Land of the Lost opens June 5

Universal Pictures releases this big-budget comedy-adventure about some characters (including Will Ferrell) who get sucked into a space-time vortex and end up in the titular lost world. Who would have thought that the little 1970s Saturday morning kiddie TV show would eventually spawn a theatrical feature released during the summer blockbuster season. The original had some cult appeal because of its use of stop-motion dinosaurs (kept to a minimum for budgetary reasons), but some fans were intrigued by the premise – enough apparently to see the franchise revived as a more lavish television series in the ’90s and now as a feature film.
From the press kit:

Will Ferrell stars as has-been scientist Dr. Rick Marshall, sucked into one and spat back through time. Way back. Now, Marshall has no weapons, few skills and questionable smarts to survive in an alternate universe full of marauding dinosaurs and fantastic creatures from beyond our world—a place of spectacular sights and super-scaled comedy known as the Land of the Lost.
Sucked alongside him for the adventure are crack-smart research assistant Holly (Anna Friel) and a redneck survivalist (Danny McBride) named Will. Chased by T. rex and stalked by painfully slow reptiles known as Sleestaks, Marshall, Will and Holly must rely on their only ally—a primate called Chaka (Jorma Taccone)—to navigate out of the hybrid dimension. Escape from this routine expedition gone awry and they’re heroes. Get stuck, and they’ll be permanent refugees in the Land of the Lost.
Based on the classic television series created by Sid & Marty Krofft, Land of the Lost is directed by Brad Silberling and produced by Jimmy Miller and Sid & Marty Krofft.

  • Cast: Will Ferrell, Danny McBride, Anna Friel, Jorma Taccone
  • Directed by: Brad Silberling
  • Screenplay by: Chris Henchy & Dennis McNicholas
  • Based on the of the Lost by: Sid & Marty Krofft
  • Producers: Jimmy Miller, Sid & Marty Krofft
  • Executive Producers: Julie Wixson-Darmody, Daniel Lupi, Adam McKay, Brad Silberling

[serialposts]

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997)

It was easy to imagine a sequel to JURASSIC PARK: since the film adaptation omitted many memorable set pieces from Michael Crichton’s novel all that was needed was some plot device to get the characters back on the island and then stitch together the unused material. However, this method was rendered unnecessary when Crichton wrote his own sequel, THE LOST WORLD. Based upon this book, which does a fine job of creating a new story, the film had a good chance of standing on its own; unfortunately, director Steven Spielberg and screenwriter David Koepp adopted the former method as much as the latter in making THE LOST WORLD: JURASSIC PARK. Although it borrows plot elements, scenes, and (sometimes composite) characters from its namesake novel, the film is essentially a grab bag of sequences tied together by a minimal storyline that allows several abandoned scenes from the first book to reach the screen.
Koepp’s clunky screenplay displays considerable difficulty over linking these scenes together and requires a surprising amount of leaden exposition just to jump-start the story. Crichton’s novel was structured as a mystery, which gradually revealed the connection between the Lost World and Jurassic Park; the film explains everything thing up front, which doesn’t leave much story to tell. As a director, Spielberg again proves his inconsistency. Four years after the double triumph of JURASSIC PARK and SCHINDLER’S LIST, he has turned in a derivative film that features some dynamic staging but also betrays his penchant for inappropriate cuteness. He knows how to generate adult-frightening thrills; but in a sop to family audiences, he cannot resist having an adolescent gymnast dispatch a velociraptor with a flying kick from impromptu parallel bars — a moment worthy of a Disney kiddie flick. At least the film has one grisly glimmer of black humor: a family sees their pet’s dog house dangling by a chain from the T-Rex’s mouth — the dog presumably being at the other end of the chain. (Now, if only the unfortunate pup had been named Rex – that would have been really funny!) This is not to say that the film has nothing to recommend it. The dinosaurs, as envisioned here, are such magnificent animals that it is impossible to be bored. As before, Dennis Muren and Stan Winston’s visual effects (augmented by marvelous sound work) achieve equal levels of awe, beauty, and terror. Human characterization is serviceable, but the cast work overtime to imbue some humanity into the underwritten roles. In particular, Jeff Goldblum brings an eccentricity to Dr. Ian Malcolm that goes a long way toward keeping the character alive, even though his function has been seriously diminished from the novel (in which he solved the riddle of the Lost World’s existence). His asides and comments even help gloss over some plot devices, as the character continually comments on the recklessness of what’s happening (which is of course contrived in order to get dino-bait to the island).
Although JURASSIC PARK gave only a Cliff Notes summary of Chaos Theory, that was better than what we get here. All Crichton’s theorizing about the cause of extinction has been dropped, rather than condensed. Instead, the film offers weakly developed notions of parental love and conservationism (the latter is somewhat hypocritical coming from Spielberg, whose DreamWorks company was planning to pave over a large area of wetlands in Playa Vista to build facilities for a studio).
The “Save the Dinos” attitude is disappointing, because the film actually seems to be onto something when hunters and scientists first confront each other (Pete Postlethwaite even manages to make something out of his character, the big game hunter with dreams of taking down the world’s most fearsome predator). But this conflict is short circuited by the dinosaurs, who eat the characters before their philosophical differences can reach any dramatic resolution. Likewise, having an adult T-Rex rescue its captured offspring from civilization is interesting — we’re supposed to admire the creature’s devotion even as we fear its attacks — but this San Diego sequence seems tacked on (it is — the scene is not in the book), rather than climactic.
But the script really isn’t the problem. What is lacking here is not so much plot as mythic undertones. What was needed was more visual imagination to make the impact of these scenes truly memorable. Even a scenario of fairy tale simplicity can stir up considerable artistic power through clever imagery: King Kong’s ascent up the Empire State Building is a good example; an even better one in this context is the climax of GORGO, in which icons of the patriarchal British Empire (London Bridge, Big Ben, etc) fall before a monster’s maternal rampage.
Unfortunately, San Diego hasn’t many memorable icons to destroy. In any case, Spielberg keeps the angry Rex confined to suburbia. The sight of this Saurian striding down the nighttime streets is worth the price of admission, but it’s not enough to elevate the film to classic status, and having him munch on anonymous extras reduces the movie to an “ain’it-it-cool” level – there’s no real horror or suspense, just a cheap thrill at the sight of some gratuitous carnage.
The sequence also betrays the weakness of computer-generated imagery, which cannot achieve the kind of full-scale destruction possible with miniatures. These new dinosaurs are far more interactive than the ones in JURASSIC PARK, and they do a nice job of smashing through windows and tearing up hapless humans, but you’re not going to see toppling buildings and massive explosions. You might be better off watching GORGO again. At least that entertaining 1960 effort expanded mother love to Godzilla-sized proportions for a truly stunning climactic confrontation.

