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The Land that Time Forgot - the Film
The Amicus Edgar Rice Burroughs Film Trilogy
The Science of Pellucidar in the Novels by Edgar Rice Burroughs
The Land that Time Forgot is a charming, unpretentious British adventure film made in 1975. Designed to entertain children by adapting a popular 1918 story by writer Edgar Rice Burroughs, it stars dinosaurs, a submarine and Doug McClure in that order. Its unexpected success led to the collapse of Amicus, the film company that made it while they were in the process of making two follow-up films, yet it is affectionately remembered and fondly looked back on by the families it was aimed at.
In the opening credits a canister is thrown off a cliff, travels across the ocean and is found washed ashore in a modern harbour that has a lighthouse with RADAR and modern trawlers passing. Inside is a ship's log telling an extraordinary story.
On 3 June, 1916, a German submarine, the U-33, sinks the SS Montrose, an unarmed 20,000 ton transatlantic liner, in the foggy North Atlantic. The survivors include two passengers: Bowen Tyler, an American, and Lisa Clayton, a British biologist. Some of the ship's crew had also made it to a separate lifeboat. When the submarine surfaces nearby they capture it. Their attempts to sail the German submarine to an English port meet with failure as they are attacked and driven away by the Royal Navy. The Germans recapture the sub and with Lisa's help the British re-recapture it. By this time the submarine is low on supplies and almost out of fuel and it is discovered that Dietz, the cartoon German villain, had deliberately taken it off course.
Drifting lost at sea in the middle of nowhere, all hope seems lost until they discover the mysterious island of Caprona in the Antarctic Ocean, surrounded by an impenetrable cliff. This island had been discovered by a discredited Italian explorer named Caproni and forgotten about by the outside world for over 200 years. The island is a giant 200-mile wide volcanic crater, where every drop of water is teeming with life and the normal rules of evolution do not appear to apply. The U-33 enters the island by navigating an underground river. Discovering the island is full of dinosaurs, the Germans and Allies agree to work together to survive, agreeing that the war in Europe on the far side of the planet is meaningless when they are surrounded by prehistoric monsters. What is the island's secret? Why is it a rule among the locals that you can never go south, only north? Can everyone co-operate to find a way to escape the Land that Time Forgot?
Director Kevin Connor summarised the plot with the words:
They come up in the middle of One Million Years BC. Dinosaurs, pterodactyls, plesiosaurs, brontosaurus, you name it, they meet it.
|Bowen Tyler, American passenger
|Captain Von Schoenvorts, U-Boat Commander
|Body: John McEnery, Voice: Anton Diffring
|Lisa Clayton, passenger and biologist
|Bradley, British captain
|Dietz, German lieutenant
|Borg, German sailor
|Ahm, 'Bo-Lu' caveman
|Olson, Irish sailor
|Whiteley, British sailor
|Benson, British sailor
Doug McClure was an actor well known for having played the popular character of Trampas in television western The Virginian (1962-71). Since then his career had struggled, as had his personal life. Going through a tricky divorce, McClure felt the time was right to get away from the United States and head first to Britain and then to the land that time forgot.
The rest of the cast consisted of jobbing actors who enjoyed solid, though largely unspectacular careers. Villainous Dietz was played by Anthony Ainley, who had starred in Spyder's Web (1972) and is best known for playing The Master in Doctor Who in the 1980s. John McEnery had his voice dubbed by German actor Anton Diffring when it was felt that his own voice was unconvincing and did not sound German enough.
This was Kevin Connor's second film as director following an Amicus horror film the year before, From Beyond the Grave (1974). He had been appointed because Amicus' co-founder Milton Subotsky believed film editors made the best directors; previously he had edited films such as the award-winning Oh! What a Lovely War (1969) that was set at the same time as The Land that Time Forgot, only without the dinosaurs and with musical numbers instead.
Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Creatures
Is it red or white wine with plesiosaur?
- Line from the film
Most films feature people; the attraction of this film is that it has dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures too. These are, in alphabetical order:
- Tyrannosaurus rex
Preparing to Sail
It took ten years to finally put this picture together and stick faithfully to the flavour of Edgar Rice Burroughs as far as the tale and way the book is written. My grandfather would have been delighted that one of his science-fiction works, 'The Land that Time Forgot', is being filmed right.
- Benton Burroughs
Amicus, Latin for friendship, was a British film production company founded by Milton Subotsky and Max J Rosenberg. Subotsky was a determined film enthusiast who longed to be a scriptwriter, while Rosenberg considered it purely a business investment. Though he would prove an exceptional producer, as a scriptwriter Subotsky was mediocre with more enthusiasm than talent. After the runaway success of Hammer's One Million Years BC (1966), the first of Hammer's dinosaur/prehistoric tribeswomen film series1, Amicus acquired the rights to Edgar Rice Burroughs' The Land that Time Forgot, but it took time to bring to screen. The first obstacle was raising the necessary finance to make the film as they realised that they needed a much bigger budget than normal, and persuaded film company American International Pictures (AIP) to become co-producers. This enabled them to have a budget of $250,000, which, though extremely small by Hollywood standards, was among the largest budgets Amicus had enjoyed to date. Another investor was Edgar Rice Burroughs (ERB) Inc, who retained right of approval of the screenplay, and feature prominently in the credits.
