Category: Movie Reviews

Walking with Dinosaurs in 3-D Reviewed

“Patchi” and Friends in a Coming of Age Saga Set in the Cretaceous

Just in time for Christmas comes the release of the long-awaited “Walking with Dinosaurs in 3-D” a film that features an array of Late Cretaceous prehistoric animals (dinosaurs mostly) with the narrator of our story being Alex an Alexornis, an ancient bird* who via a segue that manages to link the present day to the Late Cretaceous of North America, is introduced as our guide to the adventures of a horned dinosaur called “Patchi”.  The fact that there were many different types of prehistoric bird around, is just one of the snippets of information that can be gleaned from seeing the film.  The movie is a collaboration between BBC Earth and 20th Century Fox and although it shares the same title as the BBC’s ground breaking television series “Walking with Dinosaurs” that first aired back in 1999, this is a very different “beastie”.

In the six part BBC television series, each half hour episode was narrated by Sir Kenneth Branagh, (although he wasn’t a Knight at the time), these programmes combined the BBC’s tradition for making excellent nature documentaries with ground-breaking computer generated special effects.  Back in 1999, seeing a dinosaur come to life on the screen or to view a prehistoric habitat was something very memorable.  After all, Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park may have resurrected the Dinosauria and shown for the first time how powerful CGI could be, but the back drops to the fearsome dinosaurs were all modern day locations.  In the BBC television series, the programmes managed to create the effect that here was an actual nature documentary shot in the Mesozoic.

Much the same look is achieved in this cinema offering, the background scenery (the location shots were taken in New Zealand and Alaska) is breath taking, however, fourteen years on, we are so used to CGI that the effects seem to have lost some of their impact.  With so many fantasy films, computer programmes and in the Youtube generation, perhaps our senses have been dulled somewhat.

The story seems to follow the typical plot of a film aimed very much at young viewers.  An underdog, the runt of the litter gets into all sorts of scrapes and adventures before finally growing up to become a hero.  There is even a love interest, yes, romance in a film all about dinosaurs, but more of that later.  ”Patchi” and his big brother (“Scowler”) are Pachyrhinosaurs, horned dinosaurs that are distantly related to the more famous Triceratops, but lack the impressive nose and brow horns.  Thanks to an encounter with a speedy, carnivorous Troodon, “Patchi” gains a hole in his frill, which is very distinctive, a useful cinematic device to make him distinguishable from all the other Pachyrhinosaurs in the herd scenes, helpful for very young viewers so that they can follow the story line more easily.  The film has been described as “infotainment”, as periodically the action is frozen and the Latin names of the prehistoric creatures and other supporting data is displayed on the screen, perhaps this is a nod to the grown-ups who can take solace in the fact that this film might have some educational value.  The film is very reminiscent of Disney’s offering “Dinosaur”  (released in 2000), the dinosaurs even have American accents – apt, as the action does take place in North America.

The characters depicted in the film may be largely reptilian (there are mammals and birds too), but all of them have been anthropomorphosised and often they come across as mere caricatures although it is hard to consider how human-like, a two tonne, extinct Ceratopsian might possibly have been.  The story jogs along at a merry pace and covers ten years in the life of the herd, time enough for “Patchi” to prove that brains are sometimes better than brawn.  The dialogue can be a bit grating at times, there are all sorts of modern-day references, (as if dinosaurs, knew anything about chew toys or ninjas) and the film makers seemed to be passionately concerned with ensuring that there must dialogue for every frame of the film.  For animals capable of only screeches, bellows and roars, the dinosaurs certainly do talk a lot.

“Patchi” – The Runt of a Litter of Pachyrhinosaurs

Do animals that lay eggs have a runt in the litter?

Do animals that lay eggs have a runt in the litter?

