Caveboy meets cavegirl in One Million B.C., an early caveman epic from Hal Roach. Simple and approachable, Roach undoubtedly found this idea saleable based on actresses in loin cloths romping around with dinosaurs – sort of dinosaurs, anyway.
The first action in One Million B.C. is a tribal hunt with Victor Mature taking the lead. He jumps on a motionless rubber triceratops and wrestles it like a kid playing with a plush toy. This, seven years after King Kong. It’s no better later in One Million B.C. A frumpy six-foot tall T-Rex is seen only out of focus or through foliage. The rest of prehistory wildlife comes in the form of fur-covered elephants, alligators with glued on fins, and for the climax, an undecorated iguana. Never mind that’s a herbivore.
Looking back on One Million B.C. isn’t easy. It’s notably cruel to animals, staging a fight between a small alligator and monitor lizard for “thrills.” An iguana at the end is relentlessly poked and prodded for the sake of agitation. It’s not pleasant to watch, much as the plot thinks this cruelty is earned. Hammer Studios’ remake in 1966, One Million Years B.C., solved this via stop motion (and was still sold on the basis on fur bikinis).
… a hokey and artificial dinosaur romp
… a hokey and artificial dinosaur romp
As lurid, empty entertainment, One Million B.C. suffices. Anachronisms brush historical truth aside. The story itself barely carries things, although it’s oddly sweet in a primitive way. Two lovers meet despite their differences in social evolution, Tumak (Victor Mature) the brutish, uncivilized killer, and Loana (Carole Landis) an empathetic caregiver. They of course fall for one another.
Poster art, with Mature clutching a fainted Landis in his arms, situates the male-led story as expected. Mature’s Tumak grows in his knowledge. Loana just stands by, although is an unusually capable woman for 1940’s cinema. Compared to King Kong’s hopelessly screeching Fay Wray, Loana won’t take any abuse.
If One Million B.C. offers anything to a modern audience, the visual effects (dinos aside) earn their due. Matte work in the opening frames appears seamless and the use of depth-laden miniatures on occasion certainly deserves credit. Those serve the pale story, adding legitimacy to a hokey and artificial dinosaur romp. Tumak and crew speak only in untranslated dialect, limiting interaction to physical gestures. This means love without words, leading to a suggestive sequence where Tumak romances his newfound partner in a tree as an oversized armadillo scratches at the trunk. In all of history, it’s doubtful anyone can say they were conceived to the sounds of a snorting armadillo.
VCI gives One Million B.C. a beautiful Blu-ray release. While the print shows damage, it’s well within acceptable parameters. Stray hairs caught in the gate and varying degrees of scratches add to the vintage aesthetic. Some dropped frames won’t help, although this is infrequent.
The encode handles a number of challenges, notably dust and fog. Paired with the clean, resolved grain structure, One Million B.C. shows no errant artifacts during these difficult conditions. If there’s a fault, it comes during a shared dinner scene in Loana’s camp where macroblocking makes itself noticeable.
Employing large studio sets and exteriors, strong resolution helps resolve the varying plant life and rock textures. Close-ups of lizards show off scales and other textural qualities. One Million B.C. scores what is, definitely, a modern scan, likely at 2K. The clarity gained from previous editions is remarkable.
If there’s a fault, it’s gray scale. A lack of depth comes from the limited black levels. Until the final reel, contrast lacks brightness. The jump into heavy contrast happens suddenly as Loana is introduced to the rival tribe. Under a bright exterior sun, the image pops, even too much so. A touch of clipping shows up.
Presented in PCM mono, audio mirrors the video’s surprising clarity. One word dialog passes through the available sound channel with no distortion. Elements of hiss and popping won’t intrude. Even when the video skips a frame, audio keeps going without a loss.
A somewhat muted score is by design; that’s part of One Million B.C. since the days of VHS (and certainly its original screenings). Still, even during the opening credits, the high treble horn section won’t struggle.
Film historian Toby Roan delivers a fine commentary. Although some dead spots happen, the information is appreciated and well researched. Following that, a 10-minute photo gallery shows off various advertising for One Million B.C.
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