One Million B.C. [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray ALL - America - VCI
Review written by and copyright: Eric Cotenas (22nd February 2018).
The Film

When a troupe of mountain climbers in the Alps seek shelter from a storm in a cave, they stumble upon an archaeologist (Kongo's Conrad Nagel) who educates and entertains them with his interpretation of a series of cave drawing depicting the meeting of a hunter from the "rock people" and a girl from the "shell people." The rock people are hunters who kill for food, have no compassion for the weak, the old, or the very young. Their leader Akhoba (The Wolf Man's Lon Chaney Jr.) allows his son Tumak (Demetrius and the Gladiators' Victor Mature) to make his first kill on their hunt, but a subsequent fight between them culminates in Tumak's fall from a cliff. Vulnerable as a lone hunter, he flees a mastodon and hides in a tree that the beast rams into the water. Floating downstream unconscious, Tumak wakes up when he is discovered by Loana (Topper Returns' Carole Landis), daughter of the chief of the shell people (so called because they communicate across long distances using shells as horns). They nurse Tumak back to health but he does not understand their sharing nature and is initially distrustful of them. Although he starts to adapt their ways and fights off one of the dinosaurs the shell people usually hide from in order to save a child, a fight between him and Othao (The Mummy's Tomb's John Hubbard) – a romantic rival for Loana – leads to him being expelled from the tribe. Loana decides to accompany him and they brave the land on their own, hiding from large beasts and subsisting on the fish she is able to catch and the fruit she is able to pick. When they return to cave of the rock people, Tumak discovers that his father is now among the weak after being severely injured in a hunt. Although Tumak declares himself leader through might, Loana starts to exert a new influence on the tribe that starts to transform the rock people in a positive way… that is, until the nearby volcano erupts, pulling Tumak and Loana apart and threatening the lives of both tribes.

A step into the big leagues by father and son producers Hal Roach (The Devil's Brother) and Hal Roach Jr. (Captain Scarface) – produced back to back with their adaptation of Of Mice and Men – One Million B.C. was the first feature dramatic treatment of the flagrantly inaccurate dinosaurs-co-existing-with-primitive-humans scenario; that is, in the actual stone age rather than The Lost World's primitive world discovered by modern explorers. At the heart of the story is a battle of the sexes in which the gentle female exerts a civilizing influence on the male hunter, and the necessity of combined might and compassion to fight common enemies and rebuild after the devastation of a natural event. In their first lead performances, Landis and Mature – who also play members of the mountain climbing party picked by the archaeologist as "models" to give his listeners an idea of what primitive humans supposedly looked like (Landis gets the glamour close-ups while Mature is the only clean-shaven rock person and romantic rival Hubbard's facial hair is amazing well-styled) – make engaging romantic leads while only uttering a made-up primitive language. Mature would go on to matinee idol stardom throughout the forties and fifties while Landis' short career was plagued by failed marriages and health problems, ending with her suicide in 1948 at age twenty-nine. Chaney Jr. would also go onto character roles following his brief Universal horror stardom (The Wolf Man, Son of Dracula, etc). The film's photographic effects range from accomplished matte painted backgrounds by Jack Shaw (Mighty Joe Young) and miniatures by Frank Young to the rear-projected macro close-ups shots of various lizards as dinosaurs that are only just this side of what Mr. B.I.G. Bert I. Gordon would do in the fifties (King Dinosaur) and sixties (Village of the Giants) and again in the seventies with Food of the Gods.

Video

Derived from an HD scan of the 35mm UCLA Film Archives restoration, One Million B.C. was initially released by VCI in a Blu-ray with a problematic encode that was recalled and replaced with this current edition. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.33:1 pillarboxed fullscreen transfer is crisp with deep blacks and stable whites (in which some minute detail may have been lost to either to digital filtering or to the light glamour treatment of Ms. Landis). Sharpness is enough to reveal not only the dodgy textures of the "suits" fitted to live animals to make them appear like prehistoric counterparts while also calling more attention to the rear projected effects. While the artifice was obvious in earlier transfers simply because the dinosaurs were obviously magified lizards on a screen behind the actors; here, the rear-projection element is slightly softer and also paler than than the foreground actors and set dressings.

Audio

The sole audio option is a LPCM 2.0 mono track that is clean and crisp but subject to the limitations of the original sound recording. Dubbed-in roars and the scoring come through well-enough to engage the viewer with the drama. Optional English SDH subtitles are included.

Extras

Apart from a photo gallery, the disc's only extra is an audio commentary by Toby Roan, but is a good one as expected from the film historian who discusses Roach Sr.'s luring D.W. Griffith (The Birth of a Nation) out of retirment to "help" on the film, conducting months of test footage and location scouting while apparently having no intention of letting him direct (Roach Sr. would direct the actors and Roach Jr. the effects). He also reveals that Griffith wanted to use stop motion for the dinosaurs in the style of Willis O'Brien but Roach Jr. found rear projection faster and cheaper. He also covers the careers of the various performers from the leads to some of the noted animal performers.

Overall

While VCI has not had a good track record with Blu-ray thus far, One Million B.C. is an exemplary release for their catalogue.

 


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