May 2, 2012
Are we about to experience another burst of Dinomania? Maybe. Dinosaurs already have a ubiquitous cultural presence, but nothing drives interest in the beloved prehistoric creatures like Hollywood films. A stampede of dinosaur flicks is set to debut over the next two years.
A few dinosaur features fall somewhere on the educational spectrum. The Werner Herzog-narrated Dinotasia—a re-blended version of the miniseries Dinosaur Revolution—is set to traumatize children who have no idea who Werner Herzog is. And the long-running Walking With Dinosaurs series is scheduled to launch a 3-D sequel sometime next year. The plot for the new installment, set in Cretaceous Alaska, sounds awfully similar to the televised special March of the Dinosaurs.
Not all the upcoming dinosaur dramas are documentaries, though. Pixar recently announced the title of its 2014 feature The Good Dinosaur. The plot plays a little loose with evolutionary theory to bring people and dinosaurs in contact with each other. But the rest of the cinematic dinosaurs are not going to be so friendly. Jurassic Park will get a 3-D conversion for the movie’s 20th (!) anniversary in 2013, and not wanting to be left out, Warner Brothers is apparently working to loose “a pack of rapidly evolving dinosaurs into the heart of contemporary Los Angeles.” The idea sounds a bit like 2001′s Evolution, which released extremely adaptable aliens into Arizona. Maybe the studio competition will turn the rumors of Jurassic Park 4 into something more tangible, but who knows? Dinosaurs vs. Aliens, one of the latest ideas to exploit the seemingly bottomless limits of the versus subgenre, may hit screens before the Jurassic Park franchise evolves.
From the looks of it, there will be a little something for everyone, from friendly manifestations of childhood dreams to rampaging, bloodthirsty tyrannosaurs. I’m hoping for beautifully rendered feathers, recently discovered dinosaurs we’ve never seen restored before, and a respect for dinosaurs that doesn’t treat them as mindless monsters or just kid’s stuff, but I guess we will have to wait and see. Non-avian dinosaurs vanished around 66 million years ago, but we love to bring them back to life on screen.
April 18, 2011
The way I look at dinosaurs now isn’t the same way I looked at them when I was five or 10. Like the above video from a Sydney school shows, kids still feel that mix of joy and fright when they get up-close-and-personal with dinosaurs. That kind of interaction can be used to educate—as museums such as the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles and the Utah Museum of Natural History do with their dinosaur shows—and it can also be tapped for theme park scares.
Though the video shows an actor in a dinosaur puppet costume, it reminds me of the popular robotic dinosaur displays I saw when I was about the same age. I was simultaneously enthralled and terrified by them. Years before computer-animated dinosaurs were a regular staple of TV and movies, they were the closest thing to living dinosaurs I had ever seen. I still remember peeking out from behind a wall at the robotic Tyrannosaurus and Triceratops in a temporary exhibit at the Morris Museum, fearing that they might snatch me up and eat me if I got too close.
I have mixed feelings about those animatronic dinosaurs. As Stephen Jay Gould pointed out in his essay “Dinomania” in Dinosaur in a Haystack, the ranks of jerking, growling robots are welcomed into zoos and museums in the hope that visitors will then wander among more educational exhibits and learn something before leaving—but this is more of a hope than a reality. Presented in the right way, galleries of animatronic dinosaurs could be very educational, but often they are more akin to theme park attractions than anything else.
That’s the trouble with dinosaurs. Not only were they living animals that are objects of scientific study, but they are also malleable cultural icons that can terrify as much as enlighten. Mixing the two—using their monstrous appearance to educate—is a tricky act.
[Hat-tip to Love in the Time of Chasmosaurs for the video]