After a lot of thrillers and adventure films last year we’ve had a run of monster/horror films from Hammer this year. However this is a new departure into very different type of story, as we travel back to the dawn (ish) of man. And woman. There are monsters though, but not the supernatural type one might expect from Hammer.
Tumak is banished from his violent, savage tribe and encounters another tribe who have settled near the sea. These people seem more advanced with their crafting skills and apparent moral code.
The film starts with a 60s school educational film style narration, and some familiar looking shots of molten lava and volcanic activity (I swear I’ve seen those shots in future episodes of Doctor Who).
It’s quickly established how brutal Tumak’s tribe are, with the elderly facing a particularly hard time. One old man is abandoned after falling into a pit, and another gets a rock hurled at his head to the amusement of a smirking young girl. I’m not sure if the smirk was scripted.
All this shouting and fighting amongst themselves brings to mind the first Doctor Who story which had a similar setting (and title). However, the big lesson learned by that tribe was ‘strength in numbers’, which is something Tumak’s tribe would do well to learn before they wipe each other out in a frenzy of violence.
It became apparent early on that this film wasn’t going to feature any dialogue. I’d like to have been a fly on the wall at the pitch meeting (“What? No dialogue at all? For 100 minutes?! You’re kidding right?”)
Now this sort of film, without dialogue or particularly engaging plot, depends upon action and spectacle. As such it really stands or falls depending on the quality of its monster effects. Early on I assumed that rather than model effects we were going to get something different, as the first ‘dinosaur’ we see is a close up shot of a real lizard. This rather relies upon the audience being unfamiliar with varieties of lizard – I imagine the illusion might be shattered if you recognised a 12 inch iguana pretending to be a 12 foot dinosaur. However, it’s not long before we get stop motion animated models, and of course: a glance at the credits confirms that Ray Harryhausen worked on this. And these effects are as impressive as you might expect.
After lots and lots of screaming and fighting Tumak gets banished from his tribe and spends a while wandering through the desert. The locations for this look very lavish for a Hammer Film. There are scenes set amongst what looks like genuine volcanic rock so I’m assuming they’ve gone somewhere exotic to film all this. There’s not a hint of Black Park anywhere.
Tumak gets an education when he finds the coastal tribe. They display compassion, they bury their dead, and they know how to make decent weapons and necklaces. Reassuringly though their idea of comedy is still to laugh at other people’s expense, as Tumak’s attempt and failure at spearing a fish has them in hysterics.
One of the girls in this tribe is called Loana, and is played by Raquel Welch who I know from such films as The Fantastic Voyage a few months ago. Loana has very white teeth so I must assume chocolate, coffee and cigarettes are in short supply in this era.
Before long Tumak gets into a fight (I don’t think it was his fault) and as a result gets banished from this tribe too. Loana has taken a fancy to him though and follows him. The two of them make their way back to Tumak’s old tribe. On arrival the women marvel at Loana’s luscious hair, and in return for their marvelling she teaches them how to be kind, and how to enjoy frolicking in water. Eventually though, Loana gets into a fight with a ferocious Martine Beswick – the tribe love it, especially the old women. Presumably this is how they entertained themselves.
So, back to the effects, and on the whole, apart from the occasional wobbly blue screen shot, they are very good. Considering Hammer’s track record of dodgy-looking vampire bats up till now, having Harryhausen on board must have been very exciting. The choice of creature is a bit dubious (I mean, spiders and turtles the size of a double garage…really?!) A slightly more appropriate pterodactyl is particularly well realised, and the film’s climactic scene starts as a mummy pterodactyl brings Raquel Welch to her children for lunch, but gets into a scrap with another one along the way and ends up dropping Raquel into the sea. So the disgraced mummy pterodactyl eats her children instead. Bit harsh.
Unusually the final scene is shot in sepia tones. Presumably the effects had cost so much that they ran out of colour film, but I can’t help wondering whether the entire film might have benefitted from this look as it gives quite a different feel, the stark look of it evoking the period rather more than technicolor does.
Not a bad film, if one can overlook humans, dinosaurs, and garage-sized turtles co-exisiting, and cave girls with mascara. People go on journeys, everybody learns something, and the entire human race is founded. It’s not exactly gripping, but big fighting dinosaurs on a big screen at Christmas? Yes please.