Charting the enduring appeal of dinosaur and monster films, from their early beginnings in a fledgling industry, to the spectacular computer wizardry of Jurassic Park and beyond.
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I suppose it's like a strip tease.
You have to hint that the monster is coming.
You get a noise first.
Like the thumping of the feet of the Tyrannosaurus before you see it.
And ground quaking.
Ground quaking is a good thing as well, because dinosaurs are big.
It's a screaming noise.
This, "Argh!", noise and you think, that's probably a dinosaur.
There he is!
You can show a paw or a claw, and you get a hint of what's to come.
I can only see part of him, but he's enormous!
You might see a shadow.
There might be an eye.
Ultra close-ups of reptilian eyes
with the membranes blinking sideways.
Then suddenly, just when the tension is as strung out as it possibly can,
wham, you're in there and you get your dinosaur full in your face.
Keep absolutely still.
If dinosaurs hadn't been discovered,
then Hollywood would almost certainly have invented them.
These mysterious creatures fired our imagination.
They were very real but have never been seen.
They are the killers who are long dead.
It's as if they were tailor-made to be movies stars.
The dinosaur movie is spectacle.
It's there to put a monster on the screen that you've seen in a museum.
You've fantasised about what it would be like
if these bones had flesh on.
If these bones could move around.
The dinosaur film allows a dream
that's been in people's heads to be realised on the screen.
Dinosaurs have been tremendously important
in doing one thing that cinema really can done best,
which is immersive spectacle.
It takes you into a new world and a world that feels dangerous
and kind of unfamiliar.
Dinosaur films are packed with mythical beasts and lost kingdoms.
But throughout Hollywood history,
filmmakers have turned their dinosaurs into modern-day metaphors.
A really good dinosaur film has to be about more than just dinosaurs.
It has to be about something else.
Dig beneath the cinematic surface and there are dinosaurs of desire...
of atomic anxiety...
and of genetic nightmares.
It represents our fears, our fantasies.
Our worries about the modern world,
as well as our fantasies about the prehistoric world.
And whilst filmmakers are always keen to smuggle in significance,
the audience just want to amazed.
And in 1993, one film above all others captured the wonder,
the fascination and the fear of dinosaurs.
When the characters are in the jeeps going on the Jurassic Park ride
and they encounter the Brachiosaurs for the first time,
Spielberg shows us the characters' reactions
before we see what they are reacting to.
I was an undergraduate studying evolutionary biology
when Jurassic Park came out.
And the moment when those guys see the Brachiosaurs for the first time,
pulling down the leaves on those very tall trees,
I genuinely thought, "You know what?
"I've been waiting all my life to see this."
And it was a genuine shiver up the spine moment
to see dinosaurs really made real,
as real as the technology of the day could, was special.
And that's what movies do.
We're going to make a fortune with this place.
920 million at the box office proved that Jurassic Park's CGI creations
were indeed big business.
Its awesome dinosaurs seemed to have leapt straight from our imagination
right onto the big screen.
How'd you do this?
I'll show you.
The evolution of dinosaurs on screen
stretches right back to the very beginnings of time.
Dinosaurs mysteriously disappeared 65 million years ago.
Box office-wise, nothing happened for a long time.
Then, in the middle of the 19th century,
geologists began to find strange and monstrous bones.
It was clear these finds were scientifically significant.
And what's more, the public were prepared to pay money
to stare at these bizarre creatures.
It was decided that they would create life-size models
of the dinosaurs that were known.
And this was really where you made the transition
from scientific papers that no-one quite believed to showbiz.
And the crowds flocked.
40,000 came to see the exhibition.
They just loved the idea of these great, giant beasts.
There's a definite showbiz element to dinosaurs.
Partly because of their size and weirdness,
so these things almost predisposed them to being showbiz objects.
As a result, they've actually been movie stars for a very long time.
Dinosaurs were the perfect monster for the early filmmakers.
Because here you've got a huge, ugly brute. Evil itself.
They were seen as Satan's creatures.
This was the perfect monster
for any self-respecting hero or adventurer to take on.
From the very beginnings of cinema,
putting dinosaurs on screen required mind-blowing special effects.
And in 1914, the film that stunned the crowds was Gertie The Dinosaur.
One of the first animated films ever produced,
Gertie The Dinosaur was the work of Winsor McCay,
a Chicago cartoonist who introduced his prehistoric pet
to appreciative audiences on the vaudeville circuit.
