While not historically or scientifically accurate by any means, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. is a timeless fantasy of epic proportions. It made an international sex symbol and poster pin-up girl out of Raquel Welch, allowed animator Ray Harryhausen to create some of his best visual effects ever, and became Hammer Films' most mainstream excursion, bringing in a lot of box office mula for U.S. distributor 20th Century Fox. Like any Ray Harryhausen or Hammer title, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. has been a top-want on Blu-ray for quite some time, and now Kino Lorber has redeemed Fox’s previous DVD release with this two-disc HD presentation.
Produced by Michael Carreras with associate producer Aida Young, ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.’s plot is a simple one. Illustrating the earth in its infancy, there's a tribe of rock people who are on the savage side—greedy and great hunters. Tumak (John Richardson, BLACK SUNDAY, TORSO) leaves the tribe's dark cave after a spar with his father Akhoba (Robert Brown, DEMONS OF THE BOND, THE SPY WHO LOVED ME), the acknowledged leader and his rival brother Sakana (Percy Herbert, MYSTERIOUS ISLAND, ISLAND OF THE BURNING DAMNED). After confronting the swelling sun and horrific creatures of varying sizes, he is rescued by the lovely Loana (Raquel Welch, FANTASTIC VOYAGE, HANNIE CAULDER) who shows him the refined, cultured ways of her shell tribe. Tumak tries to fit in and saves a little girl from a flesh-hungry Allosaurus, but is soon banished from the cave after ticking off one of the leaders. Greatly attracted to him, Loana takes off with Tumak, journeying back to the tribe from which he came from, and facing further perils of the prehistoric kind.
Itself a remake of a 1940 Hal Roach film starring Victor Mature and Carole Landis (and Lon Chaney), ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. is by no means perfect but it still has all the ingredients for an entertaining popcorn movie. Harryhausen's effects are as usual, top notch, even for today's standards, and only let down by the brief inclusion of a real tarantula and iguana, unconvincingly exhibited as mammoth sized. The convincing Harryhausen creatures include a giant turtle, an Allosaurus (the battle between it and the spear-wielding cavemen is a grand sight to behold), a Brontosaurus, a Triceratops, and some Pterodactyls; one which takes off with Ms. Welch. With her unforgettable animal-skin bikini, staggering body and false eyelashes, Raquel (in a role originally offered to Ursula Andress) is no doubt the most stunning cavegirl ever to grace the screen (her voice was re-dubbed here by Nikki Van der Zyl, a common practice with Hammer actresses). The film was shot mostly on location in the Canary Islands (with interior studio stuff done at Elstree rather than the tiny confines of Bray, Hammer’s usual homestead of the period), giving it an epic and surreal landscape, enhanced by Don Chaffey's (JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS) competent direction and Mario Nascimbene's superb music score. Hammer attempted the prehistoric/cavepeople angle a few times more, most successfully with 1970's WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH (also due out on Blu-ray, uncut, through the Warner Archive Collection). Chaffey was also responsible for the disastrous CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT, which omitted the dinosaurs in exchange for triple doses of boredom.
When 20th Century Fox Home Video first released ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. on DVD in 2004, they gave us the shorter, U.S. theatrical version of the film, which is missing a full nine minutes of footage. This was a huge disappointment, as the full 100-minute “international” version had previously been released on laserdisc in 1996. Thankfully, Kino’s Blu-ray carries the uncut 100-minute cut as well as the shorter 91-minute cut on a separate disc. Some of the footage missing from the 91-minute (and restored in the 100-minute cut) include where brunette cavegirl Nupondi (Martine Beswick, PREHISTORIC WOMEN, DR. JEKYLL AND SISTER HYDE) performs a sexy tribal dance, violence during a fight between some savage troglodytes, and a good chunk of Harryhausen's animation. Of course it’s great to have both versions for the sake of comparison, but we unquestionably recommend the 100-minute cut for your viewing pleasure.
Kino presents the uncut version of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. in a 4K restoration which looks to be the same source released by StudioCanal on Blu-ray in the U.K. last year. The film has been mastered in 1080p HD in its original 1.85:1 aspect ratio, and looks spectacular. The source elements have been meticulously restored, resulting in a very clean, dirt-free image. Grain is consistently strong yet never excessive, and colors are nicely saturated, while skin tones are natural and the detail exhibits some terrific textures, especially in facial characteristics. Of course there some inevitable drops in quality when special effects and processing shots are on screen, but it’s never a big issue and scenes with cavemen juxtaposed with giant animated creatures actually look better than ever. Black levels are also strong, and it’s obvious that no DNR or other digital tampering has been applied, making for a striking organic image. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track is also has a nice mix, with sound effects, dialogue (mostly grunts and a limited caveman vocabulary) and the music all being spot on. The U.S. cut (found on Disc 2) is pretty much identical in picture quality and sound (it opens with a 20th Century Fox logo). No subtitles options are included.
For Disc 1 and the uncut “international” version, there’s an audio commentary with Tim Lucas where he commences by mentioning that ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. was Hammer’s most commercially successful film and that it influenced Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (Kubrick would also use footage from this film for a fantasy sequence in A CLOCKWORK ORANGE). Lucas covers just about every aspect of the production including Hammer’s effects man Les Bowie’s participation (most of which was not used), comparisons with the original 1940 version, the main and supporting cast, the behind-the-camera personnel, and of course the elaborate special effects. Lucas delves deeply into the plot and the characters (which will help those confused by the dialogue-deprived proceedings) as well as the terrific score, and he also deciphers the cave talk and points out all the footage removed from the U.S. version (and that only one stop motion scene survived without cuts) which is now of course restored. This is a thoroughly informative and entertaining commentary, and Lucas also injects some subtle humor from time to time (briefly making a connection to The Three Stooges for example). Other extras on the first disc are a montage of posters (from all over the world) and images, and the original UK trailer (full frame and not restored).
Disc 2 (which carries the U.S. cut of the film) includes an interview with Welch, not the recent one from StudioCanal 2016 U.K. Blu-ray/DVD release, but a 2002 featurette originally produced for the British DVD. “Raquel Welch: In the Valley of the Dinosaurs” (7:45) has the actress recalling getting the call from Fox head Dick Zanuck to do the film which she did with some hesitation (she was under contract), consenting to do “this turkey” to visit “Swinging London” and the Canary Islands. She mentions the freezing conditions in the Canary Islands (and coming down with tonsillitis), working with director Chaffey and co-stars Beswick and Richardson, the pterodactyl scene and how her whole life changed because of this movie. The interview with Martine Beswick (16:36) is indeed the recent one carried over from the 2016 U.K. release, as she recalls answering an ad while living in Jamaica and eventually getting a role in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. She joyously recalls working for Hammer in ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., her experiences on the location shoot, her admiration for Ray Harryhausen, reacting on film to dinosaurs that would be added in later, the skimpy costumes, her fight scene with Raquel, and meeting John Richardson (they were married soon after). Also picked up from 2002 U.K. is an interview with the late Harryhausen (12:29), expressing his lifelong interest in dinosaurs and how tough it was for him to initially break into the film business before collaborating with George Pal. On ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., he talks about working with the live lizard, how the actors had to react to “poles” acting as dinosaurs, and goes on to demonstrate the “stop motion” process with the actual Allosaurus model used in the film (he also shows off one of the model Pterodactyls and the remains of a Triceratops). The U.S. theatrical trailer (remastered and looking great) is the final extra on the second Blu-ray. (George R. Reis)
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