ERB Inc rejected Subotsky's first script and asked that Michael Moorcock write the screenplay instead. Moorcock had begun his literary career as editor of Tarzan Adventures magazine when still 17 and in the 1960s gained a reputation for being in the forefront of the New Wave of science fiction. Moorcock co-wrote a new screenplay with Jim Cawthorn. This script was given ERB Inc's approval, much to Subotsky's annoyance, leading to his trying to avoid liaising with Moorcock. Moorcock described the process by saying:
We said we wanted free rein or we wouldn't do it, and luckily the Burroughs' people who were part financing it were on our side. We did an outline which was approved by Burroughs Inc... what we wanted to do was check on the budget so that we could work out the special effects accordingly. But [Amicus] didn't want to do it that way, which struck us as being just silly from the professional point of view. But we met the special effects people, because it's easy for us to write two lines of dinosaur trampling about but it takes them eight months to create.
When the production had an approved script, Head of AIP, Samuel Z Arkoff, insisted on choosing the film's star, even though Stuart Whitman had already been cast. This meant that $20,000 of the budget was given away immediately to compensate Whitman for the loss of the role. Arkoff chose McClure. While it is impossible to see anyone but McClure in the role now, it was a choice that Moorcock criticised:
Doug McClure, while he's a nice bloke and I like what he does, he was miscast for the central character. A typical Burroughs hero is a little bit stiff, a real man of action, a bit idealistic, a bit more conventional than McClure – who is basically a cowboy actor. He holds himself like a cowboy actor and he talks like a cowboy actor, whereas Bowen Tyler of New England should have been a little bit more the sort of manly formal character that Burroughs preferred. On the other hand, I gather it comes across all right. But it doesn't much match with the character in the book.
We tried to make it as intelligent a dinosaur picture as possible, which is what it is and what people want to go and see it for.
- Michael Moorcock
Filming took place over 16 weeks at Shepperton Studios. Although McClure's personal life meant that he suffered from bouts of melancholy and depression, occasionally getting drunk and reportedly delaying the production, director Connor insisted:
Doug was a great asset. In fight scenes he was especially good due to his hours of American TV action films. He knew exactly where the camera was at all times and threw punches precisely where the effect would work for screen. He was always co-operative and came up with many ideas.
Filming was predominantly studio-bound, which worked surprisingly well for this film. The first third of the film was set mostly on the U-boat, with the claustrophobic, enclosed atmosphere well-suited to studio filming. When the submarine arrived on Caprona, scenes involved a lot of back-projection. So although the dinosaur models used were small rod puppets, the actors could see and react to full-size dinosaurs shown on a screen behind them. Roger Dicken was an experienced dinosaur designer who had previously worked on When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970). He would later develop HR Giger's Facehugger and Chestburster xenomorph designs and turn them into practical models for Alien (1979).
There were two full-scale prehistoric creatures in the film. The first was the plesiosaur, which sadly is the least convincing creature in the film. A better model was the pterodactyl with a 32ft wingspan. This model was mounted on wires beneath a crane's boom arm to allow it to glide and attack Tyler and carry off one of his companions.
Subotsky, who considered himself a screenwriter, always made changes to the scripts of films he was producing, and The Land that Time Forgot was no exception, with a new ending added. Moorcock did not approve, saying:
Some of the usual crude film things were put in – like a volcano – which we didn't have. They always like a volcano at the end2.
Differences from the Novel
There's a lot more in the books than you can put on film; there's a more complicated society than you can easily handle and more complex characters. The book itself isn't really particularly well done as it only takes off in the second part... a lot of business in a submarine which we condensed a great deal, so the beginning bits are very compact.
- Michael Moorcock
The Land that Time Forgot was based on Burroughs' 1918 novel of the same name, though with numerous changes to successfully streamline, simplify and make Burroughs' tale more suitable for the 1970s. The key differences were to do with the characters and the ending.
There's a real cardboard German in [the novel that] was written in 1914 and in fact we turned the German into a nicer more complex sort of character.
- Michael Moorcock
The novel was both written and set during the Great War, when America was at war with Germany, so unsurprisingly the Germans are all-out villains. For a 1970s film this is unacceptable and so they have different characteristics. Captain von Schoenvorts is not a ruthless, sadistic Prussian aristocrat but an educated and sympathetic scientist who attacked the liner because he knew that, as well as passengers, it was carrying arms and ammunitions destined to be used against his own country. In the film Dietz is the closest to a villain, willing to massacre civilians, and he also destroys the submarine's radio3.
