When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1969) When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1969) -**Ĺ

     You know, I never would have guessed that the legendary House of Hammer had so fantastically stupid a film as this up its sleeve. As far as I can ascertain, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth was intended as a follow-up to the comparatively well-received One Million Years B.C. (you know, the one with Raquel Welch as the cave girl), and the intention seems to have been to pull out all the stops and produce something truly epic. What the studio made instead was a grandiose joke that is sure to keep anyone with sixth-grade education in the natural sciences writhing with laughter for most of 90 minutes.

     Try this on for size; this is a direct quote of the voice-over that opens the movie, and I think itís a pretty good indicator of whatís to come:

A time of beginnings. Of darkness, of light. Of the sun, the Earth, the sea. Of man. The beginnings of man living with man-- by the sea, in the mountains. The beginnings of love, hate, and fear. Manís fear of the unknown. Manís fear that the sun should leave him-- leave him alone in everlasting darkness. A time when the color of a womanís hair condemned her-- a sacrifice to the sun. A time when there was, as yet, no moon!

     No moon, huh? So this is set-- when?-- about 4.4 billion years ago? In which case weíve still got about 4.399 billion years to go before we get to any of that other stuff-- the beginnings of man living with man by the sea and in the mountains, for example. While our esteemed narrator wows us with his ever-so-portentous delivery of these words of wisdom, we are treated to the spectacle of a bunch of guys in animal skins lined up on a cliff, overlooking the sea. The three biggest of them are dressed up like theropod dinosaurs, and are swinging tripartite bolas over their heads, while the rest hang out a few paces behind, beating with arm-bones on the tops of human skulls. This latter activity is supposed to be rhythmic, if we are to judge by the soundtrack, but thatís certainly not what our eyes are telling us as we watch the skull-bangers do their stuff. The purpose behind this assembly would appear to have something to do with tossing the three blonde girls standing in front of the dinosaur guys off the cliff, and just as our suspicions are about to be confirmed, something very strange happens. Moments after the sun rises, it goes momentarily dark and fuzzy, and expels a large cloud of glowing gas. Suddenly, the wind begins to blow at gale force, the sea whips itself into a frenzy, and one of the blondes takes off running. (Iíd say the planet got off pretty lightly, considering the scale of the celestial disaster weíre talking about here.) The girl falls from the cliff before she can escape though, and quite a few of her captors (and the other two blonde girls) join her in her fate, for reasons that are far from obvious.

     But for some equally obscure reason, one of the girls (subsequent dialogue suggests that her name is Sanna, a suggestion which the closing credits confirm) survives the fall, and is picked up by another group of cavemen who happened to be passing by on a large raft. One of these prehistoric fisherman (Burke and Hareís Robin Hawdon, whom I will henceforth refer to as Beach Guy) takes a liking to Sanna (Victoria Vetri, from Rosemaryís Baby and Invasion of the Bee Girls), a development that will cause him much trouble later on-- and not even very much later, at that. In fact, Beach Guyís Sanna-related troubles begin the moment he and his buddies land their raft on the shore and return to their settlement. Beach Guy, you see, is married, and Mrs. Beach Guy (Imogen Hassall, of Incense for the Damned) is none too pleased when her husband makes no secret of the fact that he likes Sanna better. (Personally, I think his re-evaluation of his mate situation has something to do with Sannaís nipples falling out of her top for a few seconds when Beach Guy carries her off of the raft. Isnít it fun when you spot something the censors missed?) Anyway, Mr. and Mrs. Beach Guy donít have much of a chance to fight over the issue, because just then, the Elasmosaurus that Beach Guyís people had just finished tying up on the sand (Why?!?!) breaks loose and starts doling out a Toho Studios smackdown in the village. The situation is brought under control when Beach Guy douses the creature with the contents of the Holy Vat of Flammable Sludge and sets it on fire. Elasmosaurus burgers, anyone?

     Meanwhile, back in the mountains, Chief Points-And-Bellows (probably Patrick Allen, from Island of the Burning Doomed and Thin Air) is looking over the pen where his tribe keeps all the blondes. He seems to have concluded that the recent re-structuring of the solar system means that six girls need to be sacrificed instead of the usual three. Hey, twice as many suns, twice as many sacrifices-- makes sense to me. This scene is in the movie for one reason and one reason only: to provide an excuse for the first of many cave girl cat fights. And a fine one it is. When itís over, Chief Points-And-Bellows explains to his people that Sanna was rescued by the People of the Beach, and that Sanna must be recovered and sacrificed properly. (At least Iím guessing thatís what he says; all the dialogue in this movie is in some made-up caveman language, which sounds to my ear like severely debased Spanish, spoken by someone with profound mental retardation.) The theory, I suppose, is that killing her will restore the sun to its normal condition. The People of the Mountains dutifully head off to the shore to do the sunís bidding, but Sanna sees them coming, and flees to the interior before Chief Points-And-Bellows has a chance to explain the situation to Chief My-Toga-Is-Cooler-Than-Yours (most likely Patrick Holt, of The Vulture and No Blade of Grass). Whatever Chief Points-And-Bellows says, it must be pretty good, because itís enough to persuade the People of the Beach that heís the worthier of the two headmen, condemning Chief My-Toga-Is-Cooler-Than-Yours to spend the rest of the movie trying futilely to regain his lost authority. And more to the point, as far as the plot is concerned, it means that the People of the Beach and the People of the Mountains will join forces to make Sanna keep her date with the sun.

