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What more could a kid want from a Saturday movie matinee than cowboys and dinosaurs? Well, that minor Ray Harryhausen classic, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI ($20), delivers them both in a rootin’ tootin’ shootin’ good time! THE VALLEY OF GWANGI started out as a project that stop motion effects master Willis O'Brien had hoped to produce, but ultimately abandoned. Decades later, Ray Harryhausen decided to tackle his former mentor’s discarded project, whose story structure has some marked similarities to KING KONG (for which O'Brien had provided the special effects). However, other than its similarities to KING KONG, the screenplay for THE VALLEY OF GWANGI is a bit juvenile and features the kind of cardboard stock characters that truly make Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion special effects the real star of the movie. Of course, if you love the notion of cowboys and dinosaurs sharing the screen, you aren’t likely to notices the screenplay’s shortcomings!

Set in circa 1900 Mexico, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI tells the story of a mildly rundown Wild West Show looking for a new star attraction. At first, that star attraction comes in the form of a recently discovered miniature horse, which captures the attention of the self-promoting Tuck Kirby (James Franciscus), as well as that of paleontologist Prof. Horace Bromley (Laurence Naismith), who insists that this marvelous scientific find should have been extinct for millions of years. However, the local gypsies believe that the tiny horse comes from a cursed forbidden valley, so they steal the animal as to return it to its home. Of course, the gypsies lead the scientist and the cowboys right to the forbidden valley, where they discover dinosaurs and other prehistoric forms of life. As one might suspect, the cowboys capture one of the dinosaurs, which they make into the featured attraction of the Wild West Show. Anyone who has seen KING KONG can almost guess what happens next. The cast of THE VALLEY OF GWANGI also includes Richard Carlson, Gila Golan and Freda Jackson.

Warner Home Video has made THE VALLEY OF GWANGI available on DVD in a 1.78:1 wide screen presentation that features the anamorphic enhancement for 16:9 displays. Considering its age and relatively low budget origins, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI looks pretty darn good on DVD. The image is usually sharp and nicely defined. There is some softness in the optical composites, but otherwise the picture holds its own. Colors are pretty vivid, but again, the opticals do create some shifts in the hues. Blacks appear accurate, whites are stable and contrast is good. The film element used for the transfer has its share of age related blemishes and a bit of a grain structure, but neither is objectionable. Digital compression artifacts are always well concealed. The Dolby Digital monaural soundtrack is pretty much free from background hiss, as well as noise or distortion. Dialogue is always understandable and the music sounds fine. A French language track is also provided, as are English, Spanish, and French subtitles.

Music underscores the basic interactive menus, which allow one access to the standard scene selection and set up features, as well as a few nice supplements. Return To The Valley is an excellent eight-minute program that features Ray Harryhausen talking about the production. The program also offers interviews with current day special effects wizards that talk about the Harryhausen influence and their appreciation of THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. Also included is a theatrical trailer, as well as trailers for THE BEAST FROM 20,000 FATHOMS and THE BLACK SCORPION.

THE VALLEY OF GWANGI provides plenty of Saturday matinee movie fun, as well as some great Ray Harryhausen special effects. Warner has done a good job with the DVD, providing a fine looking widescreen transfer and thoughtful supplements. If you are a Harryhausen fan, then picking up THE VALLEY OF GWANGI is pretty much a no-brainer.



The Valley of Gwangi (1969)


DVD reviews are Copyright © 2003 THE CINEMA LASER and may not be copied or reprinted without the written consent of the publisher.
THE CINEMA LASER is written, edited and published by Derek M. Germano.



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