Pop Culture Gadabout
Thursday, March 02, 2006
      ( 3/02/2006 03:48:00 PM ) Bill S.  

"A HARD, UNFRIENDLY WORLD" – So I recently pulled out my DVD copy of the Hammer remake of One Million Years BC (1967), and the second thing I notice while scanning the packaging is the little box stating that the disc is closed captioned. "Captioning?" I think to myself. For a movie with dialog that's primarily confined to caveman grunts and gibberish? What's the point?

I'd forgotten, of course, that the film opens with two minutes of thoroughly disposable voiceover narration, which I guess gave the captioneers something to do, though I hope they weren't being paid by the word. The rest of the flick was all made-up nonsense syllables, with an occasional name inserted just so we could tell Raquel Welch from the rest of the cast. (She's Loana of the Shell People, but really all you need to know is she's the movie's Big Blond Babe – where Martine Beswick plays the Not-So-Big Brunette.) There are also lots of dinosaur yells and shrieks on the soundtrack, but that goes without saying . . .

For those unfamiliar with the posterific BC – or the Victor Mature-starring original made in the 40's – the movie tells the easily parsed tale of two tribes of cavefolk, the Rock and Shell tribes, as they struggle to survive prehistoric times on one of the Canary Islands. The Rockers, repped by darkly bearded Tumak (John Richardson) are filthy brutish cliff dwellers who rely on hunting wild boar and body-checking each other for amusement, while the Shell-folk live by the sea and fish in between scurrying away from carnivore attacks. After Tumak is pushed off a cliff by his thuggish brother, (Percy Herbert, looking like a scruffier Bluto), he makes his way to the sea, where he meets and falls in caveman love with Raquel's Loana. His Rock-y ways don't endear him to the Shell tribers, though, and soon both he and Loana are sent packin'. Our love struck duo trudges across the barren landscape, dodging battling dinos, 'til a big volcano eruption ultimately brings everybody together.

Simple? Sure. But you don't go to a movie like this for nuanced plotting: you come for the half-clothed, improbably groomed actors and the dinosaurs. That second element, overseen by the legendary Ray Harryhausen, is plenty fun in its own right, though it should be noted that budgetary constraints forced the stop-motion master to fill in with magnified real-life creatures. Viewers coming to the flick for the first time, expecting to see some of Harryhausen's engagingly handmade animation, invariably feel a let-down since the first monster they see is a big blown-up iguana similar to the fakey beasts skittering across dozens of low-budget Lost Worlds. It isn't until later that the stop-motion goodness enters the picture, most notably with an Allosaurus threatening a little Shell girl in a tree. In those moments, One Million Years BC becomes more than an excuse for horny adolescents to ogle the future Kansas City Bomber's bod. For the record, though, I should note that I first saw BC at the drive-in when I was seventeen. While I was immediately taken with her, the role that really turned me on to Miz Welch was her turn the same year as "Lilian Lust, the Babe with the Bust" in Stanley Donen's Bedazzled. (Pause at keyboard to momentarily recall the image . . . ) Still, the sight of Loana emerging from the ocean after being dropped by a Pteranadon remains a pretty potent one.

The volcano eruption is a bit of a disappointment, though. Where the 1940 original was all rumbling quakes and great streaming rivers of lava swarming over people and lizards, the remake basically sticks to shots of cavefolk running up against shifting earth. It may be more realistic, but why bring up realism in a film that gives us cave ladies with plucked eyebrows?

Reading up on it today, I see that there's more than one DVD version of BC, of varying lengths. The American Fox Video version, which I originally found for five bucks at Wal-Mart, is apparently nine minutes shorter than the original British release; some of this missing footage is Harryhausen stop-motion creature work. Give us unnecessary captioning, but don't give us the entire movie. You know, if I'd paid more than five dollars for this baby, I'd be really pissed . . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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