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Volume 3030

The People That Time Forgot
A Review by Den Valdron

The People that Time Forgot was the second novella of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Caspak trilogy, and the third movie in Amicus Films' Burroughs trilogy.

It's also a movie that was shot and released at the same time as Star Wars, 1977.  Think about that.  1977, a decade after Planet of the Apes and Star Trek, contemporary with Star Wars, Aliens, Terminator, Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind right around the corner.

Holy sodomized weasels, Batman, that's just a scary thought.

Because it's crap!   It's real crap!   I mean, there was a period in the fifties and even the sixties when this sort of low budget, seat of the pants stuff passed for cutting edge or at least mass market sci fi.  But that was a couple of decades prior.  Hell, over in Tokyo, the Gamera series had thrown in the towel back in 71 or 72, and the Godzilla series had died with a whimper by 1975, a victim of its own cheese.

But somehow, back in 1975, Amicus films had roared in with a crude historical epic, based on a nonsensical Burroughs work, featuring appallingly crude suitmation dinosaurs and a plot that rambled around like a drunken kangaroo, with The Land That Time Forgot, and somehow, this had become a success.

So, they followed it up, keeping all the basic elements -- crappy suitmation, a kind of retro-historical steampunk (before steampunk was even coined) and Doug McClure.  Which took them to At The Earthís Core in 1976, and eventually to The People that Time Forgot in 1977.

How does it fare?   Well, the general rule of series is that it just gets weaker as time goes on.  No one ever counts on a movie trilogy or series.   Audiences and markets are fickle, and there's a lot of strange things that can happen in the film industry to derail a project.  The archives are full of 'first movies' that never got made, planned sequels that died in development, and unplanned sequels dragged screaming into the theatres.

The rule is that you use all your stuff and all your best stuff in the first movie.  Basically, you got to grab that audience.  If you save your good stuff for a later movie...  Well, there's probably not going to be one.  So the first movie is usually the one brimming with ideas, action, performances, and all the knock you on your ass, wow, stuff.

The sequels invariably start to run out of ideas and momentum.  Remember, all the good stuff got used the first time.  The second time, you're using the stuff that wasn't good enough to make the first cut.  And the third time, you're using the stuff that wasnít good enough to make the first two.  Or you're desperately reaching around for an idea to stuff into your sequel and grabbing anything within reach.  Or you're simply repeating yourself.

So, as the sequels wear on, the product gets tired, worn out.  It's stuff we've seen before, except not as good as the first time.  There's usually less money, limitations of all sorts are showing up.

Itís not always the case.  Arguably, thereíve been some cases where sequels have trumped the original movie, or where series manage to keep themselves fresh.  But usually itís the downhill slope.

And sadly, People That Time Forgot is no exception to the rule.

Take Dinosaurs.  They may have been crappy suitmation and puppets, but in the Land That Time Forgot, you had dinosaurs up the wazoo.  You had: Pterodactyls, Allosaurs, Plesiosaurs,  Mosasaurs, Diplodoci, Triceratops, Ceratosaurs, Styracosaurus and Polacanthi.   And they didn't just stand around, either.  They attacked submarines, bit people in half, rampaged, got into fights with each other, they were central to the plot, they were making stuff happen.  Sure, the were pretty tosh, even by (particularly by) the standards of the day.  But the sheer number and aggression of them just wears you down, and they carry the day..

Unfortunately, the Dinosaur quotient is way down in The People That Time Forgot.  We've got a nasty Pterodactyl or two, we've got a sleepy Stegosaurus, there are a couple of leftover Ceratosaurs, some Hippo-like quadruped, some sort of giant horned toad (probably a scutosaurus, a mammal-like reptile), and some cave lizards.   Yeah, it's the same old story.  They'd used up all the really good dinosaurs, and now they were down to the sloppy seconds - retreads and less colourful critters.  Indeed, I've got no idea what the hippo-thing was supposed to be, it's completely slapped together and uninteresting.

