TV Terror Guide: The Last Dinosaur (1977)


Air Date: Feb. 11, 1977 (ABC)

Production Companies: Rankin/Bass Productions, Tsuburaya Productions

Running Time: 106 min.

Available on: DVD (Warner Archive)

Written by: William Overgard

Directed by: Alexander Grasshoff, Tsugunobu Kotani

Cast: Richard Boone, Joan Van Ark, Steven Keats

Rating: 6 vintage televisions (out of 10)

 

During The Last Dinosaur (1977), especially since it features more than one prehistoric monster, I kept thinking it was Masten Thrust Jr. (Richard Boone) who was the titular character. He’s a big game hunter and “richest man in the world,” according to Newsworld Magazine, who has run out of challenges. While drilling for oil under the polar cap, one of his crews discovers a land that time forgot and its one survivor, Chuck Wade (Steven Keats), claims to have seen a Tyrannosaurus rex up close and in person.

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Thrust wants to fund another expedition to explore this land and gives his word that the efforts will be for science, not sport. As often as he reiterates that he doesn’t plan to kill the dinosaur, you know that’s exactly what he intends to do. When the photographer chosen to participate, Francesca “Frankie” Banks (Joan Van Ark), later challenges his promise, he shouts an excuse, “You ding-dong! It intended to kill us!” His delivery of the line isn’t as dramatic as it sounds; Boone shouts all his lines.

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The acting is the worst part of The Last Dinosaur. Van Ark fares best, although falling to her knees and crying when she learns the T-rex has tossed their vehicle, the “Polar Borer,” into a graveyard of bones and they’re probably stuck there, is overly dramatic. I take that back. Bunta (Luther Rackley), Thrust’s “friend” and guide, fares best because he has no dialogue at all. It’s not necessarily the words by writer William Overgard that are bad, but the delivery by almost all the characters comes from an all-angry-all-the-time school of acting.

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Granted, I’m the one who loves the Gamera films, even Super Monster, but I didn’t think the special effects were bad. A co-production of Rankin-Bass and Tsuburaya, The Last Dinosaur was filmed in Japan and uses men in suits for its dinosaurs. This approach isn’t the only thing taken from Godzilla; you can clearly hear his roar mixed in with that of the T-rex. Some of the sets look like they’re from one of Rankin-Bass’s stop motion holiday specials, while some of the fights look like they’re from a Toho kaiju film.

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This was originally intended to be a theatrical release but was edited for television and premiered on ABC. I watched the theatrical release, and it was surprisingly gory. We see the horns of a Stegosaurus pierce the belly of the T-rex and, even more horrifying, the T-rex’s toenails pierce the skin of the Stegasaurus. Blood literally spurts from the wounds and the T-rex looks like he’s been sloppily gargling with blood. I’m guessing all this was cut from the TV version, which would have eliminated the second most exciting scene.

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The first most exciting is more innocent. When the T-rex traps Frankie in a cave, Thrust yells at Punta to get “200 yards of tough vine.” They wrap one end around a boulder and tie the other end to the T-rex’s tail. Then, when they distract it and it charges them, it pulls the boulder behind it. The boulder then rolls past the beast on a hill and pulls it down after it. The dinosaur and the rock somersault down the hill and land in a stream. It’s funny, but it’s fun, if you know what I mean.

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There’s also some surprisingly adult content more suitable for a theatrical presentation. Thrust has never taken a woman on one of his expeditions and is not keen to do it now. However, Frankie puts on the charm and seduces him. As they’re lying on her bed, a slide projector suddenly lights the room. She’s lured him into a demonstration of the work she can do with a camera. It’s intimated that they are then “together,” but she also has island make-out sessions with Chuck, which add to the chaos that eventually drives Thrust over the edge.

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My initial thoughts about Thrust being the “last dinosaur,” were validated at the end. In the climactic scene, Frankie tells him to “Let it (T-rex) be. It’s the last one.” He replies, “So am I.” The Last Dinosaur is a lot of fun if you disregard the contradictions the script makes with the details. The box for the Warner Archive DVD says it’s “the sort of thrill-a-minute popcorn seller that gives bad movies a good name,” which isn’t exactly a glowing endorsement. However, it’s not boring. That, for me, would be the sign of a bad movie.

 

The Last Dinosaur is not available on YouTube; however, visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV to watch other great movies from this series...

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