WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH
Hammer Films’ Stop-Motion Animation Classic Finally Released Uncut and in Widescreen on DVD
Author: Loren Portillo
Special Thanks to Jim Danforth
Warner Bros. Home Video’s latest wave of Best Buy exclusive “Sci-Fi Double Feature” DVDs includes the stop-motion animation favorite WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH paired along with the space thriller MOON ZERO TWO. This “moon-themed” set (featuring the creation of the moon and the first “moon western”) has caught the attention of monster movie enthusiasts because it finally presents WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH uncut and in widescreen— unlike the earlier VHS and laserdisc versions from several years ago. The suggested retail price for the DVD is $19.98.
Released in 1970 by Hammer Films and Warner Bros., WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH is supposedly a direct sequel to Ray Harryhausen’s 1966 version of ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. starring Raquel Welch, but I view it more like a remake with a few new twists.
Written and directed by the late Val Guest (THE QUATERMASS XPERIMENT, QUATERTMASS II, THE DAY THE EARTH CAUGHT FIRE) from a short story treatment by author JG Ballard (Crash, Empire of the Sun), WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH followed pretty much the same premise as ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. Cavewoman Sanna (played by 1968 Playboy Playmate of the Year Victoria Vetri) is being sacrificed by the Rock Tribe to their sun god for being of fair skin and blonde hair. In this world, if you’re blonde you’re gone.
Under the orders of Rock Tribe leader Kingsor (Patrick Allen, DIAL M FOR MURDER), Sanna and a few more Hammer hotties are held on top of a large mountain while the tribe waits for the sun to rise. When the sun does appear, it brings with it a tremendous storm with high winds. Seeing an opportunity to to escape, Sanna tries to get away, but falls off the side of a cliff into the ocean. She is later saved by Tara (Robin Hawdon), a fisherman from another hostile tribe. The two fall in love, which angers Tara’s dangerous brunette girlfriend Ayak (Imogen Hassall). Sound familiar? The film pretty much stays to the point of Sanna meeting and surving the new Sand Tribe, various creatures, and the extreme prehistoric elements.
Filming of WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH took place for five weeks at the Canary Islands— the same shooting location as ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.— followed by eight weeks of shooting at Shepperton Studios in Surrey, England and an additional 17 months of special effects work.
In the 1984 book Eroticism in the Fantasy Cinema, star Victoria Vetri stated that the cast and crew took on a very “relaxed” lifestyle while filming on the Canary Islands: “Everybody was screwing around,” she said. “People were skinny dipping, drinking sangria instead of tea at four in the afternoon, getting drunk off the asses, and it was like party time… Having a California girl around didn’t help because I was the first one to drop a loincloth. All the girls between takes were getting a tan. After awhile it didn’t faze anybody. When you’re all sitting around half naked it doesn’t matter.”
But let’s be honest. If you came to view a film titled WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH you came to see the dinosaurs, right? In that regard, 29 year old special visual effects artist Jim Danforth— with assistance from Roger Dicken (ALIEN) and the late Dave Allen of EQUINOX fame— does not dissapoint. They put on an Oscar nominated show with some of the most realistic stop-motion effects ever commited to film. Even with today’s computer generated imagery, a viewer would be hard pressed to not find Danforth’s work astounding. It is safe to say that there was no one else capable to pull off the type of visual effects work required for WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH other than Jim Danforth.
Jim Danforth was born in 1940. He began his career on films like ATLANTIS THE LOST CONTINENT (1961), JACK THE GIANT KILLER (1962), and THE WONDERFUL WORLDS OF THE BROTHERS GRIMM (1963), and would often say it was while working with GUMBY creator Art Clokey in the late 1950s that he cut his teeth and learned the finer points of animation and building puppets. Danforth also assisted on Willis O’Brien’s last film, IT’S A MAD MAD MAD MAD WORLD (1963) and received his first Academy Award nomination for 7 FACES OF DR. LAO (1964).
Hammer Films originally wanted Ray Harrhausen for WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH. Harryhausen was an obviouse choice; he had created the visual effects for ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. and that film was a huge hit. But Ray was working on Warner’s other dino project THE VALLEY OF GWANGI (1969) and had to pass on WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH. Barely six weeks before the start of principal photography, Jim Danforth was hired on the film.
Now I know there is a huge fan base for Ray Harryhausen (I am one of them), so what I’m going to say might shift a few in their seats: I’m glad Jim Danforth handled the visual effects work for WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH. Jim’s work was fresh and his animation is considered the smoothest of its time. He is also an incredible matte artist, and many of his paintings appear in this film.
