We may never get to see living dinosaurs in real life, but movies and TV have resurrected the prehistoric monsters for decades. As the ‘Jurassic Park’ franchise stampedes back to theaters this weekend, we look at some of our other favorites screen dinos.
As cheesy as they now look by today’s special effects standards, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the stop-motion animated dinosaurs in the original 1970s ‘Land of the Lost‘ television series from Sid and Marty Krofft. A number of dinosaurs are featured in the show – all given names by the Marshall family trapped there. The two most memorable were the vicious (but fairly stupid) T-Rex named Grumpy and the lovable baby brontosaurus named Dopey. Say what you want about the limitations of stop-motion and rear projection back then, but these two dinos had more personality than any I’ve seen on screen before or since.
Chris Chiarella (Sound & Vision)
Before ‘Jurassic Park’, I never really thought that on-screen dinosaurs looked all that believable anyway, so props to Sid & Marty Krofft’s ‘Land of the Lost‘. Even though the telltale look of stop-motion animation means that many a vintage monster mash on screens big and small are now hopelessly dated, it’s an extremely painstaking process, and therefore quite impressive that Messrs. K. included so many of those effects in a Saturday morning kids’ show. Old-school TV dinos were intended for youngsters like me: naive, unquestioning, and starved for entertainment… and maybe another bowl of Count Chocula, too.
My favorite movie with dinosaurs would be ‘Meet the Robinsons‘ and my favorite TV show would have to be ‘Transformers: Beast Wars‘ – both for the same reason: anthropomorphic Tyrannosaurus Rex with tiny animated arms. In addition to Megatron, I thought the turncoat Dinobot was a great character, and possibly the best part of the Velociraptor fad (unlike, say, ‘Jurassic Park III’ or the basketball team).
M. Enois Duarte
I have an unabashed love for all things Pee-wee Herman, and I’m not embarrassed to let that be known. One of the wacky things I enjoyed about ‘Pee-wee’s Playhouse‘ was seeing our man-child host take a peek into a mouse hole and start a clay animation short with the Dinosaur Family. The pterodactyl household was your stereotypical nuclear family with dad reading a newspaper in his favorite armchair, mom cleaning house and the two children playing. It was also funny having a picturesque view of their prehistoric world through the front window as a volcano was continuously erupting and spewing lava in the distance. Each time they made an appearance on the show, the family was involved in some silly misadventure having to do with fixing the television, repairing something in the kitchen, a broken vacuum, or the kids getting into some small mishap.
Sometimes, I think this little skit is what eventually led Walt Disney Television and Jim Henson Productions to team up for the popular TV sitcom ‘Dinosaurs’. Then again, that show also had a funny ‘Flinstones’ mixed with ‘The Honeymooners’ type of feel. Still, I’d like to think that ‘Pee-Wee’s Playhouse’ was some small influence.
When I was a kid, my old man discovered the ABC television series ‘Dinosaurs‘ and got the family addicted. Not having been raised on the Muppets, I was surprised that we took to a show featuring a cast of pure puppets as strongly as we did. Being a Jim Henson production, the series followed a family of dinosaurs that lived in their own sitcom world. In their dino-society, the dad went to work each day, the mom stayed at home with their wild and unpredictable baby, and the two children went to school and suffered teenager woes. The voice cast featured notables Jessica Walters, Kevin Clash, Christopher Meloni, Sally Struthers, Tim Curry, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Jason Alexander. I can’t remember how the series ended, but it certainly kept the Hickman household entertained.
Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)
Never mind any prehistoric mosquitoes encased in amber; the dinosaurs in ‘Jurassic Park’ were truly brought to life through a combination of towering animatronics and groundbreaking digital sorcery. One of the first ideas that Steven Spielberg toyed with for the film’s visual effects, however, was a variation of the stop-motion animation that had entranced him as a child. The release of ‘Jurassic World’ is a wonderful excuse to revisit the dinosaurs that Ray Harryhausen so memorably crafted throughout the 1950s and ’60s.
Though Harryhausen had been animating dinosaurs since his earliest days, the first of these behemoths to see the light of day was the fictitious rhedosaur of ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms‘. Irwin Allen’s nature documentary ‘The Animal World’ opened with a ten minute sequence showcasing an impressively diverse selection of dinosaurs. The documentary wound up being marketed almost entirely around that sequence, and footage from it has been repurposed into a couple of different movies and TV series in the years since. Some of these same creatures would be resurrected a decade later in ‘One Million Years B.C.‘, with its allosaur proving to be nearly as memorable as Raquel Welch’s iconic tattered clothing. The last of Harryhausen’s dinosaur-centric films was ‘The Valley of Gwangi’, a head-on collision of western and fantasy. That’s right: cowboys and dinosaurs!
Criminally, not a single one of these films is on Blu-ray at the moment, although at least ‘The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms’ and ‘The Valley of Gwangi’ are available to stream or download in HD.
More than 80 years since it was made, the raw ambition of ‘King Kong‘ (the original 1933 blockbuster) is still astounding. Even with the limited resources available in the day, creator and co-director Merian C. Cooper set about to make the ultimate adventure picture for all time. Audiences of the day would have been perfectly satisfied to watch a big monkey tromp around in the jungle, but Cooper wasn’t content with that. He had to throw in dinosaurs and prehistoric monsters too! Crafted by master stop-motion animator Willis O’Brien, these creations may not be photorealistic by modern standards, but they’re certainly still loaded with tons of personality, which is more than you can say for most of the CGI business going on in contemporary cinema. Sure, the big gorilla gets most of the attention, but his battles with a tyrannosaurus and a pteranodon are a couple of the most memorable scenes in the movie.
What are your favorite movie and TV dinos? Tell us in the Comments.