We live in a world without mystery. We have the collective knowledge of humanity at our fingertips. We have explored every inch of the Earth’s surface, and plunged its depths. We have sent probes into the outer reaches of the solar system and mapped our own DNA. It is hard to imagine a time when we really didn’t know what was just over the horizon. When we truly thought monsters might lie in the dark places.
To be sure, the 1950s were not that time. We didn’t know what we do know now, but we definitely knew there weren’t dinosaurs living in an Antarctic jungle, but films like The Land Unknown sure had fun with the idea. Most of these lost-world films were set in the jungles of Africa or South America or on the remote Pacific Islands, but when some unusually warm water was discovered in the Bunger Hills region of Antarctica in 1947, it was too good of find not to be used in a science-fiction film.
Upon the discovery of warm waters, the U.S. Navy sends several ships to the South Pole to investigate. Once there, they send a small crew in a helicopter to fly over the water, but when bad weather approaches, they are told to come back. Without enough fuel to fly around it, they try to manage their way through the dense clouds. Something smashes into their helicopter forcing them down. And down. And down. Way below sea level, they finally land in a mysterious crater. When the fog lifts, they see it is a jungle in which time has forgotten. It is filled with plants that should have died out millions of years ago. And dinosaurs.
The crew led by Commander Roberts (Jock Mahoney) and reporter Maggie Hathaway (Shirley Patterson) begin exploring this strange land in hopes of finding a way out. Instead, they find Dr. Hunter (Henry Brandon), the lone survivor of a previous expedition who has gone native like the beasts. He tells them they should be able to find a part to fix their helicopter amongst his wreck but he’ll only tell them where it is if they leave Maggie behind. Knowing that the other ships have to return to home base in 25 days puts a time crunch on their decision.
The Land Unknown is pretty basic 1950s lost world sci-fi. There is nothing particularly special about the story and they don’t take it in any interesting directions. The special effects run from the laughably bad to the really quite good. One of the dinosaurs is nothing but a real-life lizard blown up to appear gigantic. The Tyrannosaurus Rex is noting but a guy in a bad rubber suit. But the pterosaur (that’s the flying thing that hits their helicopter) looks pretty good and the elasmosaurus (a giant sea creature) is really quite effective.
What really rises this film above the rest are the jungle sets. They must have filled an entire sound stage with huge trees, strange plants, bubbling craters, steaming crevices, and a huge river. The matte paintings look great, and they managed to make it all look both expansive and really interesting to look at. It's really quite astounding for what was surely a b-picture.
The cast does an admirable job with a pretty workmanlike script and the direction Virgil W. Vogel gets the story across without being too flashy. For a relatively low-budget dinosaur movie, it's really quite good. And at a brisk 78 minutes, it is well worth your time.
Kino Lorber presents The Land Unknown with a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with a transfer rate of 1080p. Extras include an informative commentary from film historians Tom Weaver and David Schecter, plus an image gallery and the film’s trailer.
The Land Unknown is is a forgotten film about a lost world that really ought to be remembered.