It’s no Jurassic World but, for years, the Hammer remake of the One Million BC stood as the definitive humans with dinosaurs pic. It also kickstarted Rachel Welch’s career, and sold more than one million copies of that fur bikini pin-up.1
Title: One Million Years BC
Cast, Crew, and Other Info:
Directed by Don Chaffey
Written by Michael Carreras from the original screenplay by Mickell Novack, George Baker, and Joseph Frickert
Special effects by Ray Harryhausen
Raquel Welch as Loana
John Richardson as Tumak
Percy Herbert as Sakana
Robert Brown as Akhoba
Martine Beswick as Nupondi
Jean Wladon as Ahot
Lisa Thomas as Sura
Malya Nappi as Tohana
Yvonne Horner as Ullah
Nic Perrin as Narrator
A rebel kicked out of the Rock Tribe encounters a fetching young woman from the more civilized Shell Tribe. Star-cross’d love, rampaging dinosaurs, and erupting volcanoes ensue.
I’ll forgo any deep discussion of hair colour (The Rock Tribe are brunettes, while the Shell Tribe are blond). Or of hairspray and make-up, to which the cavewomen clearly have access.
The visual imagery take you on a tour, not only of the history of dinosaur effects to that point, but of the non-scientific pop understanding of the Primeval World. Harryhausen serves up a slurpasaur, a close-up lizard, for his first dino, perhaps as a tribute to the original film.2 Afterwards, we’re given some of the best stop-motion of his career, with an assortment of dinosaurs, recreated more-or-less to match then-current understanding, and other prehistoric beasts. The pteranodon and the archelon have been modified and magnified from their fossil forms, but they’re fun to watch.
While the film isn’t even remotely accurate to prehistory, it recreates a number of popular concepts, from the predator dinosaur battling a triceratops to the Cro-Magnon funeral3 We have pop cavemen battling ape-men of uncertain species, and both coexisting with dinosaurs. The scenes with Loana and Tumak evoke depictions of the Garden of Eden; there is even a serpent.
The compendium of pop images cast its own shadows; the design and marketing of Aurora’s early-70s Prehistoric Scenes models seem more than a little reminiscent of One Million Years BC.
The rather plodding introduction, with its stock footage and ponderous narration, proves pointless. As in the original film, the narrator quickly disappears, never to be heard from again.
I’m hoping the ceratosaurus got him.
Effects: 5/6 Very good for the time, though some (frequently unnecessary shots) seem jarring; I don’t know why they bothered with the giant spider and grasshopper, which appear for mere seconds and seem to have wandered in from another production.
Acting: 4/6 The actors do reasonably well with a script made up (almost) entirely of fabricated language.
Emotional Response: 4/6 Biggest laugh: when the giant sea turtle appears, one of the Shell Women cries out the correct scientific name, archelon!
Overall: 5/6 If you can view One Million Years BC with the appropriate perspective,4 you will find this prehistoric romp to be highly entertaining.
In total, One Million Years BC receives 29/42.
1. That pin-up went on to play a key role in The Shawshank Redemption.
2. Not the only tribute: Robert Brown’s make-up for Akhoba has been based, very clearly, on Lon Chaney’s 1940 version of the character.
3. The 1868 Cro-Magnon find indicated a gravesite with deliberately placed items, and the Cro-Magnon Funeral, and attempts to recreate Cro-Magnon beliefs from it, has long been a staple of anthropology and popular reconstructions.
4. Imagine, say, that it’s 1966 and you’re between the ages of 8-16. The 8-year-olds may be watching it for somewhat different reasons than the 16-year-olds, of course.