In this vivid view of prehistoric life, a man from the mean-spirited Rock People (John Richardson) is banished from his home, but soon finds himself living among the kind, gentle Shell People. There, he falls in love with one of their tribeswomen, played by bikini-clad Raquel Welch, in the role that made her a major star. The two decide to strike out on their own, living by their wits in a deadly land of treacherous beasts and unknown dangers - all leading to a thrilling climax by the edge of an angry volcano. With stunning primeval imagery created by pioneering special effects wizard Ray Harryhausen, One Million Years B.C. is a true science fiction classic.
"Grunt. Grunt, grung ugg grunt!"
Sometimes a piece of classic science-fiction/fantasy filmmaking can feature the best and worst aspects of the genre. When it's at its best, the film can transport an audience to another world beyond what they experience in their day to day lives. If a nice little parable surfaces and teaches some sort of life lesson, all the better. However, when a sci-fi/fantasy movie is at its worst, it's merely recycling old material and tropes, perhaps updates the visual effects a little, and borders on becoming a cheesy exploitation movie without the gumption to go all the way with the content. The legendary sci-fi classic 'One Million Years B.C.' from 1966 offers up plenty of great Ray Harryhausen creatures, the beautiful Raquel Welch, and a recycled plot from 1940's 'One Million B.C.' with little else going for it.
Life is hard for caveman Tumak (John Richardson) and his fellow Rock People. Each day they must hunt for game so the clan can survive otherwise they face the ravages of slow starvation. Not only must he fight for food, but for the approval of his father and clan leader Akhoba (Robert Brown) over his spiteful brother Sakana (Percy Herbert). When Tumak is banished from the clan, he discovers the beautiful Loana (Raquel Welch) and the mysterious Shell People. These people have a kinder, more evolved sense of doing things. They work together for the betterment of the entire clan and create simple and effective tools to provide for themselves. As Tumak and Loana fall in love, Tumak's brutish ways don't blend with the Shell People and the pair strike out on their own into an unforgiving landscape populated by giant sea turtles, lethal predators, and giant pterodactyls.
Directed by Don Chaffey, 'One Million Years B.C.' is a very strange movie. At equal times it tries to play itself straight and narrow with a serious story and then it wants to be a playful adventure movie with state-of-the-art visual effects. An earnest story about man's evolution technologically as well as emotionally doesn't always buttress well with Dynamation Harryhausen creatures and women running around in furry bikinis that defy all laws of physics. Not helping matters is the feeling that this film was made in the wrong era. Two years later, this film would be overshadowed by such greats as '2001: A Space Odyssey' and 'The Planet of the Apes.' Had 'One Million Years B.C.' been made ten years later than it was, the film may well have earned its stripes in a tongue-in-cheek exploitation sort of way. You can feel the film want to be titillating and play towards the prurient interests but it doesn't have the guts to go all the way with it. Not that the film needed to be a Russ Meyer bounce-a-thon, but 'One Million Years B.C.' hardly feels like a full-blooded Hammer production.
Perhaps the hardest thing for me as I watched 'One Million Years B.C.' after so many years away from it is the realization that I just don't get caveman movies. They're really an odd sci-fi/fantasy sub-genre that does very little to excite or interest me - especially when the entire cast speaks in grunts and clicks. They all have names that each person can speak and enunciate clearly, so why can't they just have a conversation? So what if it's English? I can suspend my disbelief to accept they're speaking some random caveman language. Or subtitles! Subtitles would be great, that way when Robert Brown's Akhoba randomly beats John Richardson's Tumak and tosses him out of the cave we'd at least know why he did it. But then I've got a hunch, that would defeat the point.
Going back to my assertion that this movie would have been better made as an exploitation flick is the fact that Raquel Welch along with some other very attractive scantily clad ladies and their barely covered assets are front and center throughout much of the film. There's a reason why a poster of Welch from this movie was used in 'The Shawshank Redemption.' She's a gorgeous woman and a draw to the eye, but this is hardly her finest acting hour. Thankfully she managed to impress beyond her looks with flicks like '100 Rifles' and 'Fantastic Voyage.' With 'One Million Years B.C.' she and most of the attractive cast have little to do but stand there and keep looking sexy in their furry clothing.
