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Jim O'Connolly
James Franciscus, Gila Golan, Richard Carlson
Writing Credits:
William E. Bast

Cowboy Tuck Kirby seeks fame and fortune by capturing a dinosaur living in the Forbidden Valley and putting it in a Mexican circus.

Rated G.

Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
English DTS-HD MA Monaural
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 95 min.
Price: $21.99
Release Date: 3/14/2017

• “Return to the Valley” Featurette
• DVD Easter Egg
• Trailer


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


The Valley of Gwangi [Blu-Ray] (1969)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 26, 2017)

With 1969’s The Valley of Gwangi, we find one of the last films on which visual effects legend Ray Harryhausen worked. Set in the early 20th century, a cowboy named Tuck Kirby (James Franciscus) learns of a location called the “Forbidden Valley”.

What makes this area special? The Valley appears to exist as a “land out of time” in which extinct beasts continue to thrive.

Tuck and his partners head to the Forbidden Valley so he can capture creatures that he can use to boost attendance in his road show. The local critters resist this annexation and cause havoc with Tuck and the others.

I was born just a little too late to see Harryhausen’s work when it was contemporary. I recall the hype for 1981’s Clash of the Titans, Harryhausen’s final film, but that was an isolated release, so his prior efforts went under my radar.

As an adult, I’ve seen probably half a dozen of Harryhausen’s movies and have come to really respect his efforts. The man truly was an artist, as he imbued his effects creations with delightful life and vividness.

Unfortunately, Harryhausen often found himself stuck in the service of bad movies, and I can’t say Valley alters that perception. While not the worst flick in Harryhausen’s catalog, it lacks much in terms of thrills or excitement.

As often became the case, Harryhausen’s creations offer almost all the enjoyment on display here. From the charming mini-horse El Diablo to the dinosaurs we find in the Valley, Harryhausen’s creatures seem enchanting and delightful. By 1969, he’d really mastered his techniques, and he brings amazing artistry to the film.

Franciscus also does surprisingly well in his bland role as the anti-hero. Tuck battles his desire to serve his personal interests with his occasional pangs of conscience, and Franciscus manages to evoke more personality than I’d expect. Sure, he overacts but a film like Valley essentially demands this sort of broad performance, and at least Franciscus shows charisma as the lead.

Otherwise, Valley tends to fizzle. The other actors mostly seem goofy and cartoony, and the story proceeds at a sluggish pace. We spend too much time with the characters before they head toward the Valley, and these moments don’t deliver useful exposition.

Instead, the scenes seem like simple filler. I get the impression the filmmakers needed to expand the story to the point where it qualified as “feature length” so they stretched simple sequences past their breaking point. This makes the tale slow and lackluster too much of the time.

Even when the characters get to the Valley and we finally meet dinosaurs about halfway through the film, matters don’t really improve in terms of narrative. The chance to see more of Harryhausen’s creations adds punch to the proceedings, but the story and characters remain less than enthralling.

Like I said, Valley seems far from the worst film of Harryhausen’s career, and I suspect it will still work reasonably well for kids. This feels like the kind of flick that mainly appeals to adults for nostalgic reasons, though, as I suspect many viewers saw it in their youths and will use it to remind themselves of those days.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture B+/ Audio C+/ Bonus D+

The Valley of Gwangi appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.85:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Across the board, the transfer looked good.

No substantial issues with sharpness emerged. A few wider elements showed some minor softness, but those instances stayed minor. Some effects shots took a hit but those instances resulted from the techniques on display and couldn’t be avoided.

No signs of jagged edges or shimmering materialized, and no edge enhancement was apparent. Source flaws remained absent, as I noticed no specks, marks or debris.

As befit the western setting, colors looked low-key. They were always as full as the cinematography demanded, though, and they appeared solid, with occasional rich reds on display via clothing. The occasional brighter hues seemed vivid and rich within the normally arid confines.

Blacks were dark and full, while shadows usually came across well. Some “day for night” shots were a little murky, but they didn’t cause substantial problems. This was a consistently strong image.

Though adequate, the movie’s DTS-HD MA monaural soundtrack aged less well, largely because it tended to seem a bit harsh. This particularly impacted effects, as they could be a little rough and brittle. I don’t think those elements fared poorly, but I felt they could’ve been smoother.

The same went for music, which showed reasonable reproduction but that could seem too bright. Speech varied due to sources. The movie used a lot of dubbing, as some actors such as Gila Golan were “re-voiced”. These instances weren’t done well, so the looped speech stood out in a negative manner.

Still, awkward as those lines could be, they remained intelligible, and the track lacked background noise or flaws. The audio seemed average for its age/era.

A featurette called Return to the Valley runs eight minutes, four seconds and includes remarks from special effects creator Ray Harryhausen, ILM animation directors Tom Bertino and Dan Taylor, ILM lead animators Peter Daulton Glen McIntosh, and ILM visual effects producer Ned Gorman. “Return” looks at the project’s roots and development, story/characters, creatures and effects. We get a few insights from Harryhausen in this decent program.

In addition to the film’s trailer, the disc includes a DVD Easter egg. Called “Gwangi & Vanessa”, it lasts one minute, three seconds and offers an anecdote from Harryhausen about his daughter’s attachment to the Gwangi puppet. It’s not much of a story.

Due to the still charming visual effects creations of legendary Ray Harryhausen, The Valley of Gwangi boasts occasional moments of delight. However, the story and characters fail to engage, so the effects can’t expect to redeem the project. The Blu-ray offers very good picture along with acceptable audio and minor supplements. Other than Harryhausen’s sublime wizardry, Valley doesn’t do much to entertain.

Viewer Film Ratings: 2.5 Stars Number of Votes: 2
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