The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
By: Trist Jones on May 31, 2006  |  Comments  |  Bookmark and Share
Warner (Australia). Region 2,4,5 PAL. 1.85:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 1.0, German DD 1.0, French DD 1.0. English, French, German, Portuguese, Dutch, Icelandic, Swedish, Croatian, Slovenian, Czech, Hungarian, Romanian, Turkish, Arabic, English (FHI), German (FHI) Subtitles. 92 minutes
The Movie
Director: Jim O'Connolly
Starring: James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson, Laurence Naismith, Freda Jackson, Gustavo Rojo
Screenplay: William Bast
Music: Jerome Moross
Country: USA
Dinosaurs and cowboys. No two words so distinctly different have come together so well since peanut butter and jam. I'm sure many of you are thinking "Outrageous!", as you probably would have when first presented with peanut butter and jam on toast or a sandwich (lest you were brought up on 70's or 80's Sesame Street). But as silly or preposterous as it may sound, once you take that first bite, you realise how truly fantastic such a combination is… Oh! The Dinosaurs and cowboys things works pretty good too… Especially when Ray Harryhausen is thrown into the mix!

Some of you may have seen it on some random, idle Sunday as a midday movie, some may have been lucky enough to find it at the video store, but for those who haven't seen or heard of The Valley of Gwangi, there's no better time than now. The Valley of Gwangi was made in 1969, though was originally supposed to be made over thirty years earlier as a follow-up to King Kong. There are glaring similarities between the two titles, where Kong saw explorers going to a remote island, encountering prehistoric monsters and bringing one back to civilisation resulting in giant ape rampage, Gwangi (pronounced Gwarn-ji) has cowboys inadvertently stumbling on a valley hidden in somewhere Mexico, encountering prehistoric beasts and bringing one back to civilisation resulting in dinosaur rampage. While the stories are similar on paper, characters and events in each film are, for the most part, very different.

Taking elements from the grand adventure movies of the 60's, such as Jason and the Argonauts and Mysterious Island, and fusing them with the tamer Westerns of the time, the film follows Tuck Kirby, cowboy and all round great guy as he accompanies Professor Horace Bromley on a paleontological outing into what locals call The Valley of Gwangi. Early on in the piece we learn that Gwangi is a Kong like being whose valley is forbidden to humans, incurring the creature's wrath should they ever enter. It's not hard to see where it goes.

The film is truly a matinee spectacular. The over the top, sometimes camp performances are a true sign of the times, as are the special effects and overall look of the film. Back then, these films were the Jurassic Park 3's of their time. Great special effects, light story, good guys, bad guys, dinosaurs and not too much to do but sit back and be entertained. If you watch any of these sorts of films and invest any more into them than that then you're going to come away thinking you've wasted your time (but then again if you're going to try and intellectualise cowboys versus dinosaurs, you probably don't deserve the brain you're forcing to work harder than it needs to).

The special effects are clearly the highlight of anything with Harryhausen's name attached to it, and Gwangi contains some of his best work. The titular Allosaurus is a fantastically brought to life creation, and while visually similar to what has come before, is superbly animated and integrated into the rest of the film. It could be argued that Gwangi is Harryhausen at his best. Some technically amazing sequences include the lassoing of a Styracosaurus, and the even more impressive lassoing of Gwangi himself, along with Gwangi's transportation wagon and rampage through the Mexican town. It's just a pity that this film isn't as dinosaur laden as say One Million Years B.C. Just a few more probably would've made this film the superior Harryhausen dinosaur romp. You get a Pteranodon (which are always done to perfection), a Styracosaurus (who, besides the aforementioned cowboy encounter, also fights Gwangi), a slightly less than impressive Ornithomimus (whose screen time is considerably short but leads to the reveal of bigger and better things), and an Eohippus (a miniature prehistoric horse) along with Gwangi himself, and if you're counting all the stop motion effects then you get an elephant that gets slaughtered by Gwangi in an arena sequence.
A decent transfer that isn't exactly going to win any awards. The DVD makes the special effects look great, and the dinosaurs have never looked crisper, but for nitpickers this could cause problems. Just as when they cleaned up the original versions of the Star Wars trilogy and you could see all the separate plates in the space battles (we're talking pre-CGI enhancements here folks, the versions people cling to with such needless desperation), the remastered visuals make certain effects shots more telling as to how they were achieved. Note though that this only happens once or twice, and doesn't detract at all from the viewing experience (unless you're really uptight about effects and suspension of disbelief). There are moments here and there where the special effects plates prove to be detrimental to whole image (in terms of dirt and scratches), but they too aren't anything to really worry about. For sticklers the film is in it's 1.85:1 ratio and a 16:9 transfer.
Again, not going to win any awards, English Mono with a French and German language option. The sound is clear though, sometimes too clear, showing off what's been relooped and added in post.
Extra Features
Gwangi comes with only a few extras, but for the price tag and the age of the film you can't really expect too much. There're trailers for other Harryhausen monster flicks, such as Beast from 20, 000 Fathoms, Clash of the Titans and the Black Scorpion. There's also the film's own theatrical trailer and a brief retrospective entitled "Return to the Valley", where various special effects artists and animators from the big effects houses today give their thoughts on the film and Harryhausen himself (who is also interviewed for the feature).
The Verdict
It's hard not to like this film. In spite of its faults, it really is a lot of fun and once the dinosaurs come into play they don't really let up. Gwangi will invariably be compared to Kong and One Million Years B.C., and although it doesn't quite reach the same heights of grandeur either of those titles, The Valley of Gwangi is still a classic in it's own right. For those who aren't massive dinosaur fans (like myself), think of it as Swiss cheese. Sure, there're a few holes, but it tastes great nonetheless! If you're after just a bit of fun without having to think too hard, Gwangi is pure, unadulterated escapist cinema, but if you're a dinosaur enthusiast, I say grab it! 3 stars for the average watcher, 4 for the dinosaur lovers.
Movie Score
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