Jurassic Park

*Heavily edited version of an original from 2003


I’m sure I’ve told the story before, but when I was young I wanted to be a paleontologist. Now, I didn’t actually care (much) about the whole digging up bones and hanging around museums… I assumed I would be more like Indiana Jones, arsing about unknown, long forgotten cities in search of relics and new specimens. I did read as many books about dinosaurs as I could get my hands on and I watched every dinosaur movie I could. As ropy as the effects always were, I was nevertheless enchanted by them and by the notion that these giant beasts ever existed.

In 1993 Spielberg brought tears to my eyes with the breathtaking effects, excellent set pieces, action, stunts, of Jurassic Park. His film broke records and set a new benchmark for special effects, but throw in a brilliant score, non stop traditional Spielberg fun, a great cast, a rip-roaring story and many immediately iconic images and we have one of the most exciting films ever. Speaking of those effects, they were truly revolutionary and many of them still look light years better than those of today which have a habit of appearing too rubbery and fake – in Jurassic Park you assume you are seeing a real dinosaur brought to life while today’s blockbusters make you feel you are staring at an effect.

For years, the esteemed Dr Hammond has been trying to make his dream come true – to bring back the most awesome creatures that have ever walked the earth – dinosaurs. Extinct for millions of years until now, when science has enabled us to bring back that which was once thought to be lost forever. Hammond and his team of experts have succeeded in not only creating life, but reversing extinction. His idea is to create a zoo for the animals which anyone can visit, but as these are wild and extremely dangerous creatures which cannot be trained or tamed, he needs feedback from other scientists and businessmen. He invites Dr Alan (Sam Neill) and Dr Ellie (Laura Dern) – paleontologists, and Jeff Goldblum – part philosopher, part scientist, part comedian. His young nephew and niece also come along, as well as the man who will be financing the park. Hammond shows them how he created the dinosaurs, leading to debates on morality etc but what everyone really wants is a trip around the park. So they go. Of course, things soon go wrong when Dennis, a man working for Hammond, decides to turn off the security in his attempt to steal samples for the black market. Soon the dinosaurs are loose, and the group is fighting for their lives.

Each character is brilliantly drawn, and well acted. The variety of creatures is wide, and they all leap off the screen as if from our imaginations. The action flows fluidly once it starts, and there are many tense and scary moments. The first T-Rex attack has become part of our culture, but the tree descent, Raptor kitchen and chase are all equally spectacular and get your heart racing. I love the idea of splitting the central group, meaning we get to see the relationships between Sam Neill and the kids growing, as well as the banter between Goldblum and Dern. The deaths are pretty gruesome, but hardly over the top, but some parents may find them too scary for kids.

Spielberg wisely keeps the science and morality to a minimum – it’s there, it’s briefly discussed, but we don’t get bogged down in the rhetoric, though the depth is appreciated. What matters is that Spielberg has created another masterpiece, the monster movie he wanted to make years before with Jaws, but didn’t have the budget or technology to do so. Make another one like this Spielberg, come on, we know you can.

Let us know in the comments how you feel Jurassic Park has held up especially in the light of Jurassic World!

Navigators – Dinosaurs – Book Review

*Originally written in 2011 based on a free copy provided by Amazon

It’s been a while since I’ve looked at a book like this. My childhood was filled with books on animals, the more ferocious the better and preferably with a few gory pictures thrown in. My favourite topic, as seems to be the case for the majority of kids, was dinosaurs – I collected the magazines hoping to build my own T-Rex, I watched the Ray Harryhausen and Doug McClure movies, and I read as many books as possible on the subject getting lost in the pictures and the world presented within. Now that I have children of my own on the way I think that I may get lost once more.

