretaceous Attack go into production! Triassic Attack is just Sy Fy going through the usual creature feature motions…..again. Go and visit The Natural History Museum if you want to see dinosaur bones! They’ll be a lot more interesting to look at than this.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Dinosaurus! (1960)

Dinosaurus! (1960)

Alive With Thrills!

Whilst blasting the sea bed to deepen the harbour on a Caribbean island, Bart Thompson and his crew uncover two frozen dinosaurs which have been perfectly preserved for millions of years. The dinosaurs are removed from the water and placed on the beach to thaw out before being transported off to a museum. Whilst on the beach, the dinosaurs are struck by lightning during an overnight thunderstorm and are reanimated. With two dinosaurs unleashed upon the unsuspecting local population, matters are made worse with the reanimation of a caveman as well.

 

From the team of producer Jack H. Harris and director Irvin S. Yeaworth Jr. who had previously worked together on cult classic The Blob, Dinosaurus! comes with a bad reputation and most of it is thoroughly deserved. It’s a juvenile flick which has little redeeming quality but did the rounds quite often on television as a time filler many years ago due to its simplistic nature. Now it has faded into obscurity and that’s maybe for the best! Dinosaurus! came very late to the table after the giant monster fad of the 1950s. This would have worked better in black and white and about five years earlier where viewers may have been a tad more kind to it but in a new decade and in glorious colour, the bar was raised. The same formula which had worked so well in the past was well and truly worn out.

It does help that if you are trying to convince viewers of the idea of giant monsters of some kind, in this instance dinosaurs, then how you bring them to life should be the priority. The combination of tatty plastic model work and crude stop-motion animation will have you running for the nearest Ray Harryhausen flick. There are some awful special effects on show here, ranging from the clay T-Rex squishing a yellow toy bus full of passengers right down to the ridiculously unexciting finale featuring the T-Rex squaring off against a steam shovel on the edge of a cliff. The low budget and rushed production combination really show whenever these dinosaurs are on screen. The brontosaurus fairs a little better but that’s only because it’s not around as long as the T-Rex. You’d expect the dinosaurs scenes to more entertaining than the rest of the film and they are but only mildly.

The combination of green screens (or whatever they used back in the day), miniature sets and all sorts of other fancy camera tricks really shows up the cracks in the effects department at every possible opportunity. Hardly a scene goes by without some ropey special effect coming into play. Even the actors look like talking in front of huge projectors in specific scenes. Day-for-night photography ruins a lot of the night scenes and watching the dinosaurs interact with the humans is laughable – the first unlucky local who gets attacked by the T-Rex looks like he’s being tickled rather than eaten alive.

If the presence of two dinosaurs wasn’t enough to make the island panic, there’s also a caveman running riot. This is how the film deals its comedy hand – having the caveman be domesticated by the annoying child star. Watch as he tries eating with a fork, wonders what a mirror is and, in the film’s worst scene (and it takes some topping believe me!), the caveman tries on a dress. I’m being a little hard on this whole sequence to be honest. Gregg Martell does a wonderful job of portraying a man who has been taken out of his element and is struggling to cope with a world that is alien to him.

The problems extend to the rest of the film so don’t think that it just the effects that are stinking up the joint. The acting is really wooden right across the board with the exception of Martell (who just grunts anyway) and there’s a whole bunch of stereotyped characters waddling around the film from the corrupt local businessman to comic relief sidekick and straight-laced white man hero. The irritating child actor wines and whinges his way through every scene he’s in. You’ll be wishing he turns into dino chow at some point but films in the 60s weren’t that cruel. The narrative is a real slog to get through and the film doesn’t really do much in its running time when you look back on it.

 

Dinosaurus! is feeble 60s ‘entertainment’ at its most primitive and basic. It just about manages to tick off a couple of genre boxes within its running time and, despite being squarely aimed at the younger audience, even youngsters would find Dinosaurus! both boring and a laugh at the same time.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Land Unknown, The (1957)

The Land Unknown (1957)

DEEP IN THE ANTARCTIC WILDERNESS!

