The Land That Time Forgot never achieved any sort of cult notoriety (though I’m not sure any film with dinosaurs ever has), but as a child, any video box cover promising submarines, aquatic dinosaurs, octopuses, and ape-men was golden. The film does not feature any octopuses. While I did see Land That Time Forgot as a child, it was the 1980s and it was hard to get inundated with relatively obscure 1970s British films, dinosaurs or not. The cheapo EP VHS wasn’t released until at least 1990–and around that time, I first learned of a sequel, which proved even harder to see. Even today, The Land That Time Forgot has never had a real DVD release (there was a two pack DVD, with the sequel The People That Time Forgot, available exclusively at Best Buy, but it’s disappeared with the Sony buyout of MGM).
I last watched Land That Time Forgot in late 2000, just after AMC aired it letterboxed for the first time. I remember being less than impressed and somewhat puzzled by my childhood favorite. I wasn’t even going to pursue the film again, even after I read about a German release on DVD, then I woke one morning and couldn’t remember whether or not the disc was actually available or if it had been some odd detail in a dream. I ordered it soon afterwards. And watching it again, I’m not at all sorry I did (I suppose I was much less willing to be an individual at the ripe old age of twenty-one). The film doesn’t even have traditional problems… some aspects work and others don’t, but the failing ones aren’t problems. It’s a movie about a lost world of dinosaurs. That sentence, save the first three words, is a problem.
The bad part of Land That Time Forgot is the logic. The people kill dinosaurs to identify the species. Dinosaurs not bothering them… in a longish, five minute sequence–and the poor dinosaur suffers. It’s awkward. But the film has quite a few awkward aspects–the pacing, for example, is entirely odd. The first half hour (before the titular Land ever appears) is set over two weeks in a World War I U-Boat. It’s fine enough stuff–one particularly nice scene where the U-Boat goes deeper then everyone (except Doug McClure) says it can and the crew–German and British–silently marvel at the machine and their success. They share the moment. The Land That Time Forgot is a very quiet film. Not just that sequence, but at least three others are totally quiet. Two of these scenes are in a wheat field and in a dense fog and the result is a beautiful experience, one totally unexpected in a dinosaur movie (one with bad logic too).
The special effects are pre-Empire Strikes Back (which really started the otherworldly thing) and the dinosaurs are pretty bad. The triceratops are all right. In a way, the effects have a nice simplicity. You want a flying dinosaur, well, you rig something up and coast it through the sky. The dinosaurs are nowhere near as distracting as the rear-screen projection, for example, and the volcanic chaos at the end of the film is well done. It’s excellent.
But, in addition to being genially inoffensive, The Land That Time Forgot does feature some good acting. The female lead, played by Susan Penhaligon, is useless, but it’s not her fault. Doug McClure plays the lead and, while he reminds a little of a young William Shatner, it’s not in a bad way. Some of the Brits are quite good, Keith Barron (as a Brit) and Anthony Ainley (as a German), in particular. I think John McEnery is good, but his voice was dubbed with a German actor, so it’s always hard to tell whose giving the good performance in that situation. The film’s also interesting because it eschews any sense of real history regarding British and German relations during the Great War, but doesn’t replace the Germans with the insidious variety popular since the Second World War. It’s not as good as it could be, but it’s odd enough to be interesting.
I think Leonard Maltin’s book might recommend The Land That Time Forgot for a rainy Saturday afternoon. That recommendation seems about right.