“Patchi” with his brown eyes meets “Juniper” a female Pachyrhinosaurus from a neighbouring herd (she has blue eyes), eye colour in Ceratopsians is something that we at Everything Dinosaur haven’t actually considered.  ”Patchi” and his brother get separated from their herd after a forest fire, they join up with another group of migrating Pachyrhinosaurs and “Patchi” is thrown together with “Juniper”.  When these young dinosaurs get lost again, thanks to an attack by a gang of Gorgosaurs (Tyrannosaurids similar to T.rex but smaller and lighter), another set of adventures begins and the love interest with “Patchi” falling head over his Ceratopsian heels for “Juniper”.  The three animals have to find their own way to the winter feeding grounds.  This part of the film has echoes of the “Incredible Journey” another Disney offering about three pets trying to make it back to their owners.  The original “Incredible Journey” came out in 1963 with a re-make thirty years later starring the voice over talents of the likes of Michael J. Fox, Sally Field and Don Ameche.  From this perspective dogs and cats seem easier to anthropomorphosise than dinosaurs.

The film carries a “U” certificate, although parents of particularly young children will need to be mindful that this film does depict predators attacking,  it is very much a case of nature “red in tooth and claw”.  At eighty-seven minutes, the film is fractionally shorter than the “Walking with Dinosaurs” stage show, but unlike the live event there is no fifteen minute interval.  To the delight of the young viewers the humour has lots of scatological references, our hero “Patchi” literally gets “dumped on from a great height” at one point.  No doubt the film will do very well which then could bring about the prospect of a sequel, or indeed an entire franchise of these dino-inspired, infotainments.  For us, we can always put on one of the BBC “Walking with Dinosaurs” episodes from that ground-breaking television series, which in our view are far superior.

Blue-Eyed “Juniper” – Romance in the Late Cretaceous?

A blue-eyed, horned dinosaur.

A blue-eyed, horned dinosaur.

Note about Prehistoric Birds from the Late Cretaceous

*Alexornis is a member of the Enantiornithines, a clade of prehistoric birds that were relatively abundant towards the end of the Age of Dinosaurs.  Something like fifty different species of Enantiornithines have been named so far.

A Model of an Adult Pachyrhinosaurus (P. canadensis)

A Pachyrhinosaurus Model.

A Pachyrhinosaurus Model.

Picture Credit: Everything Dinosaur

To view the model range that features the Pachyrhinosaurus replica shown: Papo Dinosaurs and the Pachyrhinosaurus Dinosaur Model

Updates on Jurassic Park IV – Marine Reptiles and All

Jurassic Park IV Due for Release in 2015

With problems over the filming now resolved it seems there has been new life breathed into the once extinct Jurassic Park IV movie and a new release date has been proposed.  Originally scheduled for June 13th 2014, the world-wide release of this long awaited film, the fourth in the Jurassic Park franchise, is likely to be summer 2015.  Although, there have been a number of leaks relating to the storyline the plot is a closely guarded secret.  However, it does seem that the action will mostly take part on the island of Isla Nublar, this was the location used largely for the first film in the franchise, the site of John Hammond’s dinosaur-themed safari park.

A source claims that the prehistoric animals shown in the movie will include marine reptiles for the first time.  There will be dinosaurs that had appeared in the previous films, the fearsome, over-sized Velociraptors and the monstrous T. rex, for example, but giant carnivorous sea monsters will make an appearance too.

Isla Nublar is now a fully operational theme park, a tourist attraction on a huge scale.  Theropod dinosaurs roam but they are muzzled.  In one sequence, a giant marine reptile will perform in a Sea-World like attraction, a sort of prehistoric version of Shamu the Killer Whale.  The huge beast leaps out of the water to devour a strung up Great White Shark, all for the pleasure of the tourists.  Looks like the shark from “Jaws” is put in its place in terms of the prehistoric pecking order.

There were certainly many very large and dangerous marine reptiles in the seas of the Mesozoic, Pliosaurs and Mosasaurs for example.  Tylosaurus (T. proriger) a Mosasaur whose fossils have been found in North America, may have reached lengths in excess of fourteen metres.  The Pliosaur, known as Liopleurodon (L. macromerus), may have been even bigger, perhaps twenty metres in length, although estimates of a weight in the region of 150 Tonnes in our view are a little excessive.

