Tag: t-rex

Dinosaur 13

Dinosaur 13 (2014)
★★★ / ★★★★

“Dinosaur 13,” a documentary directed by Todd Douglas Miller, is not really about a dinosaur in its core but about how the government can exercise its power to the fullest extent. As the picture unfolds, I could not help but imagine a sadistic kid finding an anthill in his backyard and torturing the bugs not because he is curious but simply because he can.

The film chronicles the events that began in 1990 when Dr. Pete Larson and his fellow paleontologists unearthed the most complete Tyrannosaurus rex in the Ruth Mason Quarry in South Dakota. Months after the great discovery, FBI agents and the National Guard took the fossils away from the scientists, claiming they had stolen the remnants from federal land.

The strongest segments of the film come in the form of recorded videos from over twenty years ago. We see the campsite of the paleontologists, we observe the site of the digging, we survey how hands handle the rubble and the sorts of tools employed to be as careful as possible in order to preserve the T. rex prior to transport. Once out of the field, we get a feeling of how special the discovery must be to the local people not only in terms of how they look at the dinosaur—later named Sue—but how angry they are when officials arrive and drive away with the great find.

Once politics enter the equation, I watched the film in disbelief. So-called serious claims presented at the time are so petty—a certain region of the state having a set of rules and another region having yet another set of rules but only slightly different but enough to get someone in really big trouble. In retrospect, I think—and I believe it is one of the points the filmmaker tries to make—that the whole debacle over who gets to keep the dinosaur remains and who gets punishment is a gigantic embarrassment on the government’s part.

Imagine having this wonderful discovery and instead of everybody having a chance to celebrate it, a positive thing becomes embroiled in a debate over ownership. One cannot help but feel sorry for the paleontologists whose names have become forever a part of an unnecessary circus. Did it not occur to the parties responsible for the madness that if it were not for Dr. Larson and his team, the remains would not have been discovered at that time, possibly having unearthed to this day?

If life forms from the future would like to learn about humans that have gone extinct and happened to see this movie, they would likely laugh at our species. The movie is about a failing—a failing to recognize the big picture. It is also about power and entitlement, perhaps the ugliest personification comes in the form of a judge who gave in to his emotions rather than doing what he knows is right.

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (2009)
★★★ / ★★★★

This third installment of the “Ice Age” series, directed by Carlos Saldanha, is one of the more visually impressive of the three even though story-wise, it’s not as strong as its predecessors. While Manny (Ray Romano) and Ellie (Queen Latifah) prepare for the arrival of their baby, Diego (Denis Leary) decides to leave and pursue his own adventures. Sid (John Leguizamo) begins to feel lonely because he feels like he doesn’t have a family so he steals three T-Rex eggs from underneath the ice in order to feel like a mother. Meanwhile, the mother T-Rex returns and finds her babies missing so she hunts for the perpetrator. A series of funny things and loads of adventures ensue as the group of friends discover an underground habitat full of dangerous plants and even more menacing dinosaurs. I always look forward to each “Ice Age” movie because of the very amusing one-liners and the way it applies human characteristics to its animal characters. In this film, it focuses on parenting but the jokes are easy to understand so the little kids would not feel left out. There were more than a handful of highlights in the picture including the three baby T-Rex as they follow Sid around because they think he’s their mommy, the venus flytrap-like plant sticky situation and the battle in the air using some of the flying dinosaurs. While they may be interesting to look at, I enjoyed the fact that there were still jokes being thrown at the audiences while all the action was happening so it didn’t at all feel mindless or pointless. A new character was introduced, a weasel with an eye-patch and a British accent voiced by Simon Pegg. He really increased the manic factor of the film which was a good move because when he arrived on screen, all the other characters didn’t feel as energetic. The only problem I had with the movie is that it didn’t really have defining storyline as it did in the first installment. Like the second, this one is more about the fun and the adventures rather than dealing with real emotions. Still, I consider this a good movie for kids because it’s fast-paced, there’s a plethora of colors and attractive images. I couldn’t help but smile whenever I see Sid being his silly self and the infamous Scrat as he tries to (desperately) obtain an acorn from another rock rat. “Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs” may not be deep, but it’s satisfying enough.

Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park (1993)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Jurassic Park” was one of my favorite movies when I was about seven years old and it still remains a guilty pleasure of mine. (And I’m guessing my love for this film will be passed on to my kids.) Based on the novel by Michael Crichton and directed by the great Steven Spielberg, this film made me experience every emotion that there was to experience in (smart) summer blockbusters and creature-feature movies: heart-pounding thrills, suspense embedded in silences, funny one-liners, and astute script supported by storytelling that inspires true wonder.

