Connor does Burroughs times three

By Tom Von Malder | Jan 04, 2021
Photo by: Kino Lorber The cover poster for "The Land That Time Forgot."

Owls Head — With a paucity of new releases on home video this week, I decided to look at a 1970s trilogy of films in which British director Kevin Connor took on three non-Tarzan books by Edgar Rice Burroughs, one of my favorite authors. All three films starred American Doug McClure, then known for his TV work in “The Virginian.” In two of the three films, McClure plays the same character, while his character has a bit more humor when paired with Peter Cushing in the middle film.

Connor has some 79 directing credits, including nine early feature films, of which these are numbers two, four and five. Starting in 1976 with two episodes of “Space: 1999,” another of my favorites, he has mostly worked in television, including 42 TV movies, most recently with “Do I Say I Do?” and “Love at First Glance,” both released in 2017. His new announced film is “Connemara Days.” He is particularly known for his science fiction and fantasy work from those early years.

Burroughs, of course, is most famous for creating Lord Greystoke, aka Tarzan of the Jungle. Burroughs wrote 25 Tarzan novels, starting with “Tarzan of the Apes” in 1912. His other famous series involved the 10 novels and one short story collection about John Carter of Mars, known as the Barsoom series, begun in 1912 with “A Princess of Mars,” and his four novels and one short story collection about Carson Napier of Venus, known as the Amtor series. However, Burroughs also wrote other books, including Westerns, and six of his books and one short story collection were set in Pellucidar, the hollow-Earth world that he first wrote about in 1914’s “At the Earth’s Core,” the adaptation of which is the middle film of Connor’s Burroughs trilogy.

Burroughs also wrote the Caspak trilogy about a lost continent, with all three books published in 1918. Adaptations of the first two books in the series make up the other two films by Connor. Interestingly, in the supplemental material, Connor says he was interested in adapting the John Carter of Mars series, but the idea would have been too expensive, so he made “Warlords of the Deep” (1978) instead. (Disney ended up making a very expensive “John Carter” in 2012 that never recouped its costs.)

The Blu-ray editions reviewed here were released in 2015.

The Land That Time Forgot (1974, Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, PG, 90 min.). Both Caspak films start based in reality, with this first film having the best lead-in, as it involves a Nazi submarine. The time is June 1916 – still during World War I – and Capt. Von Schoenvorts’ U-boat sinks a British ship. From the British ship, there are seven crew survivors and two passengers, Bowen Tyler (McClure) and biologist Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon of “Count Dracula”). Tyler, whose father helped build and design submarines, talks the surviving crew members into trying to take over the German submarine when it surfaces. They succeed, but Von Schoenvort (John McEnery of “Romeo and Juliet,” “Nicholas and Alexandra”) sabotages the compass, so they sail into unexplored Antarctic waters instead of reaching the United States.

Thirty minutes into the film, they first eye the new continent of Caprona, which is protected by ice and high cliffs and mountains. However, they notice a stream of warm water mixing with the ocean water, locate an underground river and use the submarine to follow the river into the inner world of Caprona, which its inhabitants call Caspak and where creatures at every stage of evolution exist. They soon realize that the further along the river they go, the more advanced species and tribes of humans they will find. One tribe member, Ahm (Bobby Parr, also of “At the Earth’s Core”), acts as sort of a guide.

There is the usual battle between dinosaurs – in this case it is Ceratosaurus vs. Triceratops – and a giant crocodile eats an Apatosaurus, and the two tribes they encounter are none too friendly, but for the most part, the Germans and Brits work together for survival.

The film turns a bit rushed towards the end, with a volcano erupting, quicksand pits, Clayton being held captive and lots of fire and lava everywhere. The script was cowritten by major British science fiction/fantasy author Michael Moorcock (the novels of Eric of Melnibone; lyrics for Hawkwind and Blue Oyster Cult). However, in the audio commentary, with Connor being interviewed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, Connor notes that Moorcock was displeased with the ending of the movie, presumedly because of it being so rushed and jam-packed.

Other extras include a vintage making-of featurette (12 min.), highlighting the design work of Maurice Carter and noting it took 10 years to put the film together. Hand puppets were used for the monsters, as Connor took a practical approach and CGI was not available yet. Grade: film 3 stars; extras 2.5 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

At the Earth’s Core (1976, Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, PG, 89 min.). While ideally Kevin Connor would have made “The People That Time Forgot” next, the script for “At the Earth’s Core” was finished and waiting. This is the most action-packed of the three films and for that reason, as well as Maurice Carter’s often spectacular sets, this is my favorite of the three films.

This time, Doug McClure plays businessman David Innes, who has funded the “iron mole” digging machine developed by Dr. Abner Perry (Peter Cushing who played Baron Frankenstein in 4 films and Prof. Van Helsing in 3 others). Their test run of the digging machine goes amok and they find themselves 4,000 meters beneath the surface of the Earth in the land of perpetual light known as Pellucidar. There, they encounter strange creatures, including what look like giant walking birds (no puppets this time; all the creatures were big enough to house an actor) and the giant flying bird-like Mahars, who enslave the humans with their cadre of ape-like Sagoth warriors. The Sagoth leader is played by Bobby Parr, who was caveman Amh in “The Land That Time Forgot.”

Innes and Perry are taken prisoner, where they meet fellow prisoners Dia (Caroline Munro of “Maniac,” “The Golden Voyage of Sinbad,” “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Dracula A.D. 1972” with Cushing) and Ra (Cy Grant of “Shaft in Africa,” “Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons”). Things get complicated with Dia, who actually is a princess, because Innes fails to follow the custom of taking her as his woman after he defends her from Hoojah (Sean Lynch). The real threat comes later in massive Jubal (Michael Crane), who also wants Dia as his woman and is ready to fight Innes for her.

