The Land That Time Forgot
U.K. / 1975
Directed by Kevin Connor
Starring
Doug McClure
John McEnery
Susan Penhaligon
Color / 91 Minutes / PG
Format: DVD
Double Feature Disc / R1 - NTSC
MGM Home Entertainment
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Review by
Brian Lindsey
 
6
    7   10 = Highest Rating  
An affable All-American type mostly known for his TV work, the late Doug McClure joined the galaxy of B-movie stars with his leading roles in five science fiction/fantasy films made between 1975 and 1980. The Roger Corman cheapie Humanoids from the Deep aside, these films all directed by Kevin Connor were produced in the U.K. and either based on or inspired by the novels of Tarzan creator Edgar Rice Burroughs. They were only modestly-budgeted drive-in pictures but McClure got top billing as the heroic leading man. In a sense you could say he was the John Agar of the Seventies.
The best of the McClure-Connor films is the first, 1975's The Land That Time Forgot. It's still a fun movie nearly 30 years on, creaky special effects notwithstanding. Just as Burroughs possessed more imagination than writing talent, the film adaptation attempts a more grandiose vision than the budget would permit. And despite being co-scripted by Michael Moorcock one of Britain's (then) cutting edge SF authors Land's plot and dialog are strictly the stuff of comic books. Yet this is in keeping with the spirit of Burroughs, at best a mediocre writer who could nonetheless spin some truly ripping yarns. I mean, a German U-Boat shelling dinosaurs with its deck gun... How cool is that? (Particularly to a 12-year old like your humble correspondent, seeing the film when it was first released in theaters.)
As in the opening of Burroughs' novel, a watertight canister is found washed ashore on the coast of Scotland. Inside is a handwritten manuscript relating a most fantastic tale. It is the story of Bowen Tyler (McClure) and his fellow castaways on the "lost continent" of Caprona.
In June 1916 Tyler's aboard a British freighter torpedoed in mid-Atlantic by one of the Kaiser's U-boats. Of the passengers, he and a pretty biologist, Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon), are the only survivors. A handful of the freighter's crew, led by First Mate Bradley (Keith Barron), pick them up in a lifeboat but the situation still looks grim: no one was able to radio their location before the ship went down and they've virtually no provisions. But a desperate chance for survival presents itself when, in the murk of a fog bank, the submarine responsible for their plight surfaces close to the lifeboat. Tyler and the merchant seamen surprise the sub's crew and take them prisoner. The veteran German skipper, Captain von Schoenvorts (John McEnery, with voice dubbed by the authentically Teutonic Anton Diffring), is certain that Tyler lacks the knowledge to command the U-33. Then he's informed that the brash American just happens to be the scion of a California shipbuilding family that's been designing submarines for years. Tyler knows them inside and out. Even so, some of the Germans will be needed to man the sub and will have to be watched.
Tyler's plan to make for the nearest Allied port is thwarted when the compass is sabotaged by U-33's fanatical first officer, Lt. Dietz (Anthony Ainley, who played the evil Master in the Doctor Who TV series). Now lost in Antarctic waters and running low on supplies, the sub comes upon an uncharted island ringed by a impenetrable wall of high, craggy cliffs amid the icebergs. Von Schoenvorts theorizes the island to be Caprona, a supposedly mythological land named for a 17th Century explorer whose claims were dismissed.
Negotiating an underwater tunnel to gain the island's interior, those aboard U-33 are amazed to discover a tropical prehistoric world kept warm by volcanic forces. Here dinosaurs that should be long extinct live and roam, as do a curious race of humanoid savages that appear to exhibit all the various phases of Man's evolutionary development. To survive long enough to repair and replenish the U-boat, wartime enemies must put aside their differences and cooperate with one another. But not everyone is playing from the Kumbaya songbook...
The Land That Time Forgot is a thoroughly old fashioned sci-fi/fantasy adventure of the type they weren't really making anymore even in 1975. A lot of this has to do with the script sticking to Burroughs' Victorian style. (His Caprona tales were first published in 1918; as late as World War II he'd still be cranking out novels in the writing style of the 19th Century.) The film's a throwback to the likes of the original King Kong and potboilers such as Unknown Island (1948) and The Land Unknown (1957), only in color. The first half-hour plays like your standard military-themed action yarn (and not a bad one at that, really), without any foreshadowing of the science fiction plot elements to come. Yes, the special effects look rather cheesy quaint even by modern standards... If you love wobbly rubber dinosaur puppets and positively loathe CGI, then this movie's for you. (It would've made an exciting project for Ray Harryhausen, though!) Actually, the dinosaurs aren't as bad as some I've seen. At least they're not just iguanas with big fins glued onto their backs, forced to wrestle on a tabletop model. (The wires holding up the built-to-scale pterodactyl are pretty obvious, though, and the beast never once flaps its wings.) A few of the submarine miniatures aren't too shabby, either.
I'm usually either lukewarm or downright hostile to the idea of remakes but to me The Land That Time Forgot is the ideal candidate. As someone who devoured the pulp novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs as a kid (and who also loved this film I wish I still had that old paperback edition with the movie poster on the cover), I can only imagine how cool it would be with modern special effects a la U-571 and the Jurassic Park series.
Perhaps by some fluke a Hollywood producer will read this...

Last week (August 24th, '04) MGM released a slew of anticipated new Midnite Movie DVDs, all of them double feature "flipper" discs. In a cynical move on MGM's part the company decided to reissue films that have already been released as singles. However, some of these titles have never been on DVD before and for that we can be grateful. In this case the double feature billing is most appropriate: Side B contains The People That Time Forgot, the 1977 sequel, with Doug McClure reprising his role as Bowen Tyler. (To check out EC's January 2002 review of People, click HERE.)
As for Land's digital debut, the film looks and sounds better than I've ever seen it, and for the first time on home video is in its correct 1.85:1 widescreen aspect ratio. Certain scenes are noticeably grainy, especially some of the rear-projection FX shots; this is inherent to the film itself. The theatrical trailer is included as an extra. Side B's presentation of People That Time Forgot is exactly the same as the single-edition release. EC's rating of "7" for the DVD factors in its value as a double feature. 8/29/04
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