The Warner Archive Collection surprises everyone with the sudden announcement of an uncut WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH Blu-ray, giving Hammer fans reason to rejoice at the start of the New Year and giving hope that they’ll release more titles from “the studio that dripped blood” in the immediate future.
In prehistoric times, a primitive rock tribe of brunettes is about to sacrifice a group of blonde females (something to do with their inferiority) to the Sun. The ceremony is soon interrupted with the formation of the Moon, and one beautiful would-be sacrifice, Sanna (Victoria Vetri, INVASION OF THE BEE GIRLS) is swept out into the violent waves of the ocean. Sanna is then rescued by Tara (Robin Hawdon, ZETA ONE), a friendly caveman from the rival tribe. Sanna and Tara fall in love, but the relationship causes friction amongst their people and the two lovers find themselves in various deadly perils and facing a number of intimidating creatures of enormous sizes. Their never-ending fight for survival finds them split apart and then reunited again.
WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH was produced after Hammer Films had an enormous success with ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. several years earlier. Again, Hammer relied on the formula of meticulously designed stop motion effects mixed with scantily clad cave babes, with the end results here being mostly successful. With a bigger budget than what was usually allotted for a Hammer film, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH also took longer to complete than any of their prior productions. Location shooting in the Canary Islands started in the Fall of 1968, with studio work being completed back at Shepperton in England in the beginning of 1969. The effects took many months to complete, taking the production well into 1970, and it was released in England that Fall. American theatergoers didn’t see it until the Spring of 1971, when it was trimmed to receive a child-friendly G rating.
Although Hammer’s production team wanted effects master Ray Harryhausen back from ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., his busy schedule caused them to instead go with the very capable and young fellow American Jim Danforth. It was a wise choice, even though Danforth’s intricate work took a painstaking 17 months to complete, bringing the picture way behind schedule, yet earning the effects an Oscar nod in 1972. Danforth’s stop motion dinosaurs are some of the finest ever seen on the big screen, even rivaling Harryhausen’s work in many instances. He was assisted by Roger Dicken (SCARS OF DRACULA, THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT) and the late, great Dave Allen (FLESH GORDON, THE CRATER LAKE MONSTER), with some of the impressive mattes being done by Hammer’s perennial effects and props man, Les Bowie (THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES). Unfortunately, some of the intended effects had to be axed (including a bit with giant ants) and some organic lizard battles from Irwin Allen's THE LOST WORLD (a 1960 film which was actually shot in Scope) are awkwardly spliced in the film on occasion.
WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH has the simple premise of the conflicts between primitive cave people and the creatures they encounter, and director Val Guest (THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, THE ABOMINABLE SNOWMAN) wrote the screenplay based on a treatment by novelist J.B. Ballard. Guest also concocted the caveman dialect (no English is spoken except for some opening narration) and apparently wasn’t happy with the final film. The plotline is actually a very tired one, and the silly caveman shenanigans don’t help matters, but it’s got an infectious sort of energy about it, making the combination of mesmerizing jiggle and giant monsters irresistible. Though not a breakout star in the tradition of Ursula Andress or Raquel Welch, American born Playboy playmate Victoria Vetri is an absolutely stunning cavegirl, filling out her animal skin bikini (just barely!) with to-die-for curves. Along with Vetri are other luscious cavebabes played by Polish-born Magda Konopka (SATANIK, BLINDMAN), “The Countess of Cleavage” Imogen Hassel (who sadly, took her own life a decade later) and Jan Rossini (THE OBLONG BOX, CRY OF THE BANSHEE). Veteran actor Patrick Allen (NIGHT CREATURES, NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT) is good as the bearded zealot-like heavy, giving constant opposition to the young lovers (with his distinct voice, Allen also did the opening narration).
When Warner released WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH on DVD in 2008 on a disc that also included Hammer’s MOON ZERO TWO (initially a Best Buy store exclusive) they released the fully uncut 100-minute British version, even though the packaging carried a “G” rating. This was quite a surprise, as the previous VHS and laserdisc releases of the film where the “G” version, and the DVD was eventually pulled and quickly went out of print (of course causing inflated seller prices on eBay and the like). When Warner Archive Collection announced this Blu-ray, they assured us that it would be the uncut version and it sure is (the back of the packaging even carries a “NOT RATED” labeling and an advisory that this is “the original International Theatrical release version which contains nudity”). So as as with the previous DVD, this is the full uncut British version, clocking in at close to 100 minutes, restoring nudity (courtesy of Vetri and Jan Rossini) and other bits not present in the shorter American 96-minute cut. The previous DVD looked very good to begin with, but the Blu-ray offers a noticeable improvement, presenting the film in 1080p HD in a suitable 1.78:1 aspect ratio. Detail is very sharp, and except for some minor blemishes (mostly during optical effects), the image is extremely clean. The tanned and oiled skin tones and bright blue skies make for strong colors (even though the film’s palette is somewhat limited), and textures are clear and distinct, and grain is replicated perfectly throughout the gorgeous presentation. The DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 track properly brings out Mario Nascimbene’s grandiose score and the caveman grunts and dino roars to good effect. An optional English SDH subtitle track is included (literally transcribing the unintelligible Stone Age jargon). The only extra is the original theatrical trailer. (George R. Reis)
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