Dinosaurs’ still roaming the earth today is a fantasy element to be found in stories dating from as far back as 1912s The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to the upcoming Jurassic World and our love of those magnificent beasties will certainly keep this genre alive. So it is no surprise that the author of some of the world’s greatest pulp adventures didn’t tackle that subject a time or two and today we are going to look at Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Land That Time Forgot and its 1975 movie adaptation.
The Land That Time Forgot was original published in 1918 as a three part serial for Blue Book Magazine and starts as many of Burroughs’ books do with someone finding a manuscript belonging to the hero, in this case it was found in a thermos that had been tossed into the ocean by Bowen Tyler in the hopes that someday it would be found and someone would attempt a rescue.
The story takes place during WWI and begins with Tyler and his Airedale terrier Nobs aboard an American passenger ship that is struck by torpedo from a German U-boat. The ship goes down quickly and many of its survivors are killed by the cruel deck guns of the German crew with eventually only Tyler, his dog and fellow passenger the beautiful Lys La Rue seemingly to be the only ones left alive. They are soon rescued by a passing tugboat but their good fortune does not last long as the very same sub that sank Tyler and company attacks the tug, but the brave captain of the tugboat will not go down without a fight, and before the tug sinks beneath the waves he manages to engage the enemy sub so that his crew, with the help of Tyler and Nobs, overtake the Germans and capture the sub.
As an author Burroughs wasn’t above using coincidences to help move the narrative along but in the case of The Land That Time Forgot he may be stretching the bounds of credulity a bit too far, not only do we find out that the German U-Boat, U-33 happened to be manufactured by Tyler’s family shipyard but that the captain of said U-Boat is the ex-fiancé of Lys La Rue. I know it’s a small world but that’s a bit much. U-boat commander Baron Fredrick Von Schoenvorts was made to be Lys’s ex because this allows suspicion to fall on her when small acts of sabotage begin to plague the submarine and thus throws a roadblock in Tyler’s romantic life. Of course it turns out that the saboteur is not Lys, or even one of the German crew, but one of the tugboat crew that just so happens to really, really hate America.
With a destroyed radio, a broken compass, poisoned provision and now low on fuel the occupants of U-33 find themselves off the coast of the mysterious sub-continent of Caprona with their only hope of survival is in finding supplies beyond its apparently impenetrable cliffs. Lucky for them a warm current is discovered that leads them to a passage under the cliffs and into the primitive land of Caspak a world rife with prehistoric life ranging from the age of dinosaurs to the dawn of man.
The only surprising thing here is that it took until 1975 for this story to be adapted for the big screen. Produced by Amicus Productions and with a screenplay by noted fantasy author Michael Moorcock, but unfortunately this film did not set the world on fire as its low budget dinosaurs were more laughable than threatening.
What is shocking is how faithful this low budget movie is to the source material, which is hardly the case when such studios adapt popular books to the screen, with the most notably missing thing being that of Tyler’s dog Nobs, other changes can be argued as an improvement as director Kevin Connor wisely leaves out such tidbits as this particular sub being built by Tyler’s family and that the German commander previously being engaged to Lys, though in the movie she is now named Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon) and given even less to do than the Lys in the book. The movie also streamlines the taking of the sub by removing the tugboat rescue and attack and replacing it with Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure) leading a group of survivors to capture the sub when it unknowingly surfaces close to their lifeboat. Also missing is the anti-American traitor and saboteur and so such of machinations are now left to the Germans alone.
When they enter Caspak, as the natives call it, both the book and the movie follow each other quite well with the first encounter being one of the crew getting eaten by a plesiosaur and the Americans and Germans quickly putting aside their differences to survive in this prehistoric world. Without fuel for the submarine they could be here for the rest of their lives so no sense fighting a war that no longer has any bearing on them.
The most interesting aspect of this lost world is not the dinosaurs that roam its verdant jungles but the way evolution seems to work here. At first they meet primitive Neanderthals called Bo-Lu (club men) and they even befriend one by the name of Ahm (Bobby Parr) who believes Tyler in company are Galu (rope men) and that someday he will be a Galu as well. At first they think this is a superstitious belief centering on reincarnation but when they start noticing that are no children of the Bo-Lu or of the increasingly higher evolved Sto-Lu (Hatchet Men) or Band-Lu (Spear Men) they start to wonder if evolution on Caspak runs quite a bit differently than it does for the rest of the world, it is as if evolution moves geographically and not across the ages as Darwin figured out. The further you travel up river the higher evolved creatures appear and where cavemen hope to someday become Cro-Magnon men. A mystery not truly solved until the sequel The People That Time Forgot.
Lady Luck finally smiles on our heroes as Ahm leads them to pools of oil that Schoenvorts (John McEnery) is sure can be refined to fuel the sub. The group build a palisade quaintly named “Fort Dinosaur” and begin to share duties of hunting and oil refining while also doing their best at avoiding the local denizens.
This leads to what is really the biggest difference between book and movie and that is the end. In the book while Tyler is out exploring Lys is kidnapped by a group of Sto-lu and the Germans abscond with the sub and desert Tyler to never be heard from again. The movie on the other hand has your standard “prehistoric world volcanic destruction sequence” with Germans waiting as long as they can for Tyler and Lisa to return, aside from one evil German who laughs from the deck as he spots them on the burning shores, but the sub cannot survive the boiling waters and it sinks with all hands. So the movie wins points for not having all the Germans being total dicks. Both book and movie end with Tyler and Lys/Lisa standing on the cliffs of Caprona as Tyler tosses out his thermos that holds the manuscript of their adventures and hopes of rescue.
I must say I highly enjoyed both versions of this story and can recommend them to any fan of the genre. Doug McClure is not so much an actor as a he is a walking piece of beef, but in the role of stalwart Bowen Tyler he is well cast. Actually the whole cast does a remarkable job trying to sell this prehistoric world that is clearly large rubber puppets and creatures hanging from strings, and that is no small skill. If Kevin Connor had been given a bigger budget they may have been able to afford to use stop motion techniques instead of silly rubber suited monsters and this film would be looked at more fondly.