When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth was Hammer’s fairly successful attempt to capitalise of the enormous success of One Million Years B.C.. It was expensive for a Hammer film and took an inordinately long time to complete but it’s mostly worth it. It was finally released in 1970.
Hammer knew they had a winning formula. Combine beautiful scantily clad (and sometimes unclad) women with dinosaurs and you can’t lose. Val Guest directed and wrote the screenplay (based on a treatment by, of all people, J. G. Ballard).
The plot is simple, which is just as well since all the dialogue is in Stone Age language (the DVD offers an optional subtitle track but really you don’t need it and it’s arguably better without it). When someone points at a dinosaur and says something in Stone Age-speak it’s hardly necessary to be told he’s saying OMG there’s a dinosaur. And that’s about as complex as the dialogue gets.
Although the science is completely ludicrous (having dinosaurs and people on Earth at the same time is by no means the only thing that will have scientists tearing their hair out) the central idea is fairly cool. A Stone Age tribe is about to sacrifice three beautiful blondes (oddly enough in this culture being blonde and beautiful is definitely not an asset) but one escapes. And then a large and very strange thing appears in the sky. It is actually the Moon being born (by this time most of the scientists will have left the theatre in disgust leaving the rest of us to enjoy ourselves). The appearance of this strange thing in the sky causes considerable consternation, and redoubles the determination of the high priest or shaman or whatever-he-is to find that pesky escaped blonde.
Meanwhile the blonde, Sanna, has met a hunky guy from a neighbouring tribe, Tara. It’s love at first sight, although that is not very pleasing to Tara’s girlfriend.
Most of the movie has enraged Stone Age tribesmen hunting our star-crossed lovers, who have a pretty tough time of it. At one point they are separated and he believes she is dead, eaten by a carnivorous plant. Actually she escaped, but she learnt a useful lesson - hiding inside gigantic carnivorous plants is a bad idea. Eventually they are re-united but they are still being pursued. Sanna learns another useful lesson - taking shelter from a rainstorm inside a dinosaur egg is actually a really clever idea. When the other baby dinosaurs hatch they’ll think you’re another baby dinosaur and will play cute games with you, and the mother dinosaur will think you’re one of her babies and bring you tasty treats. She also learns something that most people don’t know - carnivorous dinosaurs are easy to train and they make good pets, even when they’re the size of a large building.
Eventually our lovers, and everyone else, confront something else unexpected. The newly formed moon suddenly starts causing tides in a big way. A very big way. As in tidal waves. It makes for a spectacular climax. You might think that the worst place to be in a tidal wave is on a small raft but it turns out to be the safest place. Surfers won’t be surprised by this - the raft just acts like a giant surfboard.
The real stars are the special effects. Hammer wanted Ray Harryhausen but he wasn’t available. It didn’t matter. Jim Danforth’s stop-motion effects are every bit as good and in fact they’re quite stunning. That’s where most of the budget went and it was worth every penny.
There’s not a lot to say about the acting, except that considering the lack of intelligible dialogue most of the performers do a fairly creditable job of letting us know what’s going on. Hammer was convinced that Playboy Playmates would make ideal leading ladies and in this case Victoria Vetri does an adequate job as Sanna and fills a fur bikini rather pleasingly. Robin Hawdon looks just a little bit too clean-cut as Tara but he gets to show off his manly physique so there’s plenty of eye candy for viewers of both sexes.
Warner Home Video’s DVD release is the full uncut version in which both Victoria Vetri and Robin Hawdon shed what little clothing they are wearing. The transfer is excellent and the movie looks terrific.
The main problem with this movie is that the skimpy plot and the absence of dialogue do become a bit wearisome after a while, but it’s worth seeing for some classic stop-motion dinosaur action. Recommended for dinosaur and fur bikini fans.