Blockbuster movies are rarely made in languages other than English; visual spectacles are dubbed or subtitled for non-English speaking territories. So Luc Besson was probably always going to be on a loser when he chose to adapt Jacques Tardi’s comic book for the big-screen; a female Indiana Jones with added dinosaurs, Adele Blanc Sec’s turn of the 20th century adventures are great fun, and it’s disappointing they didn’t find a wider audience. Louise Bourgoin is Adele, initially despondent after a tennis accident leaves her sister Agatha in a coma. She starts out on a search for the tomb of Ramses II, but when a pterodactyl egg hatches in Paris, Adele finds herself on a different kind of adventure than she expected. It’s admirable that Besson stuck to his guns and made the film in French; this lively period romp would be an ideal way to persuade young English speaking audiences of the unique charms of French language cinema.
Ray Harryhausen’s menagerie of stop-motion creations were the only show in town in the pre-CGI era, and James O Connolly puts the master to the test; The Valley of Gwangi features a miniature horsed called El Diablo, a pterodactyl and a few other dinosaurs, and Gwangi himself, a tyrannosaurus so personable he gets his own curtain-call in the final credits. This 1969 film takes a long time to get to the Valley, with the first half hour taken up with Tuck (James Franciscus) and his stuttering romance with circus performer TJ (Gina Golan). Her job is diving into a tiny pool while riding a horse, but Tuck is after bigger things; a hidden valley of exploitable creatures. Venturing into the valley, Tuck and his cowboy friends find a myriad of monsters, and whip together an unconvincing bamboo cage to transport Gwangi to a Mexican city, where the dinosaur runs amok in a local church. The Valley of Gwangi has a slow-burning plot for a dinosaur movie, but there’s plenty of enjoyably ropey dialogue before Harryhausen’s beautiful models take centre stage.
The sight of Downtown Abbey creator Julian Fellowes being chased by an angry dinosaur is just one of the choice moments in Bill L Norton’s creature feature, a daffy adventure romp with William Katt and Sean Young as the protectors of Baby, a dinosaur whose mother is captured by big game hunter Eric Kiviat (The Prisoner’s Patrick McGoohan). Shot on the Ivory Coast, Norton’s film is a handsome production, with interesting looking dinosaurs; presumably a mixture of men in suits and animatronics, they look surprisingly tactile if plastic. Saddled with an awful title, Baby sunk without trace, but offers a wealth of unusual scenes, with Fellowes probably keen not to be remembered for his role as Nigel, Dinosaur Hunter.
Terry Gilliam once noted that if you put a blonde wig on Matt Damon (as he did in The Brothers Grimm), you have Doug McClure. The Virginian star found a second lease of life in the small but memorable genre of British period dinosaur movies, with 1977’s The People That Time Forgot a good example. A sequel to The Last That Time Forgot, Kevin Connor’[s film conflates Edgar Rice Burroughs’ two follow up novels into on adventure, with Patrick Wayne leading an exploration to the Antarctic to rescue Bowen Tyler (McClure). Dana Gillespie is ideally cast as a comely cave-girl while Sarah Douglas snaps pictures of dinosaurs and Tony Britton worries on a nearby ship. An Apocalypse Now story for schoolboys, The People That Time forgot is a crisp entry in the lost world genre.
Rather surprisingly for a Disney film, neither children and dinosaurs are center stage in Robert Stevenson’s silly romp, with instead focuses on a battle between nannies (led by Helen Hayes) and Chinese criminals (led by Peter Ustinov). The competition is for Lotus X, a mysterious formula smuggled out of China by Lord Southmere (Derek Nimmo) and hidden in the bones of a dinosaur in a London museum. Few would suggest that Stevenson’s film has anything astute to say about race of age; the gag is that the old ladies are more than a match for their professional opponents. Featuring a role call of aging British talent, from Jon Pertwee to Max Wall, this holiday staple’s main prop turns up in Star Wars, and features some rather lovely glass paintings in the old style and is based on a novel by David Forrest.
Airplane was followed by a rash of inferior comedy films, but Caveman was one of the best, a spoof of the prehistorically-themed movies that have become a sub0genre since 1925’s The Lost World. Ringo Starr and Barbara Bach are Atouk and Tala, cave-people and aspiring lovers who go through the tribal alpha male rituals to consummate their love, or ‘zug-zug’ to use the local parlance. Shelly Long and Dennis Quaid appear to be having fun in a feature that, like The Artist, only features actual dialogue in one film. Some fun visual gags and amusing stop-motion monsters make Caveman a bright, silly comedy for all ages.