Valley of Gwangi
DVD Release Date: Oct.
= Highest Rating
'n' dinosaurs... Yeeeeeehaw!
It's a real treat to see childhood favorite
The Valley of Gwangi finally make
it to DVD. The film was badly marketed when theatrically released
so the boob tube was the medium by which most people, including
your humble correspondent, came to know it. Though its main
attraction — Ray Harryhausen's wonderful stop-motion dinosaurs
— look dated in this age of CGI, Gwangi
remains a great Saturday afternoon flick with which to stuff
your face full of microwave popcorn.
it's a rehash of King Kong but
the western spin on the tale gives it freshness. In 1900 Mexico
a traveling Wild West show comes into possession of a dog-sized
miniature horse that the show's female owner, T.J. Breckenridge
(Our Man Flint's Gina Golan),
hopes will reverse her sagging economic fortunes. While she
rekindles a romance with an old flame, entrepreneur Tuck Kirby
the Planet of the Apes' James Franciscus), British
paleontologist Professor Bromley (a hammy Laurence Naismith)
and gypsy witch-woman Zorina (Freda Jackson, Brides
of Dracula) plot to steal the miracle horse. Zorina wants
the creature returned to its home in the "Forbidden Valley"
to forestall the curse of the "Evil One", Gwangi,
from loosing death upon the land. The professor's motive is
to follow the gypsies in order to discover its place of origin.
He alone recognizes the tiny horse for what it really is —
an Eohippus, a living member of a species that supposedly died
out 50 million years ago. And where there's one Eohippus there's
bound to be more.
When the theft is
discovered Tuck rides out after the gypsies; T.J. and her foreman/ringmaster
Champ Connors ('50s sci-fi leading man Richard Carlson) saddle
up a posse and join the pursuit. They track the thieves to the
Forbidden Valley, where they stumble upon a prehistoric world
straight out of an Edgar Rice Burroughs novel. After a brush
with a hungry pterodactyl (who prefers Mexican for dinner) the
cowboys meet Gwangi himself, a reptilian leviathan with very
big teeth. (It's never mentioned in the film but the beast is
supposedly an Allosaurus, smaller cousin to the T-Rex.) Plans
to capture some of the valley's fauna for the show are instantly
forgotten as the group scrambles to escape with their lives.
But a lucky break turns the tables and presents T.J. and Company
with the ultimate prize. The
mighty Gwangi will doubtless be the greatest attraction in the
history of show business... provided he doesn't break out of
his cage and go rampaging through town, that is. That would
be very bad for business.
It's all quite old-fashioned
and thoroughly enjoyable. Who with an imagination could resist
the combination of cowpokes and creatures that time forgot?
Today's kids might have their patience tested by the leisurely
setup and romantic subplot —
the first big monster doesn't appear until halfway in and Gwangi
not until the 50-minute mark —
but the ten-year old inside me had a good time with the film.
Once the characters arrive at the Forbidden Valley it really
picks up speed; the energetic score by composer Jerome Moross
(The War Lord) greatly enlivens the
action. Harryhausen's wizardry is as delightful as always. For
Gwangi he created some of the screen's
most indelible dinosaur imagery. Over three decades later his
amazingly articulated stop-motion monsters still have the power
to enchant. Where the effects show their age is at the seams
and on the margins, specifically the split-screen and matte
shots. No matter.
An exciting dinosaur rodeo
courtesy of Ray Harryhausen, set to a rousing 'Marlboro Man
on Mysterious Island' score... Here the old cliché is
most apt: it's fun for the whole family.
Of Gwangi is being released on Warner Home Video DVD in
tandem with two other stop-motion monsteramas, The
Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and The
Black Scorpion. It appears minimal restoration was done
to the print. There are speckles here and there, though no major
damage; some scenes are quite grainy and an irritating flutter
crops up from time to time in some of the outdoor sequences. (With
a Harryhausen film one must always take grain as a given —
it's a byproduct of the effects technique.) Colors are quite vivid,
however, and there's a definite improvement in the level of discernible
detail. (Along with some noticeable edge enhancement, I might
add.) So while the video quality is a tad disappointing, it's
a significant improvement over the old VHS edition. And the matted
1.85:1 anamorphic transfer does allow us to see the film in its
original theatrical presentation. As for sound, the mono audio
track gets the job done without any complaints.
Warner was good enough to include extras on the disc beyond the
usual trailer. The theatrical promo for Gwangi
is provided, of course, but also those for Beast
from 20,000 Fathoms, Black Scorpion,
and Clash of the Titans. Return
To The Valley is an 8-minute featurette composed of interviews
with Harryhausen, who gives a thumbnail sketch of the film's origin
and production, and a number of special effects artists from today's
generation who explain the influence the film has had on their
work. (A sizable portion of the featurette focuses on a single
set-piece from Gwangi, the extraordinarily
complex and difficult dinosaur lassoing sequence.)
You can also find a hidden Easter Egg on the
Special Features menu by highlighting Gwangi's head. (Harryhausen
provides an amusing anecdote involving his young daughter, a model
of Gwangi and a memorable shopping trip to Herrod's.)
This DVD went OOP in 2008; still-shrinkwrapped
copies are going for almost 100 bucks these days.