The Geeky Brummie Guide To – Dinosaurs On Film

It’s been 25 years since Jurassic Park was first unleashed in cinemas and this week we see the release of its latest sequel Jurassic Park: Fallen Kingdom.

Come with us now as we take a trip back a little less than 65 million years to see how Dinosaurs have been portrayed in cinema.

Gertie the Dinosaur – 1914

The first on screen appearance of a dinosaur came thanks to the wonderful animations of Winsor McCay. McCay first used the film in front of a live audience as part of his vaudeville act but later added a live-action introduction sequence for its release in to cinemas. Running for only 12 minutes this is a beautiful example of early animation and still looks wonderful today.

The Lost World – 1925

Just seven years later we get this adaptation of the novel by Arthur Conan Doyle. It is the first feature length film to feature the pioneering combination of stop motion effects and live-action by Willis O’Brien who would go on to produce even more spectacular effects in our next film.

King Kong – 1933

Ranked as one of the greatest films of all time King Kong is especially notable for the stop-motion animation of its title character. Created by Willis O’Brien it builds on the work he had done in The Lost World. For the sequences set on Skull Island and the famous Tyrannosaurus fight, dinosaur models were made by Marcel Delgado based on the Charles R. Knight murals in the American Museum of Natural History.

One Million B.C. – 1940

Taking a vastly different approach to bringing dinosaurs to the screen this 1940 film starring Victor Mature is memorable for its use of optically enlarged real life lizards. Nicknamed ‘slurpasaurs’ this cost cutting effect sees lizards masquerading as dinosaurs thanks to the addition of glued on frills and horns. This totally unconvincing effect was used again by Irwin Allen in the 1960s and really doesn’t hold a candle to the far superior stop-motion effects.

One Million Years B.C – 1966

To show how much better the stop-motion effects are you only have to watch this British remake by Hammer Film Productions from 1966. Mostly remembered for Raquel Welch in a fur bikini this film features amazing effects from the master of stop-motion Ray Harryhausen. The film does however use three live animals, an iguana, a warthog and a tarantula. When asked Harryhausen confessed he felt the use of real creatures would convince the audience that all of what they were about to see was indeed real.

The Valley of the Gwangi – 1969

This is a personal favourite of mine mixing two of the things a boy in the 70s loved – cowboys and dinosaurs. Gwangi was originally conceived by Willis O’Brien who died before it could be brought to the screen. Inherited by his protege this is the last dinosaur-themed film Ray Harryhausen worked on. The film contains many wonderfully animated characters but is notable for a spectacular sequence where several horse mounted cowboys lasso a stop-motion Allosaurus.

The Land That Time Forgot -1975

Who can forget Doug McClure, the real life inspiration for Troy McClure from The Simpsons. Leading man in many of the 1970s fantasy films this is his first encounter with dinosaurs. For this film production company Amicus went with a very different technique for creating its dinosaur effects. Using puppets, either hand-held or on strings, made by Roger Dicken, all the dinosaur effects were shot using a small VistaVision camera to create its back-ground plates. The final effects are quite effective and look very fluid.

Jurassic Park -1993

Dinosaurs had fallen out of favour with cinema audiences but this all changed in 1993 thanks to Stephen Spielberg and Jurassic Park’s ground breaking special effects. Combining CGI recreations of incredibly accurate dinosaurs (at the time) by ILM with the life-sized animatronic creatures by Stan Winston and his team, audiences had never seen anything like it before. This is the film that convinced a generation that dinosaurs had returned after 65 million years. Spawning multiple sequels, Jurassic Park still looks amazing today and can still terrify and beguile in equal measure – a true masterpiece.

Dinosaur – 2000

Moving away from its more traditional hand drawn animation style Disney took a bite of the dinosaur cherry with this CGI animated feature. The CGI animals were combined with real-world backdrops to create a very photo-realistic look. Interestingly this film was originally conceived by Paul Verhoeven and Phil Tippett and pitched as a stop-motion animated film.

Jurassic World The Fallen Kingdom – 2018

So that brings us bang up to date and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. Once again combining CGI and animatronics the film continues its predecessors trick of having totally new dinosaurs to thrill and entertain us.

So even after 104 years we are still captivated by dinosaurs on screen. I wonder what they will look like in another hundred – maybe, just maybe we’ll have a real-life Jurassic Park. I just hope they remember the wisdom of Ian Malcolm.

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