Field of Science

Cowboys, Dinosaurs and Eohippus: The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

"The Valley of Gwangi" (1969) is considered one of the most important productions in the history of the genre of prehistoric movies and one of the best works of special effects artist Ray Harryhausen.

The story of Gwangi is based on a script written by the former teacher of Harryhausen, special effects pioneer Willis O'Brien, but only several years after the first drafts the producer Charles H. Schneer decided to adapt it into a very peculiar movie.
Harryhausen was hired for the special effects and the animation of the monsters featuring in the movie. He finished the animations of his creatures on 7, October 1968, after more than 400 individual shots in stop-motion technology - the highest number used for a movie at the time.

Fig.1. Ray Harryhausen is best known for his stop-motion creatures featured in various movies and genre: adventure, science-fiction, fantasy and in a certain manner even science. Between 1938 and 1940 Harryhausen worked on his first preliminary project called "Evolution".

Until January 1969 the proposed title for the film was "The Valley Where Time Stood Still", but to the production company (Warner) this seemed to long and complicated, and it was changed, not without bitter protests to "The Valley of Gwangi".
The movie was releases almost at the end of the golden age of monster movies in the sixties and seventies, the general public had lost interest in the genre and it was therefore hoped that the particular storyline of the movie would attract again fans of monster-, but also adventure-, catastrophe- and western- movies.

Apart the stunning special effects, the film is notable that it mixes parts of the classic western genre with parts and elements of the classic film about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures.
The film is set in rural Mexico (and was filmed in Spain) of the early 19th century. In the middle of the desert Professor Bromley (I wonder if the name is a tribute to Dr. Robert Broom) discovers a sensational fossil: a slab with human footprints along the trackway of a three-digit horse of the extinct genus Eohippus.
Later the local circus receives a strange animal: a small horse with three digits on every leg, named El Diablo. In an attempt to discover the valley from which the horse came the palaeontologist first kidnaps and then follows the animal to the entrance of the forbidden valley. Here they meet the most terrible predator - Gwangi himself, a terrible Tyrannosaurus ... Allosaurus, animals that Harryhausen, as he himself admits, confused when he created the doll for the movie.

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