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 big success of One Million Years B.C. (purely down to some quality special effects from Ray Harryhausen and an iconic 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 the lesser effort Prehistoric Women, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth adheres to the same, simple formula of stunning, top-heavy, scantily-clad women, cavemen with big beards and ripped torsos and a few vaguely dinosaur-like monsters (which would never convince palaeontologists) tormenting them at every opportunity.
But this 1970 entry into Hammer's 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 it 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 difference in quality of the stop motion between Harryhausen’s The 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Danforth’s Jack the Giant Killer which feature very similar monsters 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. When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth 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 with their silly names, and how the characters are all connected when they can’t talk to each other properly. 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.
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth
Director(s): Val Guest
Writer(s): Val Guest (written for the screen by), J.G. Ballard (treatment by)
Actor(s): Victoria Vetri, Robin Hawdon, Patrick Allen, Drewe Henley, Sean Caffrey, Magda Konopka, Imogen Hassall, Patrick Holt
Duration: 100 mins