A Mosasaur Attacks a Pteranodon (P. longiceps)

Fearsome marine reptiles to feature in Jurassic Park IV

Fearsome marine reptiles to feature in Jurassic Park IV

Picture Credit: BBC Worldwide

Insiders claim that there will be a new type of dinosaur villain in this film, one that has not appeared in the previous three movies.  This dinosaur breaks out of its cage and rampages across the park, killing and eating a number of people that get in its way.  We at Everything Dinosaur have speculated what this new dinosaur might be – an Abelisaurid such as a Carnotaurus or a member of the Carcharodontosaurids (Great White Shark Lizards – back we go to “Jaws” again); a predatory dinosaur such as Carcharodontosaurus or perhaps a Giganotosaurus.

We shall have to wait and see.  Roll on 2015.

Dinosaurs at the Movies

Dinosaurs at the Movies – Spotting the Anomalies in Jurassic Park

Jurassic Park was released in 1993, directed by Steven Spielberg with a screenplay based on the novel by Michael Crichton, who sadly passed away this time last year. This movie showcased the developments made in CGI (computer generated images) and depicted dinosaurs and pterosaurs with a new realism and accuracy.

However, the film makers did not let the palaeontology get in the way of a great storyline. For several types of prehistoric animal shown in the film and the subsequent sequels, their appearance and behaviour stretched plausibility to a great extent and some sequences and dinosaur scenes were given what might be termed the “Hollywood treatment”. For example, an adult Tyrannosaurus rex able to chase down a speeding jeep, Dilophosaurs having venom and being able to project it in a similar way to a spitting Cobra. These attributes, whether it is giving T. rex tremendous speed or empowering Dilophosaurus with poison glands are simply not legitimised by what is seen in the fossil record.

Take for example, the Tyrannosaurus rex chasing Jeff Goldblum, Sam Neill et al in the jeep chase scene.  Recent studies using advanced computer modelling techniques from scientists at Manchester University has calculated a T. rex top speed to be around 18 mph, about as fast as a professional footballer.  That is still fast for an animal in excess of 13 metres long and weighing 5 tonnes or more, but hardly fast enough to catch a speeding jeep.  Even on wet, slippery ground a four-wheel drive jeep could speed away from a Tyrannosaurus in second gear.

To read the article on the running speeds of dinosaurs, based on the studies undertaken by the University of Manchester team: So Tyrannosaurus rex could chase down David Beckham

Perhaps the best known, anomaly regarding how dinosaurs were depicted in the Jurassic Park films concerns the main monster villains of the movies – the “Raptors”. Velociraptors are depicted in the film and these creatures appear about as tall as a person and more than 3 metres long. Velociraptor mongoliensis is one of the better known Dromaeosaurs, it was much smaller, standing no more than one metre tall, and an estimated 1.5 metres long, the tail making up a considerable proportion of this animal’s total body length. It may have weighed less than 15 kilogrammes, the Velociraptors in Jurassic Park were scaled up and as a result they looked all the more fearsome and ferocious. Fossils of Velociraptor have been found to date in Asia, the United States does have its very dinosaur candidate for a 3-4 metre long fearsome, “Raptor” movie star – Deinonychus. Known from several specimens, this fearsome hunter was similar in size to the Velociraptors shown in the film, there has even been fossil evidence found indicating that Deinonychus hunted in packs, a behaviour frequently illustrated by the Velociraptors in the Jurassic Park trilogy. Deinonychus was named and described by the American palaeontologist John Ostrom in 1969. It was Ostrom who was largely responsible for re-writing scientific thinking and portraying certain types of dinosaur as active, agile, warm-blooded creatures. Ironically, John Ostrom was a mentor and close colleague of Dr. Bob Bakker who acted as one of the main scientific advisors to the movie makers.

