One Million Years B.C.

One Million Years B.C. (1966)
20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
Cast: Raquel Welch, John Richardson, Martine Beswicke, Percy Herbert
Extras: Trailers, Restoration Comparison

From the British studio that paired Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing into cinema history, Hammer’s 1966 remake of "One Million Years B.C. (from a 1940 Hal Roach film) marked another historic, albeit unlikely, cleaving: 1960’s bombshell Raquel Welch and dinosaurs from stop-motion maestro Ray Harryhausen. As part of a five-title "Raquel Welch Collection," Fox Home Entertainment brings "B.C." into the digital age with a snappy DVD release.

Michael Carreras’ screenplay (Carreras found and helped run Hammer Films) mixes bits of "Romeo and Juliet" and "King Lear." The nasty, brutish Rock Tribe is Darwinism personified. Tumak (John Richardson) feuds bitterly with brother Sakana (Percy Herbert) for tribal leadership and their father Akhoba’s (Robert Brown) acceptance. When Tumak provokes Dad’s wrath, he’s banished from their cave lair and must face the "real" Jurassic Park. He eventually stumbles upon the gentle, more advanced Shell People. Clad in fur and shells, Loana (Welch) is inexplicably drawn to Tumak’s rough and tumble qualities. For their love to survive, Tumak and Luana must battle tribal prejudice, carnivorous hominids, said oversized lizards, and the anger of Mother Earth.

In many ways, "B.C." as it approaches middle age, feels as retroactively mod as Carnaby Street and "Casino Royale." There’s definitely the 60’s sexism, with practically all the women striking and very, um, "earthy." The catfight between Loana and Rock Tribe’s Nupondi (Martine Beswicke) would make Austin Powers proud. Mario Nascimbene’s music and "special musical effects" play like percussion riffs of Ennio Morricone’s Spaghetti Western themes. The real draw, however, is Harryhausen and his monsters. They might look silly and creaky to modern audiences, but for atmosphere and style, the dinosaur scenes still grab. Check out Chapter 15; love that battle between a Ceratosaurus and a Triceratops! The film was wildly successful – how could it not with Welch and Harryhausen – and believe it or not, influential. A quick snippet of the volcanic eruption sequence can be found in Stanley Kubrick’s "A Clockwork Orange."

The 1.85 <$16x9,anamorphic> picture looks vastly superior to the 1996 laserdisc remaster. Wilkie Cooper’s cinematography (Cooper shot many of Harryhausen’s color features) utilizes a deep, rich color palette and the image here has the right saturation. There’s also a fair amount of grain in some scenes, even ones not involving Harryhausen’s Dynamation process, but that’s not a dis on the transfer. Because of the saturated hues and deep blacks, details like the exposure of Tumak’s face or Loana’s perfect (!) skin come through bright and sharp. Compression and authoring for these films can be difficult, especially with the grain issue, but the techs here did their homework, with no artifacts present.

Although originally presented theatrically in mono, the DVD includes a two-channel stereo soundtrack. Playing it through a Dolby Pro-Logic II receiver, the audio opens up a little but remains mostly anchored to the center channel. Limited dynamic range and fidelity contributes to some distortion, but since the dialogue is confined to mostly grunts and huffs (other than a few words of narration at the beginning), the music gets the most benefit from the remix. The original mono soundtrack is available, along with a Spanish mono audio option (for the narration).

There a few supplements. The "Restoration Comparison" lasts about four minutes. Side by side clips illustrate the film’s video history, from a 1993 film transfer to the 1996 LD release to the 2002 film restoration. I found the section interesting, showing how far video technology has progressed but also the lengths Fox Home Video took to spruce up a mid-tier (at best) catalog title.

The original theatrical trailer, both in English and Spanish, are presented in <$16x9,anamorphic> <$PS,widescreen> and mono sound. Fairly crisp and detailed, they are pure trailer hype. In the "Fox Flix" section, ten – yes, TEN – trailers for Fox DVDs run the gamut from "The Abyss" to "Independence Day" to "The Day The Earth Stood Still" to "Journey to the Center of the Earth." Presentation-wise, it’s a hodgepodge of formats (<$16x9,anamorphic> scope for "Journey," full-frame for "The Day The Earth Stood Still," etc.). On average, the previews look and sound clean.

"One Million Years B.C." fits into so many categories: 1960’s kitsch, Raquel Welch and Ray Harryhausen filmographies, Hammer time, retro sci-fi and fantasy fare. Thanks to Fox for releasing a DVD with a stellar transfer and all those trailers. Did I mention all that costs $14?