Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Land That Time Forgot Revisited

As I've mentioned here before, I'm something of a sucker for dinosaur movies.  When I was a dinosaur obsessed kid, there weren't too many dinosaur movies around - not only were they considered a specialised interest, but they were difficult to represent on screen.  Men in suits, and puppets were unconvincing while photographically enlarged lizards (usually with fake horns, spines and frill glued to them, were completely inaccurate.  Stop motion animation was undoubtedly the best way to portray dinosaurs realistically (well, as realistically as classic reconstructions of their fossilised skeletons allowed them to be), but was time consuming and relatively expensive.  With modern CGI, dinosaurs can be recreated relatively cheaply, which is probably why dinosaur pictures seem to be two a penny these days.  But to get back to the point, my soft spot for films featuring these long extinct leviathans undoubtedly explains why I found myself watching The Asylum's 2009 version of The Land That Time Forgot.  The fact that it was produced by The Asylum should have rung alarm bells, but hey, they have produced some reasonably entertaining 'mockbusters' over the years.

To be fair, this remake did add some interesting ideas to the Edgar Rice Burroughs source novel, although bringing in the whole Bermuda Triangle angle was somewhat hackneyed.  But, taking the 'Time Forgot' part of the title and presenting the island of Caprona as a location that exists outside of normal time and where groups of characters from different eras of history find themselves simultaneously stranded, isn't a bad plot device.  The problem is that the makers then fail to really make anything out of it, with the plot eventually retreading the familiar plot elements of the novel: the stranded U-Boat whose crew are eventually forced to work with their American adversaries to try and escape the island, the two characters left stranded on the island, their journal thrown into the ocean in a bottle.  However, the way it is set up, there is next to no conflict between the characters and consequently no dramatic tension.  Most crucially, though, the biggest thing lacking from this version of the story are dinosaurs.  Apart from a couple of Pteranodons, a briefly glimpsed giant sea reptile and a Tyrannosaurus (the main antagonist to the human characters), there basically aren't any, leaving me feeling seriously shortchanged.  To add insult to injury, the CGI used to create them was clearly done on the cheap, rendering them barely convincing.

Really, what is the point of an adaptation of The Land That Time Forgot which isn't chock full of dinosaurs?  Surely they should be the movie's main selling point?  I've seen versions of The Lost World with a similar lack of dinosaurs, trying to pitch themselves as primarily adventure stories.  Unfortunately for this version of Land That Time Forgot, the human characters are simply not interesting or engaging enough to carry the dinosaur-light story.  Indeed, it compares very unfavourably with the 1975 film version which, despite having technically inferior special effects, is hugely enjoyable.  It's dinosaurs might be a combination of full size mechanical models, puppets and men in suits, but they are at least present in significant numbers.  Moreover, its cast of second rank but solid and talented actors - including Doug McClure, Susan Penhaligon, Keith Barron, John McEnerey and Anthony Ainley - give full justice to a surprisingly literate script (Michael Moorcock worked on it at one point).   The World War One period of the novel is evoked to good effect, providing plenty of tension and dramatic conflict between the U-Boat crew and the Anglo-American survivors it picks up from the freighter it sinks.  Most of all, despite being a relatively low budget Amicus production, the 1975 film understands that audiences expect this type of movie to deliver spectacle.  Which it does: U-Boats, dinosaurs and climactic volcanic eruptions!  Believe me, it's all a lot more fun than the 2009 version with its dull characters, dull dinosaurs and dull plot mechanics.

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