THE NOVEL

Michael Cricthon’s novel takes its title THE LOST WORLD from a 1912 novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (the creator of Sherlock Holmes). Doyle’s book was an adventure story about a lost world on top of a jungle plateau, where dinosaurs and primitive men continued to live, cut off from evolution. In Cricthon’s book, the concept of a “Lost World” is used as a theoretical jumping-off point for a discussion on the subject of extinction. The late Ian Malcolm returns (he explains that he was only “slightly dead” at the end of JURASSIC PARK) to offer theories on how Chaos Theory may explain the reason for the extinction of the dinosaurs (he considers the popular doomsday meteor theory an irrelevancy). A rival colleague suggests that the possible existence of “lost worlds” might afford an opportunity to actually study the process of extinction; he has even gathered evidence to suggest that some dinosaurs may have survived to present day in far off places. Malcom, of course, immediately recognizes that these dinosaurs are actually survivors not from the Mezazoic Era but from Jurassic Park.
After the long opening section, the bulk of the novel is set on Isla Sorna, where leftover dinosaurs that were engineered for use in Jurassic Park are still alive and running wild. The characters attempt to use the island as a sort of living laboratory, hoping it will provide evidence to help solve the riddle of why the dinosaurs became extinct. Complications arise in the form of the dinosaurs themselves, who inevitably get out of hand, and in the form of a rival group from a company that wants to capture one of the dinosaurs for reverse engineering purposes, hoping to pick up where John Hammond (the mastermind behind Jurassic Park) left off.
Besides the thrills inherent in facing dinosaurs on an isolated island, without recourse to the army or other high-tech firepower for protection, the novel has three elements in its favor that make it a worthwhile read: First, the discourse on the topic of extinction is fascinating. Second, the plot is an amusing parody of sequels, recreating familiar situations from the first book but then providing completely different resolutions. Cricthon tips off his strategy early, opening with an epigraph by Ian Malcolm: “Sequelae are inherently unpredictable.”
Finally, the author uses his sequel as a means of answering critics who picked apart the scientific explanation behind the genetic engineering in JURASSIC PARK. Inconsistencies in the methodology are acknowledged and used as clues indicating that the birthing process seen in the first novel was merely a show put on for the tourists, leading to the conclusion that Isla Sorna is the place where the dinosaurs were truly engineered.
As a result, Crichton’s novel works on a number of levels: a horror story about dangerous prehistoric beasts; a thoughtful piece of science fiction exploring the subject of extinction; and as a sly self-referential satire on the nature of sequels. It lives up to its predecessor and manages to stand on its own, in a way that the dismal film adaptation utterly fails to achieve.
The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by David Koepp, based on the novel by Michael Cricthon. Cast: Jeff Goldblum, Julianne Moore, Pete Postlethwaite, Richard Attenborough, Vince Vaughn, Arliss Howard, Peter Stormare, Richard Schiff, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards.
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Jurassic Park (1993)