But even the use of dinosaurs here is cut back sharply.  They just don't get the same screen time.  They show up for a minute, make an appearance, take a bow, cash their cheque, and then they're gone.  Except for the pterodactyl fight with the airplane at the start, and the battle with the scutosaur at the end, it's pretty perfunctory.  And again, with the exception of the pterodactyl, they have practically no relevance to the plot.   Let's face it, if they were all edited out, we wouldn't notice.   On the other hand, if the Dinosaurs had been edited out of Land Before Time, there wouldn't have been a movie.

So, what takes the place?  Some dreary lost-race/rescue adventure.  Here's what happens:   At the end of the last movie, Tyler threw a message in a cannister out to see in hopes of getting rescued.  The cannister drifts to Scotland, eventually a rescue expedition is put together.  This consists of an old steam/sailer, with a seaplane.

In the seaplane are four characters: The pilot, Hogan, the hero McBride (played by Patrick Wayne, John Wayne's son), the scientist Norfolk, and the love interest, Lady Charlotte.  That's pretty damned generic.  In the first movie, you had Germans and Americans and Brits, none of whom trusted each other, all screwing with each other and cooking up some tension.  Here, generic characters, no tension.

Anyway, off they go.  They get attacked by a pterodactyl, whose size varies scene to scene, but who seems to be able to chase down a motorized aircraft.   They land, they find a stegosaurus which doesn't do much, but tows the aircraft for them.

And speaking of this, there's a scene where Lady Charlotte spots a spiked thing hovering in the background, and convinces McBride to pose near it, so it'll give him a good scare.   Think about that: Lady Charlotte, for her own amusement, tricks McBride into stumbling over the lethal business end of an elephant-sized monster of monstrous power and unpredictable disposition.  The movie treats this as good fun.  Me, I'm sitting there wondering why McBride doesn't punch the psycho-bitch.   Excuse my language, but Jesus H. Christ here!

Anyway, off they go into the wilderness, and they meet yet another generic stock character - The Cave Babe.  Take a good look, because her wide open leather bustier and bouyant two piece set are the most impressive special effects in the movie.   And yes, thatís very sexist of me.  But on the other hand, this is what they were selling the movie with, so donít blame me.  A couple of Ceratosaurs show up, and McBride shoots at them and fires some smoke bombs, so they get offended and leave in a huff.

Then thereís some convenient exposition through the cave girl.  It seems she's from Tyler's adopted tribe, the Ga-Lu, but unfortunately, the Ga-Lu's march to civilization was interrupted by the Naga, who got there first and wiped them all out.  The Naga have Tyler.  If he's still alive.

So then, after this, they encounter some cave men and have to fight them off.   Then after that, they encounter some different cave men, wearing blocky 'Frankenstein style' make up prosthetics.  I think they were supposed to be neandertals or something.  These they don't fight off, instead, they get staked out as Dino-kibble.  Luckily, cave girl rescues them, and off they go to the land of the Naga.

The Naga, when they show up, ride horses and dress like Medieval Japanese soldiers.  They speak English, learned from Tyler, and invite McBride and the rest of them home.  Thatís mighty friendly of them.

But oh look, their city or headquarters or whatever, is a big mess of brown skulls!  That doesn't look good.

Okay, I shouldn't mock.  It's not a bad matte painting, has a bit of the look of those medieval African cities like TimBukToo, except for the skull motif.  Of course, the Naga are the stand-in for Burroughs' winged Wieroo, from Out of Time's Abyss.  This is their city of skulls.   People that Time Forgot actually incoporates elements from the last two of Burroughs' Caprona books.

But a race of winged mutants is not in the budget, and costume rentals from a Samurai epic were cheap, so there you go.  The Naga are mostly masked except for the evil tyrant, who has gynormous eyebrows, a weight problem, baldness and what looks like a toxic amount of body makeup on.  At one point, the mask gets pulled off a Naga, and they're discovered to be mutants.

Which sort of makes this movie a Retro Beneath the Planet of the Apes, you know what I mean?  There's that whole lost land with a hidden race of superior beings who pretend to be good, but actually are bad and turn out to be ugly mutants.   The thing is, Beneath the Planet of the Apes had actually done it, only way better, years ago, and so this thing comes across as a dumbed down, faded out, photocopy.

