The Land Unknown
The Lost World (1925)
The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms
King Kong (1933)
You look at a movie called Dinosaurus!, and you imagine there has to be something unique about it. It’s not called just Dinosaur. There’s something, presumably, about the title creature that warrants adding that crucial “us” to the ordinary word for one of science fiction’s favorite creatures. There’s also something, presumably, about the film that warrants adding an exclamation point to that word. Whether it was an infusion of purposeful camp or a twist concerning the nature of the title creature itself, these grammatical flourishes could have been justified through various means. However, they are not. Dinosaurus! is simply a bad movie based on two dinosaurs waking from a natural preservation and instilling some mild terror in those who behold them. Maybe that “u” was a misprint, and it was supposed to be Dinosaurs!
On a Caribbean island, some Americans, including hero/main character Bart Thompson, are building a harbor. One day they discover a brontosaurus and a T-rex that have been frozen since they died millions of years ago. They’re not frozen in ice, though. Somehow, they are just frozen in the water. Also, a caveman somehow was equally preserved by mud. Soon after these corpses are unfrozen, lightning -- that panacea of sci-fi writer’s block -- strikes the bodies and brings them back to life. From here the plot flip flops between mediocre thrill sequences involving humans trying to avoid being eaten by the T-rex, and mediocre comedic scenes involving the caveman exploring his new surroundings. As for the brontosaurus, he mostly just walks around and eats fruit off of trees.
Dinosaurus! feels like a few filmmakers got together with some actors and fake dinosaurs and just started filming, making it up as they went along. One minute you’re watching dinosaurs terrorizing the natives, the next you’re watching a caveman trying on a dress. One minute you’re watching a boy riding on a brontosaurus’s back to escape the T-rex, the next you’re watching a woman attempting to rebut potentially romantic advances by the caveman. Every once in a while the film’s bad guy, who seems to serve no other function than to act mean, steps in and bosses a little boy around or schemes to capture the caveman so he can sell him to researchers. No objective can be found in this movie. It’s just a bunch of random scenarios involving prehistoric life forms.
While watching the film, I realized that Thompson’s shirt reveals a lot about the mindset behind the making of the film. Despite running from dinosaurs, getting trapped in a collapsing mine, and eventually saving the island’s inhabitants from the T-rex, this guy’s shirt remains perfectly -- and I mean perfectly -- tucked in the entire time. It’s never un-tucked, and it’s never loosened. Just a nice little pull at the bottom to give him some mobility, and it never deviates from that position. It does get dirty once, but in the next scene it’s clean again. This tells me that director Irvin S. Yeaworth, Jr. wanted his movie to take zero aesthetic risks, to do nothing original in any way. The hero always looks and acts like a hero. The bad guy always looks and acts like a bad guy. And so on for the supporting roles of women, children, and dinosaurs. This film does not have an excuse for existing.
If the special effects had been better, Dinosaurus! could have at least been entertaining to look at. As it is, though, all effects are of poor quality, despite what should have been nearly three decades’ worth of advancement past King Kong. The dinosaurs are lanky and stiff, and whenever one of them is on screen along with a character, the superimposition is numbingly obvious and poorly coordinated. There are times when we can excuse such things, deeming them necessary story elements that suffer from budget constraints. Since Dinosaurus! is ultimately pointless, the dinosaur effects are but another element that fails to deliver.
In the end, Thompson compares the caveman waking up in the 1900s to a young boy character waking up in the twenty-first century. Yes, he compares an early ancestor of the human race waking up millions of years in the future to a boy waking up forty years in the future. Then he explains that the boy will indeed one day wake up in the twenty-first century, which, if you follow the logic, means that there was nothing special about a caveman being resurrected into the 1960s. To cap it all off, we get a “The End” title card that morphs into an impossible-not-to-scoff-at question mark, implying the likelihood of a sequel. Even in its final moments, Dinosaurus! continues to fail.
Many bad movies have some redeeming qualities. This one is just bad. It doesn’t fail because it aimed too high, it’s not bad enough to be funny, and no element stands as being executed better than the rest. This may be one of the most derivative sci-fi films ever. That, at least, is an accomplishment.