This film deserves the highest of all praise: it actually lived up to its hype when it was released in the summer of 1993. This is the event for which dino-fans had been waiting; it is the 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY of its genre – the best dinosaur movie ever – one whose special effects render previous efforts obsolete. (Admittedly, it’s not as good as the original KING KONG. But KING KONG is not a dinosaur movie; it’s an ape movie, with the dinosaurs as costars.)
A reasonably faithful approximation of its source material, the film streamlines the structure of Michael Crichton’s novel and even retains some of his ideas, while adding wickedly clever touches of black humor, courtesy of co-screenwriter David Koepp.
As with JAWS, director Spielberg juggles the fates of his characters (compared to what happened in the book) and opts for a more spectacular ending, a sort of dino ex machina; the latter change may violate conventional dramatic structure, but one can hardly fault its effectiveness.
Technical credits are excellent, although John Williams, as usual, emphasizes the obvious (lush music for lush settings, etc.). Industrial Light & Magic’s computer wizardry imbues the creatures with amazing life: full-motion shots feature some incredible interaction with actors, and intercutting with Stan Winston’s full-scale, live-action versions is virtually seamless.
As with the novel, the human cannot quite compete with their saurian co-stars, but that doesn’t stop the cast from giving good performances, especially Jeff Goldblum in a role obviously tailor-made for him. Amazing enough for Spielberg, the children are not overly sentimentalized; if anything, they are exploited for all the fear they can elicit thr4ough their terrorized reactions to the rampaging reptiles. The PG-13 excises most of Crichton’s gore, but Spielberg ratchets up the suspense to compensate.
This was the best science-fiction/horror film of 1993 and easily the best film of Spielberg’s often overrated career up to that point. (SCHINDLER’S LIST came out later that year). Genre films don’t get much better, at least on a visceral-visual level. Inevitably, such a popular attraction draws its share of nay-sayers, but we should not allow these cynics to prevent the rest of us from opening our eyes in childlike wonder, exhilarated and stunned by the technique and artistry that brought dinosaurs to life as never before. The final glimpse of the triumphant T-Rex, roaring while a “When Dinosaurs Ruled the earth” banner floats to the floor, is sheer visual poetry; in comparison, Bruce the Shark from JAWS resembles a toothless minnow.

THE NOVEL

In print, author Michael Crichton’s JURASSIC PARK often read like a dissertation on Chaos Theory, with the action serving as a dramatic illustration of the lesson being taught. There was plenty of suspense and gore, but in between the dramatic dinosaur attacks, Crichton offered up pages and pages of intellectual discourse, most of it through the mouth of Dr. Ian Malcolm, who acted as a sort of modern-day Cassandra, warning of the dangers to come.
Amazingly, the exercise was almost entirely successful, creating a book that was simultaneously a rousing adventure story and a fascinating piece of intelligent science-fiction. The film version, of course, could barely begin to scratch the surface of the novel’s text; instead, the screenplay gives a cliff notes condensed version of Chaos Theory. As a result, the movie tends to come across as a fairly simple, almost classic piece of alarmist sci-fi – a sort of high-tech version of Murphy’s Law: “If something can go wrong, it will go wrong.”
The book, although also open to this interpretation, was far more detailed and nuanced. The point was not simply that genetic engineering is potentially dangerous and science invites disaster by tampering with Nature’s domain. It was that, in a complex world with innumerable variables, it is often impossible to predict consequences with any reasonable degree of accuracy. Science, as a doctrine, is concerned with how to do accomplish something, not with whether that accomplishment is the right thing to do.
In the case of the story’s artificially recreated reptiles, the dinosaurs are not a new Frankenstein monster terrorizing their creator; they are simply wild animals – but animals whose behavior patterns are unknown. It is therefore impossible to predict their actions and/or completely control them, but the people involved in the project are too arrogant to admit that they do not have a 100% grasp of the situation. Inevitably, this leads to disaster.
The film version offers a thumbnail version of these events, presented with greater visceral impact because of the excellent computer-generated effects; however, the novel still stands on its own as an excellent piece of literary science-fiction, thanks to the far more detailed examination of the ramifications of the situation. Crichton clearly wanted to entertain his readers; fortunately, he did not shy away from trying to illuminate them as well.

TRIVIA

When the film was released in 1993, the video and DVD market were in the process of cutting into the theatrical life of motion pictures, which were spending less time in theatres before heading to home video shelves. JURASSIC PARK (along with PULP FICTION one year later) bucked this trend: JURASSIC PARK played continuously in theatres for over one year after is initial release.
In the same issue of Cinefantastique (October 1993) that contained my original capsule review of JURASSIC PARK, a letter appeared from a disgruntled reader who asked, “Was I the only one who wondered what happened to all the park rangers and geneticists in JURASSIC PARK?” Whether Mr. Ron Murillo was the only one who pondered this question is unknown, but dialogue in the film makes it clear that the staff leaves by boat before disaster strikes (although this is not shown). This may be a cheap dramatic device to clear the decks and streamline the movie, but technically, it is not a continuity error.
Jurassic Park (1993). Directed by Steven Spielberg. Screenplay by Michael Cricthon and David Koepp, based on the novel by Crichton. Cast: Sam Neill, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Richard Attenborough, Bob Peck, Martin Ferrero, Joseph Mazzello, Ariana Richards, Samuel L. Jackson, B.D. Wong, Wayne Knight.
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The Art of Ray Harryhausen: Interview Part 3 – "One Million Years, B.C."

ONE MILLION YEARS B.C.

