These days, it’s hard not to think dinosaurs without thinking Jurassic Park. While the book was also a sizable hit, it’s arguably Steven Spielberg’s seminal classic that brought dinosaurs to life like never before, popularizing their origins with modern-day birds, and making then-unknown dinosaurs like Deinonychus (not Velociraptor dammit) into bona fide superstars. The franchise has become so synonymous with dinosaurs, that most can’t think about T-Rex without thinking of the iconic paddock scene from the 1993 original. With the series going into its sixth installment, the internet is once more buzzing with dinosaurs, but what about some other dinosaur properties floating around?
Dinosaurs have been a part of popular culture for some time. One of the earliest animated films was Gertie the Dinosaur, and since the advent of stop motion special effects dinosaurs have graced the silver screen in classics like The Lost World and King Kong. They have been in animated family films, horror and action video games, and works of great literature, and yet none have quite resonated quite like Jurassic Park has. Regardless of why that is, there are plenty of other properties featuring the ancient beasts that deserve recognition, and in some cases, expansion.
The Land Before Time
Typing this I can hear the collective eye roll of our readership. The Land Before Time? Don’t we already have enough of those? Given the film’s thirteen sequels (many of which are less than stellar), it can be easy to forget how groundbreaking and powerful the 1988 classic was. The brainchild of Steven Spielberg and animation titan Don Bluth, the original movie was a dark, apocalyptic adventure that followed an orphaned Apatosaurus named Littlefoot and his four friends as they made the treacherous journey to the Great Valley to try and reunite with their herd, all the while stalked by a vicious Tyrannosaurus Rex. The film was such a massive hit that it even managed to outgross Disney’s animated feature that year.
Given the longevity of the series, many may say The Land Before Time has long since run out of ideas and should be laid to rest, but there may yet be ways to inject some life into the long-running property. A CGI continuation to bring the series into the world of 3D animation could be a welcome change of pace, but the biggest potential lay in the fact that the series has been running for over thirty years. Littlefoot and his pals will be long since grown up, so rather than focus on their adventures as hatchlings, maybe a welcome change of pace would be to see them as adults. Even if this never happens, the original classic and even a few of its sequels are always solid entertainment. When they get it right, the Gang of Five can rival even InGen’s best.
When it comes to dinosaur stories, few are as straight-up cool as Turok. Beginning in the 50s with appearances in Four Color Comics, Turok told the story of an Indigenous American who fought dinosaurs in a treacherous lost world. The character became so popular that he eventually got his own series named Turok: Son of Stone. However, the comics were only the beginning of the Turok journey. The series later inspired a video game dubbed Turok: Dinosaur Hunter, released in 1997. In this game, Turok was a title. The current holder of the title, an indigenous American named Tal Set, is on the warpath, blasting his way through not only dinosaurs, but aliens, monsters, and other various evildoers in defense of planet Earth. The gory shooter was a massive hit, spawning two direct sequels and several spinoff titles and becoming a popular draw in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Since the release of Turok, an intended reboot of the series, there have been no further games made since 2008 and things have been relatively quiet for the dimension-hopping strongman. There are a number of reasons to resurrect the Turok character. For one, major strides have been made in graphics since the last game was released, allowing for more realistic combat and violence than we saw during the Nintendo 64 Era. For another, there has been a welcome push to make the arts more inclusive. What better time to resurrect the greatest Indigenous American hero in the history of games? Turok encompasses a lot of genres from science fiction to Lovecraftian horror, but among the most fun was when Turok fought dinosaurs. A bowie knife-wielding hero fighting a cyborg tyrannosaurus? Now that’s something you won’t see in Jurassic Park.
I’ve never been one for hunting games, but the one hunting series that always kept me coming back was Carnivores. On its surface, the game was just a dinosaur hunting simulator, but the plot was actually a very creative one. While exploring deep space, a group of travelers finds a planet where conditions that lead to life on earth were almost exactly duplicated, resulting in the natural evolution of dinosaurs on this far away world. This leads to a new group of explorers going to the planet with the goal of hunting the dinos for sport, something that is much more difficult than it seems. Carnivores was a sizable hit, spawning two sequels in the hunting style, one of which was set in the ice age, and another action game following the alien dinosaurs invading planet Earth. Since then, several more games have been released, with the latest appearing on consoles in 2021.
When it comes to hunting games, few are as immersive or suspenseful as Carnivores, where you are just likely to be prey to your quarry. All things considered, there are ways the series could be expanded on further. The idea of aliens evolving to be like dinosaurs from Earth is a very creative one, and seeing that brought to the forefront could expand on the series’ downplayed science fiction elements. And of course, the original games are very hard to come by, so a re-release of the original classics from the late 90s and early 2000s would be an absolute blast from the past for anyone who remembers the tension of hunting a hungry T Rex, at the same time it was hunting you.
