5 Silly Rules That Old Dinosaur Movies All Seem To Follow
I feel like I could have been smart. Sadly, at the time of my life when I should've been actually learning things, I was too busy discovering a lost art called the "dinosaur movie." Nowadays, people only get a dinosaur movie when executives decide that they need to give Hollywood a $2 billion enema and trot out a new Jurassic Park film, or the Syfy channel shows the latest Megadactyl Vs. Three-headed-asaurus. But a long time ago, they truly ruled the earth.
Do I know real facts about evolution and science? Yeah, in the same sense that I know the ingredients of this Taco Bell burrito: meat ... stuff? Do I know the ins and outs of evolution and science as it was shown to me by countless The Lost World adaptations? You betcha! These are the kinds of things you learn when your elementary school education is replaced by a VHS of King Kong.
The Greatest Enemy Of The Tyrannosaurus Rex Is ... The Vehicle
Textbooks will try to show you glamorous pictures of the tyrannosaurus rex doing battle with the triceratops and other Cretaceous beasts, or maybe even bring up the theory that the T. rex was a scavenger. They'll fill your brain with lies about food chains and ecosystem hierarchies and multi-syllable words that are all fancy schmancy ways of saying "the bigger one ate the smaller, more pathetic one." They'll distance themselves from the truth, which is that the T. rex's prime opponent was never something that existed in its own time. No, it was the T. rex and the man-made vehicle that were destined to fight for all eternity. Man had attempted to do something more ingenious than walking all the time, and the T. rex was fucking pissed about it.
It's cool. You could probably get that dent hammered out.
Jurassic Park did this most famously. The T. rex popped out of its enclosure, beat up some of a car, told Jeff Goldblum to shut up, and then beat up the rest of the car. The sequel, The Lost World: Jurassic Park, decided that if the first installment featured one battered car and was the highest grossing movie of 1993, it could be the highest grossing movie of the forever by featuring ANOTHER battered car, and a battered trailer. And some more battered cars when the T. rex was set loose in San Diego! The key to a Jurassic Park film's success was set: audiences will come if you first have the dinosaurs remove a man's transportation, followed by removing his limbs.
It's a pretty grand formula. The T. rexes were Hulk Hogan, the vehicles were Andre The Giant, and every goddamn day was WrestleMania. Then, at the video store, I spied a tape cover with "CARNOSAUR" written on the front. And though I was, and still am, an idiot, I know enough about words and movies to interpret what Carnosaur means as a title: It's a movie about dinosaurs, but it takes out all the boring, leaf-ey ones.
Jurassic Park hosted the party, and Carnosaur threw up all over the coffee table.
And when the finale came, and all of the deinonychus puppets had been slain, what appeared to challenge the king? A forklift. For years, teachers and books had tried to tell me that they had no idea how dinosaurs would act in the modern age. Bullshit. First, they'd eat the entire automotive industry. After that, well, it's anyone's guess, really. And this isn't just a recent breakthrough in paleontology. In 1960, we received a little treasure called Dinosaurus!, titled with an exclamation point because there's no time to be chill when your finale features a T. rex dueling with a mechanical digger.
I've tried a dozen times, but I can't say DINOSAURUS! without screaming it.
Mortal enemies, the T. rex and the vehicle proved that you don't have to live in the same era as something in order to hate it with every fossilized fiber of your being. But if the T. rex was off hunting jeeps, who would actually eat all of the people? Well ...
People Are Usually Eaten By The Things You Least Expect
Don't get me wrong -- theropods like the T. rex did their fair share of people eating. I don't want to be creating harmful stereotypes, but if a T. rex walked into the room right now, I think it would probably start chewing on me. It was only surprising when something turned deadly out of nowhere, and considering that most of these movies took place in A LAND REMOVED FROM TIME, stuff turned deadly constantly, even when it defied every law that nature has to offer.
You know what the only dinosaur to eat anyone in the original King Kong is? An apatosaurus, which, if you may remember, is the dinosaur that was voted Least Likely To Eat Flesh in its Jurassic High School Class of Oh Shit It's A Fucking Comet yearbook. And it does more damage than any other animal in that movie, eating people in the swamp, and then chasing a dude down specifically to defeat its basic biological instincts and eat him, too. We had a lot of weird opinions in 1933, but you'd have to go out of your way to put a tyrannosaurus, a giant snake, and a pteranodon into your movie, and then say "Scrap all of our former plans, boys. Give me that long-necked fella. That sucker looks mean."
