September 8, 2010
I am by no means a connoisseur of poetry, but I have to admit that I can’t think of any decent poems about dinosaurs or paleontology. The poems that do exist can be almost painful to read, and, as Sarah Zielinski documented on our Surprising Science blog a few months ago, bad geological poetry has a long tradition going back to the early 19th century. Don’t just take my word for it; listed below are snippets from some dinosaur doggerel.
Edward Hitchcock – “The Sandstone Bird” (1836)
[In which the reanimated "Sandstone Bird" laments the sorry state of the modern world]
Oh how unlike Iguanodon next me
In dignity, yet moving at my nod.
The Mega-Plesi-Hylae- Saurian tribes-
Ranked next along the grand descending scale:
Testudo next below the Nautilus
The curious Ammonite and kindred forms,
All giants to the puny races here,
Scarce seen except by Ichthyosaurian eye,
Gone too the noble palms, the lofty ferns,
The Calamite, Stigmaria, Voltzia all:
And Oh! what dwarfs, unworthy of a name,
Iguanodon could scarce find here a meal!
Grow on their graves! Here, too, where ocean rolled,
Where coral groves the bright green waters graced,
Which glorious monsters made their frolic haunts,
Where strange Fucoides, strewed its very bed,
And fish of splendid forms and hues, ranged free,
A shallow brook troop, where only creatures live
Which in my day were Sauroscopic called,
Scarce visible, now creeps along the waste.
Charles H. Sternberg – “The Permian Beds of Texas” (1911)
The glory of this specimen—
He lies there as he floated in
With bloated body on the wave.
The gas escapes he found his grave,
As he sinks to his long rest,
Skin clinging fast to bone and breast.
Samuel Ward Loper – “A Modern Dinosaur” (1911)
A startling evolution,
Onrushing through the street;
A mighty, roaring monster,
And dangerous to meet -
Like something supernatural
With fiercely blazing eyes,
And breath of vilest odor
That all around it lies
Bert Leston Taylor – “The Dinosaur” (1911)
Behold the mighty Dinosaur,
Famous in prehistoric lore,
Not only for his weight and strength
But for his intellectual length.
You will observe by these remains
The creature had two sets of brains—
One in his head (the usual place),
The other at his spinal base.
Thus he could reason a priori
As well as a posteriori.
Carl Sandburg – “The Dinosaur Bones” (1921)
The dinosaur bones are dusted every day.
The cards tell how old we guess the dinosaur bones are.
Here a head was seven feet long, horns with a hell of a ram.
Humping the humps of the Montana mountains.
August 20, 2009
Earlier this summer I asked readers to decide which city deserved the title of “Dinosaur Capital of the World.” Glen Rose, Texas took an early lead, but Drumheller, in Alberta, Canada, is now sitting comfortably in the top spot. A more contentious question, though, is “What is top museum to visit if you want to see dinosaurs?”
There are a number of institutions that could claim the title. I will list a few here, but please add your own picks in the comments if you think I have missed any!
The AMNH will always hold a special place in my heart. It was the first major museum I ever visited, and it was the first place I saw real dinosaur bones. Back then, in the late 1980s, the halls were dim and the dinosaurs were still dragging their tails, but seeing those skeletons made me want to be a paleontologist. Most of the mounts have since been updated, though, and the museum has long been home to a vibrant community of dinosaur paleontologists. It is definitely a required stop for any dinosaur fan in New York City.
I had never been to the National Museum of Natural History before this past spring, but I was very impressed by the dinosaur displays and the scientists working there. The exhibit layouts were great and all the classic dinosaurs stars, like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops, were there. Word has it that the dinosaur exhibit is going to get a facelift soon, too, so I will definitely have to go back there when it is finished.
I can’t speak from personal experience about this one, but from what I have seen the British Natural History Museum mixes classic architecture with plenty of dinosaurs. It looks like a beautiful place to meander among the skeletons, and they have a really neat animatronic Tyrannosaurus to boot!
This museum helped Drumheller lay claim to the title of the “Dinosaur Capital of the World.” Situated near many fossil-bearing deposits, the museum boasts an impressive array of dinosaur skeletons that seem even more imposing against the dark backgrounds of the exhibits. I have only seen the displays in photographs and television documentaries, but it is definitely a museum I would like to visit.
