• One Million B.C.

    One Million B.C.
    Released by: VCI Entertainment
    Released on: October 17th, 2017.
    Director: Hal Roach & Hal Roach Jr.
    Cast: Victor Mature, Carole Landis, Lon Chaney Jr., Conrad Nagel, John Hubbard, Nigel De Brulier, Mamo Clark, Conrad Nagal
    Year: 1940
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    The Movie:

    Influential enough to have essentially been remade by Hammer Studios as One Million Years B.C. in 1966, (which was in turn essentially remade again in 1970 as When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth), Hal Roach Studios’ One Million B.C. introduces us to Tumak (Victor Mature). He’s a young caveman from the Rock Tribe trying to find his place in the world. In this world where only the strong survive, he winds up being kicked out of his tribe by his father Akhoba (Lon Chaney Jr.), who just so happens to be the tribal chief.

    When he’s rescued by Loana (Carol Landis), the beautiful daughter of the Shell Tribe’s chief, he falls head over heels for her – and you can’t blame him, really. As young love blossoms despite tribal politics and Tumak recovers and learns much from his new friends. Eventually, however, his behavior sees him excised from the Shell Tribe as well. It is then that he and Loana venture out into the wilds on their own. Meanwhile, both tribes must defend themselves against the ever present threat of man-eating dinosaurs and volcanic disasters capable of laying waste to both villages.

    Narrate by Conrad Nagel, this is pretty strong stuff for its time. Not only do we see tribespeople devoured by rampaging dinosaurs but we also see them taken out by a volcanic eruption and each other! This is a surprisingly effects-heavy movie for its day, and those effects are very definitely the highpoint of the film. Some thoughts on this, however – the effects featuring the dinosaurs are done using lizards and other reptiles composited onto a screen behind the actors. This works quite well, but it means that the violence we see perpetrated against these very real reptiles doesn’t appear to have been faked the way that they would have been if miniature work or stop motion animation had been employed (which is the reason that the movie was infamously censored in the UK when it was released theatrically). Those sensitive to animal violence have been forewarned. That said, the effects work here is creative, impressive and effective. The majority of it works quite well.

    The film also benefits from an interesting cast. A young Victor Mature makes for a pretty solid lead here. He looks the part, more or less – he might be a bit too clean cut to really convince as a ‘caveman’ but he is at least tough looking and seems like he could handle himself. Carol Landis stuns in this picture, she’s absolutely beautiful here – again, way too ‘clean’ looking for us to really buy her, but certainly fun to watch. A whole lot of suspension of disbelief applies to the casting here, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of the performances if you can get past that. Lon Chaney Jr. is also a blast, cast here as our hero’s hard headed father and leader of the Rock Tribe and Conrad Nagel’s narration is well delivered.


    One Million B.C. comes to Blu-ray (the movie never received a DVD release, although VCI is releasing it on that format at the same time as this Blu-ray) with the black and white image properly framed at 1.37.1 from a new 2k restoration from the original 35mm negative that has some issues. Let’s start with the good – there’s pretty solid detail here and the image is very clean. Contrast looks decent and we get pretty good black levels too. But then there’s the bad. As you can see in some of the screen caps below, something went wrong when transferring the elements to digital, as there’s a genuinely strange vertical combing effect evident throughout the movie. This is more noticeable in some scenes than in others (the opening credits being the most obvious example), but it’s definitely there and it’s definitely distracting. Obviously for an issue like this the size of the set you’re viewing it on will affect how much you notice it but it results in what is essentially a strange anomaly that creates a stair-stepping effect where there should be smooth lines. There's also some odd compression issues that pop up from time to time (look at the clouds to the left and right of the volcano in screen cap #13).

    At the time of this writing, VCI is aware of the issue, are looking into fixing it and have stated that they will offer a replacement program once corrected discs are available. When we have more information on that, we’ll update this review accordingly.

    The only audio option on the disc is an LPCM Mono track in English with optional subtitles offered up in English only. Every once in a while you might pick up on the odd instance of hiss but otherwise the audio here is pretty clean. Range is understandably limited by the source but the track is well balanced and it gets the job done with no real issues.

    Aside from a still gallery, menus and chapter selection the disc also comes with an audio commentary by film historian Toby Roan, who has clearly done his research when it comes to this film and its history. He offers up some history of the picture, the studio that made it and the directing efforts as well as insight into what the cast brought to the picture and of course, those infamous dinosaur effects scenes. There’s a lot of information in here, which gives the track plenty of value.

    The Final Word:

    One Million B.C. is a lot of fun, a simple but effective story of romance and survival in the age of the dinosaurs! VCI’s Blu-ray features a good commentary and fine audio, but the issue with the transfer stops it from ranking as highly as it should. Hopefully the corrected discs are able to properly resolve the issue.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. C.D. Workman's Avatar
      C.D. Workman -
      I watched this on my 60 inch and that weird combing effect was evident throughout. Obviously this received a superb transfer, so I'm hoping VCI does actually come through with a replacement, as I want to see the film in all its glory.