I’m conscious this blog tends to wander off a bit from its declared focus on the exotic and the prehistoric. So let’s get back to basics – and a look at another prehistoric movie classic. I never saw this film as a kid (it’s an 18). I didn’t even see it in the course of my systematic researching of prehistory when I was working on Deep Time. In fact I’ve only just seen it, now the price of the DVD has dropped enough to justify buying it.
Creatures the World Forgot (1971) was a follow-up from Hammer to cash in on the success of One Million Years B.C. (1966) and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth (1970). There’s a vague sense early on that it’s reprising the same basic storyline – edgy encounter between brunet and blond tribes – but then things get more complex, involving two generations of chiefs and medicine women and the age-old trope of rivalry between two brothers. I found it quite hard to keep track of the plot – at the level of character motivations – in large part because communication is reduced to the most basic of grunts (no subtitles) and gestures.
This primitive grunting is part and parcel of the film’s self-presentation as a kind of drama documentary. Unlike its campy predecessors, it seems to take itself seriously. That means, for starters, no dinosaurs. So none of the Ray Harryhausen or Jim Danforth stop-motion effects that were the most celebrated feature (bar Raquel Welch) of the earlier films. What you get instead is superb photography of real African landscapes, an anthropological enthusiasm for primitive survival technologies and body ornamentation, and real African animals. It’s a shame, though, not to see any serious big game. The most formidable creature is a crazed wildebeest that implausibly – in speeded-up footage – attacks and kills one of the main characters.
Star billing in the film’s publicity went to ‘the Norwegian beauty’ Julie Ege (she’d come second in the Miss Norway contest), but her character’s role in the story is minimal. The focus is much more on the father and two sons and an older medicine woman whose machinations seem to drive much of what happens. The 18 rating is undeserved; the level of violence would barely rate a 15 today, but the violence does seem harsher than in One Million Years B.C. and When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth because of the consistently more realistic tone. I’d say the acting is better too, certainly than in When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth. The grim survivalism of these Palaeolithic hunters, the desperate competition for resources, power, women, has something serious to say about default human nature – and the perennial difficulties of getting the people of the world to live together peacefully.
All told, Creatures the World Forgot is not a badly made film; it just doesn’t have the creatures and the campiness to entertain in the way its predecessors may lead you to expect. One other thing to point out, which probably never crossed the minds of the film-makers back in 1971: in this African landscape, populated by African animals, why are the prehistoric people all Europeans?