Chicago’s Field Museum is one of the top museums in the United States, and as with the other institutions on this list dinosaurs are among the museum’s main attractions. Even better, they have placed dinosaurs into an evolutionary context with their other fossil exhibits. They can also boast the skeleton of “Sue,” the most complete Tyrannosaurus ever found.
Created by the Institute of Vertebrate Paleontology and Paleoanthropology (IVPP) in China, this museum holds an impressive collection of specimens, including many not seen any display elsewhere. Every major museum has a Tyrannosaurus or two, but the IVPP’s museum contains many exhibits showcasing the prehistory of China.
All of these museums carry out important research and have absolutely stunning exhibits, but if you had to pick just one to visit, which would you choose? Cast your vote in our poll below, and don’t forget to tell us why you picked your favorite!
July 28, 2009
It is hard for me to say “no” to any movie with a dinosaur in it, so I have seen a LOT of really bad movies. For every Jurassic Park there is a multitude of cheesy movies that can only be endured if you invite some company over to make fun of the film with you. There are a few, though, that make even Jurassic Park III look like a masterpiece by comparison. Here are my picks for “The 5 Worst Dinosaur Films Ever Made”:
5: Carnosaur III (1996)
Dinosaurs vs. the military is a pretty old subgenre. Done correctly this theme could make for some pretty exciting cinema, but in Carnosaur III the filmmakers somehow managed to make it boring. What passes for a story involves a group of terrorists that accidentally hijacked a cache of genetically-engineered super dinosaurs. An American special ops team is sent in to clean up, but since the dinosaurs are said to be indestructible (the reason why is never made clear), the remainder of the film mostly involves soldiers being shredded by dinosaur puppets. The director left things open for a fourth installment, but mercifully the series was left to wither.
Goof to watch for: When our heroes blow up a mama Tyrannosaurus you can clearly see the metal “skeleton” of the small puppet used for the shot. Sometimes slow-motion explosions are less thrilling than the director hoped they would be.
4: Planet of Dinosaurs (1978)
Planet of Dinosaurs just goes to show that good special effects can’t save a film. The plot involves a group of people stranded on a distant planet going through its own Mesozoic phase. The stop-motion dinosaurs in the film, brought to life by a crew including paleo-artist Stephen Czerkas, actually looked pretty good. They were so well done for their time, in fact, that I was really hoping the dinosaurs would pick off the rest of the human characters and end the movie sooner. If you really must see this one, download the hilarious commentary from RiffTrax.com provided by the former stars of the cult classic television show Mystery Science Theater 3000.
Turning the irritation up to 11: The film’s soundtrack is among the most grating of any I have ever heard. It sounds as if the producers blew the remainder of the budget on alcohol, sat down at a synthesizer, and just jammed while in a half-drunk stupor. And the worst part? It’s so repetitive that it will be stuck in your head for days afterward.
3: Legend of the Dinosaurs (1977)
Legend of the Dinosaurs was one of the first dinosaur movies I ever saw, and when I heard that it was being re-released on DVD I made sure to check it out. I probably should have held on to my fond childhood memories and left well enough alone. Produced by Japan’s Toei Company, the film tells the story of what happens when a plesiosaur and a pterosaur (neither of which are actually dinosaurs) are loosed upon a lakeside community. More specifically, though, Legend of the Dinosaurs is a mixture of hammy acting, rubber monsters, bad dubbing, and a strange pop-jazz-funk fusion-fueled soundtrack that makes it sound as if the titular monsters are about to make some baby creatures. The ending is so depressingly abrupt that it made me check the disc afterward to make sure it did not skip over something important because of a scratch.
Most unintentionally funny moment: The killer pterosaur makes a kind of laughing sound during its raids on the lakeside village. It was apparently having a better time than I was.
Second place is tied between Dinosaur Valley Girls and Dinosaur Island, and for good reason. They are basically the same movie. Both involve what are supposed to be heroic (but actually sleazy) men discovering lost lands where scantily clad cavewomen wrestle and try to outrun dinosaurs. If you gave a dinosaur-obsessed 13-year-old boy a shoestring budget these films are probably what you would get for your money. The skeevy exploitation of the women in these films alone is enough to make them among the worst films ever made (and definitely NOT for kids!).
Creature cameo: The Tyrannosaurus in Dinosaur Island is the same one used in the Carnosaur series. I guess when you’re a low-budget dinosaur you have to find work where you can.