     The only Person of the Beach who doesnít think Chief Points-And-Bellows is so hot is Beach Guy, who takes it upon himself to find Sanna first and alert her to her danger. The only sign he can find of her, though, is a lock of her hair which she left glued to the leaves of a carnivorous plant that tried to eat her on her first night away from the village. Beach Guy thinks Sanna is dead, and returns home with the hair. The lock of hair seems to satisfy Chief Points-And-Bellows of Sannaís death, and that would probably have been the end of the matter were it not for one thing. A few days later, a combined Beach People/Mountain People hunting party (of which Beach Guy seems to be the leader) stumbles upon Sanna playing with her new pet baby dinosaur and its mother, which also seems to think itís Sannaís mother (donít ask). Beach Guy and his hunters rush to ďsaveĒ Sanna from the beast, which is of course entirely unnecessary. When Sanna demonstrates this, it has the effect of convincing everyone but Beach Guy beyond a shadow of a doubt that Sanna is evil and must be destroyed. Beach Guy, for his part, moves in with Sanna and the dinosaurs instead.

     The next morning, Sanna and Beach Guy find their cave surrounded by an expeditionary force led by Chief Points-And-Bellows. Beach Guy attempts to cover for Sanna, saying heís alone in the cave and that he has no idea where she is. Chief Points-And-Bellows does what guys like him usually do in these situations, and declares Beach Guy to be an accessory to Sannaís evil, with the result that Beach Guy is subjected, alive, to the standard Beach People funeral rite. He is tied down to a floating bier, which is set afire before it is pushed out into the surf. And as if to demonstrate the approval with which the gods view this action, an Elasmosaurus appears out of nowhere and smashes the bier-raft to tiny bits.

     But we, of course, know better. What that Elasmosaurus really did was save Beach Guyís ass by separating him from all those burning twigs. Mind you, this rescue doesnít do him a whole lot of good, because he quite rapidly ends up a prisoner again, tied to some kind of wooden frame on the beach in preparation for yet another attempt at his execution. But once again, the forces of nature bail Beach Guy out. This time, his would-be slayers are interrupted by a veritable invasion force of crabs five feet in diameter, which begin popping out of the sand with neither warning nor explanation. And just for good measure, this role-reversal seafood buffet is followed up by the appearance on the horizon of a big-ass tsunami. Sanna picks this moment to show up at the village, just in time to cut Beach Guy loose. Then, in what must surely be the movieís most startling example of ill-advised behavior on the part of its major characters, Chief Points-And-Bellows attempts to use his shamanistic powers to hold off the tidal wave (against the wise advice of Chief My-Toga-Is-Cooler-Than-Yours, who knows better the limits of prehistoric hunter-gather magic) while Beach Guy, Sanna, Beach Guyís Only Friend (Viking Queenís Sean Cafferty), and The Girl With The Best Ass In The Village (Magda Konopka, from Our Lady of Lust and Red Light Girls) get onboard one of the Beach Peopleís fishing rafts, and set off out to sea. I repeat, the heroes of this movie take a flimsy-ass raft out to sea, straight into a fucking tsunami!!!! Everything works out in the end though, and as the four survivors survey the flooded site of the village, they look up to the sky, and see that that big cloud of gas that the sun puked up at the beginning of the movie has coalesced to form the moon. Everyone then falls to their knees in obeisance to the new god of the night sky.

     Now letís take a moment to discuss the implications of this last shot. When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth not only posits the coexistence in time of humans and Mesozoic reptiles (that Iím pretty well used to), it posits the formation of the moon in recent prehistory from the debris of what is essentially the biggest solar prominence that ever there was. I have seen a lot of bad science in a lot of bad movies, but this may just beat it all, even the Amazing Unicellular Heart. To begin with, the moon is made of geologically inert rock, while the sun is composed primarily of hydrogen and helium under such incredible pressure from the force of its own gravity that nuclear fusion occurs at its core. While it is true that the sun contains relatively small amounts of the sort of heavier elements that the rocky inner planets (and the moon as well) are made of, the sunís gravity tends to pull that material inward toward the starís center in much the same way that such heavy elements as lead and uranium tend to sink to the Earthís core (where their radioactive decay generates enough heat to keep the core molten and set up convection currents that sustain the process). Thus any material expelled from the sun would have an even lower concentration of heavy metallic elements than the sun has on average. Now letís have a look at the visual effect that portrays the birth of the moon. The new object in the sky has about the same apparent size as the sun. Okay, so does the moon. But the actual sizes of the two celestial bodies are of course very different; the moon is about one sixth the Earthís mass, and has perhaps a quarter of its diameter, while the sunís diameter is many thousands of times that of the Earth, and its mass is greater by a factor of many millions. They look to be the same size to us because the moon is only about 250,000 miles from Earth, while the sun is some 93 million miles distant. Think about this. For a moon-sized object, belched forth from the sun, to appear, instantaneously, to be the same size as the sun to an observer on Earth, it would have to be traveling in Earth's direction at such an ungodly enormous velocity that it would appear in the sky for only a moment before zooming past our planet, its gravity hitting us like a fucking sledgehammer as it went by. Compared to this, all the usual crap about dinosaurs and cavemen living together is positively tame. (By the way, on the subject of dinosaurs, notice that there are a couple of creatures in the film that are not stop-motion animated, but are instead played by ordinary reptiles with horns and frills glued to their bodies. In particular, note the scene in which two such beasts-- a baby alligator with a false Dimetrodon-like dorsal sail and a similarly-customized monitor lizard-- wrestle in the background while Sanna flees from Chief Points-And-Bellowsís minions. Iím really not sure which is worse, contributing to the endless succession of movies that have incorporated the famous ďdinosaurĒ fight footage from 1940ís One Million B.C., or shooting a Pathťcolor reenactment of that oft-recycled scene!) And to think that J. G. Ballard wrote the original screen treatment for this. It boggles the mind.

 

 

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