Since Ray Harryhausen recently completed a mini-tour of California in February, here – in advance of the opening of 10,000 YEARS, B.C. – are some of Ray’s comments on his own prehistoric dinosaur epic from 40 years ago: ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: After doing THE ANIMAL WORLD, you didn’t work with dinosaurs again until you made ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. for Hammer. Before that, did you ever try to get Charles Schneer interested in making a dinosaur film?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, because we were always doing pictures with very tight budgets. We were able to get a better budget from Hammer for ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.That was their 100th anniversary movie and they spent a little more money than they usually did. We went on location to the Canary Islands, shooting mostly on Lanzarote, which had many bleak and desolate landscapes that were made of pure volcanic rock. They lent themselves quite well to re-creating the landscapes of a prehistoric world.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you know that in America Fox released the 91-minute version of the movie on DVD rather than the more complete 100-minute UK version?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh really? I didn’t know that. Of course, I have no control over what the studios do, but that actually goes back to one of problems we had while we were making the film. [Producer] Michael Carreras realized the film was going to be too long and originally it ended up with a sequence where a brontosaurus attacked the Rock people in their cave. But it was decided that we already had enough animation sequences and rather than doing any more costly animation, we abandoned that entire sequence, which I quite regretted. But because the model of the brontosaurus had already been built, I used it for a few shots at the beginning of the picture, where John Richardson sees it moving behind a hill.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: According to the production log for ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C., you spent eight months in 1966 animating the film. From March 17th to April 7th you worked on the pteranodon scenes, from April 12 to the 30th on the giant turtle, from May 2nd to June 3rd the allosaurus battle, and the longest time (June 6th to July 15th) was devoted to the ceratosaurus fighting the triceratops. By contrast, it took you less than a week to film the live-action of the iguana, so you saved quite a bit of time by using a real lizard.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, that’s the reason I used the iguana, to save time. I also thought by showing a live creature at the beginning, it would make the animated ones more convincing, but it did just the opposite, because the lizard kept falling asleep and we had to substitute other lizards. When I animate my creatures they all do exactly what I want them to do. There is no talking back.
Raquel Welch in ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.LAWRENCE FRENCH: When ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. came out in 1966, it became a big hit, possibly because of Raquel Welch appearing half naked on screen, more than your dinosaurs.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, it turned out to be quite a success and it made Raquel Welch into a big star. It also led Charles and I to try dinosaurs once again for our next picture, THE VALLEY OF GWANGI. But it took us over two years to make GWANGI, and the people at Warner Bros who we started the picture with, were gone when it was finished. The new people at the studio had no respect for what the old people had sanctioned and GWANGI really needed a really big publicity campaign, because most people thought GWANGI was another Godzilla type of thing.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Would you have liked to animate some of the newer dinosaurs species, such as the velociraptors that were so popular in JURASSIC PARK and KING KONG?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Oh, sure. But at the time, I used the most popular ones, because one was enough for me to animate, let alone a herd of them.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: After you worked at Hammer, did you ever think about using their most famous actor, Christopher Lee as a villain in one of your movies?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, but I knew Christopher Lee because we lived near him when we moved to Cadogan Square. Christopher still has a flat there.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: And until he died, Boris Karloff lived right next door to Christopher Lee on Cadogan Square.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Yes, that’s right. But when we moved to Cadogan Square, Boris Karloff had already died. Since that time we’ve moved to Ilchester.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Looking back at your sixteen feature films, you made six movies in the fifties, and six films in the sixties, but only two in the seventies. I know animation is a very laborious process, but is there any reason for a four-film difference in the seventies?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: Good Lord! I never added it up that way. I don’t know how to account for that, really. I guess we were more prolific in our early days.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Of your sixteen films, all of them were produced by Charles H. Schneer after you first began to work with him in 1955, with the exception of ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. which you did for Hammer. How were you able to maintain such a long and successful working relationship?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: By never agreeing, I suppose. We were together for a long time. Charles always had a great sympathy for fantasy. We had many disagreements, which brings up that old saying, “if two people think exactly alike, one of them is unnecessary.” So we battled out many things in the name of the film, and in the end we’d come to a compromise.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Bernard Herrmann, who scored four of your films was quite a temperamental person, so was there ever any trouble with him about scoring JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS? The reason I ask is because the initial 1963 credits list Mario Nascimbene as the composer for JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS.
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, Bernie was always going to write the music for JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. Crediting Mario Nascimbene was probably just a mistake somebody in Columbia’s publicity department made.
LAWRENCE FRENCH: Did you have any input about using Mario Nascimbene to score ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. ?
RAY HARRYHAUSEN: No, getting Mario Nascimbene was something I had nothing to do with. Hammer made the arrangements to use him. But I thought he did a very effective score, although his music was not in the tradition of what we usually did – but it certainly seemed to fit the picture.
[serialposts]

The History of Prehistoric Movies

10,000 B.C.,which opens this week, is only the latest in a line of films that stretches all the way back to ONE MILLIONS YEARS, B.C. – and beyond. Hollywood has long had a fascination for portraying primitive life as it might have been lived before the invention of modern technology, but more often than not these films are outright fantasies with at best a passing interest in scientific accuracy. Most notably, the desire to see cave men confronting dinosaurs is usually too much to resist – even though the last dinosaur died out over 50-million years before the first primitive men were born.

The appeal of glamour is also not to be discounted: depictions of life before the invention of the toothbrush seldom show neanderthal men and women walking around with rotting teeth in their mouths, and you can bet that, despite their loin clothes and fur bikinis, early examples of homo erectus inevitably have perfect skin and well coiffed hair; look closely and you may even note a trace of eye liner on the leading ladies. And when you stop and think about it, can you really blame Hollywood? After all, remove the dinosaurs and the babes in clam-shell bikinis, and all you’re left with is a bunch of hairy ape-men grunting around the fire for 90 minutes – and who wants to watch that? To be fair, there are one or two worthy exceptions to this rule, which you will find as we take you on a tour of prehistory…

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Buster Keaton (left) in THREE AGES
Three Ages

THREE AGES (1923). Silent comedian Buster Keaton’s first feature film steals the structure of D.W. Griffith’s INTOLERANCE, telling three stories set in three different eras. In each of them, Keaton stars as the put-upon hero who must win the love of a woman against all odds. One sequence, set in prehistoric times, has Keaton competing with a bigger, stronger caveman rival for the lady’s affections. There is also an amusing, if crude, early special effects shot that depicts the character riding on the head of a brontosaurus. The story goes that Keaton chose the episodic structure so that, if the feature film failed, it could be cut into three short subjects. He needn’t have worried. THREE AGES is a gem of silent comedy, still worth seeing today.

