When one thinks of Rankin/Bass Productions images of rampaging dinosaurs don’t readily leap to mind as that studio was mostly known for putting out such animated holiday classics as Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer and Santa Clause is Comin’ to Town, yet in 1967 they stepped out of their comfort zone and teamed up with Toho Productions, the studio behind the Godzilla franchises, to produce a live-action adventure film that would pit King Kong against a robot Kong, in a film brilliantly titled King Kong Escapes, but for their second attempt at the world of live-action, they would partner themselves with Tsuburaya Productions, a studio well known for the Ultra Series, to make something called The Last Dinosaur.
The plot of The Last Dinosaur deals with a wealthy big-game hunter and millionaire industrialist Maston Thrust (Richard Boone) whose company discovered a valley super-heated by a volcano upon the polar ice cap while they were drilling for oil in their high-tech manned laser drill called the “Polar Borer” they discovered a world beneath the ice which, of course, contained prehistoric life. Maston holds a press conference to announce a scientific expedition to study the dinosaurs of this lost world and promises his friend Dr. Kawamoto (Tetsu Nakamura) that this will all be about the study of this strange forgotten land and not the hunting of these creatures and that he will not harm the T-Rex despite it having already eaten four members of a previous expedition. Joining him along with Dr. Kawamoto on this excursion is geologist Chuck Wade (Steven Keats), who was the sole survivor of that last expedition, a Maasai tracker named Bunta (Luther Rackley) and Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Frankie Banks (Joan Van Ark), whose purpose in this movie is to scream hysterically and be the third part of a love triangle.
Almost immediately upon arriving in this prehistoric paradise good ole Maston starts blasting away with his rifle at a Tyrannosaurus Rex, thus putting into question his earlier stated altruistic motivations for this trip, and the conflict this causes between Maston, Wade and Frankie is pretty much the central theme of this movie and the random dinosaur attacks are but meagre distractions to this movie’s Captain Ahab obsession. The T-Rex later destroys their camp, killing poor Dr. Kawamoto in the process and making off with the “Polar-Borer” – we must assume a T-Rex is part magpie because according to Wade he did this because it was shiny – and without a way home our “heroes” are trapped in this world of prehistoric terrors. Complicating things even further is that not only do they have to dodge the odd dinosaur attack but this valley is also inhabitant by cavemen.
The rest of the movie deals with the several months they spend living “As primitive as can be” with Maston being a sexist dick, Wade being a useless twit, Bunta counting down the minutes before he is killed and Frankie befriending a cavewoman (Masumi Sekiya) who she quickly turns into a ladies’ maid, because why not, she is a girl after all. Maston continues having a hard-on for the T-Rex and forces the group to help him build a medieval catapult – don’t ask me how he knows how to build one – and while pissing and moaning about all this work Wade stumbles across that not as destroyed as the believed it to be “Polar-Borer” and their one shot at getting home. Needless to say, Maston will want to remain and fight the T-Rex, in what will be a hilariously ineffective battle, and Wade and Frankie will make their escape from this world of terror.
• A manned drilling machine discovering a land full of dinosaurs clearly borrows elements from the Edgar Rice Burroughs story At the Earth’s Core and it being located up in the Arctic could be considered a lift from another Burroughs story The Land that Time Forgot.
• Frankie Banks is supposed to be this strong liberated woman but she still has to sleep with Maston to get the job, which is certainly sending a mixed message about her character.
• All the team members of the Polar-Borer dress in matching jumpsuits except Maston, who continues to wear the cliché khaki hunting outfit as if he were an escaped mental patient who thinks he’s Alan Quatermain.
• They set up camp at the edge of the lake which is something no professional hunter would do as this is where animals tend to come down to drink.
• According to Wade, the cavemen have started sharpening their spears because they’ve seen how effective ours are, sure, that makes sense, for the thousands and thousands of years these cavemen have been living here and yet they never developed a proper spear.
• The T-Rex is attacked by a triceratops that had buried itself inside a cliff face, and this begs the question “Were these creatures part ninja and this was a standard dinosaur attack strategy?”
• I’m not sure what’s the point of bringing a Maasai tracker to a prehistoric world as not only would he be unfamiliar with the terrain but even I could track a creature that weighs eight tons.
The most disappointing aspect of The Last Dinosaur is that a company known for its stop-motion animation would resort to using the “man in suit” method – who wouldn’t want to see the people behind Santa Clause is Comin’ to Town’s Heat Miser bringing us a proper dinosaur “I’m Mister T-Rex, I’m Mister 100 Million Years BC” – but to be fair the dinosaur suits in this movie are a step above such offerings as those found in films like The Land Unknown but as good as a suit can look it will almost always pale in comparison to what you get from good ole stop-motion animation provided by the likes of Ray Harryhausen. Sure, having a dude in a dinosaur get-up is a lot cheaper than going the stop-motion route, and its’ certainly better than gluing fins on some poor hapless iguana, but if your film is about dinosaurs that’s the one area you shouldn’t skimp out on.
Overall, this was a somewhat disappointing entry in the genre and it’s not because of the use of dudes in dino costumes, which can add to the fun, but more for the fact that none of the human characters are all that likable. Joan Van Ark’s photojournalist puts the woman’s movement back a decade or two while Richard Boone, and his poor man’s Ahab, was hilariously bad in every way and the only character I sympathized with was Masumi Sekiya’s cavewoman and the film ended with her going off with Richard Boone, a fate worse than death. The only real positive thing I can say about this entry is that the title song “He’s the Last Dinosaur” was referring to Richard Boone’s sexist big-game hunter and not the prehistoric beasts, which pretty much hits the nail on the head.
The Last Dinosaur (1977)
Movie Rank - 5/10
It should surprise no one that though The Last Dinosaur was intended for a U.S. theatrical release it failed to find a distributor and ended up as a television movie of the week, which is more than fitting as a viewing of this is best on the couch with some friends and large quantities of alcohol.