Carter’s set work is extraordinary here, with a mix of psychedelia in the colors of the land, the underground fire pits and so on. Everything was filmed on stages at Pinewood; there was no location shooting, yet everything looks so real, yet so strange. The beasts may look like men in rubber suits, but they are effective, and the scenes of the Mahars flying to attack their female prey are truly terrifying. The Mahars, by the way, have telepathic and mesmerizing powers. The film’s ending is all sound and fury.

The scene where Innes and company leave for home seems to use the same drilling scene as opened the film. One would think they would point upward with their boring machine, instead of down, if they wanted to return to the surface. The film is all great fun, though. The cinematographer on all three films is Alan Hume, who also shot several of the “Carry On” comedies, “Return of the Jedi” and the James Bond films “For Your Eyes Only,” “Octopussy” and “A View To a Kill,” as well as “A Fish Called Wanda.”

Extras include an audio commentary by Connor and 2015 interviews with actress Munro, with also covers her later films (28:43) and Connor on his career, with about half of the 22 minutes about these three films. There also is an archival making-of featurette that covers Carter’s contributions and the creation of the monsters (5:43). Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 3 stars

The People That Time Forgot (1977, Kino Lorber, Blu-ray, PG, 90 min.). This is a direct sequel to “The Land That Time Forgot,” with a party led by Major Ben McBride (Patrick Wayne of “Young Guns,” “The Searchers,” “McLintock!”) setting out to find the lost continent of Caprona and the missing Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure reprising his role), his missive in a bottle having been found at the end of the previous film.

McBride and his party, which includes photographer/journalist Charly Cunningham (Sarah Douglas of “Superman,” “Superman II,” “Conan the Destroyer”), whose newspaper-owner father financed the rescue mission, mechanic/machine gun operator Hogan (Shane Rimmer of “The Spy Who Loved Me,” “Batman Begins,” “Superman II”) and Doc Edwin Norfolk (Thorley Walters, who played Dr. Watson in 3 films, plus “Frankenstein Created Woman”). The quartet fly over the lost continent, only to have the plan damaged by the attack of a pterodactyl.

Soon after they land – further inland than the previous film and thus fated to meet two more warlike tribes than are more advanced than Tyler had to deal with – they harness a stegosaurus as a winch to move the crashed plane to a more level location. They also encounter a beautiful – cleavage alert – tribeswoman in Ajor (Dana Gillespie of “Mahler,” “The Lost Continent”), who just happens to be a friend of Tyler’s and knows where he is being held prisoner by the Nagas, a tribe of Japanese-style-clad warriors who use swords and horses and work for evil Sabbala (Milton Reid of “The Spy Who Loved Me,” “Sir Francis Drake”), who is all about sacrificing women to the volcano god.

This time, production designer Maurice Carter comes up with a cityscape made up of giant skulls. However, the ending in which the island and its volcano god seems to chase the fleeing heroes back to the plane with an endless succession of explosions is not very convincing.

Extras include audio commentary by director Kevin Connor and interviewer Brian Trenchard-Smith and 2015 interviews with actresses Douglas (20:30) and Gillespie (24:11), with the latter talking about her revealing costume. In the audio commentary, Connor says he regrets having deviated so much from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ book for the ending. Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 3 stars

Also in release

Love and Monsters (Paramount, 4K Ultra HD + Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 109 min.). Previously reviewed when available on video on demand, the fun film is now out on home video. What follows is my previous review.

Dylan O’Brien is a very likable actor who built up a lot of good will during his days on TV’s “Teen Wolf.” It is great to see him in this post-apocalyptic movie, being a very good, even romantic guy, albeit naïve about the dangers outside the bunker he has been living in for seven years.

The situation is that asteroid Agatha 616 was heading for impact with Earth, so all the nations launched their rockets at it. The launch worked in destroying the asteroid; however, the chemicals from the rockets fell back on Earth, causing mutations among the insect and amphibian life – mostly making it grow gigantic and deadly to humans, with 75 percent of the population being lost. The result includes some very cool monsters in the film, including a boulder snail, a giant frog and a giant crab.

In his bunker with less than a dozen others, Joel (O’Brien) has become the chief cook – his minestrone soup is often talked about it – and radio expert. He never goes out hunting because he has terrible aim with weapons and a tendency to freeze when facing danger. Just recently, he has established radio contact with the colony where his girlfriend Aimee (Jessica Henwick of HBO’s “Game of Thrones”) has been hunkered down for seven years. There are five brief flashbacks covering Joel and Aimee’s relationship and what happened to Joel’s parents.

Joel suddenly decides to travel the 85 miles – meaning seven days on the surface – to reconnect with Aimee, despite his lack of skill and experience. His friends say even trained people only make it 50 miles at most. Along the way, Joel picks up a friend in a dog called Boy, travels with and is trained by Clyde (Michael Rooker of “Mallrats,” TV’s “The Walking Dead”) and his young companion (Ariana Greenblatt as Minnow), and finds a functioning Mav1s robot (voiced by Melanie Zanetti). There later is contact with a potentially shady Cap (Dan Ewing of “Chasing Comets”).

The film was made in Queensland, Australia and features some verdant landscape. The monster special effects are very good, and there are some interesting visuals of places and things gone neglected for seven years. The director is Michael Matthews (“Five Fingers for Marseilles”), with a script by Brian Duffield (“The Divergent Series: Insurgent”) and Matthew Robinson (“Dora and the Lost City of Gold,” the upcoming “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Live Die Repeat and Repeat”).

Extras include seven deleted scenes (11:50), a look at the cast (7:43) and creating the post-apocalyptic landscape (7:04). Grade: 3.5 stars; extras 2 stars

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