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Victor Mature and Carol Landis confront a magnified lizard meant to be a dinosaur.
One Million, B.C.

ONE MILLION B.C.(1940). The first major trip down memory lane to the distant, distant past establishes many of the conventions that would persist throughout these films for decades to come; most notably, we see that cave men looked pretty much like their modern counterparts. However, ONE MILLION B.C. does something that its descendants did not bother to do: it accounts for the modern appearance by framing the story with a modern day prologue, in which an archaeologist interprets some cave drawings for the benefit of a young couple (Victor Mature and Carol Landis); not knowing what the characters in his story really looked like, he suggests that his audience imagines themselves in the roles. Their prehistoric adventures involve lizards and baby alligators optically magnified to suggest battling dinosaurs – a rather immoral bit of animal cruelty censored when the film screened in Britain (nevertheless, the sequenced was recycled as stock footage in several subsequent low-budget movies). Lon Chaney, Jr. also appears, as the leader of a cave man tribe. Ironically, considering that Keaton’s THREE AGES was a spoof of INTOLERANCE, producer-director D.W. Griffith had a hand in this production, although he eventually stepped aside and had his name removed from the credits.

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PREHISTORIC WOMEN (1953). An obscure, low-budget entry, apparently filmed in the “wilds” of El Monte, about some stone-age women who decide they hate men but must keep a few around for procreational purposes. One of the men discovers fire, which he uses to defeat some prehistoric beast, proving that men really should be the ones running the show. 4 million years of male patriarchy, sexism, and spousal abuse follow.

TEENAGE CAVEMAN(1958). A young – but clearly not teen-aged – Robert Vaughn stars in the title role of this tale of primitive life. Despite his animal fur clothing, Vaughn sports a very modern haircut, but the surprise ending sort accounts for that. We don’t want to spoil it for you, but once you’ve seen the ending, you realize that this film doesn’t really belong in a list of “prehistoric” movies.

Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion dinosaurs battle it out.
One Million Years, B.C.

ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C.(1966). This remake of ONE MILLION B.C. is probably the apex of achievement for this kind of film, thanks to the unique convergence of two profoundly entertaining fantasy elements: Raquel Welch in a fur bikini and stop-motion dinosaurs animated by Ray Harryhausen. For young boys around the world, both seemed equally fascinating and unattainable, yet here were their dreams, displayed on the movie screens bigger than life. Suddenly, the unreal became real, at least for an hour-and-a-half. The anthropology here is rather ridiculous: Raquel hails for an advanced tribe of blond-haired, blue-eyed people, who have developed something resembling a culture (not to mention skin and hair care products, judging from their good looks). She hooks up with John Richardson, whose tribe of dark-haired swarthy types are obviously several rungs down the evolutionary ladder. As absurd as it it, it hardly matter, not when you can count on one of Harryhausen’s dinosaurs to intrude at regular intervals, rather like a string of vaudeville entertainers, each of whom gets a few minutes on stage before being ushered off to make room for the next. Highlights include the archetypal battle between a peaceful plant-eager and a ferocious carnivore (guess who wins?), Raquel being kidnapped by a pteranodon, and a fight between cave men and a young allosaurus who invades their village.

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WHEN WOMEN HAD TAILS (1970). This Italian film (co-written by the respected Lina Wertmuller) is apparently a sex comedy spoof of prehistoric movies. Beautiful Senta Berger stars as a cave woman who meets some orphaned cave brothers who have been living alone on an island without women all their lives. She falls for one and introduces him to the joys of sex, but when the other brothers start wondering what the couple are doing together in private, trouble starts brewing.

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WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH(1970). This follow-up to ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. substitutes Victoria Vetri for Raquel Welch and Jim Danforth for Ray Harryhausen. Both are quite good, but neither can quite live up to the impact of their predecessors. The results are much the same as before, with another class between an advanced, blond-haired tribe and a retro bunch of dark-haired troglodytes. Aclaimed science fiction author J.G. Ballard, who wrote the original treatment, later said, “I’m very proud that my first screen credit was for what is, without doubt, the worst film ever made.” (Apparently, Ballard never saw PLAN NINE FROM OUTER SPACE.) Whatever the short-comings, Vetri (former Playboy Playmate of the Year) looks great, and her interaction with mommy dinosaur and its baby is loads of highly improbably fun: she takes shelter inside and egg shell and ends up adopted into the family!

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CREATURES THE WORLD FORGOT(1971). Hammer films, the company behind ONE MILLION YEARS, B.C. and WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH, tries one more time with this flick, but they forgot one thing: the dinosaurs! All you get is a snake. Oh well, Julie Ege make a pretty cave girl, but she is not striking enough to pose a threat to Welch or Vetri.

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QUEST FOR FIRE (1981). A rare attempt to portray a scientifically accurate view of primitive mankind, this film avoids the obvious mistakes (such as dinosaurs co-existing with humans), but the science is still a bit off (the screenplay was based on an outdated book). The story has a tribe losing its sacred flame when it is attacked by a rival group of savages. A trio heads out to recapture the fire. Along the way they encounter a more advanced tribe that has actually learned the secret of making fire (as opposed to just preserving a flame that started naturally). Reduced to its bare bones, the plot is not that different from ONE MLLION YEARS, B.C., but the grungy production values make it all seem much more believable.

