My Top Ten Favorite Dinosaur Films – Part One

MY TOP TEN DINOSAUR FILMS
It should be no surprise to anyone that I love good dinosaurs movies — and some not so good ones, too. I’m generally not real choosy. I still enjoy cheesy fare like Lost Continent, Unknown Island and The Jungle. I fell in love with them when I saw them on TV as a kid. They were low budget movies made in the late 1940s/early 1950s, so the technology involved in creating the prehistoric beasts is what it is. I can’t stand crap like Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend which was made much, much later (1985) and for much more money. It should have been far better, considering what was being done effects-wise by that time.

My friend Mark F. Berry wrote an entire big, fat book on dinosaur movies, The Dinosaur Filmography, which tells you there have been a lot of movies made that include dinosaurs. Here are my own favorite ten:
(I had some involvement with six of these ten films. They’re marked with an asterisk)

10) Jurassic Park Animated Series Trailer*
Although I own a copy, I don’t think this trailer is available anywhere.
Upon the success of Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park movie, all kinds of ancillary projects abounded: toys, games, novelties, apparel, etc.

Towards the end of all of this merchandising I got a call from artist Will Meugniot, asking if I’d be interested in designing a Jurassic Park animated series. This was not going to be a kiddy show (although kids of all ages, including myself, could enjoy it). They wanted the show to be a mature prime time series with top writers and state-of-the-art television animation augmented with quite a bit of CG animation. Universal Cartoon Studios wanted a “graphic novel look” to the series. I came in, showed my portfolio and was hired.

We made a trailer to communicate the look and feel of the series, also showing how we would combine computer animation with traditional animation. All we needed was Spielberg’s approval.

I heard through the grapevine that he never bothered to watch what we had done. By that time the word was out that he was burnt out on Jurassic Park merchandising and all of the film’s commercial exploitation. So, it never got made.

Too bad.

9) The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms (1953)
This early Ray Harryhausen effort stars a “Rhedosaurus” and is based upon the Ray Bradbury story “The Foghorn”. Ray imbued his creature with personality and fascinating movements. My favorite moment comes when the professor in his deep sea vehicle is about to describe the Beast’s most interesting feature.

8) The Valley of Gwangi (1969)

Ray Harryhausen! Cowboys! Dinosaurs! Wait — you had me at Harryhausen. The only thing cooler would have been a Turok Son of Stone movie — dinosaurs and Indians!

Gwangi began as a Willis O’Brien feature but couldn’t get made until after Obie had died.

I love the shock of Gwangi’s entrance in the film, the little Eohippus, the Styracosaurus and the Mexican (actually Spanish) locations (one of which we used as a location for Conan the Barbarian). While not a great film, The Valley of Gwangi is nevertheless highly enjoyable.

7) Jurassic Park Trilogy* (1993, 1997, 2001)
A friend sent me Michael Crichton’s novel Jurassic Park before it was published, when it was still in what the publishing biz called “galleys”. I was told to read the entire novel but not to look at the last page until I had finished the book. His requested reading condition made me curious.

As I devoured the book, I was amazed. I knew all the people upon whom the characters in the novel were based; they were friends of mine. The book took place in a theme park; I had been designing theme parks for Disney and Universal for years. And dinosaurs. I certainly knew my dinosaurs. It seemed the most absolutely perfect property for me to design as a film. That worried me, as the Hollywood axiom is the more perfect one is for a film, the less likely one’s involvement or chance of getting hired.

When I got to the last page, I knew I’d never be hired. There was an acknowledgement by Crichton of my work as an inspiration for his book. I was too perfect to ever work on the film. Nevertheless, I thought I’d give it a shot, even though I knew that trying to get a job on a film almost always guarantees the job will never happen.

I met and hit it off with Rick Carter, the film’s fine production designer. We had lunch together every other week, during which I fed him ideas to put in the movie. Nearly all of them made their way into the film.

I found all of the Jurassic Park films to be very fun rides. When the first grand dinosaur vista in the initial movie was revealed, however, my first impulse was to tell the filmmakers, “Drop me off here. You can pick me up at the end of the movie. I just want to spend the next two hours with the dinosaurs.”

Lost World: Jurassic Park, the second film, is basically a remake of King Kong for the first three quarters of the movie (so I was happy). Then, it transforms into Gorgo for the final quarter. Jurassic Park III boasts that great pterosaur chase as a highlight. All three are big fun popcorn movies.

6) Ravel’s Bolero sequence from Allegro Non Troppo* (1976)
I was hired to create the newspaper advertising (both the art and the ad copy) for this Italian parody of Walt Disney’s Fantasia. In place of Igor Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, director Bruno Bozzetto set his evolutionary tale to Maurice Ravel’s Bolero. It’s one of the best (if not the best) sequences in the movie. The relentless bolero beat drives and propels the creatures and their evolution. It all leads to a terrifyingly prescient conclusion. Superb!

To Be Continued…

51 Responses to “My Top Ten Favorite Dinosaur Films – Part One”

  1. Bill says:

    It’s not just my work; it’s a collaboration. I designed the characters and creatures and established the visual tone for the show. But many other people worked on the trailer: animators, background painters, writers, cg designers, etc.

    Yes, if I had done everything all by myself, I might be able to show it.

    But I didn’t and I don’t own any of the ancillary rights to Jurassic Park. I know it’s a drag on all our parts — but I don’t want a lawsuit in which there is no way I could win.

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