Dinosaur!'s opening credits
|Written by||Steven Paul Mark|
|Directed by||Robert Guenette|
|Presented by||Christopher Reeve|
|Country of origin||United States|
|Executive producer(s)||Robert Guenette|
Steven Paul Mark
|Running time||60 minutes|
|Production company(s)||Phillips Mark Productions|
Robert Guenette Productions
|Original release||November 5, 1985|
Dinosaur! is a 1985 American television documentary film 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 hadrosaurs (identified as Hadrosaurus in promotional materials). 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 hadrosaur 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 theropod 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 Brontosaurus is shown, busy eating leaves from tall trees. They use their long necks to reach the branches.
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.
That night, all seems calm. Suddenly, a huge meteorite crashes into Earth and kills the dinosaurs. After that, a small mouse-like mammal (live-acted by an opossum) is seen climbing out of a hole in the ground, among the bones of a dead hadrosaur, signaling the start of mammals ruling the Earth.
Out of the six genera of dinosaurs shown in the special effects sequences, only Brontosaurus is included in a separated sequence, thus not being assumed as a contemporary dinosaur of the five other genera shown in the program. This genus is called Brontosaurus in the documentary, although at that time the scientific consensus considered it to be synonymous with Apatosaurus. The genera featured alongside each other in overlapping sequences are Hadrosaurus, Struthiomimus, Deinonychus, Tyrannosaurus and Monoclonius. In reality, only Struthiomimus and Tyrannosaurus were contemporaries at the end of the Cretaceous period, the remains of both having been found in geological layers of the Hell Creek Formation. On the contrary, Deinonychus and Hadrosaurus fossils have been found only in Early Cretaceous rocks, and Monoclonius, which is now considered a synonym of Centrosaurus, belongs to an earlier age of the Late Cretaceous period.
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 film 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, while stock footage from the 1979 film Meteor was used to depict 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.
The go motion animation technique was first used by Tippett in the Star Wars original trilogy of films (1977, 1980, 1983), especially in the second installment, The Empire Strikes Back (1980), animating the tauntauns and the AT-ATs seen in the film. In 1983, when his work with the original Star Wars trilogy was finished, Tippett went on to improve his animation technique by means of Prehistoric Beast (1984) and Dinosaur! (1985). His experimental work on those two documentary films about dinosaurs helped with the animatics and CGI 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 films 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 Family Home Entertainment.
Some footage of Dinosaur! was re-dubbed with different sound effects and music in the original 3D Dinosaur Adventure for MS-DOS operating systems by Knowledge Adventure. It was used in again the 1995 and 1996 Windows remake of the game. They appeared in the 1993 PC-video game called Microsoft Dinosaurs. They appeared in the 1998 ABC World Reference game called Wide World of Dinosaurs for Microsoft Windows and Apple Macintosh operating systems by Creative Wonders. 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
- Brian Switek, "Looking Back at A&E's 'Dinosaur!'", Smithsonian Mag, smithsonian.com, March 2, 2011
- Phil Tippett's Dinosaur! + Prehistoric Beast Package
- 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
- Movie Magic: Behind the Scenes - Dinomania (The Discovery Channel, 1996)
- "Outstanding Special Visual Effects". 38th Primetime Emmy Awards - September 21, 1986. Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 1 March 2016.