The Land That Time Forgot (TLTTF) is a movie I wish I had seen 14 years ago.
It is my belief that the dinosaur phase is an essential part of the lifecycle of the human male. All boys need a point in their life where dinosaurs are not just cool, but the be all and end all of existence. If you have not at one point run around a playground, pretending to jump on your prey and stab them with your giant sickle-clawed feet, well you have missed out. It’s awesome.
And the kid who did that would have gone mad for TLTTF.
TLTTF takes place in the year 1915 and begins (brilliantly enough) with the sinking of the Lusitania by a German U-Boat. There are few survivors: amongst the passengers only Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure) and Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon) escape death. They soon rendezvous with the remnants of the crew, led by Captain Bradley (Keith Barron). When the U-Boat surfaces to take on air, these few lead an assault on it, and manage to commandeer it. Unfortunately, the chaos caused by a battle of wits with the German Captain Von Schoenvorts (John McEnery), casts them adrift. But then they make a momentous discovery: Caprona, a mysterious continent dismissed by the world at large as a myth.
And that’s enough chatter. Back to the dinosaurs.
I have yet to decide whether the special effects of TLTTF are brilliantly awful, or just awful, but they are definitely the most distinctive thing about the film. Static model pterodactyls on strings let the side down and Tyler’s fight against a plesiosaur descends into insane self-parody, when the actor starts fighting what seems to be a sock puppet with teeth. However these are the low points: most of the actual models aren’t necessarily great, but they aren’t bad either.
Honestly, I would take iffy practical effects over bad CGI anyday. See, in theatre, props are often used to represent reality, rather than mimic it. We recognise what is being represented, and in response, our minds fill in the realism. I believe I had a similar response to TLTTF’s practical effects. The upshot is that, even though the effects of TLTTF are dodgy even at their best, I still found suspension of disbelief possible, and so remained engaged.
In fact, I found the whole film quite engaging. Edgar Rice Burroughs (on whose source material the film is based) knows how to write a ripping yarn, and the film expertly captures that pre-War/age of exploration sensibility. It’s all about honourable men being all chivalrous and whatnot, struggling manfully to survive in an alien land, while behaving in an (admittedly) uncomfortably imperialist manner. The whole scenario has this optimistic self-confidence to it, sweeping you up in its willingness to explore, understand and tackle this wilderness head on by Jove!
It helps of course that the main characters are likeable. Both Tyler and Von Schoenvorts are chivalrous men, principled without being fanatics. Tyler is also a caring fellow: he is violent when he has to be, but his dislike of violence is plain to see. McClure proves very capable in playing such a straightforwardly good man. McEnery too gives a good showing, crafting a surface of military discipline, which on occasion recedes, to reveal a companionable knight with an inquiring mind.
The action is also well done. Though the spectacle of the dinosaurs is, as mentioned, not without its flaws, the occasional man-on-man brawls are executed with energy, though not much style. Better are the sequences shot from within the submarine, where the unsure lighting and cramped conditions helps to manufacture some truly nailbiting tension.
The film is not flawless. None of the supporting cast gets anywhere near the development of Tyler and Von Schoenvorts, which is particularly problematic in the case of Clayton. She basically becomes the love interest, by virtue of being the only woman in the film. Though the scientific mystery of the island is solved, the idea is not particularly well explored, and the simplicity of the narrative prevents it from having true dramatic impact. But the film is nonetheless enjoyable. And frankly, young me probably wouldn’t have cared much about any of those things. TLTTF is a solid story, with dinosaurs. That’s all he would have needed to hear.