Gertie The Dinosaur is a loveable, tame dinosaur.
A wonderful creation. This is decades before Disney.
Gertie The Dinosaur, for Winsor McCay, was his entry
into the world of being a showman on stage.
He would be on stage, in the theatre,
and Gertie would be projected behind him,
and he would interact with Gertie.
It's a multimedia performance, this.
Quite ahead of its time in many ways.
He would toss something to Gertie
and Gertie in the film would catch it.
He created a personality for this character, Gertie The Dinosaur.
And it displayed emotions.
He told it off and it cried.
It messed around and it was hungry and it was sad.
All these different things.
It sort of captured that universal appeal
of seeing animals that existed in prehistory
that were real life monsters
and seeing them alive and move and interact with humans.
That's still fascinating to audiences to this day.
Winsor McCay disappears behind the screen and then,
there he is riding Gertie.
And this is the first tame dinosaur that we really see.
And Gertie disappears off into the distance.
Early film tried again and again
to satisfy the audience's desire to see realistic dinosaurs.
But in 1925,
it was announced that the need for dinosaur special effects was over.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle gathered some friends around and told them
that the film of his book, The Lost World,
had captured living dinosaurs on film.
# Jeepers creepers
# Where'd you get those peepers? #
He created the impression that there was a real hunting party
that had actually strayed into the Amazon Basin
and had found this lost race of dinosaurs.
He was really trying to lead the audience on.
They do look a bit old-fashioned now, and jerky.
But back in the day,
you have recorded accounts of people in cinemas going,
"Where did you film these monsters?"
The Lost World was the Jurassic Park of the 1920s.
Audiences packed into the Ritz and the Roxy to get a glimpse
of these living dinosaurs.
But they must have realised it was down to cinematic trickery
when the Brontosaurus appeared to destroy London.
The Lost World was using the latest special effects sensation.
Stop-frame animation -
a technique that would define dinosaur films for the next 60 years.
These are models, but they are alive, too.
And rubber is moving around as though it's sentient.
The dinosaurs weren't from the Amazon.
They were created in a Hollywood backroom by special effects pioneer
O'Brien began his career as a marble sculptor.
But he realised by making clay models and stop-frame animations,
his artistic talent would be seen across the world.
At the height of the Depression,
O'Brien created a prehistoric protagonist
the world would never forget.
Look at the size of that thing. He must be as big as a house!
It's funny that if you ask anyone,
what's the greatest dinosaur movie of all time,
it's King Kong, isn't it?
And the dinosaurs are only supporting characters in that.
For a long time,
people didn't know how O'Brien made the dinosaurs come to life.
There were all kinds of stories.
It was a giant robot, it was a man in a gorilla suit,
it was a trained monkey.
All these kind of things.
There are bits in it which wouldn't have been in script,
which he's just improvised.
The dinosaur scratches its head.
O'Brien was always adding little ticks and twitches
and these eccentricities gave these prehistoric beasts
character and credibility,
which made it all the more shocking when the most famous dinosaur fight
in cinema history erupted onto the screen.
Willis O'Brien, he was a big boxing fan.
So his monsters always square off like fighters in the ring.
Marquess of Queensberry rules.
Although the dinosaur isn't a man in a suit, he stands as if he was,
because O'Brien wants that upright stance, the fisticuffs.
I just remember the teeth of the T-Rex
and being quite frightened for King Kong,
for whom I had an affinity at that point,
knowing that he didn't have that armoury
and the T-Rex was trying to bite him all the time.
This was the first time
that you've got something which is very threatening to humans,
but King Kong, of course, is the intermediary.
He's on the side of the humans, interestingly.
And so it's playing with this notion of Kong as humanoid.
He's our ancestor.
And that means that the dinosaurs we see tend to be more alien,
more cold blooded.
They are actually monsters in that.
We all know where our heart lies when we watch the King Kong story.
Except when he snaps the jaw of the Tyrannosaurus,
which I still, I think, one of the most shocking and repulsive
moments in cinema.
The way he waggles the jaw to make sure that the beast is dead.
Like all the great monster movies,
King Kong was part spectacle and part mythic storytelling.
It'd better be good after all this ballyhoo.
It showed us dinosaur destruction
but also played on the audience's subconscious anxieties.
It wasn't a just prehistoric monster causing mayhem in Manhattan,
it was a big, hairy metaphor.
