Dinosaur! is an American television documentary about dinosaurs. It was first broadcast in the United States on November 5, 1985, on CBS. Directed by Robert Guenette and written by Steven Paul Mark, Dinosaur! was hosted by the American actor Christopher Reeve, who some years before had played the leading role of Superman.
Jointly with Reeve's narration, the documentary shows special effects scenes which reconstruct dinosaurs and their era, along with interviews with the most famous paleontologists at the time of the documentary shooting, including Jack Horner, Robert Bakker, Phil Currie and Dale Russell. After a short introductory sequence and the subsequent opening credits the show starts with the mating of Edmontosaurus (identified as Hadrosaurus). The female soon lays a clutch of eggs that are eaten by a Struthiomimus, except for one. When the Struthiomimus eats the last egg it stole, it is then hunted and killed by a pair of Deinonychus. The remaining Edmontosaurus egg hatches and grows into a juvenile. While it is out grazing with its parents, it wanders off and is almost killed by a Tyrannosaurus, but the father hears its cries and comes to the rescue. While the mother looks after the juvenile, the father faces the Tyrannosaurus and knocks it over with his strong, 2,000-pound tail. Once down, the Tyrannosaurus could not get up easily, so the herbivore is given a chance to escape.
Next, a herd of Monoclonius is seen grazing. One member wanders off into the forest in search of flowers. Night falls and it tries to find the herd. It soon stumbles upon the remains of a killed Hadrosaur and becomes wary. The Tyrannosaurus then ambushes it and bites hard on its back. The Monoclonius breaks free and stabs the Tyrannosaurus in the shin, which only angers the predator. The Monoclonius becomes cornered and is killed.
Next, a herd of Brontosaurus are busy eating from trees (this genus is called Brontosaurus in the documentary although modern scientific consensus names it Apatosaurus). They use their long necks to reach the branches.
That night, all seems calm. Suddenly, a huge meteorite crashes into Earth and kills the dinosaurs. After that, a small mouse-like mammal is seen climbing out of a hole in the ground, amongst the bones of a dead Hadrosaurus, signaling the start of mammals ruling the Earth.
Origins of the project
Before becoming a full length television documentary, Dinosaur! was a 1984 experimental sequence lasting ten minutes. Conceived and created by Phil Tippett with the help of Industrial Light & Magic stop-motion animators Randy Dutra (who made the dinosaur molds and skins) and Tom St. Amand (who made the inner articulated metallic skeletons of the dinosaurs), the sequence was titled Prehistoric Beast and tried to improve go motion animation special effects techniques. The story of the short was simple: the chase and predation of a Monoclonius by a Tyrannosaurus. This short animated movie was only released in specialized animation festivals, but it convinced Robert Guenette and Steven Paul Mark to request Tippett's skills in order to transform it into a full-length documentary. They then asked Tippett to realise new sequences with other dinosaur species, like Hadrosaurus, Deinonychus, Struthiomimus and Brontosaurus, with additional images of an asteroid, the one supposed to have crashed into the Earth, causing the dinosaur's extinction. Adding all this new material to the material from Prehistoric Beast resulted in the 1985 Dinosaur! documentary.
Tippett later participated in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) animating the tauntauns seen in the movie. His experimental work on Prehistoric Beast and Dinosaur! helped with the animated dinosaur sequences he made later for Jurassic Park (1993).
Shooting, airings and VHS releases
Dinosaur! was mainly shot in New York City and Los Angeles, and in some fossiliferous locations of the United States. Christopher Reeve was a "dino fan" and demonstrated his enthusiasm for the shooting by flying with his own airplane to the American Museum of Natural History in New York and requesting himself the re-shooting of several scenes.
The special effects were mainly made in Phil Tippett's garage. Tippett received assistance from Industrial Light & Magic stop-motion animators Randy Dutra (who made the dinosaur molds and skins) and Tom St. Amand (who made the inner articulated metallic skeletons of the dinosaurs).
Some excerpts from old movies were shown in Dinosaur! in order to explain how popular dinosaurs were in cinema. One of those excerpts was a scene from King Kong (1933), in which a character pronounces the words "prehistoric beast", which is the title chosen by Phil Tippett for his experimental short.
Dinosaur! was shown again on the Disney Channel during the 1990s before it went from being a premium pay channel on cable to a standard channel. It had a VHS release on May 5, 1993, by Lionsgate Entertainment.
Some footage of Dinosaur! was re-dubbed with different sound effects and music in the original 3-D Dinosaur Adventure for MS-DOS operating systems by Knowledge Adventure. It was used in again the 1995 and 1996 Windows remake of the game. Footage of Dinosaur! was also used in Really Wild Animals for the episode Dinosaurs and Other Creature Features.
Notes and references
- 1980s section from Primeval Time, a dinosaurs documentaries specialised website
- 'Dinosaur!', with Walter Cronkite, on Youtube
- Prehistoric Beast digital restoration, published on April 6, 2011, by the Phil Tippett Studio's official channel in Youtube
- Animator Tom St. Amand filmography, TCM.com
- "An Insider Interview with Phil Tippett", by Jamie Painter - Star Wars Insider issue #33, 1997, and Star Wars #10, 1997
- Animator Tom St. Amand filmography, TCM.com