One major difference from Ray Harryhausen is that Jim prefers the ”build up” method of creating his models. This method— used to create the Mother Dinosaur as the small puppets of Tara, Sanna, and the cavemen— involves creating the fully articulate stop-motion armature and applying latex strips of skin to a puppet that is already wrapped with cotton and liquid latex. Ray preferred to sculpt his creatures, create a mold from the sculpt, then inject foam into the mold. Either way, they are great works of art.
But its not just the look of the creatures, or the “monster on the rampage” animation I admire here. Jim Danforth’s character’s animation of the Mother Dinosaur and its baby has to be seen to believed! Seeing the Mother Dino’s first appearance as she comes to bring her baby a dead deer still makes my mouth drop to the floor! Believing Sanna to be one of her offspring, the Mother Dinosaur drops the deer near the surprised cavewoman and waits for her to feed. When Sanna doesn’t act, the dinosaur brings the carcass closer then finally nudges it right up to Sanna with her snout.
It’s mind boggling how Jim was able to take this latex puppet and make it come to life. I asked Jim how he was able to get so much emotion out of the Mother Dinosaur; he said, “It’s not just about moving the puppet… but trying to move it effectively and breathe life into it.”
There are so many great effects in WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH. In the first stop-motion effects scene in the film, there is a plesiosaurus with some cool fire effects matted in. Watch this sequence closely and you will see Jim use about 4 to 5 different elements in one shot including animated cavemen! We have a chasmasaur charge animated by Dave Allen. Giant land crabs feast on unlucky cavemen. And in my own personal favorite, a flying rhamphorhynchus attacks Tara.
This sequence is another reason why Jim’s visual effects work stands out. The viewer will notice the “blurring” of the flapping wings on the rhamphorhynchus. This was created by using vaseline on a sheet of glass set close to the camera to soften the focus and give the impression that the reptile’s wings are constantly in motion.
Jim also double exposed frames and tapped the puppet before he photographed it to reduce the strobing effect common to stop-motion. In an interview for the book Guilty Pleasures of the Horror Film, Danforth said, “I was able to actually move the wing during the exposure to create a real blur… In flight I was able to rock the flying reptile on wires back and forth along its own long axis so that the wings were moving through an arc to create a blur.” Just another detail by a true master!
In the 1990s, Warner Bros. released WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH on laser disc to disastrous results.The film was not presented in widescreen but in the full frame format and the colors were all over the place. The laser disc has long been forgotten, and this new transfer we have on the DVD is a really beautiful widescreen print with bright and vivid colors.
“I don’t think Warners did a rush job on the laser disc;” Jim Danforth said. “They actually went to special pains to get the color correct, but they were working form the original negative, which used two different kinds of film stock. My scenes were on the newer higher-speed stock, which had just been introduced. It may have faded differently than the stock used for the production photography. I know that they had to transfer all the production scenes first, then go back and reconfigure the transfer settings beyond what could be done with the control knobs, then transfer all the animation scenes. Things are more correctable now with digital technology. I agree that the DVD looks marvelous.”
The current release of the film runs approximately 100 minutes, which brings up a little controversy. This DVD was supposed to be the 96 minute, G-rated US version, but instead is the 100 minute UK print with additonal nude scenes of Victoria Vetri and another cavewoman! In the UK this probably is acceptable in a children’s film since they don’t have hangups about nudity like we have here.
There have been conflicting reports that Best Buy has pulled the DVD (which does have a G rating on the packaging) from circulation, claiming that the disc is “defective”. Other sources have stated that “Sci-Fi Double Feature” MOON ZERO TWO/WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH discs have been restocked at Best Buy, and the DVD still features the uncut version of the film and a G rating.
Whatever proves to be true, I would only hope that Warner Bros. and Best Buy will allow WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH to remain available on store shelves and through the Best Buy website. Stop-motion fans have been waiting a long time for a decent presentation of this classic film so it would be a shame not to see the true effects genius of Jim Danforth at his finest.
Warner Home Video Sci-Fi Double Feature: MOON ZERO TWO /WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH
SCI-FI 70’S #1 (DBFE)
MOON ZERO TWO: A space salvage expert and his partner become involved with a group of criminals intent on hijacking a small asteroid.
WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH: A small tribe is struggling to survive by giving a sacrifice of a blond woman to their gods in return for protection from the giant lizards.
Mat#/UPC: 1000039446 /883929023806
Street Date: 7/29/2008
Pricing: $19.98 SRP