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Cult Movie Picks - September 2012
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The Land That Time Forgot

The summer of 1975 brought with it the release of Steven Spielberg's Jaws and the era of the Summer Blockbuster, and meant the beginning of the end for that grand movie-going tradition, the kiddie matinee. That same summer, American International Pictures released the British film The Land That Time Forgot (1975), which contained elements perfect for the juvenile adventure genre: a wartime setting, a beautiful damsel-in-distress, dinosaurs, and plenty of fisticuffs. The film was based on the 1918 pulp novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs and produced in England by Amicus Productions, the main rival of Hammer Films. Amicus was known primarily for such horror anthologies as Torture Garden (1967), The House That Dripped Blood (1970), and Tales from the Crypt (1972). The Land That Time Forgot treats the fantastic material with all due respect; its serious tone was unusual for the period, in which a "camp" approach was more prevalent in other sci-fi adventure movies such as George Pal's Doc Savage: The Man of Bronze (1975).

In 1916 a German U-Boat fires torpedoes at a British merchant ship near the English Channel. The ship explodes, indicating that the Germans were correct in suspecting it was carrying munitions. Two survivors emerge from the fog in a lifeboat: American Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure) and a young English woman, Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon). Tyler and Clayton are picked up by a handful of English crewmen. Tyler happens to be the son of a submarine designer, so he convinces the men to help him board the surfacing enemy sub and commandeer its crew. In the struggle, a German soldier has destroyed the ship's radio, so Tyler orders Captain Von Schoenvorts (John McEnery) to head for a neutral American port. After sailing six days, Tyler discovers that the captain has tampered with the ship's compass – they have been traveling south. After control of the ship changes hands again, the sub drifts near a frozen land mass. The captain theorizes that it is the lost continent of Caprona. Finding a warm current, the sub travels through a cavern and emerges in a tropical landscape, where prehistoric plants and animals co-exist with more evolved examples. Setting aside political differences, the crewmen and civilians band together to defend themselves from dinosaurs, communicate with a tribe of primitive humans, and discover a way to refine oil on the island to fuel the stranded submarine.

The Estate of writer Edgar Rice Burroughs had a firm hand in script approval when licensing his stories for film; they were especially insistent that the basic plotlines remained intact. The screenplay for The Land That Time Forgot (co-written by established science fiction and fantasy writer Michael Moorcock) was certainly faithful, but though the film sported a higher budget than the average Amicus horror anthology, the story's requirements were beyond the reach of the special effects technicians. The miniatures by Derek Meddings are generally quite good, but the dinosaur sequences created by Roger Dicken are laughable by any standard. The reviewer in The New York Times said, "Just as the much grander 'Jaws' became less scary the moment its mechanical shark appeared, the early virtues of 'Land' collapse once the island is reached and the traffic jam in artificial monsters develops." Writing in Cinefantastique, reviewer Dan Scapperotti had praise for the submarine effects and some of the miniature sets, but said that the other effects were "an utter failure." Again, the main problem is with the dinosaurs: "The actors spend much of their time in front of a process screen and in the few instances where there is interaction between the monsters and the cast, the results are ludicrous. This is especially true when Ahm, a Neanderthal man still in the process of evolving, is carried off in the beak of a Pterodactyl which looks like a huge piece of cardboard with all too visible wires attached." Scapperotti also wrote that "Director Kevin Connor fails to get a decent performance out of anyone. Doug McClure as the heroic American is innocuous with what seems like a permanent smile pasted on his face." He writes that McEnery and Penhaligon "...fail to register any shock or astonishment when confronted by the prehistoric monsters which waddle about. Instead they sound as if they were discussing a picture hanging on a museum wall, or taking a tour through an attraction at Disneyland." Referring to the silent The Lost World (1925), the grand-daddy of stop-motion dinosaur movies, Scapperotti concludes, "The lost world genre has had its ups and downs since Willis O'Brien initiated the genre in films, and this current entry is definitely one of the more emphatic downs."

The non-dinosaur effects in The Land That Time Forgot were supervised by Derek Meddings. Meddings began his thirty-five year long career devising the model effects for several 1960s British sci-fi TV series such as Supercar, Fireball XL5, and Thunderbirds. Moving into features, Meddings supervised the miniatures for such effects-heavy films as Live and Let Die (1973), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977), Superman (1978), Moonraker (1979), Krull (1983), and Santa Claus (1985).

The Land That Time Forgot was a surprise hit at the box-office, ensuring further collaborations between Amicus and the Burroughs Estate. The initial follow-up was At the Earth's Core (1976) an adaptation of the first book in Burroughs' Pellucidar series. Connor returned as director with McClure as the star. The ante was upped somewhat by the addition of extra star power in the form of horror icon Peter Cushing and fan favorite Caroline Munro. More importantly, this film introduced a bit of tongue-in-cheek humor, perhaps in recognition of the unintentional humor some found in The Land That Time Forgot. The next Burroughs film from Amicus was a proper sequel to the first, The People That Time Forgot (1977). This film was also directed by Connor, and featured a cameo by McClure. The Burroughs adaptations ended here – plans for starting a series based on John Carter of Mars were scrapped, and the third book of the Caprona series, Out of Time's Abyss, was never filmed. One last "lost world" film emerged from Amicus, Warlords of Atlantis (1978 – aka Warlords of the Deep); it too featured McClure and was directed by Connor, but unlike its predecessors it sported an original story and screenplay.

Producer: Samuel Z. Arkoff, John Dark
Director: Kevin Connor
Screenplay: James Cawthorn, Michael Moorcock, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Cinematography: Alan Hume
Film Editing: John Ireland
Music: Douglas Gamley
Production Design: Maurice Carter
Art Direction: Bert Davey
Costume Design: Julie Harris
Special Effects: Derek Meddings
Cast: Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), John McEnery (Captain Von Schoenvorts), Susan Penhaligon (Lisa Clayton), Keith Barron (Bradley), Anthony Ainley (Dietz), Godfrey James (Borg), Bobby Parr (Ahm).
C-92m. Letterboxed. Closed captioning.

by John M. Miller
VIEW TCMDb ENTRY

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