Speaking of dinosaurs being aliens, how about a little shot of 80s nostalgia to lighten the mood? In the wake of the original Transformers series, there were a lot of shows that attempted to cash in on the toy to tv craze, and one of the most bonkers of them was Dinosaucers. The plot was the Autobots-I mean Dinosaucers-an intelligent spacefaring race of dinosaurs, arrive on Earth and befriend several children. Their leader Optimus Prime-I mean Allo the Allosaurus-appoints the youngsters as his special scouts in their fight against the evil Decepticons-I mean Tyrannos, lead by the wicked Megatron-I mean Genghis Rex. Sensing a theme here? The characters can even transform via a process called Dinovolving, which allows them to return to their primeval state so they can do battle.
Dinosaucers has an interesting history, initially created for the purpose of creating a toyline which never materialized. It lasted one season, but that season consisted of a whopping 65 episodes before the show ran its course. Transformers ripoff or no, this hair brained but charming show has its share of fans, and has gone on to become a beloved cult classic through the passing of the years. Given the success (but not necessarily quality) of the big screen Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles adaptations, perhaps Dinosaucers could benefit from a modern makeover, and in the age of streaming it could be more successful in finding an audience, maybe enough for 65 episodes more.
Walking with Dinosaurs
For those who grew up when it was released, memories of Walking with Dinosaurs remain vivid after all these years. Walking with Dinosaurs had the goal of portraying the ancient creatures as vividly as possible, following them on a six episode journey to show how they were born, lived, and died. No interviews with scientists. No talks of fossils. From first frame to last, viewers were transported back in time to the age of ancient giants, and we stayed with them as the eons flowed by. The revolutionary series was a massive hit, spawning several spinoffs on the ice age and the age prior to dinosaurs, as well as a not so stellar theatrical film. For those who were there from the beginning, few can top the quality and raw power of the original six episode run.
Technology has improved since the release of the original show in 1999, and with new research available to give us a more clear pictures of how dinosaurs lived, a continuation of the original BBC series would be a welcome addition to any dino afficionado’s library. Many documentaries have attempted to follow in the footsteps of this classic series, but none have managed to reach the status claimed by Walking with Dinosaurs. While you can certainly make arguments that some series were better, few were as talked about or revered as this one. The documentary style allowed viewers to emotionally connect with the creatures like never before in a program of this type, which only contributed to its lasting power. Walking with Dinosaurs was more than a documentary series. It was an event. Perhaps we’re due for another.
Everyone has a dinosaur property that speaks most to them personally, and I have mine. My favorite is easily James Gurney’s stellar Dinotopia series. The story followed a shipwrecked father and son who find themselves marooned on an island populated by both dinosaurs and people where the two groups have learned to peacefully co-exist. Warriors fly Pteranodons like fighter pilots, sauropods assist humans in transportation, and dinosaurs of all types have a hand in local politics. They even have their own saurian language used to communicate with humans, and that’s only if they don’t learn to speak. It’s perhaps the most thorough fantasy world apart from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Gurney wrote and illustrated three more books in the main series, followed by several non-illustrated paperbacks. The series eventually made the jump to television, appearing as a three-part miniseries on Hallmark that lead to sequels in a short-lived series and an animated movie, though none were as detailed and breathtaking as Gurney’s books.
One of the major worries of using dinosaurs is being able to stand apart from the more popular Jurassic Park, and Dinotopia can absolutely stand apart. In the age of streaming, now seems a perfect time for Dinotopia to get a TV series makeover. Special effects and their affordability have come a long way in the years since the miniseries, meaning Gurney’s civilization can be brought to a more vivid life than ever before. Gurney’s books are mesmerizing in their detail, having perhaps the most creative uses of dinosaurs in any media. Far from the vicious monsters of most series, these dinosaurs are teachers, leaders, explorers, and friends to mankind. Throw in some solid adventure, and that’s a story I’d love to see.
Let’s face it. Dinosaurs are pretty awesome, and that’s one of the reasons Jurassic Park continues to bring people in almost thirty years after the original. But Jurassic Park shouldn’t be the only game in town when it comes to resurrecting some of Earth’s ancient wonders. The family-friendly Land Before Time series is a safe bet, but there are also riskier more ambitious projects that people could be willing to try. I for one would love to finally see Gurney’s Dinotopia get a proper screen continuation, but jumping back on another dinosaur hunt with my guy Tal Set would also be a pretty sweet ride.
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