One Million Years B.C. Review
One Million Years B.C. was Hammer’s first venture into the realms of prehistoric fantasy and it was their biggest international box office hit. Viewed today, it’s more than a little clunky and is often unintentionally hilarious but it has one huge advantage over virtually every other dinosaur movie made before The Lost World - the genius of Ray Harryhausen. This was a slightly unusual venture for him at this point in his career. Most of his films were made for producer Charles M.Schneer but in the late 1960s he did some freelance work. This Hammer film is probably the best of his non-Schneer efforts and contains some of his finest animation, pointing forward to his own favourite moment; the roping of the T-Rex in the otherwise unmemorable The Valley of Gwangi.
Set sometime in the far-distant past, the film is a hopelessly anachronistic melange of prehistoric man, volcanoes and dinosaurs. I’ll resist the temptation to offer the filmmakers a history lesson and assume that if you’re old enough to be reading this review then you’ll already be able to spot the gaping archaeological error at the centre of this epic. However, try to make a film about early man without dinosaurs and you end up with an unwatchable mess like Hammer’s appalling Creatures The World Forgot or the unbearably pretentious Quest For Fire. Indeed, away from the giant reptiles, One Million Years B.C. is pretty dull. The plot is minimal, consisting of a mixed-tribe love affair between Tumak (Richardson) of the Rock People and Loana (Welch) of the Shell People. The Rock People all look a bit like Ben Stiller and the Shell People have a strong resemblance to Owen Wilson. Following the success of Starsky And Hutch, perhaps a remake of this movie could be their next project. Tumak begins as a typical member of the frightfully aggressive, hirsute and sartorially challenged Rock People. He is son of their leader Akhoba (Brown) and brother of the warlike Sakana (Herbert). The brothers fight all the time until, one day, Sakana throws Tumak off a cliff. Tumak narrowly avoids being eaten by a photographically blown-up iguana and ends up down at a beach where he meets the Shell People. This tribe are a load of hippies who only get mad when fighting stop-motion dinosaurs and otherwise behave like members of The Byrds. All the men look like surfers and all the women are Playboy Bunnies. It’s not long before Tumak and Loana are having a chaste but, we’re assured by their sensuous grunts, passionate affair. This leads to them being thrown out of the commune by the hippies and forced to walk the wilderness, avoiding being eaten by monsters or getting the shit beaten out of them by the curmudgeonly Rock People.
This is all marvellously silly stuff, all the better for being done with such a straight face. “This is a story of long, long ago when the world was just beginning” intones the narrator at the start as the screen is filled with swirling mist. It’s all a bit psychedelic for a moment – rather like 2001: A Space Odyssey played in reverse – before the film turns into an advert for the Lanzarote tourist board and we get onto the story. The screenplay, by trusted Hammer hand Michael Carreras, doesn’t have any dialogue – barring the initial narration – and relies instead on grunts and occasional names accompanied by a lot of pointing. Much of the pointing is done by Raquel Welch, as you’d expect, and she uses her hands quite a lot too. This wasn’t Welch’s first film but it was certainly the one which established her as a permanent part of the consciousness of every adolescent male who saw the film. Already establishing the tradition by which she would prove herself incapable of walking in a straight line, Welch looks fabulous and her lack of dialogue means that we’re spared the usual agony of her untutored Illinois diction.
There’s no doubt that Welch is the human star of the film but the characters with the most believability are the glorious Harryhausen dinosaurs. These range from a vicious Tyrannosaurus Rex to a brilliantly animated Pterodactyl and they are all filled with enough charisma to act the entire human cast off the screen. Whether it’s careful lighting or simply a larger budget than usual, Harryhausen’s monsters don’t have that irritating blue line around them which becomes increasingly noticeable in his films from The Golden Voyage Of Sinbad onwards. It’s also cheering that the monsters get more screen time than you’d expect. Although we have to wait a good twenty minutes before we get a glimpse of them, once they’re on they have plenty to do. The highlight is a fight between a T-Rex and a resourceful Triceratops which lasts over five minutes and is absolutely riveting. The conjunction between the animated monsters and the humans is also less awkward than normal, especially in the climactic scene where the Pterodactyl picks up Welch as a snack for its babies. However, what a giant spider is doing in the mix is a matter for the individual viewer to decide.
The rest of the cast – and indeed the film - is unable to compete either with the dinosaurs or Welch’s pouting and pointing. John Richardson, my candidate for Hammer’s most boring leading man, looks the part but can’t emote to save his life and when caught by a large lizard, he tends to look less panic-stricken than mildly concerned. There is, however, considerable diversion for followers of British character acting in watching Robert Brown – later cast as ‘M’ in four Bond movies – and Percy Herbert – RSM in a thousand war flicks – wearing fur nappies and grunting manfully. Don Chaffey’s direction is efficient rather than atmospheric but he does keep things moving, as he did in Jason And The Argonauts, his other collaboration with Harryhausen. The main disappointment is the rather horrible music score, reminding you that in that earlier film, as with several other Harryhausen classics, we had the musical genius of Bernard Herrmann to add some gravitas to the proceedings. The atonal plunkings of Mario Nascimbene simply can’t compete.
One Million Years B.C. has been released in the US as part of Fox’s “Raquel Welch Collection. It’s available individually and also in a box-set along with four other movies. Purists should be warned, however, that this is the 91 minute American theatrical version which cuts nine minutes from the original. The British R2 release, from Warners, is the full original version of the film. Missing are a mildly erotic dance from Martine Beswick and some rather stronger violence. None of the scenes involving dinosaurs have been cut.
The film is presented in a ratio of 1.85:1 and has been anamorphically enhanced. Considerable restoration has been carried out on the film – as you can see in a brief restoration featurette – and it’s paid off. There is still a small amount of damage visible and some artefacting is present in some scenes but this is largely very impressive. Detail is copious, there is a sharp feel to the image without over-enhancement and the colours are spectacularly vivid.
There are two English soundtracks on the disc. The original mono track is present along with a 2 channel Stereo remix. The latter is a little artificial and not all that exciting. It’s the music and sound effects which are spread over the front channels and this is not done with much consistency. I preferred the more natural effect of the mono track.
There are no particularly significant extras. We get the aforementioned restoration featurette, Spanish and American trailers and additional trailers for ten Fox SF movies - most entertaining of the lot are the trailers for Boorman’s loopy Zardoz and the period-piece promo for The Day The Earth Stood Still.
Subtitles in English and Spanish are present, although the grunts are not subtitled. 24 chapter stops are provided.
One Million Years B.C. isn’t a particularly good film but it’s very hard to dislike. It also has those wonderful monsters which make up for a lot of faults. The DVD offers a good transfer of the film and would be recommended were it not for the fact that the British DVD offers the original cut of the film. As it is, if you’re looking for the best version of the film, then the R2 may well be the way to go.