By now we’ve all spent countless hours on Flickchart endlessly agonizing over matchups in relentless pursuit of our ultimate movie lists. Flickchart is a drug, and like any junkie, I’m always looking for a better high. Something new to satisfy my movie ranking addiction. Globally ranking movies is great, but sometimes I want to narrow down my choices and really focus on a specific type of movie. Fortunately, the site allows for customized filters allowing for matchups that are more specific. This lets you quickly polish up your ‘best of the decade’ lists, or aids in helping you pick your favorite slasher flick, but what about when you get REALLY specific. Just how many ‘Unglamorized Spy Films From the 90s‘ are there? Exactly how many crime dramas starring Robert Di Niro have I seen? This is the purpose of this series; I seek out the most obscure lists, watch all the films, make the definitive call on how they stack up against each other, and hopefully find some underrated diamonds in the rough.
In this first article, I combine two of my favorite things: cheesy 80′s flicks and dinosaurs. The category is ‘Prehistoric Fantasies from the 1980s‘. Now in the past twenty years we’ve been treated to some of the very best of this genre, with films like ‘Jurassic Park‘ and ‘Ice Age‘, but narrowing the focus to the 80s leaves just four films. Of course there is the one almost everyone over the age of twenty has seen, ‘The Land Before Time‘. Maybe you even have some fond memories watching the campy ‘Baby… Secret of the Lost Legend‘ on cable, but beyond that it starts to get pretty obscure. There is the low brow comedy ‘Caveman‘ starring a Beatle, and then there is the Daryl Hannah lead ‘Clan of the Cave Bear‘ chronicling the difficulties of a young Cro-Magnon woman living in a clan of Neanderthals. Despite having such a specific genre, there is a wide range of types of films in this category. From family friendly to satirical, to serious drama, it’s almost impossible to compare these films. But that’s Flickchart. Only one will triumph and be crowned as the ‘Best Prehistoric Fantasy from the 1980s’!
We’ll start with the only film I had already seen from this list, and the clear #1 choice in the Flickchart global rankings, ‘The Land Before Time’ (ranked #1249). If you’re not familiar with this classic animated film, it’s about a group of young dinosaurs who get separated from their parents and are forced to stick together despite their differences. They must survive in the unforgiving prehistoric landscape and make it to the Great Valley where they can meet up with their families. This film defined my childhood. I’d watch it, as well as it’s many sequels, constantly. But how does it hold up twenty years later? I was almost nervous to re-watch this as an adult. So many times nostalgic films that I loved as a kid get tainted when I watch them now and realize just how terrible they actually were. Fortunately, I’m happy to report that Little Foot, Sarah, Ducky and the rest of the gang absolutely hold up over the years. There is a reason this film is almost universally loved. It’s a story about friendship. Everyone has their own favorite character, one in which they identify with. It might not be the most original story, but its heart is in the right place. I challenge anyone with emotion not to get a little chocked up when little Petrie is feared dead at the hands of the evil T-Rex. Poor.. poor Petrie. It’s a cute adventure story with a heart, which while not on par with classic Disney, nevertheless deserves its praise.
After the well known ‘Land Before Time’ we step right off the cliff of notoriety and fall deep into the depths of obscurity. This is when things start to get weird. With a film starring Ringo Starr, co-starring a very young Dennis Quaid, and directed by the guy that wrote the screenplay for ‘Jaws‘, I wasn’t really sure what to expect when I started watching ‘Caveman’ (ranked #3739). I certainly wasn’t expecting what I got. We have Ringo as a pathetic caveman who is so useless that his clan kicks him out, forcing him to try and survive on his own. With his only friend, played by Dennis Quaid, Ringo desperately tries to win the affection of the girlfriend of the alpha male in his former clan. Fortunately, the inept caveman accidentally discovers walking upright, which apparently changes something in him which suddenly makes him more advanced, giving him the edge. The plot is more than a little clunky. Oh yeah, and there is no dialogue. Well, not English anyway. There is only grunting and gestures.. just like real cavemen! I hated everything about this movie. It’s supposed to be a comedy, but I just didn’t have it in me to laugh at corny jokes about learning to make fire, or discovering music, and I definitely wasn’t laughing at the disturbing rape jokes. From the primitive claymation dinosaurs, to the awkward acting, everything was just bad. It’s basically a dumber version of ‘Year One‘, which is definitely saying something. It came very close to being ‘so bad it’s good’, but I refuse to give in. Sometimes a terrible movie is just terrible.
