April 15, 2011
When I opened my email inbox this morning, I was met with a pleasant surprise. Phil Tippett’s exquisite short film Prehistoric Beast has finally been released in its entirety.
I had only seen bits and pieces of Tippett’s stop-motion story as a kid. The short’s dinosaurs – a Monoclonius and a tyrannosaur – had been featured in the 1985 documentary Dinosaur!, but the full film from which those scenes were taken was only seen at animation festivals. Now, after 26 years, Tippett has posted Prehistoric Beast on YouTube for all to see.
When I saw Tippett’s stop-motion dinosaurs for the first time, they embodied everything I imagined the living creatures to be. They still look good. Poorly-animated digital dinosaurs run rampant on television these days, but Tippett’s carefully-crafted stop-motion models have a certain life-like quality missing from modern Jurassic Park knockoffs. The braying of the lone, lost Monoclonius in the depths of the primeval forest looks like a brief moment in the life of a real animal.
Prehistoric Beast was skillfully shot, too. The film contains no dialog at all – The Land Before Time, it’s not – and the entire story is told through the experience of the Monoclonius. Sometimes the viewer is close-up – looking up at the dinosaur’s muzzle as it crops soft plants – and at other times we see the dinosaur from far away, feeling its isolation as it wanders into the dark woods. In one tense scene, the camera pans around the frightened dinosaur as the tyrannosaur stalks it in the background. We can see the predator disappear behind the trees, but the poor Monoclonius cannot.
Above all, though, Prehistoric Beast is impressive for the level of craftsmanship required to make it. We will probably never see such a film again. Dinosaurs can now be easily brought back to life via computers, even if many of them look absolutely atrocious, and so stop-motion dinosaurs have gone extinct. Maybe it’s just childhood nostalgia for the dinosaurs I grew up with, but, for me, Prehistoric Beast beautifully captures a few moments of prehistoric life that are now only represented by the bones and rock of Alberta’s Dinosaur Park Formation. Tippett’s stop-motion creation is about as close as I am ever going to get to actually seeing the lost Cretaceous world.
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