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Movies like “Dune: Part Two” and “Challengers” arrived in theaters later than expected because of last year’s actors’ strike, and Hollywood experienced significant production setbacks during the coronavirus pandemic.

But “The Primevals,” about a group of researchers who discover gigantic yetis and other prehistoric creatures, made those movie delays look minuscule when it was released in theaters in March.

It was filmed in 1994.

The live-action movie, which was delayed because of funding woes and then the death of its director, David Allen, incorporates a stop-motion animation technique in which puppets are painstakingly photographed and brought to life through a series of frames, as with a children’s flipbook. The retro look conjures up an earlier era of filmmaking, before computer-generated imagery took over visual effects.

“It’s like an archaeological find,” said Juliet Mills, who plays one of the movie’s researchers. “It’s like entering a time machine watching this film.”

Mills and the other actors had doubted that the movie would ever reach theaters. Even before Allen died, the film’s development had been plagued by outsize expectations and financial challenges.

“No other fantasy property in the past 10 years has weathered so many rewrites, high hopes, false promises, heartbreaks and states of hibernation,” Paul Mandell wrote in a 1978 article for the film magazine Cinefantastique.

“The Primevals” was conceived in the 1970s by Allen, an animator who had long admired the work of the acclaimed stop-motion animator Ray Harryhausen (“Jason and the Argonauts,” “Clash of the Titans”). Allen, who was born in Los Angeles in 1944, made his start animating TV commercials and low-budget films. But he longed to develop something more ambitious.

In 1967, Allen and two collaborators began work on “Raiders of the Stone Ring,” a short film about a war correspondent who discovers a land of ancient Vikings and prehistoric lizard men. It was the precursor to “The Primevals,” which also incorporates lizard creatures. By 1975, Allen had begun working on the feature film’s script with Randall William Cook, a young filmmaker and former artist at Disney.

Allen successfully pitched “The Primevals” to Charles Band, an independent producer, and preproduction began in 1978. But the work stalled as Band tried to gather enough funding. Filming in Romania and Italy did not begin until 1994.

After all of those logistical problems, a new challenge emerged: Allen was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a type of cancer.

He continued working on the movie’s animation after undergoing chemotherapy, sometimes completing a few frames a day, said Chris Endicott, who was mentored by Allen and is one of the animators for “The Primevals.” Allen realized he would die before he could finish the film and left a plea in his will: “Bear in mind that probably any release of the film is better than none, though I would like to see it presented as close as possible to the original intention.”

Allen had originally envisioned pushing the boundaries of what could be accomplished with stop-motion animation, Endicott said. In the decades since, however, computer-generated imagery had become an essential tool for animating films.

“By the time he was working on it in the ’90s, the movie became a comment that stop-motion still had a voice in a world of C.G.I.,” Endicott said.

Allen died in 1999. Despite his final wishes, the movie’s puppets collected dust in a storage unit for nearly two decades.

While rewatching an old version of “The Primevals” in 2018, Endicott recalled Allen’s directive and recommitted himself to releasing the film, even if it was an unfinished version. By this time, Band’s production company Full Moon Features had also become more profitable, so there were fewer funding hurdles. Endicott and a group of Allen’s friends and fans recreated some of the puppets and completed more of the animations, and Richard Band created an orchestral score.

Endicott and Charles Band produced two versions of the film. A shorter one for the theatrical release at Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas was also made available for purchase on Amazon Prime Video on Friday. A longer, less-edited version, along with the theatrical version and a documentary about the making of the film, will be released on Blu-ray in June.

Richard Joseph Paul, an actor in “The Primevals” who plays a researcher obsessed with finding the yetis, said its stop-motion techniques would feel refreshingly real to some moviegoers who have grown weary of the artificiality of C.G.I. “You feel the artists,” he said. “The human touch is there.”

In the past year, “The Primevals” has been shown at film festivals in Canada, Spain, Australia and the United States. Watching the movie decades after it was filmed felt like stepping into the past, Paul said.

“It was like getting a photo album out, except this album was us alive talking and reacting to each other,” he said.



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