Kong is a monster of desire.
The Kong who peels off Fay Wray's dress and sniffs it.
There's a seaminess there, an unbridled lust.
It's about race, it's about fears of big black men in New York -
although black men with no penises, strangely enough.
The story was so rich that every member of the audience could
project their own hopes and fears onto the angry ape.
King Kong was really popular with black audiences in America,
because they identified,
not with the fact that King Kong is black,
but because he's like an African.
Black people seeing an African stand up to the American army.
There was something there that black audiences really responded to.
Like the best fairytales, King Kong was epic in scale
and packed with rich symbolism.
There is something extraordinary and very imaginative
in this image of something primeval suddenly appearing right next to,
and in fact wrapped around, this icon of modernity -
the Empire State Building.
It brings together the ancient, the primeval, and the modern
in one image.
You really do have such sympathy.
I want the ape to win - I want King Kong to win.
I know he's not going to,
but I want him to win. I want him to smash the planes down
and go back to his house again.
With its perfect mix of monsters, metaphors and mayhem,
King Kong set a template for almost every dinosaur film since.
It was beauty killed the beast.
After Kong, there was a sense that it's really hard
to find anything else to do with the genre.
It does both. It does the, "You go there and meet the monsters,"
and it does the, "Monsters come to you and smash things up."
So that's the two major subgenres knocked out and perfected in 1933.
King Kong has been much imitated, but never bettered.
I need you in the shot or people will say they're fake.
Nobody's going to think these are fake!
Even the recent remake failed to eclipse the original...
..despite its huge budget, star director and CGI dinosaurs.
It was just kind of CGI porn
when it came to Peter Jackson's King Kong.
Sometimes just because you can do something, you don't have to do it.
CG gives directors too much freedom, too much,
"I can see it in my head, I want it there on screen."
Sometimes, limitations are what makes true art.
In the 1930s, King Kong established the dinosaur genre
as cinematic gold.
But by the 1940s,
the audience lost its appetite for dinosaur destruction.
There was more than enough to be frightened of around the world.
In times of war, fantasy changes.
You don't get, I suppose, apocalyptic fantasy
because you've got an apocalypse.
But later, when you've got the memory
and you want to translate that into fiction,
that's when the monsters come.
I mean, the most obvious of this is Japan's experience.
a few years between Hiroshima and Godzilla.
Godzilla, or Gojira, is a dinosaur-like creature
that is awoken by atomic bomb tests in the South Pacific.
With its fiery radioactive breath,
the creature mercilessly destroys
Japanese cities and their civilian populations.
In a traumatised country devastated by nuclear attack,
Godzilla wasn't just a kitsch monster movie.
It was of huge symbolic significance.
Godzilla director Ishiro Honda had fought in the war and had witnessed
the devastated city of Hiroshima.
But in the immediate aftermath of the war
Japanese cinema was restricted in the stories it could tell.
Following World War Two,
Japan was occupied by the US until 1952.
During that period there was film censorship in Japan
and one of the things they were forbidden to show was wartime damage to Japan.
In 1954, Godzilla's one of the first films
that's able to show some of that destruction and reconstruct the devastation that Japan suffered.
Godzilla is very different.
It's very sombre, melancholic.
It's a symbolically-laden film.
And Godzilla himself seems to stand in for all sorts of social and cultural forces at play
and audiences were very aware of these contexts.
The original version forbids you from reading it as silly.
It's so sombre in its approach.
It's the first film really to show radiation sickness.
You get long shots of people dying in hospitals,
masses of people injured and hurt by the devastation and destruction.
Godzilla moved the Japanese people,
as it acknowledged their wartime suffering.
Then, two years after its original release, the film was brashly recut
for an American audience.
-He saw a monster. He's had too much sake.
No, these island people are very superstitious.
They took the film, edited over 20 minutes out of it,
taking out anything that made explicit America's role
in the atomic bombing of Japan and introduced an American observer
played by Raymond Burr.
He's interspersed into the action and has a Japanese sidekick.
My Japanese is a little rusty.
And it frames the film very differently,
taking out any critical edge, and of course it was a massive success,
taking about 2 million at the US box office.
Neither man nor his machines are able to stop this creature.
Steve Martin signing off from Tokyo, Japan.
There were 28 increasingly daft sequels
in the Japanese Godzilla series
but none matched the original's power and impact.