It wasn't a comet. The apatosaurus just killed every other dinosaur alive.
When Dinosaurs Ruled The Earth even makes up a dinosaur ...
Both me and seven-year-old me like to refer to it as the cool-asaurus.
... and the thing I feared most as a kid were these nightmare crabs:
We invented Red Lobster so that we wouldn't have to deal with this shit anymore.
You have hundreds of millions of years of vicious, insane-looking animals at your disposal, and you go with the sea food rebellion. But at least crabs are inherently awful. One Million Years B.C. pits man not only against the allure of Raquel Welch's Mesozoic lingerie, but against a sea turtle that is apparently getting pre-emptive revenge for all the soda can rings that will eventually invade its descendants' homes. There's no other way to justify that kind of action. When sea turtles are attacking you, maybe it's time to rethink some shit.
In Unknown Island, both the main villain of the movie and the biggest dinosaur in the land are killed by a rampaging "giant sloth."
If you passed the Trial Of The Giant Sloth, you got to evolve. That's just History 101.
Got to make a prehistoric movie, but creatively drained from figuring out all the non-dinosaurs you're gonna use? Throw in a giant plant ...
"My oh my, this is inconvenient."
... or something vaguely plant-esque.
The wild jungle tarp: Nature's most limited predator.
What I'm trying to say is that I don't know why we keep having all of these conversations about the deadliest dinosaurs when we're probably going to end up being consumed by a large snail, or a weirdly antagonistic rock. But if getting married is on your bucket list, you should be able to get it in well before any of that happens, because ...
Prehistoric Women Are Just Waiting Around For You
So, you're a single scientist on an exotic trip with your fellow researchers, and not one of them is a dame. You blame your lack of a wife on being too invested in your work, but as someone who is also into dinosaurs, I know that what that really means is "I spent the whole first date talking about the brain cavity of the stegosaurus, and she never answered her door again." Either that, or you're a rough-and-tumble adventurer type that's surrounded by soft-handed nerds, and you ain't had a gal in years because they just ain't cut out for the seas, what with their dainty parts and constant headaches and the like.
Then, you arrive on the island and after fending off a few of the beasts that live there ("Doc calls 'em 'dinosaurs.' I call 'em TROUBLE"), you run into a woman. She's dressed in a revealing mess of leather and sabretooth fur, and she's terrified of every motion that you make, but by god, you love her. And you need to take her away from this awful, godless place, which is the only place she's ever known, and back to the good old United States, where she can learn to be proper and ignored.
"You seem nice, and your facial hair is probably really great, but I think I might have to pass."
Ripping a borderline mute woman from her home was the romantic ideal in the dinosaur movie. The slow evolution of the human race, from inventing tools and survival tactics, to developing currency and organized religion, is just too impractical. As films like Prehistoric Women, At The Earth's Core, and The People That Time Forgot show us, evolution has nothing to do with gradual learning and adaptation. You evolve when a dude in a sailor's outfit shows up, says sweet gibberish to you, and takes you to a place where people wear dresses. And the rest of your community just dies because no one wants to bone them.
I'm not attracted to any of you, so good luck with the earthquakes and man-eating vines and stuff.
And when the cavewoman decides not to go back with the explorer that she met a day ago, no amount of impending volcanic eruptions can convince me that she didn't make the right choice. At The Earth's Core ends with the dude promising to show a lady named Dia the "wonders of my world." So, like, telephones and stuff. I'm not saying that he didn't make at least a mediocre impression, because she seals their love with a slightly indifferent kiss. I'm just saying that if you want to take a beautiful stranger back with you on your giant drill car ...
It gets terrible gas mileage, but the phallic metaphors are limitless.
... maybe come up with a better sales pitch than "I got a lot of stuff that you'll never understand back at my place. Come with me on my loud, scary mechanical thing and I'll show you the beauty of xenophobia."