Delving ever deeper into the obscure we arrive at ‘Baby… The Secret of the Lost Legend’ (ranked #4235). Now I had never heard of it, but I’ve talked to many people who swear they loved this when they were kids. I liked the premise. A paleontologist and her scumbag husband discover a family of living brontosaurus, and kidnap the baby in hopes of saving it from a rival paleontologist who wants to exploit them. It has all the makings of a fun, family friendly adventure with an adorable little dinosaur. It is billed as a family movie, complete with a PG rating. What I saw was NOT a family movie. Complete with sex, nudity, gunfights, explosions and profanity, this was far from wholesome family fun. I had to double check to make sure I was watching the right movie when I heard this gem of a quote: “If she were my wife, I’d whip that bitch.” I kid you not. Now, I’m not going to get on a soapbox about movie ratings, but I will say that it had a very confused tone, never knowing what kind of movie it wanted to be. On top of that, it simply wasn’t a good movie. The one thing I can say is that that little dinosaur was cute. I miss the days of animatronic props. Today all we get are CG effects, but the practical effects give a certain personality to the dinosaur, which I appreciate. Despite this, it’s not enough to save the movie. It’s ‘Jurassic Park’ light, and should remain hidden in the depths of the global charts.
Finally, we hit rock bottom with the movie that relatively no one has seen. Based on a novel, ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’ (ranked #4714) was originally slated to be an epic trilogy. The only problem was that it’s terrible and no one wanted any sequels. Daryl Hannah was at the height of her career, having just starred in ‘Splash‘, so what better way to capitalize than to star in a dry prehistoric fantasy epic! You see, Cro-Magnon and Neanderthals, while both ancestors of humans, were genetically separate from one another. Cro-Magnon would eventually win out in the species war, but for a while both roamed around at the same time and they didn’t get along. Hannah is a Cro-Magnon who is orphaned as a baby, and taken in by a Neanderthal clan. However, since she isn’t ‘their kind’ , they go out of their way to treat her like dirt. She has to prove herself, and be accepted not only as a Cro-Magnon, but as a woman. I can see why the part was attractive to Hannah. It’s a very strong female character who shows she is every bit as capable as a man. This is great, if only it weren’t incredibly boring. They took a page out of ‘Caveman’ and decided to forgo using English and instead give us grunts and hand gestures. At least this time they used subtitles. I will give the film credit for trying to be authentic, but it comes across as trying too hard. Everything felt overdone and self-important. I’m sorry, but I just couldn’t take a grunting Daryl Hannah running in a loincloth seriously.
It was a bizarre journey full of 80′s quirk, but in the end there were no real surprises. ‘The Land Before Time’ is the clear winner, and its not even a remotely close race. Deciding the ranking for the remaining choices is more like picking which one I disliked the least. I guess I’d have to give it to ‘Baby’, if only to give credit to the dinosaur robot. It may not be a great film, and it certainly makes some odd choices, but I probably laughed more during my viewing than during the completely unfunny, so-called comedy, ‘Caveman’ which easily lands last in the rankings. It’s just barely worse than the utter failure of ‘Cave Bear’, but at least in that movie it looked like they were trying. I knew starting this list it was going to be a strange adventure – and it definitely didn’t disappoint. In the end, nostalgia wins out, and the rest can be forgotten – lost in obscurity.
Note: After beginning writing this article, the powers-that-be at Flickchart added a ton of new movies, and two new movies actually made it to this list. One is ‘Quest for Fire‘ which appears to be a better telling of the Cro-Magnon versus Neanderthal conflict. The other is ‘Yor, the Hunter From the Future‘, which while being so obscure that Netflix doesn’t even have it, looks to be amazing judging by the poster. If only I had the strength to go back into the weird world of 80′s pre-historic fantasy…
This post is part of our User Showcase series. You can find Alex as bluevoid on Flickchart, and at his blog – moviefodder.com. If you’re interested to submit your own story or article describing your thoughts about movies and Flickchart, read our original post for how to become a guest writer here on the Flickchart Blog.