Since my childhood we have had 3 Jurassic Park movies, various high-tech dinosaur tv shows, and a host of books with more detailed artwork and analysis. As I said it’s been a while since I’ve looked at anything like this so all I can judge it against is my own memories. The first thing to notice is the size of the book – it has A4 style pages and is almost presented like an annual. The hardcover coupled with the quality of the paper should mean many years of under the cover reading will not harm it. The front cover depicts, simply, the word ‘Dinosaurs’ in all it’s inviting glory with a sampling of the beasts in the surrounding spaces. The rear cover’s selling points are that they present all the facts that the kids want to know as well as stunning 3D artwork to bring the animals to life-like never before. Forgive my stupidity for thinking the images were actually 3D and could be enhanced with specs. Looking inside comes the first disappointment then when the 3D is actually just ‘zoomed in close-ups of various parts of the dino’s body. The second disappointment comes soon after when you realise the book is quite small – only 48 pages. For 10 pounds and for the exterior size I would have expected more.

Luckily though, those are my major qualms, and while the rather boring, school like text and information, and the lack of some of my personal favourite dinosaurs are notable annoyances, I can’t really mark down the book for such things. Each page is generously spaced, with handy foot and side notes (with interesting weblinks) and floating info capsules as well as the main text, mostly watercoloured over the artwork so as not to spoil the picture. The text is informative, list names of animals, parts, places, and covering all the important areas from feeding to the time periods. Rather than being an A-Z of the creatures though, or being split into sections covering say air, land, and sea, or herbivores and carnivores, each double page focuses on one area which one (sometimes two) dinosaurs used as an example of said area. So we get a two page spread called Egg Mountain which focuses on the laying of eggs and the protection of young, using Maisauras as an example, followed by a section called Pack Attack in which a pack of Deinonychus attacks a Tenontosaurus in bloody glory.
While reading about the creatures is one thing, seeing them is another and thankfully the artwork here is stunning. The creatures are beautifully rendered in high detail and set against (something which is usually ignored) a dedicated, realistic backing landscape. The double paging works wonders, leaving plenty of room for action shots and giving an impression of their size and terrible beauty. These should be more than enough to spark any child’s imagination. Land, sea, and air are covered and parents shouldn’t be concerned at the gore content- there are only a few shots of eating and killing and they are not gratuitous.

This book gives a strong overall history of the dinosaurs, starting with their discovery and working chronologically through their existence until the final section which tries to explain the reasons for their extinction. We get an index, glossary, and ‘find out more’ section at the end. This may be either a useful introduction to the animals for your children, or as another collection of pictures for hardened fans to salivate over. I would have prefered more information on individual types, and the information given isn’t too complex, but that’s just me. I’m not sure if it is worth the full price when there are other similar offerings on the market, but if you can get it cheaper you will have a happy kid.

Amazon Vine Freebies – October 2013

The horror! Amazon have decided to change the format, layout, presentation etc of the Vine and Last Harvest Pages. It’s horrible. Horrible like when you wake up with a tramp in your mouth. Still, I was able to look at the screen long enough to select the following freebies:

Philips DVT1700 Digital Voice Recorder with DNS Speech to Text Software:

Aside from possibly recording farts and blackmail, I’m not sure what I’ll use this for.


Landscapes of the Metropolis of Death: Reflections on Memory and Imagination:

This sort-of biography brings together Kulka’s memories and reflections on the part of his childhood spent in Auschwitz. It is written in fragmented style, almost like the reader is only hearing snippets of a bigger story, overhearing on a crowded train. Nevertheless, it is expectedly sobering, but doesn’t focus on the harrowing side of things, instead giving a child’s views on what he sees – sometimes witnessing violence but not fully understanding, feeling the inevitable finger of death crossing over the camp yards, but still trying to live, learn, and fight.


Braun Cruzer 5 Rechargeable Foil Electric Shaver:

I’m looking forward to trying this bad boy out after my last razor broke thanks to the dreadful, irresistable force of my facial hair.


Dinosaur Christmas:

This gripping factual text explores the origins of Father Christmas’s’es’es’s relationship with thunder lizards – also known as Dinosauruses. After missing Christmas one year for being drunk on Cave Juice, it turns out that Santa banished the creatures to Rygel IVXIIW-P and replaced them with Laplanders – also known as Reindeer.


King Kong: 1931

Probably still the most famous monster movie of all time, a genuine classic of effects and technical skill, and one which can still entertain newcomers today.