During the filming of the first Jurassic Park, scientists discovered the fossilised remains of the largest known genus of Dromaeosaur in the fossil record. In 1991, the fossilised remains of a fierce hunter, perhaps measuring as much as 6.5 metres long were unearthed in a quarry in Utah. This animal was formerly named and described in 1993, it is called Utahraptor.

Despite the exaggerated size of the Velociraptors and other anomalies seen in the Jurassic Park movies, they are immensely enjoyable and broke a number of box office records. Strange things do happen in nature, no one has ever seen a dinosaur and the technical consultants on the film such as Dr. Bob Bakker remain highly respected and admired palaeontologists. After all, it has recently been proven that the largest lizard on Earth, the Komodo Dragon has a venomous bite.  So if reptiles around today can still startle scientists, you can bet the fossil record of the Dinosauria has a few surprises buried beneath our feet.

Land of the Lost Movie Review

Land of the Lost Movie Review

Summer holidays must be here and the schools broken up as this time of year sees the release of a certain genre of film designed to entertain families and hopefully while away an afternoon.  The Land of the Lost straddles the science fiction/screwball comedy genre and if you are keen to spend an afternoon out of the rain at the cinema then this film delivers a number of nice comedy moments.  It doe not really hang together as a cohesive story though, it gave us the impression of a number of sketches and bizarre situations rather stitched together, but it does have its funny moments.  Most of the amusing lines are delivered by the film’s main star, Will Ferrell who plays Dr. Rich Marshall.  The cast includes Anna Friel, playing a somewhat smarter research assistant and Danny McBride as a sort of American version of Ray Mears.

Our trio of unlikely heroes end up proving Dr. Marshall’s theory of time travel correct and ending up in a strange parallel universe populated by early hominids, lizard people, Pterosaurs and of course dinosaurs.  The chase scenes with T. rex at least allow Will Ferrell the chance to test some of the theories scientists have regarding this large predator.  For example, how fast could T. rex run, was this dinosaur able to turn swiftly and such like.  We enjoyed the references made to some of these theories and concepts, but in parts of the film the CGI did not look very realistic and overall the look of the movie was quite disappointing.

If you like the bumbling humour of Will Ferrell then you won’t be too disappointed.  The film is based on a old American TV series, none of us can remember the original and we suspect that this film will also soon slip from our collective memory.

Review of Ice Age 3 – Dawn of the Dinosaurs

Review of Ice Age 3 – Dawn of the Dinosaurs

With a release timed to coincide with the start of the school holidays, the third film in the Ice Age franchise is definitely written with the need to keep the kids entertained in mind.  Manny the mammoth, his friends Diego and Sid find themselves in a lost world with dinosaurs to contend with as well as the imminent arrival of Manny’s first child, with his heavily pregnant partner Ellie (voiced by Queen Latifah).

The animation is up to the high standards of the previous two movies, but this time the movie is shot in 3-D, whether this gimmick adds anything to the enjoyment of the film is debatable, perhaps the film makers thought it best to add a novel twist to freshen up the franchise.

There are some particularly funny moments and some subtle jibes at parent hood, epitomised by the increasingly anxious Manny as he tries to “baby proof” nature prior to the arrival of his baby.  New characters are introduced, a romantic love interest for Scratt, the acorn chasing prehistoric squirrel and a strange, swashbuckling weasel character called Buck voiced by the English actor Simon Pegg.  Buck reminded us of Ben Gunn, the character in Treasure Island (the novel by Robert Louis Stevenson), that was left on the island and craved toasted cheese whilst awaiting rescue.

An enjoyable and light hearted film, that kept the children entertained.

Review of Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Movie Review – Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Out this week is the new Brendan Fraser vehicle – “Journey to the Centre of the Earth”, a film that attempts to update the classic Jules Verne novel by placing the story in the 21st Century and using the latest 3-D digital effects.  For Brendan Fraser fans this movie whets the appetite before the latest “Mummy” movie is released later on this Summer.  Fraser seems to be in danger of becoming typecast as the macho, “laugh in the face of danger”, action hero as he basically reprises his “Mummy” role in this Eric Brevig directed adventure.

