Cowboys vs. Dinosaurs!
Everybody loves a circus, especially one based in the "wild west" theme. But for a small traveling show that's heading into Mexico, times are tough—the attractions just aren't bringing in the audiences needed to sustain the cash flow. The show, run by Champ Connors (Richard Carlson, Creature From The Black Lagoon) and the beautiful T.J. (Gila Golan, Our Man Flint), must go on even when T.J.'s past flame and co-worker Tuck Kirby (James Franciscus, Marooned) shows up out of the blue. When Tuck discovers that the show's owners have found Eohippus, a miniature horse that was thought extinct eons ago, things really start to heat up. This discovery soon lands Tuck, T.J., and a host of other cowpokes on a hunt in the "Forbidden Valley of Gwangi" where they A.) meet up with an old blind woman who predicts their doom at the jaws of the giant beast Gwangi and B.) run into Gwangi, a giant allosaur who is captured, contained, presented to a crowd, breaks free, and runs amuck upon the small Mexican village. It's man versus dinosaur in one of the most thrilling escapades ever caught on film: beware the beasts who dwell in The Valley of Gwangi!
You've gotta admit, cowboys battling dinosaurs is a pretty cool concept. Long before Michael Crichton was writing about dino theme parks, there was The Valley of Gwangi, a six-shooting, steel jawed adventure movie that combines the two elements that little boys love: rootin' tootin' cowboys and big, snarling lizards from the past. What hot-blooded male doesn't get slightly giddy at the prospect of watching ten-gallon hat riders trying to rope a giant lizard the size of a small apartment complex? While The Valley of Gwangi can't really be remembered for its story (it's actually pretty standard stuff) or acting credentials (everyone is about as stiff as a treated oak plank), the one thing that will stick in viewers minds long after the movie is over is Ray Harryhausen's fantastic special effects. Produced years before computers took over everything, Harryhausen's work here is masterful—there will always be something intrinsically cool about seeing actual models on screen as opposed to CGI rendered beasts. The first half of the film is filled with lots of talking and discussion about the beasts (and a few cool scenes featuring a mini pony). As soon as the last half starts up the film kicks into overdrive—it seems like there's non-stop action with rampaging dinosaurs, lasso tossing cowboys, and a great climax that is reminiscent of the original King Kong (when will man ever learn that if he tries to cage and display an extinct man-eating carnivore it will only end in disaster. When? WHEN?). Along the way, audiences will learn many lessons, not the least of which are these very important three:
• Love can blossom anywhere, including a hot, dry desert filled
with bloodthirsty dinosaurs.
And there you have it. The Valley of Gwangi. A movie so colossally entertaining (and informative!) that even a pack of raptors rampaging in your living room couldn't spoil your fun. Recommended.
The Valley of Gwangi is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. Generally speaking, this is a very fine looking transfer that sports some inherent flaws. There is a fair amount of grain and dirt in the image, mostly due to the "Dynamation" matte process used to create many of the film's spectacular special effects (these scenes often look fuzzy and out of focus). Otherwise, the colors and black levels are mostly solid and well defined. The soundtrack is presented in a rather boring Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono mix in English and French. Not much to report here: there aren't any surround sounds to be found in this mix, though the music, dialogue, and terrifying dinosaur cries are crystal clear. Also included on this mix are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
The extra features on The Valley of Gwangi are limited. The best is a short eight-minute featurette titled "Return to the Valley of Gwangi," a short look both how the special effects were achieved and the remarkable career of effects man Ray Harryhausen. Interview footage of various Industrial Light and Magic employees discussing his influence on them and other films (including Jurassic Park) is featured, as well as some discussion with Harryhausen himself. Also included are trailers for the films The Valley of Gwangi, The Black Scorpion, The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, and Clash Of The Titans.
Give us your feedback!
What's "fair"? Whether positive or negative, our reviews should be unbiased, informative, and critique the material on its own merits.
Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• "Return to the Valley" Featurette
Review content copyright © 2003 Patrick Naugle; Site design and review layout copyright © 2014 Verdict Partners LLC. All rights reserved.