1: A Nymphoid Barbarian in Dinosaur Hell (1991)
Truth be told, it is probably unfair for me to add this one to the list. I am not referring to the lack of any actual dinosaurs in the film, but the fact that I could not get more than 10 minutes into it before turning it off. It was AWFUL. I knew I was in over my head during the film’s introduction where, in a stereotypical “Valley Girl” accent, our heroine tells the story of how she came to be (you guessed it) “a nymphoid barbarian in dinosaur hell.” Civilization had been wiped out and now humans, dressed like rejects from the blacksmith’s booth at a Renaissance Fair, try to avoid monstrous puppets and stop-motion creatures. The trouble is that once you have watched even 10 minutes of it, you can’t un-watch it.
Low-budget solutions to everyday problems: The opening scenes appear to have been filmed in a local park or someone’s backyard. This should give hope to any aspiring filmmakers out there. All you need is a camera, a few friends, and a few bits of clothing from the bargain bin of a local costume shop to be a filmmaker just like the creators of this movie!
Not everyone will agree with my picks, of course, and I am sure there are plenty of other cheesy dinosaur flicks out there. What are your selections for the worst dinosaur movies ever made?
July 21, 2009
One of the first dinosaur movies I ever saw was The Land That Time Forgot. Based upon the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel of the same name, the film followed a mixed group of British and German World War I sailors stranded in a dinosaur-infested lost world. I did not care very much about the human characters; it was the dinosaurs, brought to life via puppetry, that enthralled me. (Indeed, one of the saddest scenes in the film is when the sailors slow-blast apart a pair of oversized Styracosaurus, a kind of herbivorous horned dinosaur.)
Now The Land That Time Forgot has been adapted for film again, but this time in a direct-to-video production due out on July 28th by the American film studio The Asylum.
It is not a by-the-books retelling of Burroughs’ story or a re-make of the original film, but rather a new story that draws from both. The plot centers on a charter boat carrying a bevy of newlyweds that becomes stranded on a mysterious Caribbean island. The hapless tourists quickly find that the island is not deserted, though, and they have to find a way to escape the lost land’s prehistoric inhabitants.
According to the film’s Wikipedia entry, this new adaptation will feature a much wider array of creatures than the 1975 film. Along with old standbys like Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops will be more recently-discovered dinosaurs like Carnotaurus and Therizinosaurus. The addition of extra dinosaurs does not necessarily mean that this b-movie will be good, but it couldn’t be worse than Aztec Rex, right?
July 17, 2009
Last month I asked readers of this blog to vote for which location deserved the title of “Dinosaur Capital of the World.” Glen Rose, Texas quickly jumped into the lead, but many commenters voiced their preference for Drumheller, Alberta. Glen Rose might have the tracks, they say, but it is hard to beat Drumheller when it comes to the abundance of fossil bones.
Now the Drumheller Mail has weighed in on the great debate. According to the newspaper, Drumheller has tons of dinosaur fossils, a long tradition of paleontology and some dino-centered culture that can’t be beat:
The valley has a rich history of dinosaur bone excavation going back more than a century, and of course the Royal Tyrrell Museum. It is hard to go a block in downtown Drumheller without seeing a statue of a dinosaur. This all makes it hard to argue that Drumheller is not the capital.
Indeed, Drumheller resident Bob Llewellyn, who has been involved with paleontology in the area for years, stated that “I don’t think we have to worry about anyone else, I think we have a lot going for us. … The fact is, we are known all over the place…I don’t think we have to sit back and take guff from anybody.”
Admittedly I have never been to Drumheller or Glen Rose, but in the interest of full disclosure I have to cast my own vote for Drumheller, Alberta. The area is abundant in fascinating dinosaur fossils, it has a solid history of supporting paleontological science, and the Royal Tyrrell Museum is a first class institution that I hope to visit in the not-too-distant future. And, not to knock Glen Rose, but the fact that young earth creationists have often tried to use the dinosaur tracks found near the Texas town to try and convince people that humans and dinosaurs once lived together makes the southern site lose a few points in my book (although a homegrown creationist museum recently popped up in Alberta, too). The true dinosaur capital of the world should have a strong tradition of excellent paleontological research, and in that respect Drumheller is hard to beat.
What do you think? Is Drumheller’s status as the “Dinosaur Capital of the World” safe, or has it been superseded by Glen Rose? Have your say in the comments!