I’m not a fan of the Ice Age movies. OK, I like the little squirrelly guy who continually risks severe bodily injury in search of a nut, because I can relate to that. But it seems to me the minute Ray Romano and Denis Leary open their animated mouths to earn their paychecks for a day and a half’s work, the air drains out of the entire enterprise.
This week marks the opening of the third film in the Ice Age series, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs, which â€” in a signal of the level of desperation among the marketing specialists herded into a room to come up with these movies â€” adds the aforementioned dinosaurs to the mix, despite their extinction 25 million years before the Ice Age movies take place.
Now, I don’t expect cartoons to be realistic, necessarily; I know most prehistoric sloths didn’t talk like John Leguizamo either. But this seems particularly bald-faced: Why not add in a contingent of robots and space aliens while you’re at it? (That sound you just heard is a marketing specialist belching out a draft of Ice Age IV.)
With that in mind, I thought it would be appropriate to revisit five films that earned their inclusion of dinosaurs honestly, by making no bones (bones â€“ get it?) about being completely historically inaccurate, or terrible, or both.
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Godzilla’s Revenge, a.k.a. All Monsters Attack (1971): I will grant you that Godzilla is not, technically, a dinosaur; scientists have yet to discover a species of dinosaur that bloated and rubbery, and with such large thighs. But he’s close enough for government work.
If you’re going to revisit a Godzilla film, I think it defeats the purpose to choose one with even an air of respectability, like Godzilla, King of the Monsters (1956). That’s the American version of the original Japanese Gojira (1954), in which Raymond Burr (as American journalist Steve Martin, the wild and crazy guy) is inserted into every other scene to look all authoritative and white.
No, seems to me you’re better off with an installment like Godzilla’s Revenge, in which a little boy falls asleep and dreams he’s gone off to Monster Island, where he helps Godzilla teach his son Minilla to blow cute little smoke rings. Eventually there is some fighting, and the boy’s Godzilla training winds up enabling him to foil two bumbling robbers, confirming my theory that Home Alone 3 is one movie that actually would have been a lot better with dinosaurs.
The Flintstones (1994): Yes, this was not the influential masterwork that the cartoon that inspired it was. And even the people who saw it â€“ and there were more than a few, with it grossing more than $130 million in its initial release â€“ would probably be hard pressed to recall its plot even minutes after the credits rolled. (It involved Fred uncovering corporate corruption at Slate & Co.; it was sort of like The Firm in that way.)
But it did have those Henson Creature Shop dinosaurs, which is probably what most people going to see this movie went for in the first place. The great thing about Henson Creature Shop dinosaurs is that they’re sufficiently dinosaurish, and yet have a certain jaunty charm, like at any moment they might start dropping one-liners about bananas. They almost made up for casting Rosie O’Donnell as Betty. Almost.
The dinosaurs presumably returned in The Flintstones inViva Rock Vegas (2001), which I did not see, because I knew John Goodman. I saw John Goodman in “Rosanne.” Mark Addy, you are no John Goodman.
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One Million Years B.C. (1966): This is a movie that I have purposely avoided watching again since the first time I saw it, when I was around 10. I have what I suspect is a fairly well-grounded fear that watching this movie as an adult â€“ particularly an adult whose brain is hard-wired to consider things like plot and character and whether cavewomen actually wore bikinis â€“ might somehow dilute the primal power it holds on a certain tiny corner of my brain, the part running the scene where those aforementioned cavewomen are frolicking in the surf, spearing fish, on a perpetual loop. That type of thing stays with a person.
As for the dinosaurs, like the ones in The Flintstones, they serve a dual purpose. On the one hand, thanks to the Ray Harryhausen stop-action effects, they actually look pretty good for their time â€” I challenge any 10-year-old, even today, not to get an elevated pulse while watching that ceratosaurus vs. triceratops smackdown. But at the same time, when juxtaposed with Raquel Welch in full sexy cavewoman garb, they’re also downright hilarious.
(Note to Raquel Welch: I love you. There, I said it.)
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Jurassic Park III (2001): In retrospect, I think we can all agree that this is actually the best of the Jurassic Park movies. Because it doesn’t get bogged down in a lot of hoo-ha about the ethics of genetic engineering, or stowaway daughters, or Wayne Knight doing his out-of-place Seinfeld shtick to the point where you keep expecting Samuel L. Jackson to say “Hello â€¦ Newman.”
No, Jurassic Park III is what we all, deep down, really want from our dinosaur movies: 90 minutes of people being chased and/or eaten by dinosaurs. Every time you’re afraid the movie is going to devolve into some sort of mushy subplot involving Bill Macy and Tea Leoni’s son or Alessandro Nivola’s hair â€¦ more dinosaurs!
I’d say this bodes well for director Joe Johnston’s next project, The Wolfman, which we can only hope will be exactly like Jurassic Park III, except with werewolves.
Star Wars: Episode IV â€” A New Hope (Special Edition) (1997): Now, I know what you’re thinking: “There were no dinosaurs in Star Wars: Episode IV â€” A New Hope.” You, however, are not my mother. (Unless of course you are, in which case please don’t send me another restraining order demanding I stop mentioning you in my columns.)
I say this because the first thing my mother asked me after watching the so-called Special Edition was, “Why did they add in all those dinosaurs?” And it’s true: All those banthas and rontos and dewbacks, besides being completely unnecessary, were oddly prehistoric. Almost as if a certain director were insanely jealous of a certain other director who’d just made an impossibly popular movie about dinosaurs. I’m just saying.
By the way, the second thing my mother asked me? “Why did they make Greedo shoot first?” OK, she didn’t really ask that, but she was probably thinking it.
(Dis)honorable mention: The Land Before Time series (1988-????). If you have had a child in your home any time in the past 21 years, odds are you’ve sat through one of these animated dinosaur movies, whose sequels number â€¦ wait, let me check my notes â€¦ one meeeeellion. Each one exactly the same as the one before it.
Sure, kids will watch them, much in the same way they’ll watch the swirly shapes that come up on your old Windows Media Player. But that doesn’t mean they’re good. They can do better. And to that end, if you need me this weekend, I’ll be with my kids at Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs.
What? I want to see if he finally gets that nut.