Directors: Roy Ward Baker, Val Guest
Warner Home Video/Best Buy

In what’s already turned out to be a banner year for Hammer Films on DVD, Warner Home Video has unleashed (without much of a heads up) this sci-fi themed double feature as a Best Buy Exclusive (two other classic sci-fi double bills have subsequently been released, and we’ll be reviewing them as well). Besides being both Hammer productions, the two films have a common bond in that they showcase the British company’s continuing ambitions of experimenting with innovative special effects despite the constant budgetary restrictions put open them.

The year is 2021 and the Moon is being colonized for Earthlings to patron for business and pleasure. Bill Kemp (American actor James Olsen, who also appeared in Hammer’s CRESCENDO the same year) is a former astronaut who is now a space salvage expert with a small ship known as “Moon Zero Two.” Monocle-wearing millionaire J. J. Hubbard (Warren Mitchell) and his gun-toting sidekick Harry (Bernard Bresslaw) hire him for a scheme involving the capture an asteroid and bringing it to the moon’s surface, as it’s made of valuable sapphire. In the meantime, a young woman named Clementine (Catherine Schell, here billed as Catherina von Schell) is looking for her missing brother, and convinces Kemp to help her find him. In the search for the missing man and the attempt to attain the asteroid, Kemp discovers what the conniving Hubbard’s true intentions are.

Hyped as a spectacular space western (producer Michael Carreras was apparently very fond of the western genre), MOON ZERO TWO was a box office failure despite being released in the wake of 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968) and the initial lunar landing. Part of the problem is that Hammer just didn’t have the money nor the resources to do such an effects-laden production properly. The effects team, headed by Hammer veteran Les Bowie, was full of talent, some who worked on 2001 and others who would go on to some of the most popular fantasy films of all time. But even though this was one of the mostly costly things Hammer ever produced, the effects, while passable in most instances, still fail in comparison to the spectacle of 2001, a marking stick by which all future space operas would be measured.

Another contributing factor to MOON ZERO TWO’s failure is the story, which allows for much talk and not a lot of action. Despite a cool shootout sequence on the Moon’s craters and a humorous gravity-challenged saloon brawl, the film’s thrills are two few and far between. Although Hammer’s intentions of making something more sophisticated were honorable, I dare say that the film would have benefited greatly (entertainment-wise) by the appearance of any kind of rubbery monsters (ala THE GREEN SLIME) as its narrative threat. Bizarre creatures were an ingredient in another Hammer box office failure, THE LOST CONTINENT, which happened to become something of an endearing cult item – MOON ZERO TWO is pretty much forgotten.

Scott MacGregor’s space age set – depicting a “Moon Hilton” hotel – are quite impressive, but a late 1960s mod depiction of the future (where women model funky colored wigs and bulky false eyelashes) only keep the film dated, albeit in a charming retro manner. The cast is certainly not the best for a Hammer film, but they seem game, and although it’s up to the effects to carry it, director Roy Ward Baker tries to get the most out of the characters, with an overall tongue in cheek attitude in check. Adrienne Corri makes a memorable appearance (mostly due to her eclectic wardrobe) as a space maiden, and in bit parts are Neil McCallum (DR. TERROR’S HOUSE OF HORRORS), Robert Tayman (Count Mitterhaus in Hammer’s excellent VAMPIRE CIRCUS) and Michael Ripper – it’s a bit jarring to see him in futuristic regalia.

In prehistoric times, a primitive rock tribe of brunettes is about to sacrifice a group of blonde females (something to do with their inferiority) to the Sun. The ceremony is soon interrupted with the formation of the Moon, and one beautiful would-be sacrifice, Sanna (Victoria Vetri) is swept out into the violent waves of the ocean. Sanna is then rescued by Tara (Robin Hawdon), a friendly caveman from the rival tribe. Sanna and Tara fall in love, but the relationship causes friction amongst their people and the two lovers find themselves in various deadly perils and facing a number of intimidating creatures of various sizes. Their never-ending fight for survival finds them split apart and then reunited again.

WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH was produced after Hammer had an enormous success with ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. several years earlier. Again, Hammer relied on the formula of meticulously designed stop motion effects mixed with scantily clad cave babes, with the end results here being mostly successful. With a bigger budget than what was usually allotted for a Hammer film, WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH also took longer to complete than any of their prior productions. Location shooting in the Canary Islands started in the Fall of 1968, with studio work being completed back at Shepperton in England in the beginning of 1969. The effects took many months to complete, taking production well into 1970, and it was released in England that Fall. American theatergoers didn’t see it until the Spring of 1971, when it was trimmed for a child-friendly G rating.

Although Hammer’s production team wanted effects master Ray Harryhausen back from ONE MILLION YEARS B.C., his busy schedule caused them to instead go with the very capable and young Jim Danforth. It was a wise choice, even though Danforth’s intricate work took a painstaking 17 months to complete, bringing the picture way behind schedule, yet earning the effects an Oscar nod in 1972. Danforth’s stop motion dinosaurs are some of the finest ever seen on the big screen, even rivaling Harryhausen’s work in many instances. He was assisted by Roger Dicken (THE LAND THAT TIME FORGOT) and the late, great Dave Allen, with some of the impressive mattes being done by Hammer’s perennial effects and props man, Les Bowie. Unfortunately, some of the effects had to be axed (including a bit with giant ants) and some organic lizard battles from 1960’s THE LOST WORLD are awkwardly spliced in the film on occasion.

WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH has the simple premise of the conflicts between primitive cave people and the creatures they encounter, and director Val Guest wrote the screenplay based on a treatment by J.B. Ballard. Guest also concocted the caveman dialect (no English is spoken except for some opening narration) and apparently wasn’t happy with the final film. The plotline is actually a very tired one, and the silly caveman shenanigans don’t help the matter, but it’s got an infectious sort of energy about it, making the combination of jiggle and giant monsters irresistible. Though not a breakout star in the tradition of Ursula Andress or Raquel Welch, American born Playboy playmate Victoria Vetri is an absolutely stunning cavegirl, filling out her animal skin bikini with to-die-for curves. Along with Vetri are other luscious cavebabes played by Magda Konopka (SATANIK), Imogen Hassel (who sadly, took her own life a decade later) and Jan Rossini (CRY OF THE BANSHEE). Veteran actor Patrick Allen (NIGHT CREATURES, NIGHT OF THE BIG HEAT) is good as the bearded zealot-like heavy, giving constant opposition to the young lovers.

An unexpected but very welcomed release, Warner’s presentation of these two Hammers is a barebones affair, but the transfers will no doubt please everyone. MOON ZERO TWO has never been given a U.S. video release before, and it’s rarely ever been on television, so it’s good to have it in any acceptable form, even if it’s just for the sake of Hammer completists. Presented anamorphic widescreen at 1.85:1, the image looks quite good, except for some occasional soft spots and a few print blemishes. Colors are excellent, with the opening animated sequence (featuring a pop theme sung by Julie Driscoll) looking properly eye-catching. The mono audio is fine and free of any distortions, and optional English and French subtitles are included.

DINOSAURS is presented in an excellent anamorphic widescreen transfer at 1.85:1. Detail is sharp, and except for some minor blemishes (mostly during optical effects), the image is very clean. The tanned and oiled fleshtones and bright blue skies make for nice colors, and the mono audio brings out Mario Nascimbene’s grandiose score and the caveman grunts to good effect. An optional English subtitle track is included (literally transcribing the unintelligible Stone Age jargon) but the French subtitle option turns up nothing when prompted. The most rewarding aspect of this disc is that despite the back cover’s G rating and 96-minute listed running time, this is the full uncut British version, clocking in at close to 100 minutes, restoring nudity (courtesy of Vetri and Jan Rossini) and other bits not present in the shorter American cut. This alone is sure to make this release a highly sought after collector's item.

The one sided disc does not have a chapters menu, just an option to choose either film. Simplicity aside, this already seems to be one of the hottest discs of the year, mainly caused through word of mouth. Highly recommended. (George R. Reis)