If you’re like me, you like two things in this world — dinosaurs and cowboys. Okay, okay, there’s some other good things out there, but mixing prehistoric monsters with the old west is an epic idea and I’ll watch anything that attempts to do so. The Vally of Gwangi is one such venture. Let’s check out the Blu-ray release that Warner Archive has put out, shall we?
This 1969 oddity was directed by Jim O’Connolly and stars no one I’ve personally ever heard of; however, Ray Harryhausen, the legendary effects titan, worked on this one, which alone should be enough to warrant a viewing. If you are unfamiliar with the name Harryhausen, you’ve likely still seen his work, his stop-animation style has been in some of the most iconic films of all time.
In The Valley of Gwangi, a bunch of cowpokes (I am so happy I get to use this word in a review) who work for a Mexican circus stumble upon a tiny little horse from prehistoric times. Their plan to train this little equine to dance on top of a full size horse while being paraded around the circus grounds may seem like the ultimate moneymaking goal, but what if there is more of these little buggers running around somewhere in the foothills?
Well, it turns out, the valley where they found this little horse has been sufficiently shut off from the world for millions of years, and a whole slew of dinosaurs are still roaming around. Seeing this for what it truly is (a vast opportunity to catch a T-Rex for the show), a group of cowboys attempt to take on these monsters, but who will come out on top?
The Valley of Gwangi might start off a bit slow, but once the dinos show up, things pick up pace quite nicely. There’s some fantastic showdowns between man and beast that must have been revolutionary in their time. Having a cowboy lasso a rope around a T-Rex’s neck on the big screen must have blown minds back in the day. Unfortunately, the technology today has made significantly more exciting ways to bring dinosaurs to life, and the lack of said technology back in 1969 is an unfortunate ball and chain here. Shots with the stop animation combined with live action have a very noticeably blur which is distracting and ugly (think VHS quality). This is especially disappointing when compared with the rest of the film, which has a great transfer and good detail.
Overall, even though the film doesn’t age all that well with the effects, they are still fun to watch. There is something comical and enjoyable about watching a bunch of rough and rowdy cowboys throwing their ropes at an obviously placed in stop motion animated dinosaur. How can you go wrong?
As I mentioned before, scenes with stop motion and live action suffer from a blur and degraded quality. These scenes are, for the most part, all towards the end of the film and are distracting in a way that might take you out of the fun you’re having. Personally, I am willing to forgive these, as they are an obvious technical limitation, but if you find yourself having strong feelings on quality, be warned.
Other than the stop motion scenes, the picture quality is fantastic actually. The colors and clarity are super good everywhere else, which is great news.
The Master Audio 2.0 track is perfectly sufficient here. There’s no distortion from what I heard, and the effects are never overpowering as to detract from the dialog. Overall, this was a fun one to listen to, with the fun sound effects.
- Return to the Valley
A bit of a bummer that there is only the one special feature in this set, but I am unsure how much there is out there about the film. In Return to the Valley, Ray Harryhausen discusses making the film. It’s quite interesting to see this legend talk about his process. It’s a bit under 10 minutes, so I highly recommend giving it a watch.
In terms of packaging, Warner Archive has chosen a standard amaray case with a single sided sleeve. The disc art matches the cover with some truly awesome art, which makes this set stand out when compared to other bare bones releases.
I really enjoyed this film. While some scenes didn’t look all that great anymore, just seeing cowboys and dinosaurs interacting with each other thanks to Harryhausen’s animation is reason enough to give this one a shot.
Note: This Blu-ray was sent to us for review. This has not affected our judgement or editorial process in any way. Please contact us if you have any questions regarding this proces