The People That Time Forgot (1977, Kevin Connor)

Apparently, all Kevin Connor needs–besides a decently concocted screenplay–is location shooting and a good score.

The People That Time Forgot–around the halfway point–became a movie I found myself enjoying too much. I got self-conscious about it, questioning its quality even more than usual, just because it seemed so good. It’s an adventure film, one told almost entirely in the language of film–there’s a cranky mechanic, a blustering scientist (who’s got a taste for the hooch), and an independent-minded woman who clashes with the macho protagonist. It’s somehow a perfect mix of its elements… though the music, by John Scott, helps it a lot initially. There’s also the film stock. The People That Time Forgot has a nice film stock, while Connor’s two previous films (The Land That Time Forgot and At the Earth’s Core did not).

The budget for People That Time Forgot allows for decent special effects, not great, but decent. There’s some stop-motion work and then there’s some men-in-suit work, giving the viewer a chance to compare (as usual, the stop-motion is superior). Unless there’s a model of person in them, the miniature shots are all excellent. The film creates an experience of exploration and wonder. Maybe not wonderment, but definitely wonder. You can see it on the actors’ faces. The cast of this film, particularly Sarah Douglas and Patrick Wayne, is good. Even when they’re not particularly good, Dana Gillespie as a scantily clad cave girl, you still like the character. The People That Time Forgot is a smoothly constructed film. There’s action, there’s humor, and there’s (a little) romance. But Wayne and Douglas are giving performances above and beyond the film (well, Douglas’ performance is beyond, Wayne’s is above though). Wayne was thirty-eight in the film, but his lack of shoulders gives him a more youthful appearance. He has an affability his father never did, there’s a pleasure in watching the hero try, not knowing whether or not the hero will succeed. Douglas–and I just looked and Superman II apparently typecast her in genre roles forever–is fantastic. She’s engaging, funny, just great. Her typecasting is unfortunate.

While the script isn’t good, it is well constructed. Connor still has his five minute set pieces, which are an odd way to make a ninety minute movie–he summarizes three days into five minutes, then has a six minute action, then some more summary–but it works well in People That Time Forgot. By the twenty minute mark, the viewer is actively engaging with the film. It’s the characters and the music and the lost world concept in that film language. The filmmakers know what buttons to press, because people have been making lost world films since… what? 1925?

Like I said before, I was very self-conscious about how much I enjoyed The People That Time Forgot, but at the end–even though two people who should kiss do not–I had to embrace the experience. It’s good. It’s not important (though it might be the setting sun of a particular type of genre film), but it’s good.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Patrick Tilley, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by John Ireland and Barry Peters; music by John Scott; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark and Max Rosenberg; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Patrick Wayne (Ben McBride), Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), Sarah Douglas (Charly), Dana Gillespie (Ajor), Thorley Walters (Norfolk), Shane Rimmer (Hogan), Tony Britton (Captain Lawton), John Hallam (Chung-Sha) and David Prowse (Executioner).


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At the Earth's Core (1976, Kevin Connor)

Pinewood Studios has housed some rather impressive sets and some great films have been shot there. Reading At the Earth’s Core‘s end credits and seeing it too was shot at Pinewood… well, my respect for the studio has plummeted.

At the Earth’s Core is the second of four films directed by Kevin Connor, produced by John Dark, and starring Doug McClure (The Land That Time Forgot was the first). Taking the time period of Earth’s Core into account–Victorian England–McClure seems like a bad choice for the role, even if he is playing an American inventor. McClure spends twenty minutes in an ugly suit, then his clothes start to get torn off. He finds a new suit before the end of the film, however. But McClure isn’t the worst–which is a surprise, because he’s pretty bad–no, it’s Peter Cushing, playing the dotting inventory of a giant drill, meant to explore the interior of the planet. Cushing spends the whole film doing a dotting accent too, but it just sounds like he’s been sucking helium. These two don’t start all right and get bad, they’re terrible from the start. Still, since The Land That Time Forgot had a slow start, I stuck with Earth’s Core. Actually, I’ve been planning this festival for a while… but the film never gets bad. It’s terrible to be sure–particularly the effects, but more on those in a minute–but it never offends. It’s a strange kind of dumb.

The effects, however, are something else. At the Earth’s Core features such a collection of giant monsters, realized with such poor special effects, I can’t believe it hasn’t gotten cult status. The effects in this film are worse than those 1970s Godzilla films and those have some cult recognition. Connor, who was an interesting director on The Land That Time Forgot, is not on Earth’s Core. The entire film was shot indoors, so in addition to bad rear screen projection, Connor never opens up his shots. The whole film has a claustrophobia about it, to the point of causing discomfort.

The writing too (by Milton Subotsky) is pretty awful. It’s not just the bad pacing or the subterranean people who speak English, it’s also the lack of characterization. McClure’s character goes from being a rich failure to a heroic revolutionary, but the film doesn’t recognize a change in him is occurring.

