Nestled inside the world’s largest volcanic crater is the land of Caspak. Its jungles teaming with countless varieties of prehistoric life, and it is in this terror-fuelled land that adventurer Tom Billings must look to find his lost friend, Bowen Tyler. Edgar Rice Burroughs returns us to this mysterious world where evolution has been turned on its head.
The People That Time Forgot was first published 1918 as a three part serial for Blue Book Magazine and is a direct sequel to The Land That Time Forgot. When we last left this lost world Bowen Tyler and lovely Lys La Rue were alone on the cliffs of Caprona, where Tyler had tossed a canteen into the sea that contained a manuscript of their travails.
When the manuscript is found, an expedition is quickly mounted and is led by Tom Billings who is the secretary of the Tyler family shipbuilding company and a long-time friend of Bowen Tyler himself. Billings is your standard pulp hero; strong, intelligent, courageous but a little thick when it comes to things of the heart. They arrive off the coast of Caprona, and its seemingly insurmountable cliff walls, but not insurmountable to American ingenuity as Billings came prepared with several options for getting up those sheer cliffs; the first was in drilling steps bit by bit up the rock face, another was to fire cables via mortars to the top and scale them that way but as the height of said cliffs was higher than even he expected he must put plan three into effect which is to assemble the seaplane he brought along for just such a contingency.
The plan is simple. Fly up and scout this strange land via air, find a suitable landing place and then proceed to ferry the rest of the men up from the cliff base. Unfortunately things do not go exactly as planned as almost immediately upon entering Caspak airspace Billings is attacked by pterodactyls and though his seaplanes guns, as well as his not to shoddy piloting skills serve him well he eventually gets a bit too overconfident in his exploring and one final encounter with a flying saurian sends his plane crashing into the trees.
Cut off from his men and with no idea where Bowen Tyler or his company is Billings is forced to trudge on alone into the interior of Caspak hoping to either chance upon Tyler or find some other way down the cliff walls. As this is a pulp jungle adventure story, Billings almost immediately runs into a pretty face, a beautiful native girl named Ajor; who is running for her life from a group of Alus (Alus are the lowest evolutionary rung of men on Caspak) but with his pistol and rifle, Billings makes quick work of these Neanderthals. Ajor herself is a Galu which are the people who have achieved the highest form of evolutionary progress and are what all men of Caspak hope to someday become.
With Ajor at his side Billings begins the long trek north to return Ajor to her people and to hopefully find some sign of Tyler. Along the way they encounter many of the primitive subhuman classes of Caspak; the club wielding Bo-Lu, the hatchet armed Sto-Lu, the spear wielding Band-Lu and the bow using Kro-Lu, each a step the evolutionary ladderm but all who seem intent to killing poor Tom on site and taking Ajor for their own. It’s on this journey we discover a little more on how evolution works here in this topsy-turvy world. It seems that each species of man all come from “the beginning” and that each individual will, over the course of seven cycles (700 years) move up the evolutionary ladder. At one point a Bo-Lu will receive the “calling” and will then leave behind his people, fashion himself a spear, and go and join the Sto-Lu. Thus the chain of evolution moves north across Caspak until eventually they end their journey as a Galu.
Ajor is the rarest of creatures though her parents both made their seven cycle journey she was born a Galu, and it is from her that we learn of the other race on Caspak that could be the greatest threat of all, the Weiroo who are a race of winged humanoids that because they are unable to sire anything other than males they must kidnap the young women Galus to keep their species alive. It’s this crazy world that Billings must try and understand or die, but with the strong and capable Ajor at his side, as well as with the allies he makes along the way, he just may do that and find Bowen Tyler.
Sadly the fascinating evolutionary biology of Caspak is pretty much abandoned when Amicus Productions translated this book to the big screen in 1977 with returning director Kevin Connor at the helm, and looking at this film it is no surprise to learn Amicus folded before the movie even got released.
As I mentioned in my review of The Land that Time Forgot how nice it was to find a low budget film that seemed to really care about the source material- sure there were some key changes from book to screen but as a whole it was fairly faithful and certainly captured the spirit of Burroughs’s work. So it was a shock to see that the same company that did so well by the first book in the series apparently didn’t even read The People That Time Forgot let alone try and make a faithful adaptation of it.