King Kong tells the story of a group of explorers, journalists, and scientists who embark on a voyage to a mysterious island. There they find amongst dinosaurs and other giant beasts, but ruling over all, including the natives is a giant ape. Carl Denham decides to capture the ape and bring it back to New York as his new spectacle, reviving his fortunes. When the beautiful actress Ann is kidnapped by the natives who plan to sacrifice her to Kong, the group of explorers must rescue her, and steal Kong. Jack Driscoll leads the way, and most of his group are killed before he saves Ann. Kong is taken back to America, but it seems his strength has been underestimated and he has fallen in love with the actress. Soon he is free and wreaking havoc throughout the city.

The effects for the time were stunning, and are still impressive today, with a flawless attention to detail being shown. The fights between Kong, dinosaurs, men, and airplanes are all awesome and provide some of the most iconic images in movie history. The Empire State Building finale is one of the most famous moments ever, and the log scene is still shocking today. Some of the acting is poor and the story, though simple has become a classic which many have copied since. Of course when you realise this was made over 70 years ago, naturally some things will have dated, such as the acting and some cheesy dialogue, but for audiences at the time it must have been a very tense and exciting time. Kids should be allowed to watch this at an early age as they will appreciate the story and remember the visuals before they see all the effects extravagances of the modern age, which could spoil their opinions of past greats such as this. For an early special effects film the story is rich, the characters have depth, and there is a wealth of underlying themes. Something today’s film-makers would do well to remember when deciding to unleash the next blockbuster on us. Undoubtedly a classic.

For a film approaching its 80th birthday, it is not surprising that the features are a little slim. Still there is a dcoumentary and contributions from famous fans and movie historians which is pretty useful. This edition thankfully restores many censored scenes deemed too violent or unsuitable at the time of making, such as Kong chomping on natives. Cheap, and a piece of movie history which everyone should see.

King Kong
As alwys, feel free to comment on the movie- does this put today’s monster movies to shame?

Godzilla: Whoa There, Big Fella!

Godzilla is the American version of the crazy Chinese/Japanese original series. Who else but them could come up with a name like Godzilla. It’s good that the Americans decided to keep this name rather than choose their own- it probably would have ended up being called Josh, or Todd, or The Big Dinosaur From Somewhere Unknown! The only other similarity is that Godzilla still loves to stomp around cities crushing buildings and eating puny earthlings. The bigger the building the better- The Entire State Building must be worth at least 200,000 points alone. Not to mention the mono rail and the Chewitts bonus received when lifting trains off the tracks.

The story goes: America has been experimenting with nukes in a sea far away. The creatures in the sea and on land are affected and mutated. Skip forward fiddy years and a huge earthquake has ripped through the ocean floor somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. A bunch of scientists go out to investigate the strange aftershock readings and find some bewildering things, such as giant footprints. It soon becomes apparent that the quake has awoken a giant dinosaur which was created by the nukes years before. The dinosaur is angry and wants to destroy mankind! It is swimming to the nearest city and so begins a race for the scientists to prepare the city for attack, but who would believe a story about a giant monster? Of course, Zilla arrives and begins punching, kicking, and chowing its way through London with relish. The effects are something truly special. It feels like you are really there, running between taxis, feeling the rumbles of the monster’s footsteps. You look up, way up and see its massive jaws towering far above- it must be as big as 3 men! There is much action, excitement, and funny, and some scary parts; Baby Godzillas chase hapless fools through a hotel and into the sewers. We turn to night vision and don’t see much; all we hear is some odd screechy noises. When the characters turn they see they are being followed by lots of yellow eyes in the darkness and so begins a terrifying chase through the London Subway. In an eerily medically accurate scene, one girl gets bitten and subsequently explodes from her wounds. Realism is key in this film, as it was filmed with a normal everyday cameracorder. Meanwhile the Big Daddy climbs the London Eye to get away from all the helichopters shooting at it, but nothing seems to stop it.

This is vastly superior to the original Black and White films. Firstly it’s in colour so it’s more believable. Secondly, they try to make you feel sorry for G’Z’A in the original, but here he’s just a big nasty brute who must be destroyed. Let me ask you- if you were being chased by a monster, would you turn round and ask it why it was so angry, and if it’s mother never hugged it? No! You would kick it in the gunells and be gone! If this film had been made before the originals then it would be held in higher regard than those ones, but unfortunately the originals were made first. I don’t know who starred in this movie, but I think Geoff Goldbum was there and Matthew Modine.

