Groundbreaking special effects used for years and years as movie stock footage abound in this prehistoric adventure directed by Hal Roach (the human part) and Hal Roach, Jr. (the lizards-with-glued-on-fins part). I love this movie, and finally can discard the 35-year-old Nostalgia Merchant VHS offering of it. Ain't it funny how time slips away?
As our saga opens, a group of hikers seek shelter from a storm, and the sight of 24-year-old Victor Mature in lederhosen probably made anybody watching this think they were about to see a comedy, but NO. Conrad Nagel is an expert on prehistoric life, and he's in the cave studying the drawings on the wall, so he tells our little short-pantsed troupe the story the pictures tell. It seems that many, many years ago...
Vic is the son of Lon Chaney, Jr. (Lon was actually only 7 years older, but hey, makeup is a family tradition), and they are part of a tribe called the Rock People, who live in the rocks, and kill stuff, and fight over carcasses, and don't share, and when somebody gets hurt they walk off and leave him to die. Well, Vic pisses off daddy by demanding a second helping at dinner (or something like that, nobody speaks English in this movie, and I don't mean the way Bela Lugosi or Maria Montez didn't speak English, I mean they say things like "Barak! Barak Tigmama!" when they point to something, and we're supposed to either figure out what they're saying or not care). Victor wanders from the land of rocks and boulders to the land of plants and flowers and pretty girls, where the Shell Tribe lives. They share things, have good manners, sing songs after supper, and generally lead clean, upstanding, wholesome lives. He falls for pretty Carole Landis, and she him, so when he tries to steal a spear and ends up banished (what, AGAIN!?!?) she goes with him. A volcano erupts, and only by the two peoples, Rock and Shell, working together can mankind hope to survive long enough to invent the spork.
Okay, enough of that nonsense. We're here to see DINOSAURS, and plenty of 'em. (I know what you're thinkin', but if Conrad Nagel says dinosaurs and Victor Mature lived in the same time period, that's good enough for me). Here, the two Roaches (so to speak) really pulled out the stops, as we have alligators with fins glued to their backs, guys in rubber suits, pigs wearing triceratops masks, optically-enlarged iguanas and armadillos, and of course elephants wearing shaggy coats. Frankly, the animals and lizards seem to have been pretty roughly handled during all this, but that aside, this is a massively entertaining spectacle and there's much to admire here.
The senior Roach hired D.W. Griffith to serve as Executive Producer of the film, and supposedly Griffith directed the screen tests. The two men had a falling out over something or other, and Griffith had his name removed from the film.
It's too bad WW2 was going on (for a lot of reasons, obviously) because this film would've no doubt been a huge hit overseas, with Mr. Nagel dubbed for the first scene into whatever language the natives were speaking. As it was, it was a sizeable hit for the Roach studio and as mentioned, they got a lot of mileage out of renting stock footage for many years. One Million B.C. got two Oscar nominations, one for the impressive musical score (by Werner R. Heymann); with all the nonsense-dialog going on, a good score was needed. The film was remade in 1966 as One Million Years B.C., with Raquel Welch and Ray Harryhausen special effects.
The new VCI Blu-ray is wonderful; I had hoped for above average but their initial presentation in a new line of United Artists' Hal Roach productions (and some of the 1930s Roach shorts) hits it out of the park. The HD remastering enhances rather than dilutes the special effects, and the sound is as good as can be expected from such vintage materials. There are also a 10-minute slide show of artwork, stills, and press materials from the film, and a very good commentary from Toby Roan, too. This is our favorite release of the year so far - keep up the great work, VCI (and by the way, your new digital logo is a huge improvement over the previous ones). Buy this Blu-ray!