And the 1998 remake
conveniently absolved America of any atomic wrong-doing.
-What do we do?
-Running would be a good idea.
It seems the creature's untimely arrival
was the result of... French nuclear tests.
This testing done by my country left a terrible mess.
We're here to clean it up.
Three, two, one...
The 1950s were the era of atomic anxiety.
Who knows what waits for us in nature's No-Man's Land.
Films from around the world used radiation as an excuse
to revive dormant dinosaurs.
-Are you deaf, man?
In a film like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms you certainly see that
it's encoding anxieties about the Cold War and the nuclear arms race.
The beast itself is awoken from the ice by a nuclear explosion.
-Quiet! Don't struggle.
And it's finally vanquished by a nuclear weapon.
Do you know what a radioactive isotope is?
-No, but if it can be loaded, I can fire it.
-I loaded it.
Remember one thing - it has to be shot into the wound.
And so the logic is a mirror of the logic of the Cold War and the arms race.
The problem is the existence of nuclear weapons and technology.
The only solution was more nuclear weapons.
The death of the Rhedosaurus, its name in the film,
in the end it's like a dying opera star, basically.
Even the murky waters around 1950s Britain seemed to be filled
with prehistoric predators.
Of course Japan isn't the only place where people fear
the effects of radiation. This is the case in Britain too.
We have the bomb from the late '40s onwards.
So if you look at a film like The Giant Behemoth
you get the anglicised version of the story.
It's quite unusual to see a dinosaur like this going on the rampage
in a city like London.
Here we're in Woolwich and around Tower Bridge and areas like that.
There's that strange unheimlich effect of the monster coming to your own backyard.
And here's this atomic dinosaur, a Palaeosaurus,
that has absorbed fallout from radioactive material
and has risen from the depths of the sea.
It's intensely radioactive.
Then I...I suppose the creature will have to be...killed.
When the monsters go trashing London
it seems to be a replay of the imagery of the Blitz.
There's a scene where people are cowering against a wall and the wall collapses over them.
That could be an image from the landing of the V2.
In the background there's a question that's asked in many British sci-fi films,
which is, if someone invaded again, would we be as we were in the war?
Would you still have that Dunkirk Blitz spirit going?
Or have people weakened after the war and would panic,
and their Britishness would be destroyed?
British dinosaur films evolved in distinctly different ways
from their sharp-toothed Hollywood cousins.
There are distinct differences between the British and the America ones.
In Britain, the monsters are much more sympathetic, particularly in Gorgo.
This is Piccadilly, the heart of London.
Words can't describe it. There's been nothing like it,
not even the worst of the Blitz! This section is a complete shambles.
Gorgo's mother protecting her child that's been taken by a showman,
but also it's the first film I can remember where the dinosaur wins.
Mother comes to the rescue, the monster is not killed,
the military doesn't win,
and it's a happy ending and no monsters are killed at all.
Maybe our prayers have been answered. She turns back,
turns with her young, leaving the prostrate city,
and leaving man himself to ponder the proud boast
that he alone is lord of all creation.
And the last shot is her and her baby striding away from the ruined city
and the assumption that we've all learned our lesson.
Going back now...
Back to the sea.
Gorgo and Godzilla are not dinosaurs that any palaeontologist would recognise.
But movie makers know they're close enough
to the King of the Dinosaurs...
..because all of the best dino dramas have had one essential element...
..the rex factor.
You've got the spectacle of watching maybe the vegetarian dinosaurs.
They look nice, but don't really do anything.
At the absolute top you've got the T rex.
That's the only reason you want to go and see a dinosaur film,
just to see this enormous great angry lizard.
If there's a flawed character,
you know he's going to get eaten by the T rex
in the most grisly way possible.
MUSIC: "Psycho Killer" by Talking Heads
You want to see its big, massive teeth,
and the best way to see them is to get it to roar straight at you,
straight at the camera, straight at the audience.
The roar is incredibly intimidating.
Tiny little arms. A bit silly.
But the roar, that's what makes you know,
with those big fangs in that jaw,
that is the shiver-down-the-spine moment.
Vicious, violent and voracious,
that's the joy of rex,
although serious palaeontologists are sick of the big, toothy tyrant.
Personally, I think T rex is the most overrated animal of all time.
I get totally sick of hearing about how great T rex is
and how interesting T Rex is.
Which is something that, as someone who works
mainly on plant-eating dinosaurs, sticks in my throat.
