When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970)

When it’s on: Sunday, 10 June (12.30 pm)
Channel: BBC2
IMDb Link

Flushed with the success of One Million Years B.C, Hammer ploughed its prehistoric furrow several more times, with varying results. The interior sets and costumes were either recycled for the bargain basement camp classic Prehistoric Women, or a straightforward repeat was attempted. Such is When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, made in 1969 but not released until a year later due to the extensive post production work by Jim Darnforth and Roger Dicken in developing the film’s stop motion creatures. Mario Nascimbene was once again called on for the score, whilst the shoot enjoyed a stay in Fuerteventura to recreate the prehistoric landscape. The film’s credibility was further enhanced by having a treatment put together by then science fiction writer, J.G. Ballard (who would later declare his pride in having his first film credit be for such errant nonsense). Val Guest, one of Hammer’s best known directors and responsible for early classics like The Quatermass Xperiment and The Abominable Snowman, was behind the camera.

The result is an uneven picture. The ‘science’ is as rubbish as anything served up in One Million Years B.C. and even has the cheek to contrive an origin story for the moon that slaps the face of any known facts, though frankly there’s little point in criticising it on those grounds. Darnforth and Dicken’s effects are rather good, clearly a step up from those produced by Ray Harryhausen for the earlier film. Whilst there remains a sense of the plot doing nothing more than string together the appearances by creatures that time forgot, the interactions with dinosaurs have more point than to show cavepeople endlessly running away from animated models. The pair were Oscar nominated for their trouble (losing to the visual effects from Bedknobs and Broomsticks) and may very well be responsible for the best looking dinosaurs in the pre-CGI era.

Elsewhere, When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth exhibits all the signs of the time in which it was made. With restrictions dropping over the amount of skin that could be shown on screen, the costumes are tinier than ever before. Men happily skip about in loincloths; caveladies favour micro-bikinis. Raquel Welch would no doubt be appalled by the next to nothing worn by this film’s star, Victoria Vetri, who looks like she’s stepped straight out of a lurid Frank Frazetta concoction. Cast in the Hammer tradition for offering movie roles to Playboy Playmates, Vetri gives a game performance as Sanna, the bottle blonde whose yellow hair is seen as responsible for the worrying fluctuations of the sun. On the run from her tribe, she comes across kindly fisherman Tara (Robin Hawson), who takes her back to his seaside village. It’s love at first sight, but Sanna’s presence causes consternation among the people, none more so than Tara’s discarded squeeze, Imogen Hassall. The ‘Countess of Cleavage’ inspires further hate for Sanna and the lovers are forced to flee for their lives.

Cue dinosaurs, including a pissed off Triceratops that gores anyone stupid enough to try stepping into its cave, and a matronly creature that believes Sanna is its offspring after she falls asleep inside the shell of its egg. Pterodactyls swoop in for a cameo, and there’s a sea monster that emerges from the waves to save Tara.

Where this film disappoints following One Million Years B.C. is that the earlier entry put some effort into creating a prehistoric environment. Daft science aside, there was a grizzled rawness to the way the people looked, whilst the landscape had a harsh, forbidding feel about it, helped along by the sulphur bombs that suggested volcanic activity was ever imminent. Any serious attempts at authenticity are largely absent here. The one thing retained is the unintelligible ‘cave language’, dreamed up for the film by Guest and including a vocabulary of between twenty and thirty words – ‘Akita’ seems to cover most bases. Otherwise, these are the most scrubbed up of cavepeople, whilst the location looks exactly like the sun-kissed resort it was becoming in the late 1960s. According to an interview with Vetri, the cast and crew spent their spare time ‘screwing around’ and having fun, making for a pleasant shoot that wasn’t taken seriously for one moment. Apparently, so much sleeping around took place that sheepish faces and broken relationships were rife upon the production’s return to the UK.

This writer remembers seeing When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth as a child, astonished by the scenes in which a naked Sanna capers about with Tara. Even then, seeing this sort of thing in an early afternoon screening was unusual and presumably a mistake on the broadcaster’s part. It’s unlikely to be repeated today. Looking at the 95-minute slot given to the film, it’s almost certain we will be getting the slightly shorter version, the one released in America, which excises all nudity. To their embarrassment and the delight of viewers, Warner Brothers released a DVD of the film in the States several years ago (double billed with Moon Zero Two) that carried a ‘G’ rating yet retained the uncut content. Hubba hubba!

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth: **