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CAVEMAN(1981). The lovable Ringo Starr plays the title role in this spoof of prehistoric movies, featuring comic stop-motion dinosaur effects by Dave Allen. The jokes are not great, but the whole thing is so light-hearted and good-natured that it hardly matters. Despite the comic tone, the special effects are very impressive – as technically polished as anything in a serious movie. The highlight has to be the T-Rex; played for laughs here, the predator is decidedly not fearsome, especially when he gets stoned on a mouthful of berries from a very special bush.

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CAVEGIRL (1985). A low-budget spoof in which a high school nerd on a field trip finds himself transported back in time, where he falls in love with the titular character.

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CLAN OF THE CAVE BEAR(1986). Adapted by John Sayles from a book by Jean M. Auel, this film is another attempt, a la QUEST FOR FIRE, to take a serious approach to the depiction of prehistoric life. Still, with Daryl Hannah in the lead, the film’s depiction of its primitive leading lady is inevitably more beautiful than the real thing.

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THE FLINTSTONES (1994). The long-running TV cartoon becomes a live-action feature film. The joke here, as on television, is that everything in the past exactly parallels the present, just with stones, rocks, and dinosaurs in place of electricity, hydraulics, and pets. Followed by a less successful sequel, VIVA ROCK VEGAS in 2000.

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DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRLS (1996). An ultra-low-budget comedy about a modern man who gets sucked into the past where he helps out a tribe of women in fur bikinis. There are a handful of special effects shots, including some crude stop-motion and some magnified lizards, but mostly the film tries to sustain itself on the running joke that these women are the prehistoric equivalent of Valley Girls (as immortalized in the song by Frank Zappa). The big joke is that their crude grunting language includes syllables that sound suspiciously similar to “For sure.”

*

ICE AGE (2002). This computer-animated comedy about life in the titular ice age focuses on an unlikely team of wild animals (mammoth, sabre-toothed tiger, etc). It’s all good fun (especially Scrat, the squirrel-rat forever chasing down an acorn), and in a way it’s no more impossible than DINOSAUR VALLEY GIRL. If anything, the glimpse we get of early humans – a nomadic tribe of hunters – is probably more accurate. Followed by ICE AGE: THE MELTDOWN in 2006.

JURASSIC PARK: Michael Crichton on Adapting his Novel to the Screen

The hungry T-Rex takes a bit out of the tour.
The hungry T-Rex shifts the paradigm a bit.

“Paradigm” was just another word for a model, but as scientists used it, the term meant something more, a world view. A larger way of seeing the world. Paradigm shifts were said to occur whenever science made a major change in its view of the world.
-Michael Crichton, JURASSIC PARK

In his novel Jurassic Park, Michael Crichton comes close – or so it would seem to a careless reader – to reworking the standard science fiction plot of portraying the havoc that erupts when scientists meddle in things they were not meant to experiment with. However, instead of telling us that there are some things man was not meant to know, JURASSIC PARK tells us there are things we cannot know. The plot of the disaster which engulfs the park is an illustration of the book’s theme: that there are limits to our ability to under¬stand and control the world and that science, whose premise is that we can understand and control everything, is an out¬dated system that needs to be replaced by a new paradigm.
Of course, that’s not what’s going to draw audiences to theatres this summer. People will come because they want to see dinosaurs roaring and rampaging across the big screen. And as a matter of fact, Crichton originally conceived his dinosaur-cloning story as a screenplay, minus the thematic subtext. “I had become interested in the notion of obtaining dinosaur DNA and cloning a dinosaur in 1983,” he recalled of his initial effort. “The script didn’t work, and I just waited to see if I could ever figure out how to make it work. It took quite a few years.
“It was a very different story,” said Crichton of the original script. “It was about the person who did the cloning, operating alone and in secret. It just wasn’t satisfactory. The real conclusion for me was that what you really wanted in a story like this was to have a sort of natural environment in which people and dinosaurs could be together. You wanted the thing that never happened in history: people in the forest and swamps at the same time as dinosaurs. Once that notion began to dictate how the story would proceed, then everything else fell into place, because there are certain things that I wanted to avoid, like the dinosaurs in New York City – that’s been done.”
Working with his new slant on the story, Crichton opted to write a novel. “I didn’t revise the script,” he said. “By the time I got around to doing it, there were other considerations. The most important is that it wasn’t clear that anyone would ever make this story into a movie, because it would be very expensive. So one way to get the story done was to write a book. I could do that.”
Despite the story’s origins as a screenplay, the novel ex¬pounds on its thematic material in depth, mostly through the character of Ian Malcolm, played by Jeff Goldblum in the film, a mathematician whose eponymous theory “the Malcolm Effect” predicts the failure of the park. Of course, this ma¬terial had to be condensed or deleted when the story came full circle to being a script again. “I feel very strongly that books should be the best books they can be, and you should not worry about what the movie will do,” Crichton said of his uncinematic approach, which makes the novel stand up as a work in its own right rather than a stepping stone to a film deal. “In movies, a little bit of that kind of dialogue goes a long way. A movie like JURASSIC PARK is not the format to have extended discussions on the scientific paradigm.”
Crichton did several initial screenplay drafts for Spielberg, retaining the basics of his novel in condensed form. “I think everyone’s feeling was they liked the book in its overall shape and structure, and they wanted to keep that. So the question was how to get it on film since there are some parts – but not a tremendous number of parts – where it’s clear that you can just lift it out and the structure remains. It was a question of paring down and trying to keep things from the original, simplifying.”
Further describing the adaptation process, Crichton went on to note that, “It’s a fairly long book, and the script can only have somewhere between 10 and 20 percent of the content. So what you’re really trying to do is make a sort of short story that reproduces the quality of the novel and has all the big scenes retained and has the logical flow that appears in the much longer and more extended argument.
“A similar issue has to do with what you call `visceral things,”‘ said the author-adapter. “You can have gory descriptions in a book, because everyone is their own projectionist. I’ve al¬ways found it unwise to do that in a movie, because it throws you out of the movie. As soon as you see guts, you immediately think, `Where did they get them? How did they do it?’ You do not believe for a moment that that’s actually happening. Since I see it as an insoluble problem to present viscera, the movie wisely doesn’t do that. I also think the explicitness of the violence serves a different purpose [in the book]. You don’t have certain advantages a movie has, so in a way the violence is a way to say, `These are real dinosaurs, and take them seriously, 0 Reader.’ In the movie, if they look wonderful, then you take them seriously; you don’t have to see them tear people open. Your decision about taking them seriously is based on other things, so [graphic violence is] unnecessary.
In the adapting process, Crichton was forced to drop several scenes he would like to have retained, but his previous experience as a screenwriter taught him to be philosophical about the process. Noted Crichton, “Scenes went for all kinds of reasons: budget reasons, practical reasons, in the sense that they were difficult to do; they went out of the belief that they were repetitive in some way. But I think the primary thing that drives something like this is budget. You have to stop somewhere and where you stop, people will say, `Oh, that was my favorite scene and it’s not in.”‘


