Genre: Fantasy Running Time: 1 hr. 36 min.
Release Date: March 17th, 1971 MPAA Rating: G
Director: Val Guest Actors: Victoria Vetri, Robin Hawdon, Patrick Allen, Magda Konopka, Imogen Hassall, Jan Rossini, Carol-Anne Hawkins, Maria O’Brien
t’s a time of beginnings – of darkness and light, love and hate, and the fear of the unknown. It’s also a time when the color of a woman’s hair condemns her to be sacrificed to the sun god. And it’s a time of carefully applied makeup and groomed faces, and wardrobe malfunctions causing exposed nipples. Men with masks of crocodile heads swing bolos to beat the sacrificial girls into the sea, but the gods are angered and send a mighty torrent to sweep the warriors into the raging waters. Luckily, a neighboring, peaceful tribe sends out a makeshift raft, captained by Tara (Robin Hawdon), to rescue a few key people, including the blonde Sanna (Victoria Vetri). When Tara returns to his beachfront society, he’s greeted by his slinky brunette lover Ulido (Magda Konopka), who creates a love triangle with the affectionately grateful Sanna.
Meanwhile, the evil warrior clan attempts to track down the missing blonde to appease their voracious deity. When they finally catch up to her, she’s forced to flee, leading to a mighty trek through the dangerous wilderness. There she confronts colossal birds, raging dinosaurs, man-eating plants, and even hungry snakes. Friends and foes succumb to the deadly gargantuans, turning Sanna’s newfound acquaintances into enraged enemies. The pantheon continues to seethe with anger, lashing out at the humans with heat and tidal waves and, although he eventually reunites with his golden-haired beauty, Tara is set adrift on a blazing boat to die as punishment for helping her.
Like “One Million Years B.C.” (but marginally more fun thanks to humor and story), there is no intelligible dialogue; instead, primitive sounds and a simple noun-based, 20-word language are used, with cleverly overlaid flashbacks shown during verbal exchanges so that viewers know roughly what they’re discussing. The repetition is also effective. Names are particularly difficult to follow, as are the female characters, all of who are dressed similarly and don’t look nearly rugged enough to fit the part (the three leads are English, Italian, and Polish). Hair color is about the only distinguishable feature. The men are practically all the same too, although they’re garbed in slightly different animal parts and bone jewelry.
The stop motion dinosaurs are well done, with an occasional giant flipper for close-ups and nicely integrated actors being tossed aside during fight sequences. As with many of the creature features of the ‘60s and ‘70s, real animals (in this case lizards and alligators) are also utilized, dressed up with monstrous accessories and paraded around in close-ups to appear as humongous brutes. When Sanna crawls into a gigantic dinosaur egg for shelter, the audience is treated to an amusing escape sequence from a hatching nest as the mother dino mistakes Sanna for a newborn. Not surprisingly, Jim Danforth’s special effects garnered an Academy Award nomination.
“When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth” also features ritualistic dances, Viking funerals, lusty catfights, and, laughably, Sanna diving into the river to snatch up a fish with her mouth and befriending (and then domesticating) a fun-loving dinosaur. Written and directed by Val Guest of cheesy sci-fi/horror movie fame (“The Quatermass Xperiment,” “The Abominable Snowman,” “The Day the Earth Caught Fire”), this Hammer Film production entertains similarly to other prehistoric movies of the time – which is to provide little more than buoyant action, adventure, and stop-motion monstrosities. What is perhaps more notable is that while the film was rated G in the U.S. (released as a double bill with “The Valley of Gwangi”), a UK version exists with two scenes of added nudity, simply because the actors were willing.
– Mike Massie