John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) wanted to open a new theme park that was full of dinosaurs and everything else from that specific time period. But in order for the park to get a green light to open, he must get the approval of outside parties: a mathematician who loves to talk about the chaos theory (Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm) and two dinosaur experts who are opposites but undoubtedly share great chemistry (Sam Neill as Dr. Alan Grant and Laura Dern as Dr. Ellie Sattler). Other characters included Hammond’s grandchildren (Joseph Mazzello and Ariana Richards), a greedy computer expert who made a deal with another research group to smuggle DNA outside of Jurassic Park (Wayne Knight), another computer expert who likes structure and discipline (Samuel L. Jackson), a dinosaur hunter (Bob Peck), and a lawyer who values money over safety (Martin Ferrero). Although none of the characters were fully explored, I did not think that was too big of a problem because each of them contributed something to the picture, such as being dinosaur bait for our entertainment. And who really wants character development when one can look at how ferocious and fatal dinosaurs can be?

I admired this picture’s ability to balance. With its two-hour running time, I noticed that the first half served to explain how the scientists were able to replicate (with slight but crucial modifications) extinct creatures and the second half focused on the many brutal ways of getting hunted. As a Biological Sciences major, I liked the fact that it offered an explanation that made sense with regards to how the scientists acquired the dinosaurs’ DNA. Moreover, I also liked that it mentioned that acquiring the DNA would not be sufficient. That is, there were missing gaps in the DNA that had to be solved in order to commence the process of DNA replication and eventually cloning entire organisms. As for the chase sequences, I found that once it started it never lets go until the final three minutes. There were definitely a plethora of highlights in the second half but I’m only going to mention some. The kitchen scene that haunted me when I was younger was even more thrilling than I thought. When I was seven, I remember being able to identify with those kids because I thought that if I were in their situation, I wouldn’t want to get eaten by those hungry velociraptors either. Not that I’m older, I still could identify with them but on a different level: I didn’t want them to get hurt because they are smart, funny and energetic kids. Another highlight was the first appearance of the infamous Tyrannosaurus rex and how the water vibrated as it moved closer to the characters. I’ve seen the impact of vibration reference in a plethora of films that came after “Jurassic Park” so I think it’s safe to say that that scene is pretty much embedded in the collective media unconscious. And it rightly deserves to be because of Spielberg’s great execution by building suspense and eventually delivering the thrills.

The special and visual effects must be given applause. I’ve seen a number of movies surrounding 1993 and nothing even comes close to this film’s magic. Back in 1993, it must have been that much more impressive. Nowadays, if one was to watch this movie, one would find out that some effects were noticably computerized. Given that, while the two sequels greatly improved on the effects, neither comes close to the original’s sense of wonder and tension. For me, it goes to show that a movie can have the best special and visual effects in the world but if there’s not enough story and heart, it’s essentially weak as a whole. Last but certainly not least, I liked that it managed to tackle ethical questions of building such a park. I was glad that the whole “playing God” issue/religion was acknowledged but it eventually focused on defying nature without thinking of the consequences first. Goldblum’s character provided much of the ethical questions and I was always interested with what he had to say. And really, his questions are still relevant today because of all the technological advancements our generation are acquiring.

“Jurassic Park” is truly one of the best summer blockbuster popcorn flick ever made. By the time the credits started rolling, despite the death and terror that happened in the park, I still wished we had one just like it in real life so I could visit. If I were to describe this movie in the fewest words possible it would be “A Landmark.”

Journey to the Center of the Earth

Journey to the Center of the Earth (2008)
★★★ / ★★★★

I almost gave this a two stars out of four because there were moments where I thought it diverged too much from the adventure and focused a little bit too much on lame/unnecessary character development. With a family-friendly summer blockbuster film, one expects breath-taking action sequences right after another instead of a forced attempt of sentimentality. Still, I decided to give this film three stars because there were some truly memorable scenes such as the mine ride, the cave of crystals, the T-Rex, and the geyser. Brendan Fraser, like in “The Mummy” films, is really likeable as a scientist whose lab is about to be shut down; Josh Hutcherson continues his role as a kid who’s a little bit sarcastic but often keeps something up his sleeves; Anita Briem is also a neat addition because she provided energy when the story tends to slow down a bit. I did not see this in 3-D even though the entire picture is designed to be seen in such a format so I can’t comment on how much or if it’s better than on a flat screen. Still, there’s plenty of visual eye candy and adrenaline for those who just want to sit back and not think too much. But I must admit that I really like the science in the film: how Fraser’s character used kinematics to determine how high they are from the ground as they free fall, the application of Geology when it comes to recognizing certain rocks and their properties, the concept of bioluminescence (the production and emission of light when chemical energy is converted to light energy), and more. It made the movie that much more fun for me because I’ve taken classes that deal with those concepts. (I am a certified nerd/geek/dork.) This is the kind of movie that a babysitter can let kids watch because it’s pretty harmless, there’s a plethora of bright colors, and pretty funny one-liners. It could’ve been a lot better but it could’ve been a lot worse.