What, no japanese rubber monstersaurus this time? Of course no, you silly billys.
I left this one for last, because it’s not just a japanese giant monster movie.
It’s a Japanese AND American coproduction, and it’s actually just one of the many movies to come out of the Rankin Bass and Tsuburaya Productions collaboration, including The Ivory Ape and The Bermuda Depths, just to cite the adventure/monster movie stuff or adiacent ones.
But this time you might already had an inkling of familiarity with the giant t-rex body suit shown in the poster, especially if you were already familiar with another piece of Tsuburaya Productions’ prolific output, as boy it does look like the evil t-rex mastermind from Attack Of The Super Monsters, and hence from the anime-live action series Dinosaur War Izenborg.
Gotta make it fast, make it cheap, and recycle dem suits a lot…. though to be fair its the other way around this time, as they made the “Tyrannosaurus suit” for this movie and then later re-used it for Dinosaur War Izenborg. Still, fairly cheap, extra cheesy, but japanese rubber suit monsters are an acquired taste i’m not here to deny anyone (let alone myself), fuckin love them.
The plot concerns a wealthy big-game hunter, Maston Thrust, that – as wealthy people tend to – owns a multimillion oil company (named after him, of course) that searches for “Texas tea” under the polar caps with a manned laser drill dubbed “Polar Borer”.
One day from an expedition returns a single man, a geologist that survived when, during a routine test, the caps gave way to a volcano-heated valley full of creatures.
Including a T-Rex that immediatly attacks the crew, proving that indeed Solar Opposites was right about these guys just being dicks. But Thrust decides to go there himself, alongside a select group, in order to study the creature, and all that Lost World/The Land That Time Forgot stuff, because it wouldn’t really be a dinosaur movie without cavemen/primitive humans. It would, but whatever.
Co-directed by Alexander Grasshoff and Tsugunobo Kotani, The Last Dinosaur stars western films star Richard Boone, in one of his final performances, as the big game hunter and tycoon magnate that seems constantly drunk or pissed off with everyone, especially women who want in his scientific expedition/hunt, like the peppy and brave photoreporter played by Joan Van Ark.
The decision to have the main character being this big game hunter it’s to make him unlikeable on purpose, to make him a sad relic that feels burdened by its own legacy of hunter, i mean the point –as explicitly worded by the character itself – of him too being “the last dinosaur”, the last of his kind of game hunters… which today it’s a bit much to “forgive”, since he’s a rich hunter that killed dozen of endangered species for fun, so….
And sure as hell the movie doesn’t want you to like him off the bat, since he gives out GOLDEN BULLETS in small cases to his lady dates, whom he barely remembers even dating to begin with, because the character wouldn’t be complete (and 70s, i guess) with some random sexism, and him also having an african hunter/servant to follow him around, to make him feel even more ancient, outdated, again, a relic on its own.
It does work and he does becomes more sympathetic and more human overall as the movie goes along, more charming, even if still obsessed by hunting, he ironically becomes the more three dimensional, rational and likeable character of the bunch.
I do like that the film has a very grounded tone to it, how the dramatic moments offer a very somber atmosphere, often veering in melancholy, but it’s an odd duck due to the combination of western actors and the aforementioned tone of the story with the japanese style of monster effects, aka the man in suit or “two man pantomime horse” four legged monster, but definitely on the cheaper side of the “rubbersuit spectre”.
Still, cheapness does not explain why the hell they gave the T-Rex these puppy dog eyes, it’s laughable, undermines all the attempts and all the waffling about it being “the super tyrant of the lizards” and shit, and it’s not like they hide its eyes, nope, 40 minutes-ish in and you’ll clearly see the monster, including his puzzling cuddly, watery eyes.
I guess the intent was to make the creature more realistic and less “cartoon evil”, but it’s still cartoonish looking anyway, and the cheap rear projection effects are just slightly better than the Showa Gamera films. Just barely, so not that bad for the era, we’ve seen plenty worse, but it translates – as it usually did – to the creature having inconsistent size depending on the shots, and of course they recicled the Godzilla roar, barely disguising it with some extra sounds too.
I mean, rubber suit style tokusatsu monster are one thing, but there’s no reason to make the villain dinosaur look like this, i mean, this isn’t the child dinosaur/Minilla equivalent, you’re not supposed to feel too bad for him. It’s even harder to ignore because presentation it’s otherwise fairly decent, with some oddly picturesque shots of the valley and the matte paintings used to do so.
The Last Dinosaur has aged into obscurity over the decades not because it’s bad, it’s actually a decent flick and hasn’t aged as badly as it could, but because it’s also oddly forgettable, with the plot not being very original at all and plodding down overly familiar territory, with the star actors giving good performances but not being exactly good as “bait” for most dinosaur buffs hunting down older movies, and it being a bit slow at times doesn’t help either.
Nor does some incredibly goofy scenes that are so supposed to be intense, like the hunter finally managing to craft a catapult and hit the T-Rex on the head with its… its soft, rubbery head, since you can clearly see the boulder bouncing off the thing, as if the dinosaur ate a certain Devil Fruit.
It’s one of these cases where the final product is decent but the production history kinda overshadow anyway, since it’s an American heavy cast and direction (despite being co directed by Tsugunogo Kotani) with a japanese style monster design, soundtrack and effects, odd but ironically not enough to properly stand out in any significant manner among its brethren, despite not being nearly as stock as you would imagine from the premise, and having a good, sad ending.
Still, it’s worth giving a shot, as it might become someone’s hidden gem or otherwise get some more exposure and revalutation, if we can have fondness for the crappy movies of yore, we can also give better (not great, but definitely better) movies than that a chance to be rediscovered and enjoyed.
Not a classic or a “surprise quality find”, but still, a solid, mostly fun film from the era.
Definitely not a bad to close this year “Dino Dicember but not quite” on.