When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (1970)

Own it!

review by Scott Hamilton and Chris Holland
See also:

One Million Years B.C.

Prehistoric Women

Last Days of Pompeii

Valley of Gwangi

When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth

Lava LampLava Lamp

Our rating: two LAVA® motion lamps.

Taking Spike for a walk.
There are those people who will forever complain about the paleontological incorrectness of a film that depicts the co-existence of dinosaurs and humans. We know this because one of them is usually sitting in the room when we screen movies like When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth. We prefer to suspend such disbelief. After all, when the characters don't speak any real language and the plot can accurately be described as "people in fur acting stupid," it's nice to have a few dinosaurs around to keep things lively.

Dinosaurs is one of the later entries in the "fur bikini" sub-genre of the late '60s and early '70s, spearheaded by Hammer Studios' One Million Years B.C. Where that first entry starred Raquel Welch and featured visual effects by Ray Harryhausen, this installment centers around the reliable Victoria Vetri (Rosemary's Baby, Invasion of the Bee Girls) and a menagerie of dinosaurs brought to life by Jim Danforth (They Live, Flesh Gordon). From that cast and crew comparison, you can tell that this film is definitely a step down from the original, but you can also understand that there are still reasons to watch.

"No, Cecil, nooooo!"

Sadly, this movie subscribes to the most annoying trend in caveman movies by eschewing English dialogue (or any other real language). Instead, all of the actors speak in a language the filmmakers made up. The process they used to create it is pretty obvious. Modern languages have lots of words, as a quick flip through any dictionary will show you. Obviously ancient languages had fewer words, and the first languages must have had very few indeed. In the case of When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth, three basic words convey most of the ideas that cavemen need to express to one another. Maybe the dinosaurs used their ruling powers to ban any more than those three.

The three words which make up 90% of the dialogue in this film are "necro," "ocumba," and especially "akita." (Not to be confused with "klaatu," "barada," and "nikto.") "Akita" has many meanings, including "look there," "go there," "come here," and "Let's go see the Pauly Shore movie!" "Ocumba" seems to be a modifier of akita, so "Akita ocumba" might mean "Let's go see the new Pauly Shore movie." "Necro" means "death," which seems to be the one abstract concept the cavemen understand. "Akita ocumba necro" could mean "Let's go see the new Pauly Shore movie and pray for death about halfway through."

Still, it beats being a Dalek.

We must admit that this is a very efficient language. No matter the situation, the prehistoric people can employ these three words and be perfectly understood by everyone else. Inspired by those productive souls who study Klingon, we translated Hamlet's most famous speech (Act III, scene I) into caveman language:

Akita, akita,--akita:--
Akita ocumba akita
Akita akita
Akita akita akita
Akita ocumba?--necro,--akita,--

Hey, that was easy! The problem with Shakespeare's plays was always that he used too many words. Fewer "nonnys" and more "akitas" might have meant some real money at the gate.

What are the chances
that the camera would catch her
at exactly this angle?
Every five minutes?

When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth bites off more than it can chew plot-wise, considering that there can be no comprehensible conversation. As with One Million Years B.C. there are two tribes, so we'll use the nomenclature from that movie here. The Stone tribe lives on the cliffs overlooking the sea, and practices the barbaric rite of killing all the blondes of the tribe to appease the sun god. And by "blondes" we mean three young blondes all between 16 and 19-and-a-half living a lonely life. Bathing . . . dressing . . . undressing . . . making fur bikinis . . . sorry, we drifted off there a bit.

The yearly sacrifice is interrupted by sudden storm, and one of the sacrifices, Sanna (Victoria Vetri), escapes to the nearby (and somewhat more progressive) Shell tribe, which lives on the beach. There, however, Sanna inadvertently creates jealousy by attracting the attention of the tribe stud Tara (Robin Hawdon). She flees into the wilderness and befriends some dinosaurs. Then there's another big storm, the moon forms (no really!) and Tara and Sanna get together for once and for all. The end.

This never happens
to Fred Flintstone.

With that kind of plot, the real question is: how entertaining are the women and the dinosaurs? Well, Victoria Vetri looks good in the requisite fur bikini and she does bend over a lot. The dinosaurs are rendered in stop-motion animation by David Allen and his animation team, resulting in some memorable set pieces. A large flippered plesiosaur attacks the Shell tribe and is repelled by fire, and there are some amusing scenes in which Sanna is mistakenly adopted by a family of dinosaurs who look as if they were inspired by The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.

There are a couple of moments in which the seams appear in the effects shots: smoke and flame suddenly disappears about halfway up the screen (a bad optical splice). A man is gored to death by a triceratops in one shot, but his unmarked corpse is revealed in the next shot. What would be a spectacular sacrifice (victim tied to raft, which is set on fire and then floated out to a waiting and hungry pleiosaur) is marred by some rather obvious miniature work in a long shot. Most of the stop-motion work is excellent, in particular a duel between a spear-wielding caveman and a pteranadon, who flaps around a mountaintop (as pteranadons likely did not do) trying to take a bite of his suddenly feisty snack. But there are those moments, including yet more footage of real animals "enhanced" to look like dinosaurs, during which it becomes all too obvious that once again, ambitions exceeded assets during the production of a movie.

The first, abortive attempt
to form 4 Non Blondes.

Beyond the dinosaur and scantily-clad cavegirl highlights, watching this film is an exercise in frustration. Viewers won't understand what's being said and the non-verbal action isn't that interesting, especially when the dinos aren't front-and-center. We expect that most folks will let the movie just wash over them while they carry on other conversations, but those who love a mystery may actually enjoy the challenge of figuring out exactly what's going on in each scene.

In the end, there's only one word left to say about When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth: Akita!


Review date: 08/22/2002

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