Four members of a major Antarctic expedition find themselves stranded in a remote area when their helicopter is forced to land inside a volcanic crater some 3,000 feet below sea level. They find themselves trapped in a tropical environment which has survived from the prehistoric era and is home to a variety of large carnivorous dinosaurs. It is here where they encounter Dr Carl Hunter, the lone survivor from a previous expedition that went missing years earlier and were presumed dead.

 

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World is one of the most famous literary texts of all time. It has been adapted time and time again for film and television and will no doubt continue to do so for years to come. Published over one hundred years ago, the book tapped in man’s fascination with the Earth before we arrived on the scene as a species and just what things had been like during the time of the dinosaurs. The book influenced many others including Edgar Rice Burrough’s The Land That Time Forgot. The birth and development of film as an art and entertainment form at the turn of the 20th century gave rise to a number of films which brought this world to life. From 1925’s The Lost World right up to King Kong’s exploits on the island, exotic and tropical lands beaming with dinosaurs had become the norm. The Land Unknown was a little late to the genre party but it came amidst a flurry of atomic monster movies or alien invasion films during the 50s.

Despite’s it’s obvious flaws, The Land Unknown is a solid, imaginative sci-fi film which brings to life a prehistoric valley filled with hot geysers, tropical flora and deadly dinosaurs with reasonable success. This must have been one expensive film to make back in the 50s, with these elaborate and intricate tropical sets looking vast in scope (and miniaturised versions for the dinosaurs to stomp around in too). Some of the detail will be lost through the black and white film but you still get the idea. You would assume that this is where the majority of the cash went, though rumours are rife that the budget mainly went on the mechanical dinosaur and so they couldn’t shoot in colour as was originally planned and had to cast B-rate actors instead of the A-list celebrities that they wanted.

From what I can see, the T-Rex is just a guy in a suit stomping around miniature sets and not a mechanical creation, the plesiosaur is a wind-up bath toy (I guess this was the expensive dinosaur that blew the budget) and the other dinosaurs are simply normal lizards standing in for dinosaurs. On their own, the effects don’t hold up very well but taken into consideration with the scope of the film, it’s nice to see a bit of variety in the monsters and the way that they’re presented. Had they all have been brought to life in the same manner, there would be problems. After all, not every film could afford to splash out on expensive stop motion effects like King Kong or The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. There’s some decent rear screen projection in some sequences, particularly that of the T-Rex chasing one character. But in other scenes, specifically the water-based ones with the plesiosaur, the rear projection is blatantly obvious. The effects are laughable and cumbersome today but understandable given the time period.

The Land Unknown does have a fair bit going for it so it’s not all cheese. The initial set up is well done and pacey enough to get us right into the heart of the action as soon as feasibly possible. The scene in which the characters inadvertently discover this world on board their helicopter is well-crafted and the descent down through the misty volcano is rife with tension and suspense. Though the cast isn’t very big, there’s enough of them to interact with the hostile environment on a regular basis. The Land Unknown has plenty of decent ideas but either no creative way to show them or simply no money to put them into practice. When the dinosaurs aren’t on screen, the film drags its feet through the swampy mud like no man’s business and even when they are on screen, they don’t do much except chase people and roar.

Where The Land Unknown veers into slightly more dangerous territory is with its portrayal of Dr Carl Hunter, a survivor of a previous expedition who has been marooned in this place for ten years. Though he’s supposed to attract our sympathy for surviving on his own for so long when the rest of his team died, it turns out that he’s a homicidal rapist who just wants to get rid of the three men and be alone with Maggie (played by Shirley Patterson).

 

The Land Unknown is a high concept film with a budget that doesn’t even come close to realising the potential. There are hints of a great film in here with the imaginative setting and effective recreation of a prehistoric ‘lost world’ but with all of the money being spent on one silly dinosaur, the producers and director were always going to be up against it.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Creatures the World Forgot (1971)

Creatures the World Forgot (1971)

Survival against all odds!

