Academy Awards for all things Dinosauria

As the 84th Annual Academy Awards, otherwise known as the Oscars is almost upon us, this is an opportune time to  have a short review the role of dinosaurs in movies that have received nominations or indeed won the Oscar accolade.  Dinosaurs have appeared in feature films almost since the beginning of the film genre.  The first film to show a dinosaur was the 1914 animated film staring “Gertie the Dinosaur”, a Sauropod dinosaur cartoon; based on the skeleton of a prehistoric animal known then as  Brontosaurus from the American Museum of Natural History (New York).

Dinosaurs and other prehistoric beasts have proved popular with film audiences ever since.  There have been a whole host of monster movies made from the Lost World (1925), based on the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to 10,000 B.C. from the Warner Bros studios, released in 2008.  The quality of these films, do in a large number of cases, leave a lot to be desired.  From a palaeontology perspective most of the films are indeed widely inaccurate portrayals of the Dinosauria and other extinct creatures. Science has never been allowed to get in the way of  a good movie plot and films like “One Million Years B.C.” released in 1966 by the UK based film company Hammer, proved to be very successful at the box office.  Unfortunately, this film, described by some critics as a “bad movie saved by a great film poster”, was overlooked at the 1967 Academy Awards.  That year, films such as “Bonnie and Clyde” and “The Graduate” were awarded the plaudits. Even the fur bikini worn by the film’s female star, Raquel Welch failed to be nominated for an Oscar for best costumes.  That Oscar went to the musical “Camelot”, so even the iconic, furry underwear of Stone Age women failed to impress the Oscar judges.

A word here for the wonderful and talented Ray Harryhausen and his masterful creation of what he termed “Dynamation”, advanced stop-motion film making that brought many prehistoric animals to our screens.  He worked on the dinosaur and other prehistoric animal effects for “One Million Years B.C.” as well as on other titles such as “Valley of the Gwangi” (1969) – a western/dinosaur fantasy that was shot in the Cuenca region of Spain, a location now famed for its real dinosaur fossil discoveries.  Mr. Harryhausen never received an Oscar for any of his special effects seen in a particular movie, however, his contribution to the genre was recognised when he was awarded a special prize in 1992, marking his outstanding work in the science fiction genre and film-making in general.

Dinosaurs at the Movies

Oscar winning movies feature Dinosaurs.

One of the most important influences on the career of Ray Harryhausen and indeed, on the careers of a number of other famous film makers was the movie King Kong released in 1933.  Dinosaurs featured in this film, but they were very much the supporting cast to the  main attraction, the giant ape called Kong.  The film is regarded by many as one of the most influential films of all time, with Fay Wray playing the heroine of the picture “the beauty that killed the beast”, otherwise referred to as the “queen of scream” for all her shrieks that can be heard throughout most of the action sequences.  This film did not win an Oscar, the directors Merian C. Cooper et al could have felt a little hard done by, but the Oscars themselves (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) had only been going for a few years and there was no award category yet for special movie effects.

King Kong, the original 1933 film, show cased a number of revolutionary film-making techniques and innovations such as the amazing stop-motion animation sequences (the work of chief technician, Willis O’Brien who has also worked on the picture “The Lost World” (1925).  Despite this, it failed to receive a single Academy Award nomination. However, amongst film critics and film fans, the original King Kong movie is often voted in the top one hundred most important and influential movies of all time.

The re-make of King Kong (1976) fared better.  The 1976 version won a Special Achievement Award Oscar for Visual Effects.  The most recent re-make of this movie, directed by Oscar winning director Peter Jackson, (King Kong 2005) did better still.  It won three Oscars – Sound Editing, Sound Mixing, and not surprisingly -Visual Effects.

Perhaps, the Dinosauria’s greatest success at the Oscars came at the sixty-sixth Academy Awards, honouring films released in 1993.  The movie “Jurassic Park” won three Oscars – Best Sound Editing, Best Sound Mixing and again, not surprisingly since the film featured ground-breaking CGI – Best Visual Effects.  The big winner on the night may have been the movie “Schindler’s List”, but with three awards films featuring dinosaurs were finally being acknowledged for their contribution to the industry.  The scene where dinosaurs are first encountered by the scientists sent to scrutinise the proposed theme park, a shot of an enormous Brachiosaurus (a Sauropod dinosaur just like “Gertie” back in 1914), grazing on the top of a tree and rearing up to feed on the uppermost branches has become one of the best known dinosaur sequences ever created in a movie.

“The Lost World” released in 1997, the sequel to “Jurassic Park” was nominated in the special effects category but lost out to the big winner on the night – the movie Titanic.  The third film in the trilogy (a trilogy so far, as there are rumours of a fourth Jurassic Park movie being made), entitled, not  surprisingly “Jurassic Park III), released in 2001 did not receive a single nomination at the seventy-fifth Academy Awards ceremony held the following year.

No doubt, the continued popularity of the Dinosauria and of other prehistoric creatures will motivate future film makers to include these spectacular animals in their film projects.  Dinosaurs tend to be visually stunning, their great size and ferocity making them a favourite amongst movie goers old and young alike.  Although the quality of some of the offerings can be questioned, the legacy of dinosaurs in films is set to continue and we can look forward to more Oscars for the Dinosauria and their on screen creators in the future.

Who knows, perhaps the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences may introduce a special “Youtube” category, given our own humble offerings a chance of success.

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