By 1967, Rankin and Bass Productions became the leading specialists in holiday and Saturday morning television entertainment with such classic offerings as the Christmas favorite RUDOLPH THE RED-NOSED REINDEER (1964), THE KING KONG SHOW (1966-1967), THE WACKY WORLD OF MOTHER GOOSE (1965), THE DAYDREAMER (1966), and the cult favorite, MAD MONSTER PARTY? (1966). In addition, the company branched out into co-productions with various Japanese film companies such as Toei Animation. Perhaps their best known collaboration during this period was with Toho Company Ltd. for a live action theatrical adaptation of their King Kong cartoon which was successfully released by Universal Pictures under the title KING KONG ESCAPES. Legendary special effects creator Eiji Tsuburaya directed trick photography on this film and ten years later, Rankin and Bass Productions once again teamed up with the Tsuburaya Company (creators of ULTRAMAN) for this interesting and fun giant monster/lost world themed epic featuring familiar American faces and a wildly campy appeal. THE LAST DINOSAUR makes its DVD debut as part of the very successful Warner Archive Collection.
A scientific expedition led by Dr. Chuck Wade (Steven Keats) returns from an unbelievable journey to a hidden world under the polar glacier. It seems that a dormant underwater volcano has warmed up the land underneath the glacier and has preserved the area exactly as it was millions of years ago complete with dinosaurs and prehistoric cavemen. Millionaire oil tycoon and big game hunter Maston Thrust (Richard Boone) is intrigued enough by the idea of hunting a real live dinosaur that he funds the construction of the Polar Borer, a drill-like submarine capable of penetrating deep into the earth. Consisting of this new expedition other than Thrust and Wade are reporter Francesca “Frankie” Banks (Joan Van Ark), Thrust’s bodyguard/servant Bunta (Luther Rackley), and renowned scientist Dr. Kawamoto (Tetsu Nakamura).
Not long after their arrival, the group is menaced by such dangers as flying reptiles, a hostile tribe of cavemen, and the king of all dinosaurs, the Tyrannosaurus Rex. As the intrepid explorers are picked off one by one by the vengeful dinosaur, its destruction becomes an obsession for Thrust in the ultimate battle of man vs. nature with echoes of Moby Dick thrown in for good measure.
The casting in THE LAST DINOSAUR follows a familiar pattern of hiring American names for a Japanese-made production in order to make the film more palatable to American audiences. This practice goes as far back as Nick Adams’ participation in such films as FRANKENSTEIN CONQUERS THE WORLD and MONSTER ZERO in 1965; Russ Tamblyn in WAR OF THE GARGANTUAS (1966); Rhodes Reason and Linda Miller in KING KONG ESCAPES (1967); Robert Horton, Luciana Paluzzi, and Richard Jaeckel in THE GREEN SLIME (1968); and Cesar Romero, Joseph Cotten, and Patricia Medina in LATTITUDE ZERO (1969). Actually, THE LAST DINOSAUR was intended for theatrical distribution in the United States as a result of the recent box office popularity of such AIP/Amicus co-productions like THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT (1975), THE PEOPLE THAT TIME FORGOT (1977) and AT THE EARTH’S CORE (1976), but instead was released as a made-for-TV movie airing in February 1977 on ABC’s Friday Night at the Movies.
The special effects photography is actually fairly good and although none of the miniatures will fool anyone, they are appealing in a campy sort of way. The dinosaur costumes are also pretty well designed and the battle between Tyrannosaurus Rex and Triceratops is actually well staged with Maury Laws’ background music an asset. The acting is also pretty good for a film of this type with a scene stealing performance by veteran actor Richard Boone as the obsessive Maston Thrust. Steven Keats is a little irritating as Chuck Wade while Joan Van Ark is very good as the plucky heroine “Frankie” Banks in the “Lois Lane” tradition. Fans of Japanese monster movies will immediately recognize Tetsu Nakamura as Dr. Kawamoto from his appearances in Toho’s THE MYSTERIANS (1957), THE H-MAN (1959) and MOTHRA (1961) as well as the mad scientist in the Japanese-American co-production, THE MANSTER (1959).
THE LAST DINOSAUR has been made available as part of Warner Archive Collection’s phenomenally successful made-on-demand DVDs. This release represents the complete 106 minute theatrical version as opposed to the 95 minute print originally aired on ABC. The aspect ratio of 1.78:1 is preserved here and features anamorphic enhancement for 16x9 televisions. The image is very sharp and clean looking with excellent colors and nice detail. The sound is also fine. As with the other releases in the Warner Archive Collection, there is no menu, but chapters can be moved at ten minute intervals.
Warner must be commended for releasing yet another hard-to-find title as part of this made-on-demand series. Although many fans find it reprehensible that so many genre titles are being released this way from Warner and other companies, these titles would otherwise be locked in a vault collecting dust somewhere. These specialized titles can now find homes on the shelves of the serious film collector. (Joe Cascio)
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