Never mind.  They arrive in the throne room -- there's the Evil Tyrant -- overweight, gross and accompanied by a fauning slave/witch.  Yep, check off that little generic touch.   The place is decorated heavily in skulls.  Turns out, he's going to throw the men into prison, and throw the women into the volcano.  I'm not sure what that's about, but everyone seems okay with it....  Even our heroes and heroines, who really under-emote at this part.

I mean, for god's sakes -- betrayal, treachery, barbarism, chick's into volcanoes.  They're upset, sure.  But it's the sort of 'upset' you get when someone steals your parking spot at the mall.

Oh, and by the way, one of the characters in the throne room scene is the executioner, who has no lines but a distinctive costume.  He's played by David Prowse, who that year would go on to fame and fortune as the guy in the Darth Vader suit in Star Wars.   And speaking of Star Wars, Lady Charlotte in this film, spends half the movie wearing the same idiotic buns on the sides of her head that Princess Leia did in Star Wars.  It's like theyí're mocking us or something with these subtle references to a much better movie.

Ah, but in prison, the boys finally find Tyler, played by Doug McClure with a thick beard to hide his presence in the movie.   They break out (offscreen), don Naga costumes (complete with built in face masks to conceal their identities), and rescue the chicks from the fiery pit.  During the fight, the Evil Tyrant more or less accidentally falls in, and his witch/slave jumps in after to clean up the plot (seriously, no other reason).

As dramatic battle scenes go, it ain't.  There's one hilariously surreal moment when McBride, being heroic, swings on a chandelier to rescue his embattled friend.   The trouble is that it's all on a level floor.  McBride could have simply walked over.  There was no point to swinging, except maybe it was in the script and the script imagined a bigger budget.  Or maybe they'd just stopped caring long ago.

After that, there's the dramatic 'running away' scenes, where they battle cave lizards, the scutosaur, and a horde of Naga who have all forgotten their horses and can't shoot any better than storm troopers.   Oddly, in the fight with the scutosaur, the one real battle with a dinosaur that they have, it dies accidentally when a falling stalagmite impales it.  Talk about ineffectual heroes!

Sadly, it's pretty lifeless.  So to jazz things up, they start letting off the explosives, hoping to distract the audience.  There's no reason for any of the explosions.  No one has dynamite, the Naga don't have firearms.  What it is, is the volcano is erupting, or belching, and this takes the form of random explosions all over the countryside.  The idea is that the world, or at least this particular corner of it,  is blowing up and our heroes are dramatically running for their lives.  The producers apparently thought this was such a neat idea, they kept it up, even on ice floes on the sea.  Go figure.

During the chase, Tyler gets killed, which made the whole rescue kind of pointless.  When you think about it, if they'd stayed home, Tyler would still be alive, the cave babe would be doing her cave thing, the Evil Tyrant would be making TV dinners, the Witch would be fondling her skull, and many Naga would be going home to their Nagababes and Nagababies.  Everyone would have been better off.

Actually, there's an odd philsophical bit.  Before Tyler dies, he explains that the Island is alive and aware, and that the volcanoís eruption is in response to the heroes invasion.  Or something like that.  The implication is that Caprona is blowing up, but it wouldn't have, if they'd just minded their goddammed business and stayed home.  There's a subtext there that I can't believe they thought about, because if they had thought it through... well, it's frigging horrible.

And of course, as a final insult, they lose their camera, film and scientific notes, so they don't even have any proof of their adventures.  The lost world of Caprona is apparently destroyed in the volcanic eruptions, which means it too is gone.  Which means the whole exercise has been utterly pointless.  At least in the Lost World, Professor Challenger brought home a dinosaur.

There's not even a romantic resolution.  There was no romance blossoming during the movie, and McBride and Lady Charlotte do not end up in a clinch.   Maybe that's understandable since she's obviously the sort of headcase who thinks it's laughs to trick people into potentially lethal encounters with unknown giant animals.   I still think McBride should have punched her for that.