So this animal spent most of its time
eating the animals that I think are interesting.
By the 1960s, a distinct new genre of dinosaur movies emerged -
the prehistoric epic.
No longer were film makers pushing the ridiculous notion
that T rex and co were to be found trashing New York.
Now we had a plausible setting, the prehistoric world,
with early man struggling to survive in a land full of dinosaurs,
which turned out to be just as ridiculous.
Dinosaurs became extinct about 65 million years ago.
Modern humans emerged about 200,000 years ago,
so you've got a 64-million-year gap
between dinosaurs and any form of modern humans.
So some people do think that cavemen lived alongside dinosaurs.
That's a big problem, because they really didn't.
No dinosaur has ever set eyes on a human, and vice versa.
These Stone Age epics were made
by legendary British horror studio Hammer,
who knew all about our primitive instincts.
The Hammer recipe was...
er, pin-up girls and monsters.
For its 100th film, Hammer created One Million Years BC,
an ambitious prehistoric romp
that combined believable creatures
and unbelievable cavewomen.
The poster says it all,
that big picture of Raquel Welch in the cutaway fur bikini.
I remember seeing the posters around and thinking,
"This is probably the best film ever made."
Here's the genre established.
It's British actors in Lanzarote
being menaced by stop-motion dinosaurs.
In a way, they were a combination of
the monster film and the nudist-camp film.
There's something kind of Health and Exercise about them.
These are healthy people in the Palaeolithic outdoors,
And these are almost wordless dramas set in these desolate landscapes.
There's no dialogue apart from these made-up words.
There's 20 minutes of people grunting and going, "Akita, akita."
Hammer's biggest international hit,
largely because it didn't require dubbing.
One Million Years BC reinforced the idea that human nature
is instinctual, primitive and uncomplicated.
Hunky prehistoric men sharpened spears and fought dinosaurs
whilst prehistoric cave babes sewed
and indulged in occasional dirty dancing.
One Million Years BC does represent a sort of...reset,
a rather plaintive desire for a sort of simplified primal story.
You could probably see it as
a wish for a less complex gender politics.
Against mid-'60s feminism,
I think that's probably quite a strong reading of that film.
On the other hand, you can watch it
for Raquel Welch in a leather bikini.
-And when I watch it, that's all I can...
I sit there thinking, "How do you get a body like that?"
The whole film, I'm just going, "What is that?!"
She is an icon of beauty.
She's wearing that Mary Quant flesh-coloured lipstick,
as all the members of her tribe are,
so there's a very definite '60s look about these people.
It's sort of the most anti-Germaine Greer movie you can imagine,
because it's all about just fetishising a hot lady.
There's no other depth to it, particularly.
One Million BC is the perfect film for boys.
It's got cavewomen, right?
And a hero who's quite hunky
who tries to fight dinosaurs, as well.
And you've got the dinosaurs themselves.
The only thing that One Million BC doesn't have
which would make it a perfect boys' film
is a car.
"Where the devils of darkness guard the ancient secrets
"of an unknown world of women -
"entombed in a green paradise of evil and witchcraft."
Thrilled with the worldwide success of One Million Years BC,
Hammer started a prehistoric production line...
I am queen here. I will not be denied!
..almost always focusing on feral cavegirls.
But your men - where are they?
They are no longer men.
It's appealing to watch movies
where we can see ourselves, older versions of ourselves,
just being crazy,
just being savage and being feral.
I think that's a really appealing couple of hours' break
from our daily lives.
I think Hammer got this idea into their heads
that people were coming to see the women in the film rather than the dinosaurs.
Neetro! Udala neetro!
And it's interesting that, actually,
the ones that dispensed with dinosaurs are the least successful.
So it was a bit of a misjudgment.
What Hammer had failed to realise was the stars of prehistoric movies
are and always will be the dinosaurs themselves.
"Man had not yet been created, but if he had been..."
And for nearly 50 years, believable dinosaurs meant Ray Harryhausen.
-It's an allosaurus?
-It's an allosaurus, a very young allosaurus.
I was shocked to find that he only did six dinosaur movies.
It's amazing cos, I think Ray Harryhausen, I think dinosaurs.
They were infused with more than just moving a frame a second.
They were infused with his passion for making dinosaurs
as fascinating for everybody else as they were for him.
Ray Harryhausen was an American special-effects animator
who was inspired by the genius of Willis O'Brien.