Although authors sometimes adapt their own novels to the screen in order to try to protect their work from hampering filmmakers, this was not Crichton’s intention; in fact, he did not initially intend to do the adaptation himself. “I didn’t have it in my mind to do the script, but Steven said, `We really need somebody to pare this thing down into some kind of manageable shape so we know what to build and it has to happen fast.’ I said, “I do have the advantage of having tried many versions of this, so I know what works; I’ll whack it down. Then when you want to do your character polishes, get somebody else.’ I really wasn’t able to stay with the project for three years; I had other things to do. I really didn’t want to do the script; I had a lot of confi¬dence in Spielberg.
“There are disadvantages to having the original writer,” continued Crichton. “People think writers fall in love with their own words. I don’t have any sense of that at all. What’s difficult for me is that in doing a story like this, you do several drafts which change the story dramatically from one to another – at least that was what happened in this book. So you’ve rethought it several times; now you have to rethink it again for a movie, and it’s just hard to re¬think it too many times. It’s hard to take the same elements, toss them up in the air and re¬arrange them again and again and again.”
Crichton is confident that those elements have been re¬arranged into a satisfactory order. “I think it’s going to be a pretty amazing movie,” he suggested enthusiastically. “I think it’s going to have stuff in it that people will be floored by – they are not going to believe what they see. That’s always nice.”

Copyright 1993 by Steve Biodrowski. This article orignally appeared in Cinefantastique Volume 24 Number 2 August 1993.

Interview: Stan Winston on making Jurassic Park's full-size dinos live and breath

Stan Winston's live-action raptors from JURASSIC PARKIn discussing his live-action dinosaurs in JURASSIC PARK, makeup effects expert Stan Winston referred to Willis OBrien’s KING KONG as “yet to be surpassed.” But the praise ir O’Brien had an edge. Winston bore the confidence of one who expected his work to be the top dog come June. But dinosaur film fans, who have seen many a live-action dinosaur fall on its face, will need a lot of convincing. “Steven [Spielberg] wanted to do live action as much as possible,” said Winston. “He asked how much we could do. I, being a little insane, told him we could do a great deal. He asked. ‘How?’ My response was. ‘I don’t know, but since it’s something we would love to do, we’ll figure out a way.’ I think that’s pretty much what Steven wanted to hear.”
Figuring out a way required revising the script and dropping some sequences, such as when the T-Rex takes to the water. “If we don’t feel we can do exactly what’s scripted, then it’s a matter of going back and adjusting to work within certain parameters,” said Winston. The parameters are not necessarily, ‘Can you do it?’ My gut feeling is that with the magic of the film-making process we can do anything, given enough time and money. The question is, ‘How can we do it within limitations on money and time – how much we’ll spend, how much can we get done?’ To bring in a movie of this scope on the dollars they spent, we were very frugal. Nothing in excess of $50-million is cheap, but investment equates to return. What you see on the screen will in every way justify the expense of this movie.”
Winston noted he faced two major challenges on the film: the artistic challenge of making the dinosaurs look good and the practical challenge of bringing them to life. “Our job was to create the most realistic dinosaurs that anyone has ever seen,” said Winston. “We did an enormous amount of research. We maintained a legitimacy to all of the available knowledge when it came to what dinosaurs looked like and how they lived. We had to take that reality and make it as interesting, as dramatic, as beautiful, and as spectacular as you have ever seen.”
As with men, not all Raptors, for example, are created equal. “Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger are both men,” noted Winston. “We had to make artistic judgments in the creation of our dinosaurs to make this Raptor or that Tyrannosaurus the neatest one you’ve ever seen? A lot of that is instinct, not right or wrong.”


