Amicus Films, the British company best known for its macabre horror anthologies, turned to large-scale fantasy for a successful series of films in the mid 1970s. Produced by John Dark and directed by Kevin Connor (FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE), the team adapted some of the works of noted sci-fi author Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the results were THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975), AT THE EARTH'S CORE (1976), and LAND's sequel, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) which was credited totally to AIP, for Amicus had already ceased to exist by the time it was released. With PEOPLE promised on the format in the near future, LAND proves never to be forgotten as its makes its way to Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber.
THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT begins when the torpedoes from a German U-boat sink an ally cargo ship during World War I, killing off most of the passengers. The survivors include American Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure, HUMANOIDS FROM THE DEEP), British biologist Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon, THE HOUSE OF MORTAL SIN), British officer Bradley (Keith Barron, NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT) and some of his sailors. Shortly after the attack, they stumble upon the German submarine in a fog bank, and manage a surprise attack, soon seizing control of it. The Germans, led by the amicable Captain Von Schoenvorts (John McEnery, whose voice was dubbed by Anton Diffring!) and the stubborn Dietz (Anthony Ainley, THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW) take control back, but eventually lose it once again. Having to deal with a destroyed radio, a tampered-with compass, and now, colossal prehistoric reptiles, Tyler, the British and the Germans all decide to remain neutral and work together as the sub becomes lost.
Believing to be somewhere in the south Atlantic, they soon encounter what appears to be a lost continent surrounded by icebergs and snowy cliffs. A theory is that it's the body of land known called Caprona, last seen two hundred years before by the Italian navigator Caproni. The submarine makes its way under the ice and into a sunny, tropical land where all sorts of adventures ensue. In a fight for survival, they find themselves battling an onslaught of known-to-be-extinct dinosaurs, as well as different tribes of savage Stone Age men in various stages of evolution, but they do meet up with one friendly one named "Ahm" (Bobby Parr, who would play another ape-like being in AT THE EARTH’S CORE) and he proves helpful to their cause (tapping into the ground’s crude oil so that the U-boat can make it back to civilization).
An ambitious and rather costly co-production between AIP and Amicus, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT remains a fun ride today. The film does have its share of faults. Roger Dicken's puppet dinosaurs -- including floppy-bodied Allosaurus creatures, a toothy Plesiosaurus (we only see it from the long neck up) that emerges from the sea to swallow up sailors, and Pterodactyls that just glide on highly visible strings -- are less than convincing, but some of them are passable (Dicken previously worked on such Hammer films as SCARS OF DRACULA and WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH). The standout dinosaurs are actually several Styracosaurus beasts on display, looking acceptable enough as living and breathing creatures to garner empathy when one of them is shot dead, followed by a close-up of a tear falling from its eye. On the other hand, the miniatures and other effects come off quite nicely as a whole, especially during the explosive climax. The film was shot primarily at England’s Shepperton Studios with the studio’s backlot largely substituting for the wild world of Caprona, giving veteran cinematographer Alan Hume (KISS OF THE VAMPIRE, DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS) ample opportunity to give the film an epic, fantasy-film appearance, and there’s a few stunning shots to behold. Connor (in only his second feature as a director) handles the fast-paced action well, and Douglas Gamley (who was essentially the in-house composer for Amicus and their frequent genre efforts) provides one of his grandest scores. The screenplay was written by James Cawthorn and novelist Michael Moorcock (of “The Final Programme” fame); Moorcock claimed his original screenplay was faithful to the original 1924 literary source, with the last twenty minutes or so changed by the production team, apparently so the film would have more of an exciting ending.
McClure often gets criticism for his acting in films of this ilk, but he is actually very likable and durable, and it's hard to imagine anyone else as Tyler (a role which was reportedly meant for Stuart Whitman earlier in production until AIP flat out refused) and his association with producer Dark and director Connor would stretch out to three more similar cinematic offerings. As British and German sailors, the excellent cast includes Godfrey James (THE OBLONG BOX), Colin Farrell (FROM BEYOND THE GRAVE), Declan Mulholland (THEATRE OF BLOOD), Roy Holder (PSYCHOMANIA), Roy Pember (RAW MEAT) and Andrew McCulloch (CRY OF THE BANSHEE). Suitable for the kids (although it is packed with comic book violence and an extreme long shot of some topless cavewomen), LAND THAT TIME FORGOT is one of the most triumphant British fantasy films of its time with a charm that's not easy to replicate in today’s repetitive climate of flashy and overly-expensive humdrum CGI.
LAND THAT TIME FORGOT was first released on DVD in 2004 as an MGM “Midnite Movies” double feature with its sequel, THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT on the flip side. Kino now utilizes MGM’s HD transfer for this Blu-ray release which presents the film in 1080p and in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Colors look superb, fleshtones look accurate and contrasts are strong. Detail is also excellent (especially during the extensive outdoor location scenes), with the high definition quality easily revealing some matte shots and other trick effects, but the film is so busy, moments such as these are far and few between. Grain that was heavier in the standard DVD transfer is not at all troublesome here, in fact, any film grain here is far more subdued and reasonable, with some minor speckling occasionally visible. The mono DTS-HD Master Audio track is excellent and serves the film's sound effects, dialog and superb Douglas Gamley score very well. There are no subtitle options on the disc.
Extras on the disc were done by Scorpion Releasing and include an audio commentary with director Connor, moderated by friend and fellow veteran filmmaker Brian Trenchard-Smith. Although the conversation is more or less relaxed, much ground is covered with Connor mentioning that the film was made at a time when the British film industry was in a decline, and that it was the only film in production at Shepperton at the time it was being made. Connor also confirms that the U-boat interior set was created from scratch specifically for this film, and that Sam Arkoff (or someone at AIP’s office) felt McEnery’s voice was too lightweight and that’s why he was re-dubbed. Trenchard-Smith believes the reason why the film did better in the U.K. and Europe than in the U.S. is because of the way AIP promoted the film with their theatrical trailer. Although it’s not mentioned on the disc’s packaging, a vintage making of featurette “The Master of Adventure” (12:03) is included which hypes Burroughs as one of the “big three” of science fiction authors. Presented full frame and not digitally remastered, it’s a great “making of” companion piece which includes interview footage of production designer Maurice Carter, special effects supervisor Derek Meddings, Burroughs’s grandson and Connor who is interviewed on location during filming. There’s some nifty behind the scenes stuff here, and you’ll get a glimpse of how the flying Pterodactyl scenes were achieved. AIP’s original theatrical trailer (narrated by Ernie “Ghoulardi” Anderson) is included, and the disc’s cover is reversible, revealing the British poster art on the opposite side. (George R. Reis)
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