The People That Time Forgot (1977)

the people that time forgot

The People That Time Forgot

1977 / Kevin Connor

The success of Amicus’ first two Edgar Rice Burroughs-based fantasy adventures in 1975 and 1976 led to a third getting the go-ahead, to begin filming the following year. The first two, The Land That Time Forgot (UK, Kevin Connor, 1974) and At The Earth’s Core (UK, Kevin Connor, 1976) had each adapted the first story in a different Edgar Rice Burroughs series, the Caprona and Pellucid series respectively. Interestingly, the original plan was to do so again, with the third film drawing from the Barsoom series, better known as John Carter of Mars.

In these days of sprawling franchises and films being deliberately linked in as many ways as possible, it seems strange that Amicus would willingly give up the brand recognition and existing audience of a sequel, not once but twice. That said, the prominence of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ name on the posters might have been thought sufficient, and the recurring elements of the pulp author, strange worlds, monsters and Doug McClure certainly provide a significant thread of continuity. Perhaps Amicus wished to start an ‘Edgar Rice Burroughs Cinematic Universe’ although that might have been difficult to achieve with Doug McClure playing all the main characters.

Efforts to secure a John Carter of Mars story, however, failed. “The rights were so expensive that we had to abandon the idea,” Connor told Flickfeast. Only then did the director and producers fall back on a direct sequel. In a way, Kapitän Von Schoenvorts’ plaintive dying cry towards the end of The Land That Time Forgot that “Caprona has won! You cannot go back to the…beginning,” was correct. Caprona, the evolutionarily warped dinosaur island, had won, and Connor wasn’t exactly going back to the beginning, either. Unlike the previous two films, The People That Time Forgot (UK, 1977) would not be a faithful adaptation of a single Burroughs story. Instead, the film would draw from both the second and third books of the Caprona (also known as Caspak) trilogy,(1) The People That Time Forgot itself and Out of Time’s Abyss. It would also introduce a significant amount of new material and eject most of Burroughs’ exhaustively mapped out evolutionary processes, which grow in complexity throughout the books but add little to the adventures.

In contrast to the first two films, and the related post-Amicus production Warlords of Atlantis (UK, Kevin Connor, 1978), the lead role would not be occupied by Doug McClure. McClure would return, but in the guest star slot and would not appear before the film’s final act.

The premise of both the film and book The People That Time Forgot is a mission to rescue Bowen Tyler (McClure) from Caprona. The First World War is now over and the manuscript setting out Tyler’s experiences, discovered in a sealed canister washed ashore after drifting across thousands of miles of ocean, acted as both the framing device for The Land That Time Forgot and the inciting incident for its sequel (a feature shared with the books). Tyler’s childhood friend Ben McBride (played by Patrick Wayne, son of John) leads an expedition to explore Caprona in search of Tyler, funded by a newspaper and supported by the Royal Navy. Rather than the first film’s submarine, the explorers would be taken beyond the continent’s impenetrable cliffs by aeroplane. While in the book McBride flies in alone, in the film he would be accompanied by a small party of companions.

The People That Time Forgot would seek to combine the more popular elements from the first two films, with the Edwardian setting and vehicles of The Land That Time Forgot playing a major role again, while a saucy cavegirl reminiscent of At The Earth’s Core’s Dia the Beautiful would make an appearance in Caprona for the first time. Ajor, played by folk singer-turned-actor Dana Gillespie, suffered an even skimpier outfit than her predecessor, indicating that while some of the titular peoples of Caprona struggled with fire and basic tools, the development of double-sided tape had reached an advanced state. Gillespie had already appeared in a ‘lost world’ movie, Hammer’s The Lost Continent (UK, Michael Carreras, 1968), so was in familiar territory.

the people that time forgot

Susan Penhaligon would sadly not be returning, for reasons that were never explained. Penhaligon was simply not invited to return, unlike McClure, although it’s clear that female roles throughout Amicus’ adventure films developed away from Penhaligon’s somewhat nuanced and realistic Lisa Clayton towards more colourful and stereotypical genre characters. The People That Time Forgot would, however, have a dual female lead. In addition to Ajor, the character of Charly (properly Lady Charlotte) would be part of the rescue crew. An aristocratic journalist accompanying McBride and company at the behest of the expedition’s funder, Charly was played by Sarah Douglas, who would soon be far better known through playing the villain Ursa in two Superman films. Charly is a reasonably strong character, an independent-minded and confident woman who can think for herself and is often ahead of the men in working out what’s going on. Although hardly the most original character, she acts as something as a counterpoint to Ajor and arguably helped pave the way for characters like Marion Ravenwood, Eve Tozer and even Lara Croft.

Two further members of the rescue party were played by Shane Rimmer (best known as the voice of Scott Tracy in Thunderbirds (UK, Gerry Anderson, 1965-66), as mechanic Hogan, and Hammer stalwart Thorley Walters, playing standard-issue retired-Major-cum-palaeontologist, Norfolk.

