‘His time is past, there are no more,’ warbles Nancy Wilson in a theme tune you can find here, ‘he is the last din-o-saur!’ Produced by Rankin-Bass, who were known for kiddie TV entertainment, and Tsuburaya Productions, who handled the effects for Toho’s Godzilla films, this US-Japanese production (co-directed by Alex Grasshoff and Shusei Kotani) mixes the ‘suitmation’ techniques used in many kaiju eiga with intense TV movie-style soap operatics and a thumping attempt at making a statement. The typical lost world set-up, evoking both The Land Unknown and the Savage Land from Marvel Comics, is that beyond an Antarctic mountain range lies a temperate region inhabited by prehistoric creatures and tribes of Asian-looking cavefolks.
An expedition to this dangerous idyll is commanded by multi-millionaire industrialist/ obsessive big-game hunter Masten Thrust, whose character name (and leopard-trimmed safari hat) would be over the top if a paunchy, pockmarked, charismatic Richard Boone weren’t giving a large, entertaining performance which fully lives up to it. When a hungry tyrannosaurus rex (with ‘a brain the size of a dried pea’) eats a genius scientist (Tetsu Nakamura) and buries the ‘Thrust Polar Borer’ special vehicle that has got the expedition to this lost world, peppy photojournalist Frankie Banks (Joan Van Ark, fresh from the similarly-pretentious Frogs), whiny minion Chuck Wade (Steven Keats) and very tall Masai trapper Bunta (Luther Rackley) are trapped along with the boss. The thumping development of William Overgard’s script is that the title applies as much to Thrust as the T-Rex: the millionaire is at his happiest when shipwrecked, deprived of the trappings of wealth and even modern weaponry, forced to rely on his own inventive smarts (he whips up a crossbow and a giant catapault) as he sets out on a naturally-inconclusive quest to bring down the T-Rex. Thrust is a broadly cliché character, but still the most interesting person to be pitted against a dinosaur in a film since Robert Armstrong’s Carl Denham, and his contrary antics mean that at least this doesn’t stick to the formulae of every other Lost World movie made up until 1977.
Then-relevant talk about a woman’s place in adventuring gets tedious quickly, especially when the heroine (who is supposed to have been through Vietnam) starts moaning about domestic chores and her hair. In an uncomfortable sub-plot, the explorers adopt a cavegirl (Masumi Sekiya) and name her ‘Hazel’ after the sit-com maid, using her as a domestic (she also seems to cosy up to Thrust in the night, though this avenue isn’t pursued). The effects are variable, and the centre-piece T-Rex has bendy foam-rubber Barneyish aspects that make would-be intense scenes come off in gigglesome fashion. The use of sumo wrestlers in suits on miniature sets often works in the stylised Godzilla films, but seems hokey set against American acting styles. However, some care has been taken in shooting the monster scenes (using low camera angles to make the dino seem towering) and there’s a little more gore in the rex-stegosaurus fight than usual. Not great, and barely good – but hugely enjoyable.