In 1977 Rankin/Bass Productions (the people who created a lot of the holiday stop-motion TV specials like Santa Claus Is Comin' to Town and Mad Monster Party decided to make the jump to the silver screen. They teamed up with Tsuburaya Productions, the Japanese company behind Ultraman, to create The Last Dinosaur. On paper it sounds like a 'can't miss' scenario. The script concerns a lost prehistoric valley, just like the popular The Land That Time Forgot which did very well at the box office two years earlier, the cost could be kept down by using Tsuburaya's expertise in 'man in a suit' monsters, and there would be a lot of interest on both sides of the Pacific.
Unfortunately the test audience ratings were so bad that the studio cancelled the theatrical release and instead talked ABC into premiering it on TV, albeit in an edited version. (The film did get a theatrical release in Europe and
Craggy-faced Masten Thrust Jr. (Richard Boone) is the last of a dying breed. He's not only a big game hunter who has circled the globe in search of new and more challenging animals to hunt, but he's also the richest man in the world. As the film opens he's flying in his deluxe private plane (complete with working fireplace! I wonder what sort of draft he gets from the chimney.) along with his bimbo du jour who comes complete with her own milky white lap dog. When he lands in
It turns out that he's in
This news really excited Thrust who immediately planned a follow up expedition. After promising Kawamoto that he wouldn't kill the dinosaur, only study him, Thrust, his African tracker Bunto (he never speaks and Thrust reveals that's because no one speaks his language. Bunto apparently understands English perfectly well because Thrust issues complex commands and the tall man runs to fulfill them), Dr. Kawamoto, Wade, and a photographer.
When Thrust finds out the photographer is Francesca 'Frankie' Banks (Joan Van Ark) he blows a gasket and shouts that there's no way a woman is going on his expedition.
That evening, at a party held in Thrust's honor, Frankie dresses up in a Kimono, gets the rich adventurer's attention, and then does a strip tease behind a bush. She then takes Thrust back to her apartment where she sleeps with him (oh yeah, and shows him some of the action shots she's taken) and just like that, she's on the mission! It's unclear whether it's her talent as a photographer or her talent in bed that gets her the job.
In any case the group climbs in the polar borer and heads to the mysterious valley. Once there they quickly discover that there are dinosaurs, along with primitive cavemen who are quite intelligent. Their first encounter with the T-Rex is disastrous. They almost get killed and when Thrust tries to shoot it, his gun jams. They manage to escape the beast, but the dinosaur circles back to their camp, stomps on Dr. Kawamoto and picks up the polar bores in its mouth and carries it away. Now the quartet is stranded, with no hope of rescue (Thrust left strict instructions that no one was to follow them if they didn't report back.) How can modern man survive in a world of man-eating monsters, violent cavemen, and no modern weapons?
There was a lot of potential in this film, and with a little bit of polishing it could have been pretty good. Unfortunately as it is the best that can be said is that it's so-bad-its-good. There are a myriad of flaws that really harm the film. First and foremost is the dialog, which is hokey beyond belief. The film was written by first time screenwriter William Overgard and it shows. He has exchanges like this take place when the group first encounters the T-Rex and barely escapes even though Thrust shot at it:
Wade: You told me! You swore to all of us that we were not going to harm the dinosaur! We were only supposed to take film and study it!
Thrust: You ding-dong!
I don't know what's worse, the fact that Wade is upset that Thrust tried to defend them or that the worst insult the hunter can come up with is "ding-dong."
There are a lot of silly plot devices too, not the least of which is the T-Rex carrying off polar borer. Thrust proves that he's got a lot of smarts when his rifle, the only one they've brought, jams while the T-Rex ix closing in. He throws it away, never to see it again. What was he thinking??!
Richard Boone certainly looks the part of a grizzled big game hunter, but unfortunately he overacts in every scene he's in. He doesn't recite his dialog, he SHOUTS IT! He puts dramatic pauses in frequent as if he's trying to do a bad impersonation of William Shatner on Star Trek. He actually looks like he's drunk in several scenes, but that could be the look he was going for.
There are some good parts to the film. The special effects generally work very well, and look much more impressive than the usual lizards with fins glued to their backs that was the standard not too long before this film was made. The scene where the T-Rewx catches a giant fish and devours it on screen is quite impressive. While it's obvious that the dinosaurs are guys in suits, it's fun to watch them fight and chase Thrust and company.
The overall plot is also promising. Thrust turns into a Captain Ahab character after his friend is killed and it takes the others a while to realize that he's gone over the bend. The cavewoman who joins the group is interesting too in the fact that everyone treats her like a slave. A comment on the human condition perhaps? And the most clever aspect of the film is that the title doesn't refer to the T-Rex that is chasing the expedition.
It's just too bad that the script didn't go through a couple of rewrites to get the rough edges off of it. It could have been a classic, but as it is, it's perfect MST3000 fodder.
The full theatrical version of the movie is presented on a single DVD-R with artwork and keepcase.
The stereo soundtrack is fine. I wish that this was a large budget film that received a decent multi-track recording when it was filmed, but that's not the case.
The 1.78:1 image looks good for an unrestored film from the late 70's. The picture is a little soft, but not too much. There are some bits for dirt in a few places, but nothing significant.
This could have been a good film, but the bad dialog, bad acting, and silly plot devices had me laughing or rolling my eyes. For that reason, if you're looking for a so-bad-its-good film, you should definitely give this one a try. But best make it a rental.