Right off the start the movie veers away from the book by having Tom’s character changed to Major Ben McBride (Patrick Wayne) a friend of Tyler’s who leads a small team to Caprona; Hogan (Shane Rimmer) mechanic and gunner, Norfolk (Thorley Walters) paleontologist, and Lady Charlotte ‘Charlie’ Cunningham (Sarah Douglas) photographer. So aside from having the lead being a man who was friends with Tyler the script completely jettisons the book. They do take a seaplane that is brought down by a pterodactyl but not because of the pilot’s over enthused adventurous nature but because they really suck at fighting off a flying dinosaur.
After a rough forced landing they need to get their plane unstuck and after discovering a nearby stegosaurus they attach some cables to it so the poor beastie can be used as a winch system. Yes folks, the first things our heroes do upon discovering a living breathing dinosaur is to quickly use it as personal property. No one in this party will ever stop and marvel in awe at the majesty of this prehistoric world- they’re all basically assholes.
They eventually run into cave-girl Ajor (Dana Gillespie) who is only a name check from the book as her character has no bearing on the one from the pages of Burroughs’ novel. This version of Ajor speaks English because she was taught by Tyler, while the book Ajor knew nothing of Tyler or his friends and never even learns English but instead teaches Tom the language of Caspak. The language thing I can let slide for the ease of film story telling but making her Tyler’s friend is bullshit.
Ajor agrees to help them find Tyler (returning Doug McClure) and will lead them across this dangerous world where they will of course be assaulted by more cave people before finally running across samurai like warriors called the Nargas who had captured Tyler some time ago.
Why are their samurai warriors on the lost world of Caspak? Why did the filmmakers decide to create a completely new race of people when the book was just chock full of different races to choose from? This isn’t a case of lazy writing as it is just bad and pointless.
The Nargas are an evil volcano worshiping people that toss the men of our group into the dungeons of Castle Grayskull while immediately deciding to sacrifice the women to appease the angry volcano god. Those gods are always angry. The men are thrilled to find Tyler lollygagging around the dungeons and quickly team-up to rescue the girls.
Once again the island is going through volcanic upheavals, something that never happened in either book, so not only do our heroes have to fight their way through the Temple of Dumb they have to keep ahead of a world exploding around them.
Note: This very same year this dude was dueling with Alec Guinness in Star Wars.
Now if the movie wasn’t dumb enough, we get Tyler deciding to hang back to sacrifice himself so that the others can escape. What the fuck? So not only does our intrepid group suck at adventuring, but they also fail at the very goal that brought them here. In the book Billings falls in love with Ajor and as this is a Burroughs book she is captured and must require rescuing, but when her and Billings find themselves surrounded by the their enemies and about to be killed Ajor’s people arrive in the nick of time to save them, and with them is Bowen Tyler. Also alive is Lys La Rue who in the movie world apparently died between films because fuck you, movie.
The book ends with Bowen Tyler, Lys La Rue and Tom Billings about to leave Caspak when it is revealed that Ajor cannot go with them because of her being born a fully evolved Galu rather than attaining that form through the usual metamorphosis. She must stay to ensure the progression of her people. Good old Tom decides at the last minute that he cannot live without Ajor and stays while Tyler and Lys leave for home. In the movie there is no romantic involvement between Ben and Ajor at all as Lady Charlotte is clearly his intended love interest, so the film ends with everyone back on the boat, minus the now dead Tyler of course, and where Ajor is apparently given to Hogan as a conciliation prize for fixing the plane while everyone else was off adventuring.
The book by Edgar Rice Burroughs is a fantastic adventure tale set in a prehistoric world of untold dangers where evolution spans the length of the land rather than time, while the film is a cheap knock-off that is cast with actors that don’t even seem to know what kind of movie they are supposed to be in and written by screenwriters that I’m assuming never got further than reading the inside flap of the book.
This was the last of the Burroughs three books adapted by Amicus Productions and one can only dream of what the third book of the Caspak Trilogy would have looked like if they hadn’t gone under. What B-Movie star would we have seen battling the winged men of Caspak?
Christopher Lee in “Out of Time’s Abyss” perhaps?
Film grad who spends most his time trying to catch up on his "To Watch" pile of movies.