Special effects would once again be overseen by Ian Wingrove, returning from At The Earth’s Core. The monster work would be similar to that of the previous film, with mostly smaller, quadrupedal dinosaurs operated by stuntpeople and the possibility of interacting directly with the cast. In truth, there’s somewhat less monster work than in the preceding two films – the real monsters are (mostly) human. There would be a couple of lengthy effects sequences involving miniatures, and also a full-scale replica of the Vickers Viking amphibian, for Wingrove to get his hands dirty with.

Principal photography began on 24 January 1977. The increase in budget was such that location shooting took place in the Canary Islands, which was certainly a step up from the disused clay pit outside Reading where The Land That Time Forgot’s exteriors had been shot. Connor and his director of Photography Alan Hume made the most of the opportunity and the unique volcanic landscape is seen to advantage – though it lacks a little of the charm of the earlier film’s reliance on miniature sets and matte painting.

After four weeks of filming around Santa Cruz de la Palma, the production returned to Pinewood. Additional filming took place in the Bavarian Alps and around Loch A’an in Scotland – mostly aerial footage for the early sequences when the search party flies into the north of Caprona. This footage was hard won, as the helicopter crashed, injuring cameraman Peter Allwork and losing everything filmed up to that point.

the people that time forgot

Unlike The Land That Time Forgot, which begins with a solid half-hour of straight war film, The People That Time Forgot quickly launches into fantasy action. Soon after taking off and crossing Caprona’s formidable barrier of cliffs, the rescue party’s aircraft is attacked by a huge pterosaur, and a dogfight between monster and machine ensues. The pterosaur, it must be said, is significantly better executed than the first film’s flying reptiles, which were entirely rigid with the exception of a hinged lower beak. This one does at least move its wings and head. A contretemps between the reptile’s beak and the aircraft’s propeller sees both tumbling to earth, and thereafter the story is not just about finding Tyler but escaping Caprona.

Hogan remains to repair the aircraft while the rest proceed into the interior to find Tyler. Early on they meet Ajor (speaking English, having been taught by Tyler) who helps guide them to where Tyler is being held captive.

Predictably, they have run-ins with dinosaurs and primitive peoples which really serve only as obstacles to overcome before the final confrontation with Tyler’s captors, the sinister ‘Nagas’. In Burroughs’ Caprona, all stages of evolution exist at once, and rather than species evolving across multiple generations, each organism eventually physically develops into the next stage, with those who survive long enough becoming hominids, then early humans, and eventually modern humans.

At the midpoint, the film shifts rather dramatically away from the dinosaur-caveman epic when the Nagas make their first appearance. These are a mask-wearing (and as it turns out, deformed), Samurai-like cult who worship Nagramata, the island’s volcano god from their ‘mountain of skulls’, a matte-painting realised temple carved into the form of vast human crania.

This part of the story is loosely based on Out Of Time’s Abyss, with the Nagas taking the place of the book’s winged ‘Wieroo’ who steal potentially fertile women to breed with. The Nagas, however, simply sacrifice their kidnapped maidens by throwing them into a volcano. Naturally, Ajor and Charly are considered prime subjects for this kind of deity appeasement, and the reunion with Tyler is complicated by the need to cheat David Prowse’s burly executioner of his prizes.

the people that time forgot

The volcano is given something of a character of its own, in another departure from the book, with Tyler convinced that it is sentient and bent on preventing anyone from leaving, which ties into the first film’s climax. With that in mind, the departure from Caprona seems disappointingly straightforward, though it is perhaps not too much of a spoiler to reveal that not everyone makes it out.

Amicus itself would not survive Caprona either. The stuttering company wound up prior to The People That Time Forgot’s release, so the film was credited to American International Pictures, an arm of MGM, which had distributed the earlier films in the US. Possibly as a result the last Amicus adventure would be the only one whose soundtrack (by John Scott) was released – though of the four Connor-helmed, McClure-starring adventures, its score, while strong, is arguably the least memorable.

The formula had proved a success, however, and the team that made the three Burroughs adaptations for Amicus would reassemble under EMI Films to make Warlords of Atlantis, which is in every way apart from the studio a partner to the three earlier films. In many respects it was the best of the four, with a $2 million budget and many former cast and crew returning having learned plenty of lessons over the earlier films – Roger Dicken returned with some excellent creatures, Mike Vickers’ thundering score was highly memorable, and Connor directed at a furious pace. By the late 70s, however, the Hollywood blockbuster had moved on light years. Jaws (US, Steven Spielberg, 1975) and Star Wars (US, George Lucas, 1977) had upped the game beyond what a hard-working British studio with a million or two dollars of US money could reasonably compete with. Ironically, many of the technical crew who honed their craft on the Amicus adventures would go on to play important roles in the groundbreaking blockbusters of the 80s and 90s.

Considering that, Milton Subotsky’s ambition to launch a series of effects-heavy adventures based on classic stories is to be applauded. The boost they gave to the careers of effects, design and photography crew is incalculable while the excitement and wonder of thousands of kids (and not a few adults) in the late 70s and 80s is beyond price.

Picture of Matthew Willis

Matthew Willis

Matthew Willis likes to write, and mix, historical and speculative fiction stories about things like warships encountering sea serpents and witches defending a naval base from demons. He lives in Southampton with a highly strung silken windhound.

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