Long Necked Animals Have Totally Survived
I wasn't crushed when I found out that Santa didn't exist. Some guy can't break into our house anymore while everyone is asleep? Sounds like a fair deal to me. But I'm crushed each time I remember that the Loch Ness Monster isn't real. Every few years, a news clip will surface and inevitably ask "Is this dark spot in a dark lake an ancient reptile?" and I'll hunch in front of my laptop, researching stories and thinking "This is it! Finally, my life can truly begin." But then it turns out to be a log or a big mound of duck turds or whatever, and the shadow falls back over my existence. Maybe next time, Daniel. Everyone gets their chance at joy. One day, you'll get yours.
I guess it didn't help that movies indicated that if a type of prehistoric reptile was going to exist today, it was going to be a long-necked lake monster. Films like The Water Horse and Baby: Secret Of The Lost Legend were all about waking up to discover that one type of creature survived, and it was the one that you could ride the easiest. Millions of years of climate change and disaster had passed by, and the reptile that we were left with was the friendly one. What are the odds? Most dinosaurs, herbivore or otherwise, would see a non-dinosaur like me coming toward them and decide that I'm just the right size for stepping on. We got the one that was willing to give humans the benefit of the doubt.
You seem like the kind of dumb lizard that won't judge me for my struggles.
Sometimes, however, our The Land Before Time coloring books were proven to be very, very inaccurate. 1925's The Lost World manages to keep it within reason, because if you release an eighty-foot anything in a busy city, its first reaction is going to be "Well, FUCK this."
"Your architecture is remarkably bourgeois."
The Giant Behemoth does something similar by putting a huge sauropod in a metropolitan area, but it doesn't seem to be interested in much more than knocking stuff over. It's the '50s sci-fi equivalent of that kid that won't punch you, but he'll definitely step on your sand castle.
Later, he grows up and starts a family, and you're still mad, but kind of respect how far he's come.
Finally, The Crater Lake Monster feels like a warning video about the perils of mortality. Thought you had a nice picnic going in the middle of nowhere? WRONG. Every scene in The Crater Lake Monster is a fifty-foot creature sneaking up on people doing their jobs. It's kind of a beautiful story if it's the third movie you've ever seen in your life.
Sorry that we neglected to invite you to our gathering, pure death incarnate.
But how do I find my new companion? Where is the strange creature that will initially try to dine on me, but later teach me a lesson about inner courage? Well, it's simple ...
Dinosaurs Can Be Found Anywhere
From the late 1800s to the mid-1900s, if you were handed a map, it probably led to a dinosaur-infested apocalypse world. If an insane person offered to take you on a trip that he refused to give many details about, there was a 90 percent chance that you were probably going to meet a stegosaurus later that week. Got a canyon or a patch of grass behind your house that not many people go to? Dinosaurs, man. No question.
In The Valley Of Gwangi, cowboys literally rode horses until dinosaurs showed up ...,
Just another Tuesday.
... in Dinosaurus!, they were discovered after someone dug in the ocean ...,
I can't help but get the sneaking suspicion that we're making a giant mistake.
... in The Land That Time Forgot, taking an extra long submarine trip was the only thing separating man from primeval terror ...,
I can't stress to you enough how much dinosaur movies screwed with my idea of how anything worked.
... and in At The Earth's Core, a scientist built a huge drill and found a cave of monsters the first time he used it. On his test run, he progressed the field of paleontology by a million years, and he wasn't even trying to. He just wanted to move some rocks around. If you owned a shovel back then, you instantly became the most important man in the history of biology.
Like, it helps if you have a giant screw-shaped tank. But it's absolutely not a requirement.
Hell, just lose the map if someone offers it to you. If you walk in a single direction for long enough, you'll meet a dinosaur at some point.
I get that it's important to pay attention in class and all that, but what chance does an education have when you place it in a battle to the death with movies that are solely about how easy it is to find real life versions of your dinosaur figurines? You can't reasonably expect me to have any kind of adequate mental and social development when I'm finding out that just walking into my backyard means that I'll be up to my nuts in Flintstone pets.
If I can pass down one piece of advice to Cracked readers, it's to live every day like you might meet a dinosaur.
Now that that's done, though, can someone hire me a tutor? I missed out on about twelve years of schooling while I was preparing to write this article, and I'd really like to learn more about this "basic math skills" thing that everyone seems to be so fond of.
Daniel has a blog.
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