Playing a Professor who along with his nephew (played by Josh Hutcherson), the inevitable child sidekick, and the film love interest Anita Briem, our hero travels to Iceland to find out what has happened to his brother (the father of Sean, the character played by Josh Hutcherson).

Falling through a convenient volcanic fissure, the brave band find themselves in a lost, underground world and that the novel penned by Verne is not a work of fiction at all but a factual account.  Naturally, they have to battle all sorts of creatures and survive various scrapes in order to get themselves back to the surface.  The film is short on plot (no real explanation is given as to how the Verne novel has been transferred to modern times), and long on special, digital effects.  It is almost if the film itself is swamped by the need to show off the 3-D technology, for example does the audience need to be treated to Brendan Fraser rinsing and spitting water on them.

The original novel (published in 1864, in French as “Voyage au Centre de la Terre), was based on a published scientific text, and at the time little was known about the properties of the Earth’s crust, mantle and core.  These days the emphasis is on adventure and the special effects.  Having watched the film it is possible to imagine a theme park ride being created to entertain tourists at one of the many resorts in the USA.  Indeed, one is left with the feeling that the movie may have been written especially to accommodate the technical requirements of a theme park attraction.

Dinosaurs make an appearance, along with ferocious flying piranha fish, birds that glow and strange floating rocks.  The Tyrannosaur chase scene is a little reminiscent of many of the T. rex scenes in films such as Jurassic Park 1 and 2, we have sort of seen this all before but at least the 3-D adds a new dimension (no pun intended).  Professor Anderson (Fraser’s character) is asked in mid chase “haven’t you ever seen a dinosaur before”, in the typical understated tones of our action hero he replies “yes, but never one with its skin on”!  The trouble is we have all seen CGI dinosaurs before and much of the spectacle is lost as the characters are hurled from one predicament to the next.  It is all good, wholesome family fun, although it does contain one or two scary moments that might upset very young children (hence the PG rating).

Fine film to view on a Summer afternoon, a reasonable way to entertain the children for a few hours over the long Summer break, but if they want real excitement and adventure, try the original Verne novels – much more enthralling.

10,000 B.C. Movie Review

10,000 B. C. Movie Review

Director Roland Emmerich is well known for big, block buster type movies such as “Independence Day” and “The Day After Tomorrow” but on this occasion he takes the viewer back in time, in a bid to tell a tale from prehistory.

A fur adorned mountain tribe, happily living out their lives believing that the Woolly Mammoth herds are the centre of the universe, is raided by brutal warlords looking for slaves to help them build a temple to their God.  Our hero, a young hunter called D’Leh (played by American actor Steven Strait) sees his love Evolet (Camilla Belle) carried away and so he sets out to rescue her.

Along the way he encounters all manner of strange tribes, most of which have a grudge against the slave warlords as they too have been raided.  What starts off as one man’s quest to find his girl ends up being a sort of crusade against the tyranny of the evil warlord empire and their pyramid temples.  As D’Leh wanders through strange deserts and jungles in search of Evolet his small band of followers swells and grows to become an army – just what you need if you are going to have a final showdown with the bad guys.

If you put aside for one moment the historical inaccuracies, the absurd geography (we think much of the film was shot in Namibia as well as New Zealand so in essence our heroes were heading in the wrong direction), and the out of proportion prehistoric animals depicted, then this is a fairly pleasant way to spend an afternoon.  The story is not exactly subtle or complicated (unless you count the bizarre ancient prophesies) but as this film is aimed at a pre-teen audience then it hits all the right buttons.  Plenty of action, not a lot of dialogue or plot and some interesting special effects.  Any film with CGI Mammoths can’t be all that bad, and the 12A rating permits youngsters to watch (accompanied by an adult).  The narration got a little iritating at times, what was Omar Sharif thinking!

