“the t- rex is por­trayed by the most ragged, piti­ful­look­ing iguana”

SFX - - Dinosaur movies - (

as Star Wars, Close En­coun­ters Of The Third Kind and Smokey And The Ban­dit. If this was the best dino movies could man­age, maybe they de­served to go ex­tinct!

For­tu­nately, science stepped in to save us, both on and off the screen. From the 1980s on­wards, a new fo­cus on fields like ge­netic mod­i­fi­ca­tion pro­vided a quasi- be­liev­able ex­pla­na­tion for how dinosaurs could con­ceiv­ably come back – with­out lean­ing on hith­erto lost is­lands or the world’s worst case of oversleeping. The ’ 90s was also the decade in which the stop­mo­tion of Wil­lis O’Brien and Ray Har­ry­hausen gave way to com­puter gen­er­ated spe­cial ef­fects.

The most ob­vi­ous meet­ing point be­tween th­ese two ideas was, of course, 1993’ s Juras­sic Park, which ram­paged on to be­come the high­est- gross­ing movie of all time un­til it was over­taken by Ti­tanic. Although this was Spiel­berg ’s first proper crack at a di­nosaur movie, his love of the genre was clearly ev­i­dent. In both his 1971 de­but Duel and his 1975 mega- hit Jaws the sound of a di­nosaur roar can be heard in the cli­mac­tic scene. Spiel­berg ex­plained it by say­ing the films were about “le­viathans tar­get­ing every­man” – di­nosaur movies by any other name.

Fur­ther down the food chain, we got Roger Cor­man’s Carnosaur. Re­leased weeks be­fore Juras­sic Park, Carnosaur is Juras­sic Park on a shoe­string. It tells the story of a mad sci­en­tist ( are there any other sort in a Cor­man movie?) who de­cides to de­stroy the world by bring­ing dinosaurs back from the dead with ge­netic en­gi­neer­ing. The di­nosaur ef­fects are bar­gain base­ment and the plot vir­tu­ally non- ex­is­tent, although that wasn’t enough to stop Cor­man from mak­ing two more movies in what be­came, ter­ri­fy­ingly, a Carnosaur “fran­chise”. Not to be de­nied a chance to wring out ev­ery last penny from his $ 850,000 Carnosaur, Cor­man later al­lowed footage from the movie to be reused in 2001’ s Raptor and 2006’ s The Eden For­mula – or Tyran­nosaurus Wrecks.

big and small

On the big- bud­get end of the spec­trum there were two Juras­sic Park se­quels ( one ac­cept­able, one less so), and a lengthy sec­tion of Peter Jack­son’s 2005 King Kong, which doesn’t hold a can­dle to Wil­lis O’Brien’s orig­i­nal, for all its bleed­ing- edge ef­fects. There was also a good scene in Night At The Mu­seum, 2009’ s Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, and Michael Bay’s Trans­form­ers: Age Of Ex­tinc­tion, which in­tro­duced Di­nobots to the live- ac­tion fran­chise. All of th­ese pic­tures tapped into the rise of CGI to pro­duce ef­fects that would have seemed unimag­in­able in an ear­lier age.

But the most un­likely dino- fea­ture in the past few decades has to be Ter­rence Mal­ick’s 2011 The Tree Of Life, a philo­soph­i­cal ode to the na­ture of ex­is­tence that just so hap­pens to in­clude a lengthy di­nosaur set­piece.

Aside from th­ese scat­tered ex­am­ples, though, most of the con­tem­po­rary dino- flicks have been in B- movies, or, in­creas­ingly, in made- for- TV movies aired on Amer­ica’s Syfy net­work. In a log­i­cal ad­vance from Juras­sic Park’s ge­netic en­gi­neer­ing plot­line, th­ese films now fo­cus on straight- up species hy­brids, as even mad­der sci­en­tists ( read: in­spi­ra­tion- starved stu­dio ex­ecs) ap­pear to throw darts at a board to see what crazy new cross­over they can come up with. The first movies in this se­ries were the likes of Dinocroc, Di­noshark and, later, the very silly in­deed Shark­to­pus Vs Pter­acuda: the lat­ter a half­ptero­dactyl, half- bar­racuda.

“Th­ese movies are tongue- in- cheek, but they come from a gen­uine place,” says Kevin O’Neill, who di­rected all three. “I got into this busi­ness purely be­cause of Wil­lis O’Brien. Where I grew up on Long Is­land, TV net­works used to broad­cast movies like King Kong for six days in a row. I watched it and just fell in love. That started a life­long ob­ses­sion with spe­cial ef­fects – and with di­nosaur movies.”

Given Juras­sic Park’s tow­er­ing po­si­tion among di­nosaur movies, all eyes are on Juras­sic World to spur on the next great wave of dino movies. But how­ever the film is re­ceived, this brief his­tory should be enough to prove that the genre will keep go­ing re­gard­less. To para­phrase Jeff Gold­blum’s Dr Ian Mal­colm from the first Juras­sic Park: when it comes to the con­tin­u­a­tion of di­nosaur movies, life finds a way…

Ham­mer’s When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth mixed sex­i­ness with kid­dy­ness. Roger Cor­man cashes in with Carnosaur. The Lost World from 1960 had worse spe­cial ef­fects than the 1925 ver­sion!

The film that reawak­ened dinosaurs: Spiel­berg’s Juras­sic Park. The day the cow­boys met the di­nos in 1969’ s The Val­ley Of Gwangi.

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