I went quite by accident to see a film called King Kong.
I haven't been the same since, of course.
Harryhausen then developed his own stop-frame technique
he called Dynomation.
We're not trying to create absolute realism.
We're trying to create a surrealist effect, a dreamlike quality.
Ray Harryhausen's Dynomation breathed so much life into his dinosaurs,
it was difficult to know whether to love or loathe
the marauding beasts.
Every creature - he never calls them monsters,
they're never, ever, ever, ever monsters.
They're always creatures, because they're really not evil.
That's the thing about Ray's creatures, even dinosaurs -
they're quite innocent. It's only man that's really evil.
Ray Harryhausen's magic is that he makes you feel sorry for the beast!
You're more sorry for the beast
than the woman who might get crushed.
"Oh, stop picking on it with your spears!"
He always gives everything character.
How do you put character into a dinosaur?
It's very difficult.
There'd always be a tail swishing,
or the dinosaur would scratch itself,
or somehow, even though they had no real expressions,
he'd make them look confused or puzzled.
I once said to him, "Your tails are wonderful. They're always whipping."
And he said, "Well, I do that. Obviously, it gives it character.
"But there is an ulterior motive.
"It allows people not to look at the other mistakes I'm making."
One of Ray Harryhausen's most revered films
is the cult classic The Valley of Gwangi...
..which takes T-rex to the Wild West.
What's it doing here?
Precisely. What IS it doing here?
The Valley of Gwangi is a film that combines
the pleasures of the dinosaur film with the Western.
It is a pretty efficient combination of these two genres.
And the key image around which the whole thing circulates
is the idea of a lassoed dinosaur.
It took over a year for Ray Harryhausen
to complete the special effects on The Valley of Gwangi alone,
layering live-action footage and animation.
They've got him, Professor! They've got him!
And what's nice about this is
that it doesn't bring the monsters
into the places where you would expect them to come.
It goes to church, this dinosaur.
So there's this weird combination of the sacred and the profane,
I think, in the climax of The Valley of Gwangi.
Some, like Harryhausen,
brought sophistication and skill to dinosaurs
in a way that few others could match.
But cinema history is littered with cheap craposauruses,
and the actors that time forgot.
We'll never get out of here, Alan! Never, never!
And quite frankly, these rubbery Rexes deserved extinction.
The fight between the ape and the dinosaur in Unknown Island
has to be seen to be believed.
If I was to go to a fancy-dress shop and say, "Dress me like a monkey,"
and they gave me a suit that had been worn for the past 25 years
and went, "That's fine, no-one'll notice," that's the fight.
It's horrific. It's horrific.
And I think the thing is it takes away any form of fear,
which is what the whole point of monster films are,
is that these are terrifying.
It's like going into town on Halloween
and watching two guys fighting over a taxi.
By the 1970s, the movie dinosaurs were almost wiped out
by an unstoppable force from a Galaxy Far Far Away.
The dinosaur movie suffered partly because science fiction,
futuristic science fiction,
became so popular in the mid-to-late '70s thanks to Star Wars
so the idea of a historical monster story really went into abeyance.
The late '70s and '80s were a cinematic Ice Age for dinosaurs.
Dinosaur films were almost a joke,
a camp curiosity not to be taken seriously.
There was a period when stop motion was old hat
and puppets just weren't doing it.
There was definitely a lull. I grew up liking dinosaurs,
but it was via books, it was via Top Trumps bizarrely.
I was obsessed with dinosaurs Top Trumps,
but there was no movies to really reflect that.
I just don't think the special effects were available
to film makers to really make dinosaurs look convincing.
We're just on the cusp of this great computer breakthrough
in terms of CGI and special effects,
and I think directors were waiting for that to happen.
Since the beginning of cinema,
filmmakers' dreams of realistic dinosaurs
have been limited by special effects technology.
Winsor McCay introduced us to Gentle Gertie.
Willis O'Brien's King Kong rampaged through the modern metropolis.
The atomic era dinosaurs tapped into our apocalyptic fears.
And Ray Harryhausen gave us Dynomation dinosaurs.
But two decades without new special effects
meant the dinosaurs stopped evolving.
Then in the early '90s,
one film changed our perceptions of dinosaurs forever.
There it is.
Computer generated effects had taken a huge leap forward.
Hollywood maestro Steven Spielberg
revealed he was making a dinosaur film.