Best Scene: The tension between the boss of the scientists and the army boss is great throughout. The quote “I’m running this Monkey Farm now, Frankenstein!” is the highlight, just before Godzilla jumps in the window and pulls his legs off.

Monkey Farm

10,000 BC: A Missed Opportunity

This film is set roughly around the first century, before there were dinosaurs, and when Mammoths ruled the earth. (No Doug McClure) It would have been more pleasing to mine eye had they filmed it in the 2nd century when there were plenty of dinosaurs, imagine the exciting scenes of running away from a Ginormous Rex, swinging through trees to avoid flyingsaurs, and all the thunder lizards stomping around the pyramids near the end of the movie. Cool! Anyway, enough of what good have been- the film makers have their own ideas I suppose.

In a village up in the mountains somewhere live a herd of cavemen and cavewomenmen. They have a tough but enjoyable existence, hunting fish, bears, and of course Wooly Mummies. The time has come however to select a new leader for the tribe- a group of the hardiest teen males have to fight it out in a series of tasks to prove that they are the best in each area- strength, speed, courage, wisdom, and heart. We are introduced to our hero- Tuk Tuk. He is the main candidate for President, but his main rival Tik Tak is just as good, and has a more minty taste. Through into the mix a beautiful girl both men love, and an old sight seeing hag who says scary things about the future like ‘oooh, One with blue eyes shall be the ruin of us’ and ‘ooh, beware going across the mountains to the forbidden land’ and ‘oooh, tomorrow there will be a strong south easterly wind’. The games begin, and Tuk Tuk and Tik Tak (under the guidance of another old warrior, Trevor) excel in each event. It comes to the ‘Catch a Mammoth’ event, where the one who catches a mammoth proves himself to be the best. Tik Tik is a bit of a scumbag and tries to cheat, and in the process almost wipes out the village and kill everyone. Suffice to say, our hero saves the day, forgives Mip Mip, and gets the girl. When a travelling group of marauders steal the girl (I believe her name was also Tuk Tuk leading to some confusion), Tik, Tak, Trev and the gang set out on a deadly quest, encounters tigers, freaks, and other assorted terrors.

Now this is hardly an original film- in fact it steals many ideas from Saving Private Ryan (the group putting themselves in danger to save someone), and other films such was 1,000,000 BC and 1,000,000,000,000 AD have done it better. I loved those films growing up. My brother Andy and myself used to play ‘Dinosaur!’ and ‘The People That Time Forgot’, re-enacting our favourite scenes. I was always Doug McClure, while Andy played an assortment of goodies, baddies, and beasties. We would put all the cushions from the sofas onto the floor, and jump from one to the next, pretending the floor was lava. ‘You fell in, you’re out of the game!’ I would shout. ‘No I didn’t!’ Andy would reply. ‘You did! Your foot touched the lava, na na, you’re dead!’ I cried. ‘Shut up, leave me alone. I’m gonna tell mummy on you’ Andy would moan. I would then punch his arm till he cried, or we would both run straight across the lava, putting our lives at risk to get to mummy first. ‘Shut up the pair of ye, or you’ll both go to bed!’ Mummy would say.

Yes, they should have had Doug McClure in this movie. Just as the epic battle scene (which was well filmed, but not very well directed) was about to begin, he could have flown in in his plane and thrown a few stiff rights and lefts about. But alas, this was not to happen. To be fair the effects here were very good. I’ve never seen such a realistic tiger, not even at the zoo, and there were lots of exciting moments. I understand that I let myself be disappointed by expecting things from films, just like I am disappointed by life. Michael Bay would go on to direct bigger and better things, and a few members of the cast joined ER and Desperate Housewives (I think I saw Trevor in The Bill once, running away from Reg) but this is above all an entertaining, popcorn, coke, and sticky floor kind of film.

Best Scene: When all the mammoths are stampeding the mansion of the bad guys, and they all get crushed under the big hairy feet. I bet the stunt doubles were sore after that!

10000000,0 BC