It had been a long, long time since I'd last seen 'One Million Years B.C.' In my pre-DVD youth, I rented this movie as a curiosity because I knew that infamous poster image of Raquel Welch but had never seen the film itself. I remember it being odd then and it's still odd to me now. It's got its moments of fun, but even the Harryhausen effects work isn't enough to salvage the movie in its entirety. When the dinosaurs are on screen eating people or trying to feed Raquel Welch to their young, things are great. When these creatures aren't on screen, the movie gets to be pretty tough to bear. Added to that is that the film stands as Hammer Film's 100th production. While Hammer didn't only produce great horror films with Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, they all had a certain feeling to them and 'One Million Years B.C.' stands as an odd cousin to rest of the library. I may not love the film, but I do enjoy it for what it has to offer. It's certainly not one to be taken seriously - even though it tries very hard to be serious - but if you check your brain at the door and pour a good stiff drink, you, along with some good friends, should have a solid evening of fun.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'One Million Years B.C.' arrives on Blu-ray in a 2-disc Region A package from Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics label. Disc One is home to the shorter 91-minute U.S. cut of the film with its own set of extra features while Disc Two gets the longer 100-minute cut with its own batch of bonus features. Both discs are housed in a standard sturdy two-disc Blu-ray case. Both discs load directly to their respective static image main menus with traditional navigation menus.
The description for this release states that the U.S. Cut has been given a full 4K restoration. After looking at both versions, I would say that the longer International Cut has also been given the full 4K treatment as shot for shot the two cuts appear identical. Presented in 1.85:1 1080p, the film looks exceptional on Blu-ray. Colors are bright and vivid with striking natural-looking primaries. Fine film grain is apparent and is only ever noisy appearing during the big Harryhausen creature moments due to the optical printing processes involved. Detail levels are genuinely terrific all around. If you love scraggly facial hair and furry loin cloths - you're going to get to enjoy every detail. Added fun comes from how well made up the actresses are with their perfectly tweezed eyebrows and foundation. The elements sourced for these transfers were in impeccable shape without a scratch or bit of debris to be seen. The only oddity identical in both cuts of the film clicks in around the 10-minute mark when Tumak and his tribe have to run to their cave ahead of a storm. It's a wide shot to establish the harsh landscape of where they live and that specific shot looks extremely soft and overly processed. Other than that moment, this is a near-flawless presentation and one fans should be proud of.
Both cuts of the film arrive with a rock solid DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. Much like the video presentations, beyond one cut being longer than the other, the audio mixes are virtually identical - and work perfectly for this film. Other than establishing names of various cave peoples, the only genuine dialogue is some bit of narration, everything else is all grunts and clicks. On that note, everything sounds pretty great, even though it's pretty obvious that Welch was dubbed over - for whatever reason. The highlights of the tracks come in during the big creature moments as the roars and screeches of the various critters take over the mix. Scoring by Mario Nascimbene keeps things lively and interesting and only really comes to life during the big action beats. Sound effects work well enough and provide a nice sense of space and dimension. All around, these are some great audio mixes.
U.S. Cut Disc:
In The Valley of the Dinosaurs: Interview With Raquel Welch: (SD 7:45) Ported over from the previous Blue Underground release, this is a pretty hilarious and enlightening interview of how Welch wanted out of her contract but couldn't but at least had 'Fantastic Voyage' to look forward to. She's got some great stories about the shoot.
Ray Harryhausen Interview: (SD 12:29) Harryhausen is a special effects legend and it's great to see the man discussing where his ideas came from - especially his love for dinosaurs. It's also cool to see that he still had the maquette of the creatures he made for the film.
Martine Beswick Interview: (HD 16:36) The actress who played cave girl Nupodi discusses how she got the role, filming, the frigid conditions the cast had to work in. Like Welch's interview, it was pretty funny and informative.
U.S. Theatrical Trailer: (SD 3:08)
International Cut Disc:
Audio Commentary: Film Historian Tim Lucas provides a solid commentary for this film. It can be a bit too scene specific at times as he can just be describing what's happening on screen. Otherwise, this commentary is loaded with information and production details as well as the long list of filmmakers and their respective films who took inspiration from this film.
Animated Poster Image Montage: (HD 3:05) The images change on their own, no ability to advance the image on your own.
International Theatrical Trailer: (SD 3:00)
Caveman movies may not be my thing, but even I have to admit that there's something fun about 'One Million Years B.C.' that is impossible to ignore. There's a goofy campy energy to the performances coupled with the always impressive Ray Harryhausen creature effects that make this movie a gas under the right viewing conditions. If you're going into this flick expecting an earnest examination of the early days of man, you've cashed a ticket to the wrong movie. Fans have a lot to be happy for with this Blu-ray release from Kino Lorber. Not only do you get both cuts of the film, but both versions arrive with exceptional A/V presentations. If only every movie could get this sort of restoration treatment collectors would be having a field day. Toss on a solid assortment of bonus features and you've got a Blu-ray set that makes 'One Million Years B.C.' well worth owning. Highly recommended.