The People That Time Forgot (1977)
Directed by Kevin Connor. Starring Patrick Wayne, Doug McClure, Sarah Douglas, Dana Gillespie, Thorley Walters, Shane Rimmer, David Prowse, Milton Reid.
Amicus Productions waited two years to release a sequel to their hit The Land That Time Forgot, stopping along the way to do another Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation, At the Earth’s Core. The People That Time Forgot marks the last gasp for its brand of low-budget fantasy/adventure film, since another film that came out that same summer of ‘77, set in a galaxy far, far away, caused a shift in genre-movie expectations when it turned into the highest-grossing film in history.
But The People That Time Forgot still brings handmade thrills and an old-fashioned attitude that adheres to Edgar Rice Burroughs’s style—if not to the letter of his writing. Unlike The Land That Time Forgot, which stays close to the first third of ERB’s novel in its script from Michael Moorcock and James Cawthorn, the script for the sequel from Patrick Tilley charts its own direction rapidly and leaves the original plot of the middle novella of the collective novel behind. Since the third novella, “Out of Time’s Abyss,” was apparently never slated for film adaptation, Amicus had to create a sense of completion with The People That Time Forgot that required dumping much of Burroughs’s material.
(Reminder: The Land That Time Forgot is a single novel originally serialized as three novellas that are often released as three separate volumes; Amicus approached the material as novellas. “The People That Time Forgot” is the middle novella.)
However, I’m not going to launch a thousand purist complaints against this film. The sequel film isn’t as good as the original, but it’s still good and brings a silly smile to my face as I watch Ben McBride (Patrick Wayne, John’s son) and his feisty companions fight their way across the prehistoric land of Caspak to rescue Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure), who was left trapped in the strange continent at the close of the last film.
The opening scene comes direct from Burroughs. Impressive model work brings a steamer to the ice walls of the Antarctic continent of Caprona so Ben McBride can fly a hydroplane over the great barrier to begin the search for Bowen Tyler in the lost land of Caspak beyond. Tagging along on the trip are Lady Charlotte (Sarah Douglas), a reporter whose newspaper helped fund the expedition; Professor Norfolk (Thorley Walters), the standard knowledgeable old fella; and pilot Hogan (Shane Rimmer, an American actor who appeared in every movie filmed in the U.K. at the time). It’s a classic pulp-adventure line-up, and of course iron-fisted McBride has issues with having a silly-ol’ girl along—but Lady Charlotte, “Charly,” will show she’s extraordinarily capable. In fact, she’s far more intriguing and attractive a female lead than the buxom native girl, Ajor (Dana Gillespie), who shows up later as the generically ERB-style heroine.
The hydroplane gets over the mountains and meets with a pterodactyl in an exciting re-play of one of Burroughs’s great scenes. As with The Land That Time Forgot, the model saurian isn’t the most convincing effect—it really ought to flap its arms occasionally—but the imagination and pacing here make it a pleasure to watch. I’m easy to please when it comes to giant monsters and models.
The amphibious bi-plane crash-lands in Caspak. McBride leads Charly and Professor Norfolk to search for Tyler while Hogan tries to repair the plane in time to fly back over the mountains before steamer gives up on them and heads home.
The movie has less dinosaur-action than the The Land That Time Forgot, and the creatures don’t have the same excellent puppet design. Aside from the pterodactyl, other beasts making appearances are a lazy stegosaurus, two near-immobile horned Tyrannosaurids, a sharp-toothed hippopotamus thingy that does nothing, a ridged-back cave-dwelling quadraped, and some terrestrial moray-eel hand-puppets. The moray-eel attack is one of the better suspense moments in the film, and feels like a borrowing from a 1930s serial. Otherwise, most of the monster scenes hover around adequate, no more.
To make up for the lessened saurian mayhem, The People That Time Forgot offers an ancient warrior civilization, the Nagas, who owe more than a bit to Akira Kurosawa. They perhaps are substitutes for the winged race in “Out of Time’s Abyss” . . . or maybe I’m just reading too much into this. The Nagas live in the Mountain of Skulls and give sacrifices to their volcano god. A sentence like that makes me very happy. (I also wonder if, a few years later, Mattel took a cue from the design of the Mountain of Skulls for Castle Grayskull in their “Masters of the Universe” toy-line.)
The climax of the film has more to do with Robert E. Howard and sword-and-sorcery than with Burroughs’s lost world epic, and contains some exciting barbaric swordplay. Even Professor Norfolk shows himself handy with a blade. The main inspiration for the design team in these scenes is Frank Frazetta. There are even Frank Frazetta prints hanging on the walls, fer cryin’ out loud! And look, everbody, it’s David Prowse as the big scary Naga brawler, taking a break from playing Darth Vader at Shepperton Studios to wander over to Pinewood for a few scenes. (Shane Rimmer also had a small part in Star Wars, wondering if an R2 unit needed replacing.)
The crew shot the exteriors on the Canary Islands, which offers a variegated volcanic landscape that makes a perfect Caspak. It looks nothing like the lush jungles and rivers from the first movie, but perhaps McBride landed in the suburbs of the Lost Continent. The cave and Mountain of Skulls sets have a great imaginative B-movie feel as well. The location work and photography provide some of the best parts of the movie.
Where The People That Time Forgot falls behind its predecessor is in Tilley’s script. His work is serious and doesn’t make a joke of the material (aside from a silly and out-of-character moment where Charlotte purposely endangers McBride with the stegosaurus for a laugh), but it has none of the heavier science-fiction aims of Moorcock’s and Cawthorn’s script. The earlier writing pair addressed Burroughs’s fascinating exploration of evolution; Tilley ignores this in favor of standard adventure fare, although I imagine that producer John Dark had something to do with simplifying the story’s aims and told Tilley exactly what he wanted from the script.
A place where The People That Time Forgot surpasses the first movie is Patrick Wayne as its hero. Beefy Doug McClure, put here in a supporting role, was only an adequate lead in The Land That Time Forgot. Wayne, however, looks genetically engineered to play a classic pulp hero. Wayne has limited range as an actor, and was balsa wood-light in the same year’s Sinbad and the Eye of the Tiger, but he’s on-target here. He works well with Sarah Douglas, who gives the film’s most accomplished performance.
The People That Time Forgot provides solid entertainment that only feels lessened when compared to its predecessor. The action comes nearly nonstop, even with weaker monsters, and the extended finale contains more explosions than a Michael Bay film—and not a single one is digital! Both Burroughs fans and sword-and-sorcery lovers will enjoy this hour and a half spent in Caspak.
Producer John Dark and director Kevin Connor followed up this film next year with Warlords of Atlantis, an Edgar Rice Burroughs adaptation in all but name. It still, however, hasn’t emerged on DVD. Perhaps by the time I review At the Earth’s Core, Warlords of Atlantis will have emerged, but I wouldn’t place any bets on it.
Ryan Harvey is one of the original bloggers for Black Gate, starting in 2008. He received the Writers of the Future Award for his short story “An Acolyte of Black Spires,” and his stories “The Sorrowless Thief” and “Stand at Dubun-Geb” are available in Black Gate online fiction. A further Ahn-Tarqa adventure, “Farewell to Tyrn”, is currently available as an e-book. Ryan lives in Los Angeles. Occasionally, people ask him to talk about Edgar Rice Burroughs or Godzilla in interviews.