Saturday, 19 November 2011

One Million Years B.C.

Next time you're feeling overburdened by this soulless technological society we live in, spare a thought for the cave people in Hammer's 1966 film One Millions Years B.C, having to deal with Ray Harryhausen's marauding prehistoric creatures and a primordial world going through some violent growing pains. The film became Hammer's most successful film, a huge hit world wide and made Raquel Welsh into an international sex symbol courtesy of a fur bikini and that iconic pose.

In the film, a caveman named Tumak is exiled from his feral tribe and journeys far beyond the blackened volcanic slopes of his home to the coast where he encounters a peaceful tribe, picking up some pointers on civilisation and a beautiful blonde maiden to boot... It's not made for professors, as Ray Harryhausen described One Millions Years B.C, and it's bedtime for hard factual science, what with primitive man rubbing shoulders with dinosaurs, but there is an undeniable giddy thrill from watching a pterodactyl sweeping Raquel Welsh up in its talons to feed to its hungry nestlings. Hammer did take the bold move of replacing conventional dialogue with a hodgepodge of invented language. Here it's used sparingly, with dialogue kept at arms length, unlike Hammer's 1970 prehistoric epic When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth which has the cast endlessly spouting words like "akeeta" to irritating effect.

For One Millions Years B.C, Hammer returned to the formula of their previous adventure film She, reworking an old Hollywood fantasy extravaganza (the 1940 Victor Mature film One Million B.C), adding a gorgeous glamour girl and some state of the art special effects. In many ways, the film is one Hammer's most anonymous looking films but there's much to enjoy like the charming stop-motion monsters, which may lack the seamlessness of modern CGI wonders like Jurassic Park or King Kong, but have a wonderful sensuality to their movements. Director Don Chafney was a good choice having previously worked with Harryhausen on Jason And The Argonauts, and while his direction is pedestrian at best, he simply has to point the camera at the stunning, otherworldly volcanic landscapes of Lanzorote (which gave the 20th century film makers their own share of problems with unseasonably cold weather).

For the most part, a solid, even compelling film, One Million Years B.C. ultimately runs out of steam for the final act of the film as the two tribes go to war only to be interrupted by a cataclysmic volcanic eruption. The sequence lacks focus and like many Hammer films of this era, there's a sense of getting the damn thing over with as soon as possible. Originally the film was to end with a battle with a lumbering brontosaurus but was scrapped for budget reason, the brontosaurus reduced to a short walk-on cameo in an early part of the film. But hang on in there for the film's strange and haunting epilogue, shot with a sombre sepia tint and surprisingly downbeat. Hard to gage performances with the absence of real dialogue and most of the cast hiding behind some unruly wigs and beards. Raquel Welsh has little to do except show a little cleavage, but she's a good physical actress, and Hammer girl Martine Beswick, is memorable as a feisty cave-babe. The film has become a much loved minor classic of Fantasy Cinema, and is something of a cultural export too, with a scene from the film colonising Alex deLarge's feverish imagination in A Clockwork Orange (seen during the montage of scenes scored to Beethoven's 9th Symphony) and the film's famous publicity shot of the lovely Raquel, became an integral part of Andy Dufresne's escape plan in The Shawshank Redemption.

Previously released in the UK in 2002 by Warners in a non-anamorphic edition, the Optimum DVD of One Million Years B.C. is an improvement, with a nice sharp 1.85 anamorphic transfer taken from a mostly clean print. Detail is good, but the flesh tones seem a little too hot - a few minor tweaks with your settings should be restore the balance. Audio is fine with Mario Nascimbene's excellent score, which takes in orchestral bombast, eerie choral music and avant-garde soundscapes, is well represented here. Two extras from the Warners DVD are carried over - a 12min interview with Ray Harryhausen, and an 8min talk with Raquel Welsh, both produced by Blue Underground, and are a worthwhile and interesting listen. The disc is rounded out with a trailer.


  1. A prominent film from my childhood and I imagine most of your other readers too Wes, and one that had a strong influence on my love of genre film. I was a real dinosaur kid!

  2. Me too Mart, I really loved dinosaurs movies, I was a big monster movie fan. I remember that great 2000AD series Flesh, about time-travelling cowboys from the future, journeying back to prehistoric ages to harvest dinosaur meat. I always thought that was a great concept...

  3. Definitely a favourite from my childhood, Wes - it was a classic sunday afternoon film in the 1970s. I loved Flesh in 2000AD - with the T-Rex 'Old One Eye'...

  4. There are definitely two good reason to watch this movie.

    I refer, of course, to the locations and Ray Harryhausen's effects. What did you THINK I meant?


    Kidding - and for the record, as smoking hot as Ms. Welch is here - Martine just edges her out in that department.