One Million Years B.C. (1966)
Written by Michael Carreras
Directed by Don Chaffey
Starring Raquel Welch, John Richardson
US Release Feb. 21, 1967
RT 91 min.
Home Video 20th Century Fox
Classic Horrors rating = 7 (out of 10)
Warning: review contains plot spoilers; ending of movie revealed.
“This is a story of long, long ago when the world was just beginning.” To the narrator’s opening dialogue, I would add “a fictional world, one where man and dinosaur lived together.” As the great Ray Harryhausen himself once stated, One Million Years B.C. was not made for “professors… who probably don’t go to see these kinds of movies anyway.” It was made strictly for entertainment, and what’s more entertaining than a caveman battling an Allosaurus, eventually impaling it on a pole while lying on his back? (More appropriately, what’s more entertaining than Raquel Welch running around in a fur bikini?)
As the sun rises following scenes of swirling fires and violent explosions (and the opening credits), the narrator continues describing this new world, “a hard, unfriendly world.” In it are “creatures who sit and wait, creatures who must kill to live, and man, superior to these creatures only in his cunning.” Before becoming silent for the rest of the movie, he introduces us to “Akhoba, leader of the rock tribe, and his sons. There is no love lost between them and that is our story.” He’s right; the backbone of the plot is the rivalry between Tumak (John Richardson) and his brother, Sakana (Percy Herbert).
During a skirmish in their cave over a piece of warthog meat, Tumak falls from the cliff and, the next morning, begins a journey across the desert. He encounters a giant iguana, ape men, a Brontosaurus and a giant tarantula. None of these creatures are as wondrous, though, as Loana (Raquel Welch), whom he spots on the beach before collapsing from heat and exhaustion. When an Archelon (giant turtle) attacks Loana and her friends, they blow horns to call the men from their tribe. Together, they’re able to drive the monster into the water; then, they take Tumak back to their camp.
Loana’s tribe is more civilized than Tumak’s. Scenes with the better groomed, fair-haired people cooperating while making tools, gardening and fishing are alternated with scenes of the dirty, dark-haired tribe arguing while hunting, injuring themselves and leaving each other alone in the desert to die. As Tumak becomes comfortable with his new, unfamiliar home, Loana’s man, Ahot (Jean Wladon), becomes jealous. The tension between them finally erupts in violence as Tumak and Ahot fight over a spear. Afterwards, Tumak is banished, but Loana leaves with him.
After getting cozy at the top of a tree in the cave where Tumak first saw the ape men, the couple gets caught in the middle of a battle between a Triceratops and a Ceratosaurus. Temporarily separated, they eventually return to Tumak’s cave, where the women fawn all over Loana. Teaching her new friends what she knows, while Tumak teaches the men how to construct a proper spear, they experience a happy day on the beach… that is, until Loana is carried away by a Pteranodon. Tumak doesn’t see where the flying creature drops his girlfriend, so she stumbles back to her camp alone.
Eventually, both tribes end up at Tumak’s cave, where a battle between them ensues… that is, until a volcano erupts and the new world begins another transition. Boulders fall, fissures open and molten lava flows. Man and beast alike become victims; Akhoba is buried alive and the giant iguana is sucked into the ground. When the survivors emerge after the disaster, their bright land is now cast in cloudy gray. They march toward the sunrise, presumably to work together to build a new civilization. Leading the pack is, of course, Tumak and Loana.
One Million Years B.C. is a lot of fun. I’m not an expert on Harryhausen, by any means; however, his work here seems terrific. The integration of live action with stop motion animation is seamless. It’s particularly effective when people are throwing stones or spears at the creatures. The warthog, iguana and tarantula are real, superimposed in their scenes to look like they’re giant-sized. Supposedly, it was Harryhausen’s idea to mix techniques. I don’t know that the unanimated monsters lend any reality to the movie, but they don’t necessarily detract from it.
Likewise, you can’t say that the grunting of the characters, in lieu of actually speaking, lends any authenticity to the movie, but it somehow makes it more involving. You have to pay attention to what’s going on, because there actually is a story mixed into the action. It may be as shaky as the ground on which Tumak and Loana walk, but you can’t deny that it’s entertaining. It’s a remake of 1940’s One Million B.C. that featured Lon Chaney Jr. as Akhoba. 26 years later, it offers two things that the original doesn’t: Ray Harryhausen and Raquel Welch.