Ralph Lucas

Planet of Dinosaurs (1977, James K. Shea)

Where does one even start with Planet of Dinosaurs? The only good thing about the film is some of the scenery… and maybe some of the music from Kelly Lammers and John O’Verlin. Most of the music is quite bad, but the film’s “theme” is this electronic piece and it adds both a sense of danger and the future. It fits the film exactly, which is sort of amazing.

As for the filming locations, not all of them are good, but there’s a lot in Vasquez Rocks Natural Area Park outside LA and it does look like an alien world. In those scenes, Henning Schellerup’s photography helps. In the rest of the film, it tends to hinder. There’s an incredible about of day for night shots in Dinosaurs and it’s a mix of jarring and daring. It never works, but it feels like Schellerup and director Shea are going to keep trying no matter what….

The film’s story is a mix of Planet of the Apes and Ten Little… um, you know, And Then There Were None. Trapped on an alien world (full of dinosaurs), the survivors of a spaceship crash get picked off one by one… who will survive? And who will they pair up with?!?

All of the acting is terrible. It’s not even worth determining who’s worst.

Ralph Lucas’s script has lots of bewildering expository dialogue.

The earnest (but bad) stop motion special effects don’t improve the film.

Dinosaurs’s amusing to laugh at, but nothing else.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Produced and directed by James K. Shea; screenplay by Ralph Lucas, based on a story by Jim Aupperle; director of photography, Henning Schellerup; edited by Stan Gilman and Maria Lease; music by Kelly Lammers and John O’Verlin; released by Cineworld Pictures.

Starring Mary Appleseth (Cindy), Harvey Shain (Harvey Baylor), Derna Wylde (Derna Lee), Max Thayer (Mike), Chuck Pennington (Chuck), Charlotte Speer (Charlotte), Louie Lawless (Capt. Lee Norsythe), Pamela Bottaro (Nyla) and James Whitworth (Jim).


The Call of Cthulhu (2005, Andrew Leman)

Here’s an interesting one. A modern silent drama. When I saw Gance’s Napoleon at Northwestern, someone besides a film professor introduced it. I can’t remember what he did, but he was just a big fan of silent films. In his brief introduction, he talked about how silent films and talkies vary not just by the audio, but by the storytelling methods. The Call of Cthulhu is a silent drama. The goal of the filmmakers (the H.P. Lovecraft historical society) was to adapt the 1920s story in that time period’s film medium. From the language of the title cards to the expressions and make-up of the actors, they succeed.

The silent drama is more of a visual storytelling medium than the talkie. Through the 1930s, when people were getting used to talkies, you still had some of these visuals–communicating information to the audience through a means outside the characters’ experience. A reasonable modern example is the maps (the moving dots) in Raiders of the Lost Ark. It’s not a precise example, but it’s a similar method. While these visuals do not currently “work” in film, in The Call of Cthulhu, they’re brilliant. The original story–I’ve never read any Lovecraft and don’t necessarily plan to do so, but he’s got a lot of great fans (John Carpenter, Guillermo del Toro)–is multi-layered, four or five story timelines going on at once, and the visual storytelling allows easy understanding for the audience.

The film’s official website attests there’s no CG, but some of the direction is obviously influenced by post-1920s work. It’s not disconcerting at all and I only noticed the shots because I watched the film with such mad love. With many of the “location” sequences, there’s raw, brilliant filmmaking innovation. CG has all but done destroyed that sort of innovation (to the point it’s surprising to find out something is not CG), and The Call of Cthulhu certainly shows film needs that innovation–needs that struggle–to achieve. This particular film achieves a whole lot through such innovation.

Though the film is out on DVD and has been reviewed at many mainstream DVD websites, Netflix isn’t carrying it, so it’s $20 from the official website. (You can also get it at Amazon). It’s well-worth the price.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew Leman; adaptation and screenplay by Sean Brannery, based on a story by H.P. Lovecraft; director of photography, David Robertson; edited by Robertson; music by Chad Fifer, Ben Holbrook, Troy Sterling Nies, Nicholas Pavkovic; produced by Brannery and Leman; released by the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society.

Starring Chad Fifer (Henry Wilcox), Ralph Lucas (Professor Angell), Matt Foyer (The Man) and John Bolen (The Listener).


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