It was time for the return of Rex.
And Jurassic Park was the film
the world had been waiting 65 million years to see.
I think anybody who was in the cinema on the first week
of release of Jurassic Park will never forget that moment,
it was one of those breakthrough moments of a new sense of spectacle.
We knew we'd been present at something
which was going to set cinema on a new course of spectacle.
It's a dinosaur.
The new digital technology
meant we could at last see dinosaurs in all their glory.
They weren't planning to use CGI.
Originally, they were going to use actors in suits, puppets.
Then halfway through the shooting,
they realised that the technical capability was there
of rendering these things using computer graphics.
They ended up with only six and a half minutes of CGI in the finished film,
but it was enough to make the difference I think.
The special effects were absolutely cutting edge
and the plot, too, tapped into the latest scientific anxieties.
'Just one drop of blood contains billions of strands of your DNA...'
The 1990s saw rapid breakthroughs in DNA research.
'..Using sophisticated techniques,
'they extract the preserved blood from the mosquito
'and bingo - Dino DNA!'
Suddenly, the idea that we could resurrect dinosaurs from mosquito DNA
didn't seem that outrageous.
Because all the animals in Jurassic Park are female.
We've engineered them that way.
'Jurassic Park was believable,'
we can never forget that,
even though it's this ridiculous premise, you utterly believed it.
'It's a nice idea that we could get dinosaur DNA from a mosquito.'
It's a very clever idea as the basis for the movie,
but unfortunately, it has no basis in fact.
DNA just doesn't survive that long in geological records.
It exists for maybe a few tens of thousands of years,
but not the millions of years
that would be necessary for us to extract dinosaur blood.
It's not possible. If the history of evolution has taught us anything,
it's that life will not be contained.
I'm simply saying that life finds away.
There are many errors in Jurassic Park, starting with the title.
Almost all of the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park
come from the Cretaceous period,
but of course Cretaceous Park has a really lousy ring to it.
Despite the filmmakers' proud boasts
that Jurassic Park was paleontologically correct,
its loyalties were to entertainment, not education.
Especially when it came to the big screen debut
of the villainous velociraptor.
Velociraptor was a much smaller dinosaur
than is portrayed in the film, and was probably covered in downy fur.
They're actually like aggressive turkeys
rather than the six foot beasts that could take you out.
Nevertheless, the primary purpose of Jurassic Park was to entertain.
If one person did a palaeontology course as a result of that film,
then that's a bonus, that's just bonus points.
Spielberg used dodgy science and dazzling CGI
to make us believe in his dinosaurs.
Did you feel that?
Because he knew that if he could make us believe in them,
he could make us very, very scared of them.
The music stops, and you've just got the rain drumming.
As if somehow this moment is so realistic, it doesn't need music.
I think Jurassic Park did make dinosaurs scary again.
I remember the first time that T-rex appears.
..Been right all the time.
It's scary in a typically Spielberg way -
it's the kind of scares that a kid can withstand as well,
but most of the grown-ups were scared on the same level.
Must go faster.
It frightened me, it educated me.
That chase sequence is just brilliant in terms of the fear it has.
What would YOU do, how would YOU get out of it?
There's nowhere to run, it's a dinosaur!
You can't get away. You're in a jeep in a forest - you can't go anywhere!
With the help of immersive surround sound and amazing CGI,
the T-rex terrorised the audience.
But by the end, the big pea-brained predator
was eclipsed by a scarier, smaller, faster foe.
The T-rex is a baddy cos he stomps on everybody
and bites everyone in half, but the real baddies
are the velociraptors who seem to be sitting there,
scheming about how they'll get you and, not only will they get you,
but they'll get you in a particularly unpleasant way.
The velociraptors in the kitchen is just stunning,
it's another one of those typical Spielberg set pieces.
He references Kubrik in The Shining.
The velociraptor at the window is Jack Nicholson, "Here's Johnny!"
You're sure the third one's contained?
Yes. Unless they've figured out how to open doors.
Once you realise they've worked out how to open a door,
you think, they're not stupid, what are they going to do next?
Dinosaurs like velociraptors would have been quite smart.
They would have been intelligent enough
to hang around in social groups and communicate with each other.
Though I doubt they'd have been smart enough
to work out how to open doors.
Everything about that scene is great.
The fact that they are on metallic floors means, you know,
he made the most of their claws tap-tapping away.
