The Last Dinosaur is a real oddity in the Japanese giant monster genre. A co-production between Rankin-Bass and Tsubaraya Productions who teamed up nine years earlier on King Kong Escapes bring this supposedly theatrical release to audiences. However, it ended up going directly to TV, and it’s not terribly difficult to see why.
Starring Richard Boone in one of his final roles and Joan Van Ark in one of her mid-career films, this is a typical story of a lost world that has gone unnoticed for thousands of years. Through oil drilling, this obscure area of land is discovered, and it’s up to a crew to go in and investigate.
The Last Dinosaur, for all of its ridiculous dialogue and some occasional painful delivery, actually offers some unique characters. Boone’s character, awkwardly named Masten Thrust, is the richest man in the world. His womanizing ways are brought to a halt when he meets Van Ark’s character. Co-star Steven Keats brings a third dimension to the relationship, bringing balance and a unique pull to Thrust, who knows he is far too old for Van Ark's character and accepts that he’s no longer the man he used to be.
The script also doesn’t take the easy way out. While yes, characters do make it back to the mainland (after spending an absurd amount of time lost in this plateau), the somber and unexpected results are welcome. It works because of the character development, and while it may make the movie overlong, it adds to the impact.
Sadly, the dinosaurs do not. The misleading title aside, all of the creatures are handled by Tsubaraya studios. Seven years after founder Eiji Tsubaraya’s death (he helmed all Godzilla films up to that point and started Ultraman), the studio continued on their suit-a-mation ways. The main creature, a T. rex, comes off dopey. His oversized head is obviously a weight to bear for the suit actor, and the arms barely look attached as they flap around.
The first introduction to the dinosaur set comes quickly, about 25 minutes in. Unfortunately, it’s a static pteranodon that fails miserably. Other four-legged creatures are less obvious, certainly on par with the King Kong remake from the same year which Last Dinosaur is obviously capitalizing on. A decent battle between the rex and a triceratops is memorable and bloody. That’s one of the few monster highlights, countered by miserable stuff such an unidentified turtle.
With its goofy ‘70s soundtrack, much of the movie does come off campy. The T. rex theme is actually a solid piece, evoking the proper sense of dread, even if the suit itself can’t. Encounters with cavemen feel unnecessary in terms of scripting, and add an extra character that never goes anywhere.
A lot of dinosaur-obsessed kids from the ‘80s will remember this one, along with Legend of the Dinosaurs from the same year. Both were frequent on cable, though Last Dinosaur does hold up better. This is a unique, if heavily flawed creature feature that is mostly worth it for nostalgic value, or those digging up everything giant monster related from the Japanese.