April 30, 2010
As sorry as I am to admit it, most movies with dinosaurs in them are not very good. It is far easier for me to think of bad dinosaur movies (I still have nightmares from Theodore Rex, and that was meant to be a comedy) than good ones, but there are a few shining examples of what dino-cinema can be if done right.
Jurassic Park (1993)
This is the high-water mark for dinosaur films. Based upon the novel of the same name, this 20th-century “Frankenstein” fable featured some of the best-looking dinosaurs ever seen on film and ushered in a new age of dino-mania. Sure, there were a lot of scientific problems and inaccuracies with the movie, but the fact of the matter is that, 17 years after it was released, Jurassic Park is still a lot of fun to watch. (The first film was followed up by two so-so sequels.)
King Kong (1933)
Even though a giant gorilla was the tragic star of King Kong, when I first saw it I was rooting for the dinosaurs. It didn’t matter that they were stop-motion creatures filmed in black-and-white five decades before I was born—the Tyrannosaurus, Stegosaurus, and other assorted prehistoric monsters in the film were every bit as threatening as the movie’s star. The battle between Tyrannosaurus and King Kong, especially, is one of the most exciting confrontations ever projected onto the silver screen.
King Kong (2005)
Ok, it might seem like a bit of a cheat to list a remake as a separate movie, but I think the 2005 version of King Kong deserves special mention. While the story generally hewed to the one laid out in the 1933 original, the creature creators working on the 21st-century remake envisioned what the living descendants of prehistoric creatures might look like. The modern-day descendant of T. rex, dubbed Vastatosaurus rex, got most of the attention, but there were also “raptors” (Venatosaurus), Brontosaurus and a slew of other imaginary dinosaurs. In fact, more dinosaurs were imagined than made it into the film, and the book The World of Kong: A Natural History of Skull Island describes them in detail.
The Land Before Time (1988)
Given the number of annoying sequels this film has produced, I had some qualms about placing it on this list, but since it was the first dinosaur movie I ever saw in theaters it holds a special place in my heart. The tale of a group of anthropomorphic misfit dinosaur trying to make it to the “Great Valley,” The Land Before Time fit in with the notion (still relatively new when it was released) that dinosaurs had family lives and were not just dumb reptiles. Spike, the mute Stegosaurus youngster, was my favorite character, and I think I still have a stuffed animal version of him around here somewhere….
This movie monster, essentially a radioactive dinosaur, has starred in over 28 films to date, but the original 1954 Japanese film is by far the best. As much a social commentary on the use of atomic weapons on Japan during WWII as a straight-up monster flick, the first Godzilla film is arguably one of the most important movies ever made (if for no other reason that its star has had such enduring popularity—a series reboot is already underway).
What makes for a “good” dinosaur film is largely subjective, though. What are your favorites?
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