The Last Dinosaur
Directed by: Alexander Grasshoff, Tsugunobu Kotani
Written by: William Overgard
Starring: Richard Boone, Joan Van Ark and Steven Keats
The Last Dinosaur might be worth watching solely to see a clearly hammered Richard Boone scream at one his shipmates, calling him a, “ding dong.” And yes, Last Dinosaur was meant to be taken seriously.
This is a co-production from longtime cartoon producers Rankin & Bass and Tsubaraya Productions, scheduled for a theatrical release stateside before being pulled for TV instead. The same two companies, or at least the same people, also delivered King Kong Escapes, a live action take on the Rankin & Bass “King Kong” TV series. That one is a blast, given a goofy, comedic tone, skilled miniatures, and one great looking T-Rex named Gorosaurus.
The last dinosaur is no Gorosaurus.
There are plenty of unconvincing dinosaur suits out there, from the flop-headed clunkers of Unknown Island to the the meat-eating beastie in Universal’s The Land Unknown (which incidentally used the head of The Munsters’ pet Spot). This “last dinosaur,” (which is clearly not the last one as poorly blue screened pterodactyls roam the skies) seems to have been constructed for an actor three times the size of the one in it. It’s as if the poor guy has no control, and it bends in ways that would make this T-Rex the world’s greatest contortionist.
To its limited credit, the set-up isn’t awful; the extraordinarily wealthy Masten Thrust (Boone) is putting together an expedition to a lost world to track down a T-Rex. As a game hunter, surely he’s in it for the science… or not… at all. Warner issues this one in its original Japanese theatrical form, around 10-minutes excised from US TV versions, and it was probably better for it. Last Dinosaur is filled with long stretches of nothingness, and hilariously clunky brawls with a tribe of cavemen after the modern day crew is stranded in this world between glaciers.
Whatever character is established tends to go out the window as a fairly young Joan Van Ark begins to have feelings for Boone’s character, a man 26 years her elder. Thankfully, the dinosaur pops up just in time to salvage the audience from where that is headed, setting up a final confrontation between Boone, the T-Rex, and a catapult. They at least earn points for that set-up, and maybe some of the atmosphere, but the rest seems like it was edited by a ding dong.
Warner’s generally delivering fine source materials for their archive releases, this one pulled from what looks to be a capable, adequate print. Damage is acceptable, judder is kept to a minimum, and everything looks stable. Colors situate themselves naturally and stay there, while the black levels can wander a bit off course. The day for night footage certainly doesn’t help though.
Where this one veers south is the compression. A hair over 4 GB of the disc is used up, meaning there’s plenty of room left for this one to breathe. That’s simply not the case, and compression becomes a burden. The movie is loaded with foliage, tall grass, and other jungle sets which completely break down. Skin appears like plastic, and close-ups fail to preserve whatever fine detail is present on the film stock. Grain is turned to mush, and when fog or dust come into play, forget about it. There’s even a subtle smearing with light movement, readily apparent during the press conference before the expedition sets out.
Audio suffers from similar issues, although it’s hard to pinpoint whether it’s the source elements at play or the compression of this 2.0 mono effort. For what it’s worth, the material seems well preserved, Warner putting little to no effort into restoring these low-end catalog affairs. Static is absent, fidelity sticks within a constant mid-range, and the score rarely breaks down into mush.
The balance is completely off though, the music, no matter how light, swallowing the dialogue and rendering many lines unintelligible. There’s a small party with some Japanese hosts, a light harp belting out single notes that is enough to overwhelm the actor’s lines. Once onto the lost world, the wonderfully dated and overdone main theme only makes it worse.
There are no subtitles as Warner leaves these discs are bare bones as possible, so you can’t even turn those on during the trouble spots. Most importantly though, the “ding dong” is unmistakable, so you’re safe.