As an amateur scientist in the film, Schoenvorts shares a hobby with biologist Lisa Clayton, who again is different from her original counterpart and has a larger role, largely because of the perception of women having improved by the 1970s. In the novel the love interest is Lys la Rue who is Schoenvorts' long-lost fiancée. The novel constantly questions whose side Lys is actually on and whether Tyler can trust her. In the film there is no such confusion as she shoots a German threatening to kill Tyler, and the pointless subplot in which she is revealed to be engaged to Schoenvorts is thankfully dropped.
Other character differences are that in the novel Tyler is an upper class New Englander from a wealthy submarine-building family, which does not come across in the film. Tyler doesn't have a dog called Nobs in the film either. The film also incorporates elements from Burroughs' sequel novels, to ensure that the island's mystery is revealed during the film. The mystery is that individuals evolve into more advanced species, which is personified in the film by the caveman character Ahm. In the film he appears to be summoned telepathically, by the Sto-Lu, when it is time for him to leave his previous tribe the Bo-Lu behind, and evolve to the next stage of human development.
The main change is the ending. In the film Tyler is rejected by the Galu, who refuse to accept him into their tribe, while the island's volcano erupts and Dietz panics and betrays everyone. Stranded, Tyler and Lisa head north and throw a canister containing a log of their adventures into the sea. This is the canister seen in the opening credits, which followed it floating across the ocean before finally being found in the 1970s. In the novel there isn't a volcanic eruption endangering everyone and the Galu accept Tyler. In fact the film's ending is contradicted by the sequel The People that Time Forgot, in which it is revealed that Tyler and Clayton lived with the Galu and that the canister was found in 1919, leading to a rescue expedition.
What period in history [have we landed in]? I mean can we expect to see Ghengis Khan and his barbarian buddies sweeping across the hill? Or a herd of flesh-eating dinosaurs feeding off the bones of Doug McClure? What is the year?
- 'Backwards', Red Dwarf
The Land that Time Forgot was advertised with an eye-catching poster, which showed Susan Penhaligon wearing bright, revealing clothing in a state of undress while a giant underwater dinosaur attacks the submarine. This scene does not appear in the film. Nevertheless the film opened in the UK over the Easter Holidays on 20 March, 1975. Though 60% of the tickets sold were half-price tickets for children it quickly became Amicus' most successful film, particularly in the US, where it made $2.5 million: over twice as much as Amicus' previous most-successful film.
Following this unprecedented success it was inevitable that Amicus would quickly want a follow-up. They purchased the rights to Burroughs' 1914 novel At the Earth's Core and rushed a film into production, releasing it the following year. Yet behind the scenes things were not well; unable to cope with triumph, Subotsky and Rosenberg were increasingly at odds. Subotsky felt Rosenberg's business and financial practices were not necessarily ethical. While they were working on making At the Earth's Core together, lawyers were called to dissolve the partnership, which had been founded purely on a handshake. Rosenberg even made a third Burroughs adaptation, a direct sequel to The Land that Time Forgot, releasing The People that Time Forgot in 1977 as Amicus folded. This was released as an American International Pictures film produced by Max Rosenburg, rather than an Amicus Productions film distributed by American International4. Only Doug McClure and some of the same dinosaur puppets resume their roles from The Land that Time Forgot.
'The Land that Time Forgot' is my favourite, it was a good script. Some of the effects today are bit cringeworthy when you see them today, but you have to take them in the time they were created, and the low budget of course, so I don't feel too bad about it. The submarine stuff was excellent. Roger Dicken, who created the dinosaurs, did such fine details and had the movement down.
- Kevin Connor
The Land that Time Forgot was a cheap but well-made, unassuming children's film that had the benefit of a good script and an enthusiastic director. It may not have had a big budget or big stars, but it was well-crafted, rounded entertainment. For films of this genre it had good characters who actually felt endangered both by the predators around them and also by each other.
In many ways it has aged much better than the source novel it was based on, with many of the novel's weaknesses removed and the clunky beginning streamlined. If you want to quibble over the plot then one unanswered question is: how does Ahm know how to find oil? Oil is located in Sto-Lu territory which Ahm, being Bo-Lu in a heavily segregated society, cannot enter. So how does Ahm know where oil is if it is located somewhere he cannot go? That said, this is a film in which the plot is secondary to the spectacle.
British film companies excelled at making war films at this time, and the scenes set on-board the U-Boat are stunningly realistic, conveying a strained atmosphere. The audience never notices how it is over 30 minutes into the film before the arrival at Caprona and encountering dinosaurs. The director is able to create an atmosphere of tense claustrophobia with very little - smoke, steam, red lights, groaning and hissing noises - while the camera shakes and actors stumble in a fine example of in-submarine-acting to give the impression that the actors are really in a submarine beneath the ocean and not a film studio.
For a film of the period the dinosaur effects work is impressive and the beautiful back projection helps give the impression that the characters are in an exotic lost world and not merely stumbling around in front of a film studio screen. While audiences today are used to more realistic computer effects, the charm remains.