Winston saw the task of bringing the dinosaurs to life his biggest challenge. “They had to act,” said Winston. “We couldn’t cast a gorgeous actor who couldn’t deliver a line; we had to create saurian Robert DeNiros and Jack Nicholsons. That’s stretching it, but in the broadest sense of the term, we did need to create characters that performed. I think what we accomplished is beyond anything like this that’s been done in motion-picture history. I’m hoping the audience will feel as I do.”
The biggest influence on the look of Winston’s dinosaurs was the work of artist John Gurche. “I have an enormous amount of respect for the feeling of reality, drama and character in his work,” said Winston. “That’s what we shot for: that our dinosaurs were as dramatic and beautiful as a Gurche dinosaur.”
Winston began with a series of pencil renderings by staff artist Mark “Crash” McCreery. “I’m surrounded, fortunately, in every area – from sketching to painting to sculpting – by an unsurpassed group of artists,” said Winston.
Once the sketches received approval from Spielberg, fifth-scale miniatures were built, then full-scale sculptures.
“We attacked our sculptures in a much more technically engineered way,” said Winston. “Instead of just sculpting free-hand, we took our fifth-scale sculptures and sliced them into pies, so to speak, so we had a sculpture put together like the hull of an airplane; then we blew those slices up five times, recreated those hull pieces, and put the armature back together, so that we had an armature that was very close to the finished structure of the character. Then it was a matter of detailing: putting on the skin and doing the final sculpting on an armature that gave us the shape.”
At the same time, Winston and his crew were deciding on a variety of methods to bring the dinosaurs to life: cable-actuation, radio-control and computer-governed hydraulics. The most innovative method was strapping the top half of the T¬Rex to an airplane flight simulator.
“That concept came from Craig Caton, one of my key mechanical coordinators,” said Winston. “It limited a certain amount of shooting ability, because for many of the shots we would only be able to shoot the T-Rex from the waist up, but it seemed like a perfect way to do the broad moves-it’s a tried-and-true method of taking a lot of weight and giving it a mutli-axis.” Winston’s crew also built an insert head, hoisted by a 13,000 lb. crane, and insert legs.

The live-action T-Rex head was placed atop an airplane flight simulator for simple movements

For the Tyrannosaur’s more complex movements, Winston developed an idea “that came to me in the middle of the night: a performance-capturing Waldo. It was always a concern how we were going to puppet this enormous guy. We did have some people with us whose background was amusement park-size creatures like King Kong. The conventional method was, on a slide-pot board, to log in the actions of the hydraulic character, motion by motion; then, once that action is created, the computer memorizes it, and you can play it back over and over again. But it takes a long time to program that action and we needed to be able to take direction on a set. So I came up with the idea of recreating the dinosaurs’ inner structure mechanically – which we had already done in mock-up-so that we knew how everything would move. For every joint or axis of motion, we placed a linear potentiometer – which is a slide-pot, so to speak, that looks like a little piston. If we could get those little pistons to match the movements of the hydraulics, then instead of putting them on a control board, we could put them in place of where the hydraulics would be in the full-size character. This gave us a small version of the insides of the big version, so that any movement we gave to the small T-Rex as a puppet – holding onto it as a puppeteer and mov¬ing the head – would go right into the dinosaur, and he would do what we wanted, in real time. It worked beautifully.”
The film’s Triceratops and Bilophosaurs (a poison-spitting species) were filmed totally live using Winston’s creations. For the Brachiosaur, Winston’s team built only the head and neck. For the Raptors, Winston’s crew employed a variety of rod puppets, cable and radio-control versions, as well as the conventional man-in-a-suit approach. Fuller shots of the T¬Rex, Brachiosaur and Raptors were augmented with ILM’s CGI work.
Winston said matching his dinosaurs to the computer-generated versions of ILM was not one of his concerns. “It didn’t influence the design at all,” he stated. “They took exactly what we designed here and duplicated it. Phil Tippett was a major influence. I think that a great deal of any continuity that we have between live-action and computer-generated is greatly due to Phil and his helping us create as realistic dinosaur motions as we could. Phil’s a dinosaur himself.”
The live-action Triceratops was the only dino to go to HawaiiThe only dinosaur to visit the Hawaii location was the Triceratops, for a scene where the creature is found lying ill That left the majority of dinosaur effects to be filmed am stage, under the supervision of Michael Lantieri.
“Michael worked very closely with us,” said Winston. “We had certain requirements from a floor effects standpoint, a crane, for instance, to operate characters externally. We knew what was needed from his team and how any physical apparatus, interior or exterior, would marry. It was a perfectly coordinated marriage of teams.
“I would say that about the whole movie,” Winston continued. “It was the most perfectly coordinated movie I’ve ever worked on, from set design art direction, floor effects to creature effects. Every aspect of this film was a team effort, helmed by a director I had an enormous amount of respect for, even though I had never worked with him. Now, having worked with him, I know that it is no accident that Steven Spielberg is Steven Spielberg. He’s an incredible director, and he has an amazing feel for film. This could have been the worst working experience of my life, because it was the biggest. It turned out to be the opposite. It was a joy to go to work every day. It was the best working experience I’ve ever had, with the exception of directing my own movies.”


Copyright 1993 by Steve Biodrowski. This article orignally appeared in Cinefantastique Volume 24 Number 2 August 1993.