The documentary»dinosaur 13«It might be the most truthful movie about big prehistoric animals.
It is also one of the most moving. It tells how fossil hunters in South Dakota, United States, unearthed the most complete T-rex skeleton ever found.
Instead of becoming the museum’s closest centerpiece, as initially planned, what ensued was a bitter custody battle for its fossils, an FBI raid, a trial, and a lengthy jail term for one of the paleontologists. .
The remains were sold at auction for about $8 million, none of which went to the discoverers, and are now in a private museum in Chicago.
The strength of the documentary lies in the story and how we got to know most of the individuals involved, including the T-rex.
But this documentary doesn’t have any of those images that have become so familiar in dinosaur movies and TV shows: there’s no animatronicsnor the typical men in monster costumes.
The «magic» of Conan Doyle
Celluoid dinosaurs go back almost to the beginning of cinema itself.
For a century, movie and television producers have used every new technology at their disposal to raise the dead and make dinosaurs walk the Earth again.
They have turned these extinct prehistoric beasts into icons of contemporary culture and thus formed our ideas about their appearance and behavior.
The problem is that many of the things we have been taught are wrong.
From Gertie, the eternally hungry brontosaurus (a name formally dropped in favor of apatosaurus) of a series of silent black-and-white cartoons from the 1910s to the overwhelming 3D surround-sound creations of more recent computer-generated imagery, the public assumes that this is how dinosaurs really were.
In 1922, during a conference in the United States, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was invited by his friend Harry Houdini to a meeting with his fellow illusionists.
Conan Doyle started using a trick of his own, submitting a short film without commentary, and as a result, the front page of the daily. New York Times titled «Conan Doyle baffles the world’s most famous magicians with images of prehistoric beasts.»
Many of them, it seems, thought that the images in were of living dinosaurs that had somehow escaped extinction.
The truth, revealed the next day, was that they were created by special effects expert Willis O’Brien, after the famed King Kong, for a film adaptation of Conan Doyle’s novel «The Lost World.»
sound and color
By today’s standards, animation in stop motion it looks clumsy and obviously fake. But back then, when no one had witnessed anything like it, illusionists believed what they saw.
Little has changed since Conan Doyle conned Houdini and company.
Today’s special effects are much more sophisticated, but they still have the same goal of tricking us into accepting that what we’re seeing is real.
We think we know what they looked like and how they moved, simply because we saw them galloping everywhere in movies and documentaries.
But despite the fact that computer animation techniques have made them much more attractive and convincing, what we see on the screen is still just as fantastic.
There is still a long way to go before the great advances in paleontology and the use of new imaging techniques obtain pigments and details from the tissues of fossils. We still only have some idea of the color of most dinosaurs.
Maybe they had polka dots or were purple like Barney the cartoon character. Many of the ones we thought had hair actually had feathers, including «Jurassic Park» velociraptors (which were also much smaller, about the size of a large chicken) and quite possibly the T-rex.
With a couple of exceptions, we have no idea what sounds they made. The work carried out on the skull of a Parasaurolophus well preserved indicates that its sounds could be similar to the low notes of a trombone.
As to how they moved, what and how they ate, and many other important details, our ideas are still in flux.
In the end, fiction is fiction, and you can argue that it doesn’t matter if «Jurassic Park» changed some facts to create a good drama.
All monster movies take liberties: the latest incarnation of «Godzilla,» for example, is too big for its own legs to support.
But this confusion of knowledge and guesswork is more significant in programs that could be mistaken for reality.
The model is «Walking with Dinosaurs,» often cited as the most successful television documentary series of all time.
It’s undoubtedly entertaining and technically dazzling, but can it truly be classified as a documentary?
With a format familiar to fans of nature shows, with hundreds of credentialed scientists serving as consultants, one feels that everything on display is beyond doubt: these are the creatures, environments, situations, and behaviors of tens or even hundreds. of millions of years ago.
Films like this are simulations fueled by speculation: some elements are based on what many paleontologists conclude from fossils, and some are hunches or possible but uncertain scenarios outlined to make for more compelling television.
New findings and new theories indicate that what we know is still developing, so many details discovered in «Walking with Dinosaurs» are wrong.
None of this detracts from these shows, but because the certainty levels of the different aspects presented are rarely clear, it’s hard not to feel like you’re looking at something much more definitive than what it actually is.
They may hide it well, but share some of their DNA with the movie «A Million Years BC.»
That classic B-movie featured battles between various dinosaurs and early humans (despite 60 million years separating them in time), and was introduced with the bold phrase «that’s how it happened.»
As long as we realize that many of the dinosaur «documentaries» are not how it was portrayed, but, at most, how it might have been, we can enjoy them for the hybrid science fiction that they are, not the shows. of real wildlife that imitate.