September 17, 2012
Ugly tyrannosaurs are a cinema tradition. With the exception of the burly stop-motion version in the 1933 King Kong and the hot-blooded monsters of the Jurassic Park franchise, the majority of tyrant dinosaurs to stomp their way across the screen have been ugly, tottering brutes that only bear the most superficial resemblance to the actual animal. The Land Unknown‘s man-in-suit version looked incapable of threatening a rotting carcass, much less live prey, and I lost all respect for the titular villain of The Last Dinosaur when a boulder caved in the puppet’s noggin, only to roll away and leave the theropod unscathed. (And let’s not talk about Tammy and the T-Rex or Theodore Rex.) But, atrocious as they are, these dinosaurs don’t even come close to the worst cinematic Tyrannosaurus of all time.
Oddly enough, the film that assaults viewers with the awful tyrannosaur has nothing at all to do with lost worlds or time travel. Nor does it have the word “dinosaur” in the title. Instead, 1990′s Metamorphosis is bottom-of-the-barrel schlock about mad scientist Dr. Peter Houseman who is trying to understand our prehistoric genetic legacy through weird, uncomfortable-looking eye injections. Because, you know, SCIENCE, I guess. The most outlandish part of this is that the college where the doctor works has not supervised his work or asked for any results in about two years–they left the guy to putter away, doing who knows what with piles of grant money. Science fiction, indeed.
But when the authorities threaten to cease the crazed scientist’s experiments, he–of course–injects himself to prove all those tweed-coated bureaucrats wrong. The experiment doesn’t go as planned, unintended side effects, ripping off The Fly ensues, etc. Ultimately, thanks to a woeful misunderstanding of development and evolution, the doctor reverts into a stiff, ugly Tyrannosaurus apparently made out of rain tarps and duct tape. (As wonderful as it would be to have dinosaurs in our ancestry, our mammalian forebears were on a very different side of the evolutionary tree. Most spent the Mesozoic under the feet of dinosaurs.) Worst of all, the scientist-turned-dinosaur is gunned down immediately upon making his big entrance. Much like the movie itself, the assailants had no respect for the king of the tyrant dinosaurs.
Sign up for our free email newsletter and receive the best stories from Smithsonian.com each week.