The last shot is sort of amusing, however, and manages to leave the viewer feeling amused at him or herself for sitting through the film. So instead of the viewer laughing at the film, it laughs at the viewer.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by Milton Subotsky, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by Barry Peters and John Ireland; music by Michael Vickers; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark, Max Rosenberg and Subotsky; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (David Innes), Peter Cushing (Dr. Abner Perry), Caroline Munro (Dia), Cy Grant (Ra), Godfrey James (Ghak), Sean Lynch (Hooja), Keith Barron (Dowsett), Helen Gill (Maisie), Anthony Verner (Gadsby), Robert Gillespie (Photographer), Michael Crane (Jubal), Bobby Parr (Sagoth Chief) and Andee Cromarty (Slave Girl).


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The Land That Time Forgot (1975, Kevin Connor)

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.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Connor; screenplay by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock, based on the novel by Edgar Rice Burroughs; director of photography, Alan Hume; edited by John Ireland; music by Douglas Gamley; production designer, Maurice Carter; produced by John Dark; released by American International Pictures.

Starring Doug McClure (Bowen Tyler), John McEnery (Captain Von Schoenvorts), Susan Penhaligon (Lisa Clayton), Keith Barron (Bradley), Anthony Ainley (Dietz), Godfrey James (Borg) and Bobby Parr (Ahm).


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Lord of War (2005, Andrew Niccol)

Lord of War fails on quite a few levels–I suppose some of the direction is interesting and some of the puns are funny–but it still surprised me when it attempted to be civic-minded in the end. I should have seen it coming, but I was a little distracted by the end. The last scene and one of the first scenes are pretty much it for actual scenes in Lord of War. The present action takes place over nineteen years so most of the storytelling is done in summary or half-scene. A more imaginative director would have had Cage narrate it to the camera throughout, but instead we just get to hear him tell the story instead. Lord of War breaks that cardinal rule of voiceover narration–without Cage’s narration, the film would not make any sense. It would be a loose collection of scenes tied together. The viewer might not even know he was an arms dealer.

I was going to delay the flailing, but I think I’ll end the post on a positive note. Where to start. How about the names… Cage and Jared Leto (Leto plays his brother) play Ukrainian immigrants with Ukrainian names–except when Cage calls Leto “V” (for Vitaly), because “V” just sounds cool, doesn’t it? Actually, the reason for the Ukrainian heritage is for a later event–Cage plays a composite of five arms dealers, so calling it factual is a bit of a stretch. As the arms dealer, Cage is occasionally appealing, but he isn’t operating with any depth. The screenplay is shallow (Niccol made Gattaca, which is deep, so he seems to have burnt-out right away). The dialogue–when it’s not trying to be funny, of course–is bad. Jared Leto still acts with his hair. A flop to the right means his angry, a flop to the left means addicted to cocaine. Ethan Hawke has a crew cut (playing an inexplicably authorized Interpol agent) so he doesn’t get any acting help from his hair. He’s real bad. I mean, it’s a tossup who’s worst in this film, between Leto, Hawke, Bridget Moynahan as the wife or Ian Holm. Moynahan is terrible in a funny way–it’s funny hear her say her lines. It’s absurdly amusing, but poor Holm. Holm is so bad–and so visibly bad, Niccol does nothing but put him out there to embarrass himself–he’s so bad, you’d think he’d won an Oscar in the early 1980s either as Indian independence leader or as composer who had it in for Mozart. He’s awful.

It’s a cheap film too. Niccol’s got a lot CG-aided shots (the opening credits are a bullet going from manufacture to use and it looks like Pixar did it) and they’re cheap and glossy. They look fake, so maybe Niccol’s trying bring films back to the old days when the audience was meant to be aware they were watching a false reality–and I like that kind of thinking and I like those movies–but I don’t think he was going for it.

It rips off Goodfellas. The helicopter from Goodfellas. There’s something really sleazy about ripping Goodfellas.

Now for the good part. Eamonn Walker plays a Liberian warlord. He’s great. This guy ought to be in everything. He should be the new Superman. He’s great.

He almost makes the film worth watching.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by Andrew Niccol; director of photography, Amir Mokri; edited by Zach Staenberg; music by Antonio Pinto; production designer, Jean Vincent Puzos; produced by Philippe Rousselet, Niccol, Nicolas Cage, Norman Golightly, Andy Grosch and Chris Roberts; released by Lions Gate Films.

Starring Nicolas Cage (Yuri Orlov), Jared Leto (Vitali Orlov), Bridget Moynahan (Ava Fontaine), Ian Holm (Simeon Weisz), Eamonn Walker (Baptiste Senior), Sammi Rotibi (Baptiste Junior) and Ethan Hawke (Valentine).


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