GORE IN THE STORE
INTERVIEWS FILM BLU-RAY DVD & BOOK REVIEWS
Directed by Jim O’Connolly. Starring James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson, Laurence Naismith. USA, Fantasy/Western, 92 mins, cert U.
Released in the UK on Double Play BluRay and DVD by Warner Home Video on the 26th February, 2018.
Cowboys Vs Dinosaurs! To be honest, that might well have been the average American child's dream movie back in 1969: throw in a cute miniature horse, some chaste romance, an eccentric British scientist and an adorable / annoying (delete as appropriate) kid and you're in business. Would such a mixture work today? Even given that Westerns aren't in these days, even when combined with other elements (COWBOYS AND ALIENS didn't take with the audience), might there one day be an all-new remake?
At the turn of the (twentieth) century, horse trader Tuck (James Franciscus) turns up at the scene of his ex-girlfriend TJ's (Gila Golan) Wild West Show, with an offer to sell it to a top circus. But her latest attraction is a prehistoric anomaly: a cute miniature horse known as an eohippus. British paleontologist Bromley (Laurence Naismith) sees it as a major scientific discovery, and arranges for its theft so he can locate the Forbidden Valley, a hitherto unknown area where dinosaurs still roam...
Obviously the film's big selling point is the legendary Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion effects, particularly in the way they've been seamlessly integrated into the live-action footage and fifty years on you can still look at some of the dinosaur scenes and wonder how they managed to match frame-by-frame scale models with the location shots. It's a pity that nothing shows up for about twenty five minutes and the dinosaurs themselves don't arrive till the halfway point. Sadly, there's really not much more to commend THE VALLEY OF GWANGI than its monsters: the characters are pretty cardboard (Franciscus' nominal hero is square-jawed but hard to like) and the set-up is somewhat silly (how can they expect a miniature horse to be a circus attraction when the arena setup means it's too far away for the audiences to actually see it?).
Where it scores highly, even today, is bringing it together with the cast and the "real" world, so the eyelines, lighting and shadows all match up. But viewed in an era where pixel-sharp CGI is routinely used not just in big studio fantasy movies but TV shows, music videos and car adverts, it's scarcely heresy to suggest that even though it's based on physical and tangible objects rather than data files on a hard drive, Harryhausen's stop-motion monster animation has now dated somewhat. But in spite of their jerky, juddering movement, they have a kind of life to them: they have a sense of reality and identity (as pointed out in the featurette, one of them even scratches his/her nose at one point). See also the original KING KONG, where the effects may be considered hokey today but they give Kong a sense of character, a sense of a genuine, sentient being - or more recently anything from Aardman: hand-crafted with love and attention to detail.
THE VALLEY OF GWANGI is in essence a kids' film: an agreeable Saturday matinee attraction of the KING KONG variety from a generation past, with a rousing Western-sounding score (Jerome Moross' penultimate credit) but sadly not much more than that. The picture looks wonderful on Blu, but there's little in the way of extras, just a short featurette from 2003 with Harryhausen and some modern CG animators from ILM.
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