Absolute hokum, but if you have nothing better to do on a wet March afternoon…

Some points about the prehistoric animals – the Terror Birds (Phorusrhacidae) survived in South America until about 5,000 years ago but we are not sure what evidence there is for these large, flightless birds surviving in the Old World into the Pleistocene/Holocene (we think there is none).  The Sabre-Tooth Cat has been given the typical markings of an ambush killer and these animals although associated with the Americas (where the last Sabre-Tooths lived), they were more widespread in earlier times.   Our alledgedly Palaeolithic hunter might have encountered big cats, but it is highly unlikely that one of them would have been a Smilodon.  The Sabre-Tooth cat depicted in the film is truly huge, far larger than the Pleistocene Sabre-Tooths.  Most of the large Sabre-Tooth cats were about the size of a modern lion (P. leo) although much more stocky and heavy set.  The largest of the last Smilodon species was S. populator of South America.  It would have stood about 1.2 metres high at the shoulder.  We think the CGI operators have used a little bit of licence when it comes to the scale of some of these people.

It might be that the people depicted in the film are actually very small, this could be why some of these animals look so big.  If that is the case then this too is historically inaccurate, there is some evidence to suggest that Stone Age people were actually a fraction taller than their modern counterparts.

Review of the Movie Zodiac by Mike

Zodiac – A Film Review

This film was directed by David Fincher, whose only other film I have seen is Seven.  It is based on the true story of the hunt for a serial killer who terrorised California in the late 1960′s and remained notorious and at large for many years.  The Zodiac is not the central character in this story, the film portrays the obsession of individuals who set out to prove the identity of the killer.  Specifically the film focuses on the preoccupation of a newspaper cartoonist and his desire to find the Zodiac, at the cost of his family and his job.  I think this character is played by Jake Gyllenhaal, although for me it is Robert Downey Jr who steals most of the scenes with his portrayal of a drunken, hack and his fall from grace into despair and loneliness.

The crimes were committed when forensic science was in its infancy, there are few clues to go on and the lack of a co-ordinated police effort hampers the pursuit of the perpetrator.  At various points in the film, you are given the impression that the net is closing in but each time the investigations lead you up a blind alley.  To this end the film was a little frustrating, it lacked the clean, no fuss storyline of a CSI TV episode, but I guess that was the point.  Real life crime is nothing like television and this film depicted the hunt for the killer with a degree of realism.  The Californian police are not like Mounties – they don’t always get their man.  The main detective on the case reminded me of Columbo, perhaps a deliberate attempt by the Director to contrast the police investigation in this movie with the more predictable denouement associated with the standard fayre on TV.

The film certainly had me interested, not fascinated but interested enough not to notice that the best part of 160 minutes had passed before the lights came up.

Overall, an OK way to spend an afternoon, but not enough dinosaurs for my liking.

Tell No One – Movie Review

As we start to get ready for Christmas – I know we are only in September, but we have to start thinking of increasing stocks, not only of models, soft toys, dinosaurs to make and build, dinosaurs to paint, and dinosaur games (we think the new dino-opoly game is going to be very popular this year), we also have to start stocking up on packaging – boxes, padded envelopes and postal tubes for posters and gift wrap.  We also start to take bookings from schools and nurseries to attend their Christmas fairs (which we do locally).

We therefore take every opportunity possible to take time out and do something different.  This weekend we got the chance to go a local film theatre in Stoke, and see a film we have been trying to get to all summer – “Tell No One”.

The film is based on Harlen Cobens multi-million selling novel, and is in French with subtitles – but do not let this put you off!  The plot concerns a doctor (Francois Cluzet) as the wronged man, who while at work one day receives an e-mail from his wife who was murdered eight years ago!

There is plenty of tension and action as the film unfolds, the chase scene on foot across the city is excellent, and you piece together what is happening from small scraps of information throughtout the film, but the reveal in the end brings it all together.

It stars Francois Cluzet, Marie Josee Croze, Andre Dussollier and Kristen Scott Thomas.  The intimacy of a small 200 seater cinema is certainly different from the usual multi nationals, and definitely something we would do again.

 

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