Friday, 14 June 2013

The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

I don't think this concept could fail to be popular with kids back in the day, cowboys and dinosaurs, what more do you need?! I also wonder whether or not this film concept may have had something to do influencing the unique Cadillacs and Dinosaurs franchise that spawned comics, cartoons and a Capcom videogame.

Again this is the first time seeing this adventure and to be really really honest I felt disappointed. Once again the plot just seems to have been lifted from 'King Kong'. A group of cowboys down in Mexico end up finding a hidden valley full of dinosaurs, they capture one, bring it back to civilisation for their show/circus and low and behold it breaks free and goes on the rampage. It really is quite blatantly copied, I felt a little let down.

Of course the film is complete fantasy and not to be taken seriously in any way but there are some major plot holes and questions that do arise. This bunch of cowboys, the token brainy professor and the token attractive female find this hidden valley, yet its not really a valley, it looks more like one simple canyon. So you have to ask yourself how on earth dinosaurs would live and breed in this small enclosed area AND not get found.

When they are inside the 'valley' and getting attacked by all manner of creatures they hole up in a cave as if they are trapped, but why? they could leave the valley at any point and do so eventually. But the really amusing thing is the fact most of the group are obsessed with their show/circus and using any dinosaur they can get for display. None seem to realise that simply capturing and presenting a living dinosaur to the world would make them rich and famous beyond belief, they don't need their crummy show.

Plus when they set out to take this beast back to civilisation where on earth did they get that rather handy dino sized wooden cart from?!!

So silly plot issues aside what about the rest? well its OK but not stunning. Harryhausen's work is evident throughout with a few creatures but none really blow you away as in previous films. The main dinosaurs we see are fun to watch as they battle humans and each other but in general they just don't look so good. Both 'Gwangi' and the Styracosaurus have a strange blue tinge about them which I'm not sure is the film quality or not, and both move a bit statically.

We also see a Pteranodon which is nicely animated, the sequence where it grabs a young boy is impressively done. Plus there is a small cameo for a Ornithomimus which was a nice pink colour and had the honour of being chomped up by Gwangi in a quick cool surprise death sequence that has been used by modern films many times. The small miniature horse which initially forms the basis of the plot is well done also but not exactly thrilling, we're all here for man eaters aren't we.

Interestingly this is also the first time we see actual life size rubber models of some creatures which the cast grapple with. It works quite well for the odd close quarters shot and doesn't detract from the stop motion. Looks a bit better than just pretending although the models don't look great as would be expected.

If you've seen 'King Kong' then you already know what happens in the end, but not before Gwangi fights an elephant. Yep the minute I saw Harryhausen's animated elephant I knew it would be fighting the big mean dinosaur. Now don't get me wrong its a great looking scene, not the best I've seen by a long shot but its solid. The problem is it does feel somewhat overused, in short the battle between the 'Ymir' and an elephant was much much better, they should have done something else.

For some reason the whole film feels a bit on the cheap side and just doesn't look as crisp as previous Harryhausen flicks. Obviously production values must have been lower yet the acting is actually pretty good, James Franciscus looking like a young James Coburn and Laurence Naismith really adding some sturdy class as the professor.

I hate to say I was disappointed, the films poster looks epic! like some kind of Indiana Jones adventure with Dinosaurs, how could it miss? 'Cowboys battle monsters in the lost world of forbidden valley', sounds pretty darn cool doesn't it, its just such a shame it doesn't really live up to that, plus the film is set in Mexico so you don't get that true American western feel.

A slow rather uninteresting start (merely waiting for dino action) and an all too predictable ending which is made slightly worse because the whole story is basically Kong all over again. Not too sure where the name Gwangi comes from, must be a term in local dialect for the creature? everybody calls it that but no apparent origins for it...meh.