Tuesday, August 09, 2011
Valley of the Dinosaurs (1974)
I’ve been wanting to watch Valley of the Dinosaurs ever since I stumbled across an article about it a year-and-a-half ago. It’s basically Hanna-Barbera’s stab at Land of the Lost and that’s something I wanted to see.
As I’ve watched this and other Saturday-morning adventure shows from the '70s lately, I've remembered that one of things that made Land of the Lost unique was its continuing story. Valley of the Dinosaurs is like Thundarr the Barbarian and The Herculoids; it explains the premise in the opening credits, but otherwise throws you right into the action with the first episode. Land of the Lost sort of does that too, but there’s a definite sense that the Marshalls are very new to their world in the premiere. They have a lot to explore and you get to see them do it. As Valley of the Dinosaurs opens, the Butler family may have been living with their cavefriends for a year as far as we can tell. That’s not necessarily a bad thing though.
While I like the world-development of Land of the Lost, disappointment eventually sets in when you realize that the series ended perfectly at the end of Season One, but kept going anyway. I’ve already written way too much about all of that, but even though I enjoyed a lot of Seasons Two and Three, the show ultimately didn’t fulfill its promise that it was presenting a complete, thought-out world. Valley of the Dinosaurs’ goals are much simpler, so it meets them easily and there’s no frustration. Some of the episodes do feature the Butlers’ trying out ways to get home, but it’s not the focus of the show. The show’s about themes like friendship and cooperation, as well as teaching simple science lessons.
We learn in the title sequence that the Butler family (parents John and Kim, teenaged Katie, pre-teen Greg, and dog Digger) fall into a whirlpool on a rafting trip and end up in a locked valley filled with prehistoric life. There’s no time-travel; the dinosaurs and prehistoric mammals simply never went extinct here. That explains why there can also be a family of cavepeople who rescue the Butlers from a menacing sauropod. The demographics of the cavefamily match up pretty nicely with the Butlers’. Gorok (looking a lot like a prehistoric Charles Bronson) and Gara are the parents; Lok is a teenaged boy and Tana is a girl just a little younger than Greg. There’s also a baby stegosaurus named Glump for Digger to play with.
The kids get paired off a lot, somewhat to Greg’s chagrin. He seems to enjoy Tana’s company, but he’s always whining about having to do menial labor instead of getting to help the teenagers and grown-ups with the exciting stuff. As for the teens, I’m sure there has to be some Katie/Lok fan fiction out there somewhere, because they’re both extremely attractive teenagers who obviously enjoy each other’s company. In a show about cavepeople and dinosaurs, one of the least believable things is that Katie and Lok aren’t romantically involved.
In spite of Greg’s complaining, the show is remarkably angst-free. The Butlers are making the best of being stuck and apparently see their situation as an adventure. There’s some requisite missing of luxuries like restaurants and air conditioning, but for the most part they’ve accepted their situation. Katie does the most reminiscing about home, but it’s always with a sense of humor. In fact, Katie’s always the quickest one in the group with a corny joke.
As for Gorok and his family, they’re happy to have the Butlers around. John is a science teacher back home, so he’s always teaching Gorok new and better ways to do things. His knowledge comes in especially handy whenever there’s a dinosaur attack or a natural disaster or an invading tribe or whatever danger threatens the two families this week. That’s when we all learn how to make diving bells, winches, and siphons.
There is the occasional conflict between the two groups though. Sometimes the Butlers’ concern for getting home conflicts with Gorok’s family’s priority of eking out an existence in the dangerous valley. That makes for some nice drama, but the frustration never grows to an uncomfortable level and rest assured that everyone will have learned to work together again by the end of the episode.
It’s really a nice show for kids with lots of positive messages, but it’s entertaining for adults as well. It’s Hanna-Barbera, so there’s a lot of recycling and corner-cutting with the animation, but the initial designs are all extremely nice and makes the whole thing pleasant to look at. There’s some fun voice work too. Jackie Earle Hailey (Watchmen, Human Target) plays Greg, but there are other recognizable voices in the cast as well. John is played by Mike Road (Race Bannon on Johnny Quest); Kim is Shannon Farnoni (Wonder Woman on Super Friends); Katie is Kathy Gori (Rosemary the Telephone Operator on Hong Kong Phooey); Gorok is Alan Oppenheimer (both Thundarr and Skeletor); Gara is Joan Gardner (Santa Claus’ adoptive mother in Rankin-Bass’ Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town); and Lok, Digger, and Glump are all played by Frank Welker (Fred from Scooby Doo).
There were only 16 episodes and all of them are equally engaging, enjoyable, and unobtrusively educational. I can easily see myself revisiting them soon.