The Last Dinosaur (1977)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:


Tammy and the T-Rex


The Last Dinosaur

Lava Lamp

Our rating: one LAVA® motion lamp.

"Sir, these helmets are not
protecting us from silliness!"
If you're over the age of twenty-five and under the age of fifty, the names "Rankin" and "Bass" probably ring a few bells. Pleasant bells, of stop-motion and traditional cel-animated movies that aired mostly on television, and which have slowly become pop culture classics. The holiday specials like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1964), Frosty the Snowman (1969), and The Year Without a Santa Claus (1974) are by far the most recognizable output from the studio known as Rankin-Bass, but some harbor a fondness for their amazing animated adaptation of The Hobbit, or even afternoon cartoons from the '80s like Thundercats. Some particularly enchanted viewers may even have sought out a copy of Mad Monster Party (1967)or the treacly The Last Unicorn (1982).

What most people don't know is that occasionally Rankin-Bass would try its hand at making fantasy films with an older audience in mind. The results would have convinced anyone that the studio was better suited to kiddie pictures -- and the most convincing example of Rankin-Bass' "adult" output is The Last Dinosaur. Through the haze of childhood memory, we vaguely recall watching the movie on TV, though the only things that made an impression were the dinosaurs. Upon watching the picture as adults, we have a hard time believing that it didn't leave a more damaging imprint on our young minds, and we have an even harder time believing that the film was originally intended for theatrical release. Someone came to their senses, however, and the movie was repurposed for a television premiere in the U.S. The film was released in theaters some places overseas -- probably places where local laws would prohibit ticket buyers from suing for emotional damages.

"Wanna play 'King Kong'?"
The picture's first order of business is to introduce Masten Thrust, played by an aging and visibly unwell Richard Boone. Thrust, who is one letter away from a PG-13 rating -- if such a thing had existed at that time -- is a billionaire with a penchant for big game hunting. He’s also supposed to be quite the smooth operator with the ladies which, considering his grubby appearance and barnyard personality, proves that being insanely rich can make up for a lot of personal flaws. But if you’ve seen the ratings for The Apprentice you already knew that.

One of Thrust’s companies has been exploring for oil in the Antarctic with manned, laser-equipped drilling vehicles. One of those machines found a lost world inside a still-warm volcano, but in a dramatic press conference it is revealed that most of the crew was killed by a Tyrannosaurus Rex. Thrust plans to lead another expedition into the volcano on another drilling machine. Along with Thrust will travel his mute Masai tracker Bunta (we’re told his name means “He who has a hundred wives and a thousand head of cattle,” easily making Masai the most efficient language in the world); Dr Kawagawa, who is always referred to as being brilliant but who does nothing; Chuck, the only survivor of the previous mission; and a reporter/photographer.

When pantomime dinosaurs
ruled the Earth.
It’s this last position that proves to be a little problematic. The press corps “unanimously” chose Frankie (Joan Van Ark) to go on the expedition, but Thrust refuses to take her because she’s a girl. Frankie is an ardent feminist who goes on about how she’s as talented and capable as any man, but when Thrust refuses to take her on the expedition she formulates a complicated I Love Lucy-esque plan to win him over than involves a kimono, wearing gun oil as perfume, a remote control slide projector, and ultimately sleeping with Thrust. So much for feminism. Frankie also mentions that her father was chauvinist and that she brought him around to the point of view that she could do anything to which she sets her mind. So if she convinced Thrust of this by sleeping with him, how’d she convince her fa… NO, MAKE THE BAD THOUGHTS GO AWAY, MAKE THE BAD THOUGHTS GO AWAY!

Our heroes use their own drilling ship to travel to the lost world and set up camp. Early in their stay there the party is nearly run over by what Chuck identifies as a “cerotopsian” but appears to be a Megatherium. There are also a couple of pterodactyls in the lost world, and Frankie has a run-in with a fairly large turtle. Finally our heroes find the Tyrannosaur, which tires to eat Bunta. Thrust, despite his solemn assurances that the expedition was only going to study the dinosaur, immediately begins shooting at the creature – though in his defense the gun he’s using looks so inadequate for use against a 50 foot long predator that he may as well be using a Daisy air rifle. The humans are forced to skedaddle to safety.

"Steve Irwin, heeeeelllpp!"
After the encounter with the dinosaur we get that great time filler of the 1970’s genre movie: bickering. Frankie and Chuck accuse Thrust of planning to hunt the dinosaur all along, based only on the flimsy evidence that Thrust brought a gun and an African tracker with him, has been calling the expedition a safari from the very beginning, and is dressed like the main character in a Earnest Hemingway short story. Phew! Good thing they didn’t know about his acquiring Hunting License 2234D-12T: Permission to Shoot Dinosaurs in Antarctica.

The away team spends so much time bickering that the Tyrannosaur beats them back to camp and eats Kawagawa, before stealing the drilling ship. The curiously materialistic dinosaur takes the ship back to its lair, which is a gully full of bones. After burying the capsule, the T-Rex is then confronted by a Triceratops who bursts out of the ground (?). Their duty at this point is to reenact the picture seen in innumerable books on dinosaurs, to the predictable bad end for the horned beast.

"TV good."
Meanwhile the crew of the driller finds that they are now stranded in the lost world. It's kind of like Survivor: Antarctica, but without Jeff Probst bugging them every couple of days. (Thank God!) The part of the opposing tribe is played by a bunch of Japanese people in hairy makeup that we assume was meant to indicate that they are Australopithecus robustus. The cave men drive the crew to the colder parts of the valley, where Boone becomes obsessed with killing the dinosaur.

The Last Dinosaur starts bad and just keeps getting worse, in the same way that a dainty snowflake begins life at the top of a hill and rolls itself into an avalanche. The movie was a co-production with the Japan’s Tsubaraya studio, the same company that made all the Ultraman TV shows, so it’s not surprising that all the creatures are realized through either puppetry or suitmation (guys in dinosaur suits). The Tyrannosaur costume is regrettably silly, with a floppy head and a lower jaw that flails around like a screen door in a hurricane. Every time the dinosaur appears it manages to be more embarrassing, right up to it's final appearance, in which it is beaned with a big rock and the suit's head noticeably dents.

Today on Mythbusters,
see if we can throw Richard
Boon 50 yards!
Oh, and then there's Frankie. The early scenes make a big deal about how capable she is, about all the war zones she's taken pictures in, all the great feats she's done. Once in the lost world she does nothing particularly heroic, freaking out at the sight of a turtle and some leeches. When the crew is forced to live on the run she reverts to being homemaker, cooking and cleaning around the camp while the men hunt game and fight the cave men. When the crew adopts a friendly cave woman, Frankie names her "Hazel" and proceeds to teach her how to cook and clean, thereby literally setting the women's movement back two million years.

But if there's one presence that dominates The Last Dinosaur it's Richard Boone as Thrust. Boone, not nearly dynamic or good looking enough to be the charismatic rogue he's supposed to be, Boone growls his way through the role, changing volume from line to line as a catch-all way to express emotion. If that doesn't work, there's always his catchy torch song:

Few have ever lived as he has lived
Or even walked where he has walked
His time has passed
They are no more
He is the Last Dinosaur
He is the Last Dinosaur

It's enough to have you rooting for extinction.

Review date: 01/26/2005

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