ONE MILLION YEARS B.C. – Mario Nascimbene

Original Review by Alan Rogers

Hammer Films’ most expensive and most profitable movie, One Million Years B.C. is now remembered for two reasons: Ray Harryhausen’s stop-motion animated prehistoric creatures and Raquel Welch’s gravity-defying, made-to-measure, animal fur bikini. Although placing humans and dinosaurs in the same timeframe is a bit of an inaccuracy historically, director Don Chaffey chooses to forgo the use of the spoken word and, instead, relies on a variety of grunts, gestures and glances from the actors to propel the storyline. Amongst this mix, Italian-born composer Mario Nascimbene’s primitive-sounding score is heavily relied upon to convey much of the prehistoric setting of the story as well as the emotional interplay between characters.

Nascimbene rises to the task admirably and, in the space of the 30 minutes of music featured from the movie (tracks 1-7), takes us from the dawning of the universe, using a mix of explosions, thunder and lightning, rain and wind and a title theme featuring large church bells and a lumbering brass line (“Cosmic Sequence”) that culminates – at the end of the score – in a grand statement representing man’s survival in the face of the ravages of nature and all that she can throw at them (“Finale”). As well as this title theme, two additional motifs/themes are also used to great effect and capture the entire spectrum of “a day in the life of prehistoric humanity.” “Lunar Landscape” effectively captures the bleakness of this primitive, volcanic landscape, using lonely, sustained notes for (possibly) strings punctuated by rolling timpani and cymbals. The bleakness is heightened by a mournful rendition of the title theme on low-end woodwind. The stage is now set…almost. The versatility of Nascimbene’s title theme is showcased in the very next cue, “Tumak Meets Loana”, when it is heard as a grand orchestral statement for orchestra and chorus and seems to almost celebrate the awesome majesty of the landscape.

The highlight of the score is captured in the second additional theme. Heard first towards the end of “Tumak Meets Loana” with solo soprano voice, chorus over shimmering strings, the Shell tribe theme – that also specifically represents Loana (Welch) – it’s a wonderfully melodic theme, evocative and exotic. This theme features heavily in the second half of the score, underscoring the various events befalling Loana and Tumak. Nascimbene expertly reinvents this theme with a variety of orchestrations: Hawaiian-style guitar, mouth harp and female choir through to a Morricone-style grand orchestral statement with spirited soprano voice and guitar (track 6, “The Pteranodon Carries Loana To Its Nest”). The final 14 minutes of this score (track 6 and “Tumak Rescues Loana / Eruption of The Volcano / Finale”) is a monumental, operatic sequence of dramatic scoring on a par with anything Morricone has produced: dramatic statements of Loana’s theme leads into an effects-laden sequence (ala “Cosmic Sequence”) that underscores the cataclysmic destruction of the protagonists’ landscape (and a few people and dinosaurs, too), followed by the emergence of the survivors (humans only, and including Tumak and Loana) to a brass clarion call and bold statements of both Loana and the title theme.

Nascimbene successfully conveys the main dramatic and emotional aspects of the movie in his music and it transfers well to the stand-alone listen. A more careful analysis of the score highlights the way in which the use of the various themes parallels the fate of the various aspects of the storyline. The primitive and lumbering title theme representing Tumak and his barbaric (dark-haired) tribe, Loana’s theme with its melodic and emotional aspect representing the relatively more civilised (blonde-haired) Shell tribe and the combination of both themes in the final scenes after the cataclysm where both tribes must pool resources to survive.

Released on the Legend label, the score is let down by the sound quality and poor editing and mixing. But, in this case, it doesn’t seem so bad and may even add to the overall feel of the music. In addition to featuring One Million Years B.C., this CD also features selections from two companion dinosaur movies (also scored by Nascimbene); When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth (tracks 8-15) and Creatures The World Forgot (tracks 16-23). But, to be honest, they don’t add much to the listening experience and are easily forgotten. Often overlooked, Nascimbene’s score for One Million Years B.C. is one of my firm favourites, falling into the category of scores I taped off the TV when I was a child. Somewhat difficult to find, if you’re looking for a bit of a change from the many “by-the-numbers” scores available today, I’d recommend it whole-heartedly.

Rating: ****

Track Listing:

  1. Cosmic Sequence (3:49)
  2. Lunar Landscape (1:55)
  3. Tumak Meets Loana (3:51)
  4. Tumak In The Domain of The Shell Tribe (5:31)
  5. Dance of Dupondi (1:20)
  6. The Pteranodon Carries Loana To Its Nest (4:41)
  7. Tumak Rescues Loana / Eruption of The Volcano / Finale (9:48)
  8. Main Theme (2:33)
  9. Main Titles (1:53)
  10. Storm Over The Sea (3:25)
  11. Love Scene (2:46)
  12. Pursuit (5:11)
  13. Funeral (2:37)
  14. Cataclism (4:34)
  15. End Titles (1:16)
  16. Main Titles (1:50)
  17. Eruption of The Volcano (2:40)
  18. Wild Dance (1:14)
  19. Quiet (2:59)
  20. Fight (2:05)
  21. Life of The Tribe (2:29)
  22. Fight Among Brothers (4:34)
  23. End Titles and Finale (1:58)

Running Time: 73:10

Legend (1966/1970/1971)


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