After a volcanic eruption kills most of his tribe, the fierce Mali asserts leadership over the survivors and takes them on an arduous trek across a desert region to find a new land. A tribe of more advanced blonde-haired people welcomes them. Mali takes a mate from the other tribe and she gives birth to two twin boys – the peaceful and intelligent, fair-headed Toomak and the cruel, dark-haired Rool. As the two boys grow up, they compete for the role of tribal leader and the beautiful Nala.

 

I pinched most of this synopsis from elsewhere because without reading up on it, I wouldn’t have had the faintest clue about what was going on. I’m not sure how someone thought that a film about cavemen without any real dialogue for the entire duration would be a good thing but here we go with Creatures the World Forgot. Following on from their previous successes with One Million Years B.C. and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, Hammer looked to make their trilogy of caveman films complete with a final instalment in the early 70s. However, Hammer was struggling to recapture its earlier successes during this period and were wanting to cut overheads in order to start clawing back money they were losing on lavish productions. So the studio decided early on to remove any notion of dinosaurs in this, leaving it a rather peculiar outing with lots of grunting, people in need of a good barber and a few bare breasts along the way.

On the flip side to this, Creatures the World Forgot is one of the more realistic caveman films out there simply for the fact that it doesn’t have the loincloth-wearing, spear-throwing savages up against a horde of hungry dinosaurs. There are some weird creatures in this but they’re smaller beasts designed to be tackled hand-to-hand rather than pluck up stragglers with their teeth – the least said about the man in the bear suit, the better. Ironically, in being the cheapest of the prehistoric films it made, Hammer turned this one in the most faithful to anthropology as it has been proven that millions of years separated the dinosaurs from man, despite countless fantasy films attempting to show otherwise. So no dinosaurs = realistic. However no dinosaurs = boredom as well.

The lack of dialogue is interesting. On one hand, I’ll give the filmmakers credit for at least trying to stand out from the crowd and make something original and innovative. On the other hand, the film fails miserably to excite or grip its audience because it is hard to get emotionally-involved with a bunch of mutes (or I should say grunters). It’s confusing at times trying to translate what is going on as multiple grunts and groans happen at once. Not helping things is a plot which moves across a number of years and which sees the young boys grow up. Too many similar-looking cavemen and cavewoman grace the screen, making it hard to identify any of them and the already-sparse narrative slowly winds its way along looking for something to showcase its characters. There are some hand-to-hand fights between individuals and between tribes, and there are moments where the cavemen have to face off against aforementioned creatures. But these lack any sense of real excitement or engagement – if we don’t know who is fighting who, why should we care?

It’s hard to really comment on the acting here though most of the cast can grunt and beat their chests like the best of them. I wonder how this was sold to agents when these actors signed up: “Get paid a few hundred quid for a few days shooting in Africa and you won’t have to say a word on camera.” There is no narration to kick the film off or end it either. The only notable star is Julie Ege, an actress that Hammer were pinning their hopes on to be the next big screen sex symbol. Whilst not in the same league as Raquel Welch in One Million Years B.C., at least Ege’s appearance looks rougher, readier and less dolled up to the eyes with make-up making it more realistic.  To get a flavour of the type of audience this was marketed at in Germany, the sight of Ege in a fur-lined bikini was slapped on the posters under the reworded title of Sex Vor 6 Millionen Jahren. Minor titillation aside, the title has nothing to do with the eventual film.

Speaking of Africa, the film gains major points for looking the part. Shot in the Namibian desert, the cinematography is excellent, enhancing the ‘forgotten world’ vibe and really creating the sense that this is a snapshot from prehistory. The spectacular scenery doesn’t make up for the lack of anything remotely exciting happening on it however.

 

Often considered one of Hammer’s worst films, it’s easy to see why Creatures the World Forgot has been given that moniker. If this was the sort of film they were banking on bringing back the good times, then it is no wonder Hammer limped along for the next few years before they stopped making films at the end of the decade.

 

 ★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Raptor Ranch (2013)

Raptor Ranch (2013)

They are very hungry

A small Texas town becomes a walking buffet when the dinosaur creations of an eccentric rancher escape from their pens and begin to wreak havoc. Rumoured to be raising some kind of exotic emus, the mad little scientist is breeding raptors, which is unfortunate for the mixed group of people who happen to arrive at his ranch the moment all hell breaks loose.

