Saturday, June 20, 2015

Dinosaur Movies

Above is the trailer for a summer blockbuster movie that opened last week.  You probably don't need to watch the preview because, according to entertainment news reports, just about everybody in the country will have seen the film by tomorrow night. 

"Jurassic World" took in almost $209 million just in the U.S. last weekend.  This weekend's box office will be lower, but still is expected to surpass that of the newest Pixar movie, "Inside Out."  This is a pretty big deal because Pixar's clever animated family films generally outsell all other movies in their opening weekends.  

People who follow movie money are excited.  There are whispers that "Jurassic World" could make more money than Disney's action hero hit, "The Avengers," or even -- dare it be said -- the biggest-selling movie of all time, "Avatar," which grossed more than $28 billion in ticket sales alone in 2009. 

The Jurassic Series

Steven Spielberg made the first Jurassic Park movie in 1993.   It was based on a 1990 book by Michael Crichton, an author who had a knack for originating story ideas that could be turned into films with broad crowd appeal.

The "Jurassic Park" book was the story of scientists who recreated dinosaur DNA and, then, actual dinosaurs.  A profit-seeking billionaire (is there any other kind?) capitalized on this to create an island theme park of Mesozoic animals.  The dino-human interactions of course turned out to be fraught, leading to exciting conflicts and a pretty good movie. 

There were two sequels:  "The Lost World: Jurassic Park"  in 1997 and "Jurassic Park III," in 2001.  "Jurassic World" is the fourth movie in the set.  

Like most summer blockbusters, the current current Jurassic iteration has been received with tempered enthusiasm by film critics.  Most say the thing moves pretty slowly during its first hour or so.  

Then, according to Anthony Lane of The New Yorker, it "trundles onward to a late slugfest that bows not only to 'Jurassic Park' but to the rules of engagement laid down by 'King Kong,' requiring humans to yield the arena to the beasts. In short, there is plenty here to divert, but little to leave you enraptored. Such is the fate of the sequel: Bigger. Louder. Fewer teeth."

No doubt the people at Universal Studios, which created "Jurassic World," are crying all the way to the bank. 
Other Dinosaur Films

Early dinosaur movies were animated features, usually aimed at children, and for good reason.  Who among us did not learn about dinosaurs in grade school?  

There was a 1955 Czech cartoon film involving four boys who find a cave in the NY Museum of Natural History that leads them to dinosaurland.  There followed a 1988 American outing about an orphaned herbivorous dinosaur and then a 1993 piece about a really nice dinosaur and the children who become his friends.

During the 1950s era of the "B" movies, a Japanese monster film, "Gojira," inspired many Godzilla movies in the United States.  To fans, Godzilla was a mutant and possibly radioactive dinosaur;  discussions continue to this day about what kind of dinosaur -- or hybrid of several dinosaurs -- Godzilla really was.  (Some people have a lot of time on their hands.)

After the initial Jurassic film, when dinosaurs were a trending theme, an unfortunate 1995 movie called "Theodore Rex" was released and disappeared from view almost immediately.  In it, a very reluctant actress (I will not say her name, but her initials are Whoopi Goldberg) costarred with a suited tyrannosaurus rex.  It was described as "buddy/cop/sci-fi/family fun."

Why Now

It's pretty obvious why dinosaur films and extra-terrestrial films and other blockbuster films have become more popular over the years.  The development of computer-generated images (CGI), and their steady refinement, have allowed for realistic portrayal of creatures, scenes and whole universes that previously were the exclusive domains of human imagination and literature. 

George Lucas set CGI into gear with the first Star Wars trilogy.  The latest Jurassic creators have crowed about their further enhancements in this most recent movie, whose boffo opening inspired Disney's Marvel movie team, heavy CGI users themselves, to offer their congratulations. 

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