Directed by Hammer Films stalwart Val Guest to cash in on the box office gold that was struck earlier by One Million Years B.C., 1970's When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (which is taken from a script by none other than J. G. Ballard, credited for some reason as J. B. Ballard, the same man who wrote the novels that Crash, High-Rise and quite a few other more subversive films were based on) takes us way, way, way back in time to prehistoric days. Here we witness a tribe of scantily clad dark haired cavewomen about to commit ritual sacrifice using a clan of scantily clad blonde women to appease the sun god. Before this can be properly finalized, however, the arrival of the moon sets things into disarray and one of the would-be sacrifices, Sanna (Victoria Vetri) is swept up into the crashing waves along the shore.
Luckily for Sanna, she's conveniently rescued by Tara (Robin Hawdon), a travelling caveman from a tribe that isn't quite so concerned with sacrificing pretty blondes. The two soon fall fast in love and look longingly into one another's eyes, but this doesn't sit well with either of their respective tribes. At the same time, their travels together find them squaring off against the dangers inherent in the lands around them. Before you know it they're fighting humans and more importantly dinosaurs in a battle for survival that sees them sadly separated. While our prehistoric Romeo and Juliette make it back to one another's arms or will they wind up being eaten by the various thunder lizards (and giant crabs!) that roam this prehistoric wasteland they call home?
When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth may not be the most serious cinematic take on the day to day life of our prehistoric ancestors, but it is a lot of fun. Rather than try to offer up any sort of serious treatise on man's interactions with various prehistoric beasts, Guest and Hammer seemed content to show off plenty of attractive female skin and tossing I plenty of dinosaur related action set against some nice scenery. Note that this is the unrated international version and it does contain nudity not found in the original U.S. edit of the film. Some may remember that the movie was originally released by Warner Brothers on DVD double featured with Moon Unit Zero and that said DVD was promptly recalled when it was found out that, oops, this was not the ‘clean' version that the packaging touted. Thankfully this Warner Archive release does present the full strength cut of the picture. Fans of the ridiculously attractive Victoria Vetri take note.
While the inimitable Ray Harryhausen handled the monster effects for One Million Years B.C., this time around Jim Danforth is the man behind the monsters. He proves a suitable replacement for the better known Harryhausen as his work on this picture demonstrates. The scenes involving the different creatures that populate the planet are without a doubt the highlights of the film, and those with an affinity for good old fashioned stop motion style effects work will get a big kick out of this picture. Even the scene where a baby dinosaur hatches, clearly meant to be cute, is impressive. In fact, the production values here in general are quite good. This wasn't made on a massive budget but the costumes and matte paintings and weapon props and sets all put together for this production, while products of their time, are still genuinely cool looking.
The performances here aren't going to win any awards (even if the effects got an Oscar nomination), but Victoria Vetri makes for a fetching female lead. She and Robin Hawdon don't have the sort of chemistry that sets the screen on fire but they're fun to watch here and they both look good in their respective parts. The score from Mario Nascimbene, who also scored One Million Years B.C. works well and the cinematography from Ken Russell's favorite cinematographer, Dick Bush, is also impressive.
Warner Archive presents When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth on Blu-ray on a 50GB disc for the first time framed at 1.78.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition presentation. Colors are strong and frequently impressive while texture and detail are noticably improved over the past DVD release (which looked just fine for its time). There isn't much in the way of noticable print damage here at all, just some small, tiny white specks from time to time. Otherwise the image is very clean. There are no noticable compression artifacts nor are there any problems with any crush. Overall, this is a really solid looking image free of any obvious noise reduction or edge enhancement. Black levels are good and skin tones look nice and natural.
The English language DTS-HD 2.0 Mono track is fine. The film's score sound really good while the dialogue is clear and balanced properly against the score and effects. No alternate language tracks are provided but English subtitles are available.
As far as extras go, we get a static menu, chapter selection and the film's original theatrical trailer.
When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth remains a pretty entertaining voyage into the distant past from Hammer Films. The picture is nicely directed, features some great vintage effects work and it's got a decent cast working in its favor. The Blu-ray release from Warner Archive is sadly light on extra features but it does look and sound really nice. Recommended..
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.