At once remarkably audacious and kind of dumb, One Million Years B.C. is, if nothing else, beautifully, perfectly a film of its time. Released in 1966, it anticipates and in some ways one-ups the tripped-out journey to the past for which 2001: A Space Odyssey would be so celebrated, beginning with an abstract voyage through space and landing on a primitive people who never once speak a comprehensible dialect. The conflict is clear enough though – in a hunter/gatherer society, a tribe is fighting amongst themselves for what little food is available. This fight leaves Tumak (John Richardson) banished, and soon enough fighting dinosaurs. Righteous. He wanders the ancient landscape until he comes upon paradise in the form of scantily-clad women fishing in the ocean, seemingly lead by Raquel Welch, who live in harmony and make art and dance and have a sort of genuine civilization going. The 1960s are strong with this one, friends.
And who would want it any other way? What use have I to see an accurate depiction of prehistoric life? It is obviously preferable to involve dinosaurs and art and hippie ideals and Raquel Welch. These are fundamental truths. Anyway, sure enough Turnak has his eyes opened through life amongst beautiful women and love-not-war, and sure enough the tribes eventually come into conflict. The rather remarkable commitment to the language limitation – no subtitles, no forced English – sets this apart from any other old-world epic you’ll find, and Ray Harryhausen’s special effects still look very, very good. Obviously the seams are fairly obvious, especially in high definition, but it’s still hard in many instances for the layman to see clearly how they accomplished any of it. The mix of actual animals blown up to ridiculous proportions alongside stop-motion is an interesting gambit, one I gather not everyone found successful, but it’s one of those things where just when you think you have a handle on what this film’s all about, all of a sudden a massive pet lizard emerges to wreak havoc.
Indeed, much of the film follows this rhythm of people just going about their business until some enormous beast shows up and stomps all over them. Director Don Chaffey and screenwriter Brian Clemens don’t have much use for rising action or anything of that sort, and good on them for it. If people really did live alongside dinosaurs, I’ll bet life would be pretty damn unpredictable and terrifying all the time. You’re not always going to get a warning from ripples in a cup of water, y’know. Sometimes they come from the sky.
Kino bring One Million Years B.C. to Blu-ray in both its uncut International and U.S. versions (guess which is slightly shorter and tamer????), both of which look quite good in new 4K restorations in this two-disc Blu-ray set. I’m glad Kino went the extra mile and gave each film its own disc, so popular now is the compression-heavy practice of cramming several movies onto a single disc. The quality of the transfer maybe does the film a disservice, insofar as it’s easier to see the seams in the process shots than it might be on a film print, but it’s a small price to pay for what otherwise looks spectacular. The color tone tends towards the “earthier”, if you like, with skin tones looking more brown than pink, but it felt inherent to the source. The people were covered in dirt, you see. But by the time we get to Raquel Welch’s tribe, and they’re loaded with blue-blue lakes and green-green plants, the colors really start to flood in. Grain and depth are all well-rendered.
The main supplement is a commentary track by film historian Tim Lucas on the International Cut. He sometimes drifts into simple plot recap, but for the most part it’s a very informative, well-researched track by someone who really loves the film. Enthusiasm goes a long way for me. We also get some older interviews with Welch (who wasn’t a big fan of the film) and Harryhausen (who was considerably more so). There’s also a new interview with actress Martine Beswick, who plays sort of the second female lead and competition for Tumak’s affections.