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Diablo Joe Reviews The Primevals

Posted in Diablo Joe Reviews by Neal at 19:49, Jul 31 2023

"The Primevals"
review by Diablo Joe

From Fantasia Film Festival 2023

Audio version

"The Primevals"

It is delightfully ironic that in the past year, two of cinema's greatest stop-motion animators and effects artists have had their decades-long passion projects reach fruition and public release. First was the legendary Phill Tippet's fever dream, "Mad God," which gave us a hallucinogenic trip into Hell filled with a phantasmagoria of twisted delights. Now, from the late David Allen comes a very different labor of love that harkens back to a much more innocent era of filmmaking. Like Tippet's film, "The Primevals" had become the stuff of film-fan mythos. And, like its predecessor, it will likely be welcomed with open arms by those who have long-whispered its name as if it were some lost holy relic.

The story of "The Primevals" goes back many decades into the 1970s. Effects artist David Allen was one of the crop of young talents who came up in the wake of stop-motion pioneers Willis O'Brien and the incomparable Ray Harryhausen. Allen had spoken of his dream project here and there in interviews in magazines such as Starlog, Cinefantastique, and others. For nearly twenty years, it lingered as not much more than a hopeful anecdote among fans of fantastic cinema. But in 1994, after years in the industry, working on some of the biggest films around, Allen received the support of a giant of B-genre movies, Charles Band, in finally bringing "The Primevals" into production. Allen and Band had worked together as far back as 1978's "Laserblast." Since then, Allen contributed animation and effects to a score of Band's pictures and helmed Band's direct-to-video "Puppet Master II." “The Primeval’s” principal photography wrapped in '94, but Allen's extensive and time-consuming post-production stop-motion effects came to a tragic halt when Allen died of cancer in 1999. Once again, the project seemed lost forever.

But recently, Band, working with a talented team of effects artists and with the support of a crowdfunding effort, has managed to revive and finally complete David Allen's grand vision for the world to see.

"The Primevals" follows a group of scientists and researchers who, following the discovery of the body of an abominable snowman, venture into the Himalayas to capture a live yeti. In pursuit of the creature, they stumble upon a hidden tropical paradise created by a mysterious, ancient alien technology whose creators may still, eons later, pose a threat to the group.

If this sounds a bit silly, well, it is. "The Primevals" is nothing if not a love letter to motion pictures such as "Thief of Baghdad," "The Seventh Voyage of Sinbad," "First Men on the Moon," and "Mysterious Island," as well as the writings of Wells, Burroughs, and others. Going into production a year after the release of "Jurrasic Park," even if this film had gotten a release by the end of the decade, audiences would likely have viewed it as an anachronism or, worse, cheap and cheesy. With the current appreciation and nostalgia for practical, non-CGI effects, its chance to age on the shelf may have been to "The Primeval's" benefit.

But just how is it as a movie? Simply put, "The Primevals" is a joy that harkens back to a simpler era of escapist storytelling. Yes, silly, but also a lot of fun. This band of explorers is led by a dedicated professor (played with radiant, wide-eyed enthusiasm by Juliet Mills in a gender-updating from the wizened old lecturer trope). Along for the ride is her (dashingly hunky) prized student, plus a plucky female scientist. And what would a party like this be without a fearless young Nepalese guide and a seen-it-all adventurer (named, without irony, Rondo MONTANA)? There is no inner angst for these characters, no pretty conflicts. When you're busy doing daring acts of bravery and spouting ridiculous scientific observations, who has the time to be brooding? They're classic genre film archetypes accompanied by Richard Band’s rousing, perfect musical score who are tossed into an exotic setting filled with incredible creatures.

And what of those incredible creatures and David Allen's beloved stop-motion animation? Allen's fantastic creations are nothing if not awesome examples of movie magic! As likable as the cast is (and they are), no one enters this film wanting to see the human actors. You drop your coin for a ticket to see the monsters and marvels, and "The Primevals" delivers them. Allen's ginger-haired design for the yetis is an obvious homage to that titan of all stop-motion creations, Kong, and the spindly, lizard-bug aliens honor both Harryhausen's great skeletons of "Jason and the Argonauts" and his Selenites from "First Men on the Moon." They are examples of cinema wonders at their most delightful!

It's a tragedy that a talented and well-respected artist such as David Allen died too soon. Likewise, that he never got to see “The Primevals” come to completion is equally unfortunate. But the efforts of Charles Band and others to see this project through is a treat for any film-lover who appreciates a rousing adventure, heroic characters, and terrific creatures from the imagination of a genuine movie magician.

This devil of a reviewer gives “The Primevals” 4 out of 5 imps.

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