But that part of it is completely absent.  At best, they're not even good friends, but vaguely respectful acquaintances.   The Cave Girl may have been a substitute romantic interest, but nothing happens there.  The closest it comes is at the end of the movie, where they're all having drinks, and Hogan the pilot (who hasn't really met her before she hopped on the plane and escaped with the rest of them) makes a clumsy pass at her, and she gets a 'Oh god, not another one of those' look on her face.    There's a complete lack of anything happening to the characters in any way.

Seriously, this is a huge problem for the movie.  At the end of it, the heroes for all their adventures, fail utterly.  Tyler is not rescued, there's no proof of dinosaurs or of the lost island, apart from their dubious testimony and a suspiciously bouyant cave girl.  Nobody falls in love.  Indeed, their accomplishments are negative -- Tyler is killed and the whole island apparently blows up because they showed up.

The movie ends with our heroes back on the ship, having a toast in the Captain's stateroom, celebrating their safe return and utter lack of accomplishment.   Seriously, at the end of the adventure, theyíre all standing around, having a drink.  What the hell?

Okay, so what's good?   The story is utterly generic, with the only distinction being the crippling but unrecognized incompetence of the characters.   The actors are given nothing to work with so we can't say if they're any good or not.   The action scenes are poorly staged and choreographed (and possibly risky, there's one scene where an arrow actually hits Doug McLure in the face and bounces off -- it doesn't look like it was shot with any velocity, but christ, the man could have lost an eye -- that's amateur hour stuff.   And amazingly, they kept it in the movie.)  The dinosaurs are rubbish on just about every level (they look like junk, they're barely used, not relevant to the plot, etc.).  So, what works in this movie?

The location shooting is pretty good.  Apparently they trucked on down to the Canary Islands, so they managed to get some pretty impressive visual terrain, not so impressive that the actors couldn't climb all over it, but impressive.  Good locations, where you get some actual geography to put your actors in, can make a hell of a difference.   As opposed to location shooting where you shoot in a parking lot or some generic hayfield.

It's likely that the Canary Island locations explain all the cavemen and the shortage of dinosaurs.  The Dinosaurs are 'sound stage' based critters.  Hard to do them well or convincingly on location.  And hard to make sound stage dinos match up with your location footage.  On the other hand, there were a lot of Canary Island natives, they worked cheap, so you could get lots and lots of caveman value.   Thinking back, they must have had dozens of extras as generic cavemen or Nagas.   So kudos to that.

Of course, the caveman costumes and make up are pretty slapdash.  And let's face it, with the possible exception of Quest for Fire no one goes to see Prehistoric Epics to watch Cavemen.  It's all about the Dinosaurs.  Or at the least, it's about the giant prehistoric critters.   Think about it:   "Explorers travel to mysterious land and are chased by dinosaurs."  "Explorers travel to mysterious land and are chased by smelly guys in fur."   Which movie do you want to see?

The pseudo-Japanese costumes of the Naga are pretty good (the costumes and make up of the other cave men are definitely not good), but I'd bet dollars to donuts they were rentals.

Beyond that, there are a couple of fairly well-produced sets, or maybe one set redressed.  There's a cave interior with lots of stalagmites and stalactites that actually had me wondering for a half second if they'd found a cave to do location work in.   And there's the evil overlord throne room, and some of the Naga chambers.  I'll give you a hint - lots of skull motif.

But more than anything, as I sit here thinking about this movie, I find myself wondering what the point was?  Why did they bother.  The whole thing is so utterly perfunctory, the dinosaurs so slapdash, the plot so utterly lifeless, that I find myself amazed.  Was this some sort of post-modern existentialist juvenile adventure movie?  Was the whole point of this movie, was that there was no point to the heroes struggles, that their actions could only make things worse?  That they were all isolated characters journeying together with no hope for anything more than moderately inoffensive company.

Seriously, grown up film people actually wrote this?  Directed it?   Nobody stopped for a second and thought:   Hey, shouldn't this movie be about something?  Shouldn't this thing end with something actually being accomplished by someone?

Obviously, Iím thinking way too much about this.

But still, you sort of expect a little bit better, especially by 1977.

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