I was five years old when I first saw The Land That Time Forgot. I loved it then. What child doesn't lose their mind seeing dinosaurs? That's the only memory I had of the film, and now, forty years later, I get to go back to Caprona, the island that time forgot, and see how the movie stands in 2015.
Edgar Rice Burroughs, legendary American writer of numerous popular stories and books, including John Carter of Mars, and most notably, the Tarzan series, penned a three part series in 1918, in which the first installment was The Land That Time Forgot. This film, based on that story, was produced by Amicus Productions and released in 1975. It tells the story of members of a torpedoed British vessel, hopelessly floating at sea, who manage to take over the surfaced U-boat that sunk them, captained by Captain Von Schoenvorts (John McEnery). The sequence of the fight between the British and German combatants is well-staged and exciting. Later in the film, the Germans briefly gain control of their submarine, but just as quickly, lose it again. Unfortunately for the protagonists, a sabotaged compass had them going in the wrong direction for six days. At an impasse, the two sides decide they must work together to survive, as supplies and fuel are running out.
They happen upon a strange, icy continent named Caprona, which apparently has no way of entry at first, save for a visible underwater cavern. The U-boat takes quite a beating getting through the passageway, but eventually surfaces in a river, revealing a beautiful, lush, tropical setting. The only problem, other than the U-boat is out of gas, is that there are dinosaurs and warlike cavemen everywhere; they've seemingly gone back 150 million years. The main leads of the story, Bowen Tyler (played competently and square-jawed by Doug McClure) and a biologist Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon) lead both crews onto the island to see what they can find. Wouldn't you know it, there's oil on the island, and if they can refine it just right, they can get back home. They also encounter dinosaurs in several sequences, seemingly only inserted to diversify the action. They also run into the local folk, who mostly want to place a spear or axe in their torsos, but they do find one agreeable island brute, Ahm (played in entertaining fashion by Bobby Parr). They somehow communicate with him, and find out the species of man becomes more evolved the longer they travel north on the island. Later, a base camp is formed to help fuel the submarine, and Bowen and Lisa find trouble up the island, running into a hostile, more evolved tribe. Then, all hell breaks loose. Devastating volcanic eruptions begin wiping out everything and everyone, and the sub begins to hightail it out of there, stranding Bowen and Lisa. As a side note, some of the fire and explosions take place very close to the actors during these scenes. It looked pretty dangerous to me, and good on film. Finally, there's an interesting beginning and ending scene that frame the movie, and I won't spoil it here.
The Land That Time Forgot is sometimes entertaining, but inconsistent. It's oddly paced; the first thirty minutes are almost a procedural, a well-crafted war film. The remaining hour is a straight fantasy adventure film, with sporadic, poorly-executed dinosaur sequences. The Allosauras in the film looks terrible. The Triceratops, however, looks pretty decent, as does the Pterodactyl, until you see all the strings on the wings. The scale of the monsters is completely off. At distance they look gigantic, but up close, when it switches to real, practical monster heads attacking the actors, they look much, much smaller. These gripes need to be considered against the time the movie was made, the budget, and the technology available. Still, I would have loved to see stop-motion in the film for the dinosaurs instead of the rubber puppets. As a fan of many low and high budget fantasy films, this one certainly isn't the worst, or the best, but I wasn't bored with it, and I appreciated the sheer adventure of the story.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The Land that Time Forgot comes as a BD25, region A only Blu-ray disc in a standard blue keepcase slipcase.
Featuring a 1:85:1 AVC encode, I was pleasantly satisfied with the overall presentation. The detail is above-average throughout, and sometimes excellent. Great examples of how sharp the image can be: the U-boat interiors, the close-ups of the instruments and gauges onboard, and the dimensionality of all the daytime outdoor sequences, specifically the separation of the foliage and the actors. Another fine example is a sequence of a native drawing in the ground; the texture in this shot is excellent. The first third of the film, mostly on the submarine, features obviously intended grayish, muted colors. A yellow lamp in a few shots is really the only noticeable change in color contrast. At around 36 minutes in, when the submarine enters the island, the previously drab palette opens up into a very welcome splash of color. In a minor way, it reminded me of the crazy color shift when the children entered the candy factory, in the beloved Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. The orange and red rendered in the oil flames, as well as the volcanic explosions, really pop. Overall, the movie is very natural-looking. Fleshtones look great, and contrast is solid. The inside of the submarine, frequently dark and shadowed, has a consistency throughout. The roughest part of the video is the title sequence; there's frequent evidence of scratches, stains, and dirt, which also show up in the movie, but too infrequently to care about. There's some noticeably noisy sequences; the occasional composite backgrounds, and in one sequence, the sky above a German supply ship looked very distracting, but I was pleased with how a low-budget film from 1975 looks on this release.
The only feature audio track is dual-mono DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. The mix is clear, but non-dynamic. Dialogue is intelligible throughout. The balance becomes problematic during some action sequences; most dialogue is completely drowned when the submarine enters the island, and in similar fashion, at the end of the film during the volcanic eruptions. There's no subwoofer activity, save the MGM lion that begins and ends the movie. For a film four decades old, it's more than faithful to the original presentation, with the benefit of lacking any noticeable distortion or defects.
Audio Commentary with Director Kevin Connor moderated by Brian Trenchard-Smith - Features commentary with the director, Kevin Connor, mostly guided by another veteran director, Brian Trenchard-Smith. This appears to be a brand new recording as they mention "Blu-ray" during the session. Most of the commentary centers around the special effects, the models, the actors, and what it was like to shoot on the immense water stages of Shepperton studios. The impressive submarine models and its full-sized exterior and interior are discussed, as well as surprising reveals. One such example was that several ships in the movie were merely cardboard cutouts, with smoke tubes behind them for effect. The biggest reveal was that John McEnery (who played Captain Von Schoenvorts) had his part completely re-dubbed at the studio's request by another actor, Anton Diffring. The movie's release is also touched on. The director remembers British children at the movie cheering when Germans received a punch, and that the movie was fairly popular in Europe, but not so much in America, due to a limited release. The director (nearly 80 years old) understandably needs some prompting throughout, and the commentary loses steam in the last 30 minutes, as it becomes less and less frequent. Nonetheless, this should appeal to fans, and the two gentlemen speaking are charming.
Making of Featurette (HD, 12:03) - A very rough-looking, seemingly upconverted from SD featurette. Fun in spots, there's some basic information on Edgar Rice Burroughs, but mostly footage of the movie shoot with promotional interviews mixed in. It's strange the packaging doesn't list this as on here, but it is.
Original Trailer (HD, 2:10) - A 16x9 trailer of the film.
I really enjoyed this film as a kid growing up in the 70s, and hadn't see it again until now. It doesn't quite hold up, but there's fun to be had. The special effects of the dinosaurs are rarely special, and the character interactions can be strange. Despite this, the adventure can be entertaining. It would be interesting to see a big budget shot at making this film today, since the budget and scope of the original film can't fully do the story justice. Still, for fans of fantasy, science-fiction, or retro screenings, there's enough moments in the film worth watching, and the concept of the story itself is interesting. For fans of the movie, this HD release can be recommended, as it likely won't look any better. For others, it's only 90 minutes, so give it whirl if you have the time.