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…

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

  1. Rick Catizone says:

    Bill,

    Thanks for including those wonderful images in with the details. I’m with you on Ray’s films. Lost Continent and such…well, as a kid, I watched them too….anything to see something related to dinos. But “lame” compared to what Ray was doing. I can’t believe (I can, of course) that he wouldn’t even LOOK at it, given the amount of work that must have gone into it!

  2. Aaron says:

    Hey Mr. Stout,

    I love your take on the drawing for the Rhedosaurus from Beast from 20,000 Fathoms.
    And the idea of a Turok, Son of Stone film is STILL a great idea. I day dream about that from time to time.
    I thought of Jurassic Park: The Lost World as a best of moments from dinosaur films. It seems to pay homage to a lot of movies and the classic dinosaur stampede is featured in that chase scene in your drawing with the triceratops. I felt that Spielberg really deserved some major kudos for making the last half of that film exciting. Usually lost world films get very predictable in the third act. The monster is brought back to civilization, goes on a rampage and is destroyed. Spielberg’s sense of humor was really on display in the last part of his film which made it much more enjoyable. And for dinosaur lovers, the monster didn’t get killed. It ate the corporate suit instead.

    Best wishes,
    Aaron

  3. Flaming Turd says:

    Hallo Will, it’s Flaming Turd from the Conancompletist website, where you know we are compiling your works through movies.

    What exactly did you do for the Jurassic Park movies? Did you actually do any concept-art at all, or just spoke ideas to Rick Carter?

    As for the cartoon, I assume you actually did some concept-art, but is the image you posted from that project? I know it was used as the cover for the 2010 comic series, but I was wondering if the origin was some concept for the cartoon.

    And what about the “homage to Howard Hawks” triceratops drawing? Did you do that for the movie, or for the cartoon?

    Best wishes, master.

  4. Bill says:

    @Rick:
    I was very forgiving as a child of ANY film that had dinosaurs in it, no matter how poorly they were executed.

    @Aaron:
    “Jurassic Park: The Lost World” worked for me because it was just the kind of escape I was seeking at the time. Plus, the first three quarters is essentially a remake of “King Kong”, with the last quarter a redo of the end of “Gorgo”.

    @FT:
    For “Jurassic Park”: Once I realized there was no chance in hell I was going to be on the film, the movie’s production designer (Rick Carter) and I had lunch together every other week. During those lunches I fed him stuff I thought should be in the movie. My input was entirely conceptual and verbal — no art.

    For the proposed Universal Cartoon Studios “Jurassic Park” cartoon series, I designed all the characters and dinosaurs and established a look for the series. Someone else did the vehicle design. The image I posted above, however, is the cover I did for one of the recent “Jurassic Park” comics. Note that the kids from the movie on my cover have grown up.

    The Howard Hawks “Hatari!” homage was one of the images I drew for the Topps “Jurassic Park” trading cards that were included as inserts in Topps’ “Jurassic Park” comic book series. That idea of mine was later adapted by Steven Spielberg (another Hawks fan) for “Jurassic Park: The Lost World”. The “Hatari!” poster that inspired my Hawks homage was painted by the great Frank McCarthy, later renowned for his western (cowboys and Indians) art.

    Steven also hired me to design loads (at least 24) of potential “Jurassic Park” ads and travel decals for the ad campaign promoting the first “Jurassic Park” movie, one of the most lucrative jobs I’ve ever had.

  5. Flaming Turd says:

    Thank you very much, Bill.

    Oh so you did some JP ads! When was that, before or after production? Was any of them actually used?

    And, were by any chance those toys related to that cancelled JP cartoon?

    http://www.imagebam.com/image/b188d7334158248

    Also I think you indeed worked for the DinoRiders franchise, right? Did you work only for the cartoon, or had any relation with the toyline too?

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