 

Raptor Ranch. Rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? Sounds like one of those blatantly-obvious film titles that sum up the entire film in two words, doesn’t it? Sounds like a goofy, fun time to spend ninety minutes, right? Well you’re spot on two out of the three. Ever since Snakes on a Plane launched a no-nonsense, no-frills title, low budget filmmakers everywhere have opted to tell it how it is with their films. Are you not the least bit curious as to what a raptor ranch may be?

I’m still not entirely sure I know what a raptor ranch is supposed to be after watching this. I didn’t even know what was happening to be honest. I must have drifted off at some point. How did the dinosaurs get there? Why was only one old guy keeping them captive in pens with all sorts of highly-expensive equipment lying around? Who paid for him to do so? Doesn’t anyone ever bat an eyelid when they see him picking road kill off the kerb on a daily basis? Considering how grand the billion-dollar dinosaur set-up was in Jurassic Park, it’s impossible to believe that this one man could do the same job at a cut-price.

Raptor Ranch starts off like any other Sy Fy Original or Asylum creature feature and I was already gunning for the remote control. But it starts to improve not too far in, steadily maintaining interest until it trails off towards the end. I think the problem was, goofy title aside (and even then it was renamed The Dinosaur Experiment in some countries), that the director wanted to turn this into a horror-comedy but didn’t have a clue how to do so. There are moments when the ridiculousness of the situation threatens to boil over into slapstick. There are moments when characters say inappropriate but funny things given their circumstances. And the comic tone is light at times, if generally non-existent. Sometimes the humour is too forced and in other scenes the humour is natural. It’s a very uneven experience to say the least.

It’s good to see the characters develop a little bit in a film like this. It was looking like Raptor Ranch would go down the usual creature feature route with the number of stereotypes and caricatures it was presenting to the audience but, once the cast starts to thin out a bit, a really strange thing happens – the characters begin to grow personalities! Yes, they start to become funnier, more manic and generally more likeable than they have any right to be. Low-rent action star Lorenzo Lamas gets top billing but he share no screen time with any of the other major characters and his brief scenes look to have been added at a later date to pad out the running time and add another name to the front cover. It’s up to buxom singer Jana Mashonee to fill out the film and she does so pretty well in her tank top. It’s not rocket science to see why she was cast so the film cuts to the chase pretty early and has her parading around in a pair of Daisy Dukes. She’s a lot better in the role than her appearance would suggest.

The usual dodgy low rent special effects come out to play, with lacklustre explosions and corny dinosaurs being the name of the game. A large portion of the film is set at night so the effects look better than they would usually do but when one specific shot of a dinosaur is re-used countless times, it’s hardly rocket science to work out that the budget wasn’t exactly generous. It’s when the day arrives that the special effects come off looking as bad as they actually are. There are some practical effects hidden amongst the computer stuff and they look great. I really wished filmmakers had more confidence in their creations nowadays as they add much-needed realism to an otherwise silly plot. The T-Rex model head looks particularly good given the obvious limitations with the budget. In fact, the T-Rex is given far more to do throughout the film compared to the raptors so Dinosaur Ranch would have sounded more appropriate.

If there is one irritating thing, it’s that the dinosaurs are shown from almost the first scene. It’s daft to give away everything in the opening reel but once the novelty of seeing the dinosaurs has worn off, what is left for audiences to look forward to? They get well fed throughout the film and attacks are generally well-spaced out. The film does get bloody too and the red stuff flows freely as the dinosaurs begin to snack on the cast. Hardly the most exciting and nerve-wracking tension but at least some of the attack scenes provide some cheap thrills.

 

Raptor Ranch was a little better than I expected it to be. In a sub-genre of low budget dinosaur movies that includes Raptor Island, Planet Raptor, the Carnosaur films and Raptor, it’s got a few good things going for it. Hardly the worst genre effort out there but still needed a lot of work.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