That was horrific because they seemed to know what they were doing.
They were quiet, it was like being stalked.
A lot of it is done just by clever editing.
The one moment I remember more than anything else
is when they're escaping up through the ceiling.
The camera's looking straight down and it leaps up.
Everybody in the cinema, I mean everybody, just went woo!
You could see it. I'd love to have seen
a camera on that audience cos it would've been like a Mexican wave.
Jurassic Park was a monster hit.
It was followed up by two sequels.
And even though there was twice as many dinosaurs
and the CGI was even more impressive...
..Jurassic Park 2 and 3 felt a little predictable.
This is magnificent.
Oh, yeah, ooh and ah - that's how it starts,
then later, there's running and screaming.
The Jurassic Park franchise to date
has made nearly 2 billion worldwide.
In its wake, other film makers have tried to cash in on dinomania.
But the results have been...mixed.
-'The future's toughest cop is Katie Coltrane.
'And now she's getting a new partner.
-'His name is Teddy.
-'It's a dinosaur.
-New partner, Coltrane?'
I think what we've seen in the past 30 or so years
is dinosaurs becoming part of kiddy culture.
We want them to be scary,
but we also want them to be cuddly, something we can embrace.
How you doin', Rex?
Were you scared? Tell me honestly.
I was close to being scared that time.
I'm going for fearsome here but I just don't feel it!
I think I'm just coming off as annoying.
But no matter how cuddly kiddy dinosaurs get,
cinema will never be able to resist
the dinosaur's appetite for destruction.
The fantasy dinosaurs, the dinosaurs we all love, the rampaging ones,
the Lost World dinosaurs, the King Kong dinosaurs,
the Jurassic Park dinosaurs,
they are always going to be part of our popular culture.
There's nothing you can do to tame them,
they don't take away from the potency of the dinosaur
as a big scary thing that we are also somehow fascinated by.
It was 65 million years since dinosaurs ruled the Earth.
But a century of cinema has brought them back to life.
Far from being fossilised, dinosaurs are evolving all the time.
They mock the fragility of modern life.
They help us tell our traumatic history.
They're a warning about the dangers of meddling with nature.
And at their very best, they're just the biggest, scariest,
most vicious monster that's ever lived.
It's fictitious in a way, but it's alive and all around us
and we're waiting eagerly to see
what the next manifestation of the dinosaur -
even more real, even more scary - will be.
I think we lost him.
With a Godzilla remake in production and talk of Jurassic Park 4,
reports of their extinction have clearly been greatly exaggerated.
It's OK, it's dead.
Nobody move a muscle.
Subtitles by Red Bee Media Ltd
E-mail [email protected]
From the beginnings of film-making to the triumph of Jurassic Park - the dinosaur has always been a movie star. Over 60 minutes, BBC4's Rex Appeal takes a bite out of the Cretaceous cinema and reveals the truth about T-Rex.
It's a story that stretches from the charming cartoon apatosaurus Gertie (1914), to the vicious and cunning velociraptors of Spielbrerg's imagination.
But it's not all teeth and trashing city centres - as our critics explain, dinosaur movies are always about more than just dinosaurs. The 'nature finds a way' DNA argument in Jurassic Park directly mirrored the arguements about GM crops in the early 90s. Godzilla - the radioactive-breathed dinosaur emerged from the seas of Japan just nine years after the nuclear attack on Hiroshima. King Kong and his dinosaur pals on Skull Island have sparked a million film school theories.
Of course, not all dino dramas are so high minded - in the Hammer film One Million Years BC, the audience were just as fascinated with Racquel Welsh's fur tops as they were with the Triceratops. Despite Hammer's claim that 'This is the way it was', the science was a little dubious- the last dinosaur died 64 million years before the first modern human appeared. Whatever cultural anxieties dinosaurs represent, they've always been a cinematic spectacle that has thrilled audiences on a instinctual level - with each new breakthrough in special effects giving us ever more real Rex's.
Willis O'Brien gave us the legendary Kong v Rex fight that taught us to love Kong, Ray Harryhausen invented 'dinomation' and put dinosaurs and cowboys together in The Valley of Gwangi. And since the 90s - CGI has banished the man in the dino suit, and made prehistoric protagonists are more real than ever.
Contributors include film critics James King and Kim Newman, science broadcaster Adam Rutherford, comedian Susan Calman and broadcaster and film historian Matthew Sweet.