Cowboys & Dinosaurs
Sometimes as a movie reviewer you just have to forget everything you judge a movie by and enjoy something which is basically nonsense. "The Valley of Gwangi" is one such movie as we have cowboys finding a forgotten world where dinosaurs roam and they capture a T-Rex looking dinosaur to show in a circus. And if that sounds like a bit of a "King Kong" style movie it is, because the original idea was by Willis H. O'Brien who had worked as visual effects supervisor on the 1933 version of "King Kong". The thing is that "The Valley of Gwangi" is daft, it doesn't have the best acting but the stop motion work of Ray Harryhausen is marvellous and still holds up as some of the finest stop motion work you will ever see.
Cowboy Tuck (James Franciscus) roles up at the travelling Breckenridge Circus looking to buy the well trained horse belonging to T.J. (Gila Golan) who he once left broken hearted when he left when things became too serious. But whilst there he discovers that T.J. is in possession of an Eohippus, a prehistoric tiny horse which ends up leading him, T.J. and several others to the forbidden valley where they discover a world with prehistoric dinosaurs which would make great tourist attractions for the circus.
When "The Valley of Gwangi" starts it seems to take an age to get going, we get what is almost pussy footing around as Tuck returns to the circus where he isn't welcome and looking to persuade T.J. to sell him her horse. We get the fact that Tuck once left her broken hearted, that bull fighter Carlos doesn't like him and we also meet palaeontologist Professor Bromley. But it does make you wonder when it is going to get going to all the dinosaur action which you know is coming.
But it comes firstly in the cutest little horse, or Eohippus as I believe it is called and then we have the journey into the forbidden valley. Now the similarities to "King Kong" kick in because we have a group of people discovering dinosaurs and see dollar signs as they can see a dinosaur being a great tourist attraction for a circus. And of course we all know what happens when you take a giant creature out of it's habitat to use in a circus act, don't we.
Now the thing is that even as a fantasy adventure "The Valley of Gwangi" is nonsense with a storyline which is weakly constructed and little more than a vehicle to get us to some cowboy and dinosaur action. And this is where things get good because whilst stop motion may seem cheesy to some what effects man Harryhausen achieves in "The Valley of Gwangi" is magnificent. There is a smoothness to the stop motion work which hadn't been achieved before, yes to some it is still jerky, but this is top quality compared to earlier movies. And the way real life interacts with stop motion is some of the cleanest I have seen which adds to the impressiveness. But it is also other things, such as when the dinosaur is knocked out by a rock fall you can see it breathing, when it is in the church you can hear it breath. There is a lot of attention to detail going on and it pays off.
It is very much a case that you watch "The Valley of Gwangi" for this stop motion action and the actual acting is really not that great. James Franciscus as Tuck is very over the top and all smiles whilst Laurence Naismith over does the bumbling nature of Professor Bromley. In fact it is Gila Golan as T.J. who makes the biggest impression but that is purely because she has this cute thing going on.
What this all boils down to is that "The Valley of Gwangi" not only feels a bit too "King Kong" like but is really a lot of nonsense. But sometimes nonsense is good and the stop motion work of Harryhausen makes it well worth a watch.