Every week this summer, we'll be taking an historical tour of the Hollywood blockbuster by examining an older film that is in some way a spiritual precursor to one of the weekend's wide releases. This week: the trope that dinosaurs must always live on the slopes of a volcano about ready to pop is much older than Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. I turn now to the first film adaptation of one of this scenario's earliest major incarnations.

I'm not quite sure how exactly to go about starting a review of The Land That Time Forgot, the British-American action-adventure film from the mid-'70s. Do I talk about Edgar Rice Burroughs, author of the 1918 source novel, and creator of the far better-known Tarzan series (among dozens of other books)? Because there's probably something you can dig out of that: how Burroughs's dabbling in just about every pulp genre available to an author of his generation has resulted in him becoming a reliable source for English-language adventure filmmakers despite almost none of these adaptations that doesn't have "Tarzan" in the title ever having connected with audiences in a sustained way. Or maybe I could regale you all with the tale of Amicus Productions, a British filmmaking company that spent most of its 15 years of existence filling the sad little niche of "Hammer Films, but less so", doggedly putting out a small cluster of horror films, many of them borrowing Hammer's talent. In and around all of that, it also turned out a few non-horror films here and there, and ended its brief life on a trio of Burroughs-derived adventure pictures starring Doug McClure, of which The Land That Time Forgot was the first and most successful.

What I sure don't want to do is start this review of The Land That Time Forgot by talking about The Land That Time Forgot. It's such a drab little splat of a movie, a swashbuckling adventure about a mysterious island full of dinosaurs in which the adventure is inert and damnably free from such fussy concerns as "narrative momentum" or "coherence", and the dinosaurs are achieved through the use of extraordinarily obvious hand puppets. And I don't mean to slag on the work of effects designer Roger Dicken. The puppets are extremely good: they have lovingly-detailed scaly surfaces with plausibly mottled color schemes, they have articulated limbs that move independently of the trunk with organic naturalness, they have really involved mouths. If you were watching a puppet theater, and these puppets came out, I am sure you would just shit yourself in amazement while declaring that they were the best dinosaur hand puppets you've seen. But that's just the thing: they don't look like dinosaurs, they look like dinosaur hand puppets. And they have the very real, very deleterious result of making The Land That Time Forgot look substantially cheaper and woebegone than it actually is.

That being said, this is a film in two parts, and the first one is actually pretty fine. After a little prologue in which a message is fished out out of a bottle in the sea (a direct lift from the novel, and a fair way to immediately invite us to recalibrate for a more old-fashioned approach to genre storytelling), we find ourselves in the North Atlantic of the First World War, where a British ship has just been sunk by a German U-boat. This leaves only a handful of Brits and one American, Bowen Tyler (Doug McClure) floating helpless in a lifeboat, with only one opportunity for survival: as the submarine, the U-33 surfaces, Tyler is able to lead the rest of the survivors in a sneak attack that somehow manages to wrest control of the U-33 from Captain Von Schoenvorts (John McEnery). Tyler and his allies, including Bradley (Keith Barron), the highest-ranking Brit still alive, and biologist Lisa Clayton (Susan Penhaligon) are so confident in their victory that they fail to realise that Von Schoenvorts and First Officer Dietz (Anthony Ainley) aren't idiots, and have enough of their wits about them to sabotage the U-boat's compass, sending it due south instead of west to the still-neutral United States of America. Two disastrous encounters later - one that involve fleeing from a British warship, one that involves blowing up a Germany warship - the U-33 has ended up south of the Antarctic Circle, eventually coming within sight of an uncharted island that Von Schoenvorts immediately identifies as the fabled Caprona. With little else to do, the two sides make their peace long enough to explore the island in the hope of finding enough supplies to make it back north.

So far, so good. The Land That Time Forgot isn't running the risk of being mistaken for one of the all-time great submarine movies, but the film's first 35 minutes - about the moment that the U-33 emerges from the undersea tunnel that leads under the ice separating Caprona from the rest of the ocean - are perfectly solid enough. The narrative density of the script, adapted by James Cawthorn and Michael Moorcock, involves enough shifts in the balance of power between Tyler and Von Schoenvorts that the film remains perpetually fraught with a level of wariness that isn't quite the same as tension (there's very little doubt that Tyler will perpetually end up with the upper hand), but certainly keeps things moving along nicely. The film also benefits from a strong performance by McEnery, whose angular features and unblinking, worried stares suggest the trapped German's constant calculations and morbid awareness of the situation around him. He balances the film well in the face of McClure's frankly off-putting lead performance: McClure is a somewhat canonically bad slab of American Matinee Man Meat (he was the butt of a seasons-long running joke on The Simpsons), and this is bad even by his standards: he exudes smug authority of a sort that feels more like a bland '50s lead than a '70s lead, with absolutely no sense that he's thinking of anything other than the next punch he gets to throw.

We might as well divide The Land That Time Forgot into its McEnery and McClure segments as into its submarine and dinosaur segments. It all amounts to the same thing: the submarine scenes are strung together in a nerve-jangling evocation of Von Schoenvorts's tension, the scenes in the land that time forgot are lumpen and pointless, with stuff happening sort of in the absence of any narrative structure - when the film inevitably ends with the Europeans fleeing the eruption of Chekhov's volcano, introduced the moment they arrive and then never referenced until it blows, it's not because there's been any kind of resolution or conclusion to anything, but but the film finally strung together enough stuff to hit a running time of exactly 90 minutes. The stuff includes two different caveman populations, and a mystery about how evolution works on the island that is so pointless and dull that the only shock about the shocking reveal is the filmmakers' believe that any of us give a shit. But most visibly, the stuff is about dinosaurs: detailed rubber puppets, growling and posing and then getting shot.

It would be lovely to say that the mere presence of dinosaurs is enough to make any of this fun, but of course it's not. As crappy as they are, there's some mild pleasure to be extracted from the goofy, enthusiastic choreography of the dino fighting, with one foam-suited hand gnawing on another; but it's muted pleasure at best, and the rest of the aimless balderdash on the island isn't even that good: it's mostly filler centered around McClure and Penhaligon's very stiff, shouty performances. I can think of no word more damning than a dinosaur adventure movie than "boring", and I also can't think of any word that more fully describes The Land That Time Forgot for nearly two-thirds of its runtime.