Human vs. dinosaur: the battle as old as (cinematic) time
Dominic Corry anticipates the new Adam Driver sci-fi thriller 65 by going back in time to the Human vs. Dinosaur movies that came before.
For as long as carbon dating has been looked upon with suspicion, people have fantasised about fighting dinosaurs. Although the slow crawl of evolution and a pesky meteor prevented it from happening in reality, cinema has done a great job of fulfilling that fantasy.
That tradition continues with pulp-ish glee in the new Adam Driver film 65. Prior to seeing it, please consider these notable antecedents:
The iconic nature of a certain sizeable simian star has always overshadowed just how dinosaur-heavy King Kong is. Building on his earlier work in 1925’s The Lost World, stop-motion pioneer Willis O’Brien created ground-breakingly realistic dinos for 1933’s King Kong. They don’t have a huge amount of interaction with the human characters—this is more of gorilla vs. dinosaur flick. But it’s not hard to relate to our evolutionary brother Kong in his epic throwdown with a T-Rex, one of the film’s most memorable scenes.
The naff 1976 remake only had a lame giant snake, and we don’t acknowledge its 1986 sequel, King Kong Lives (for the record: no dinos), but Peter Jackson’s underrated 2005 version ramped up the dinosaur element considerably, and some of his human characters valiantly, fruitlessly, take on several. His re-staging of the Kong vs. 3 T-Rexes (they’re called V-Rexes here because they changed their noses or something) brawl remains one of the Kiwi filmmaker’s most magnificent set pieces.
One Million Years B.C. (1966)
AKA the film that convinced several generations of movie-watchers that dinosaurs and humans co-existed.
Willis O’Brien apprentice Ray Harryhausen successfully expanded upon his mentor’s work throughout the 50s and 60s with all sorts of monstrous creatures and creepy characters. After first properly animating dinosaurs for a sequence in the 1956 documentary The Animal World, Harryhausen went full dino for this 1966 hit. Most people attributed the success of the film to Raquel Welch’s fur bikini, but Ray’s stop-motion dino vs caveman sequences are amazing and still pack a visceral punch.
It’s a remake of the 1940 film One Million B.C. which utilised the (extremely) poorly dated method of close-ups of lizards and iguanas to create its dinos. The 1960 remake of The Lost World went even further, gluing horns, frills and tails onto the poor creatures.
The Valley of Gwangi (1969)
An odd Harryhausen project that he inherited from Willis O’Brien (who died in 1962), this fantasy Western offered audiences the unique sight of a cowboy lassoing an Allosaurus. Although the stop-motion is top tier (the tiny horse is something else), it’s not as well-remembered as Harryhausen’s other movies of the era. But still: cowboys vs. dinos. That’s something.
This slapstick riff on One Million Years B.C. has Ringo Starr, Shelley Long and Dennis Quaid running around grunting gibberish and falling over. They tussle with a rather charming stop-motion T-Rex who later gets stoned.
With an alluring VHS cover that the film was never going to live up to, this had Sean Young and William Katt trying to protect a baby Brontosaurus (a species that science has since determined to not have ever existed) from nefarious forces (Patrick McGoohan) in Africa. The creature is a somewhat unimpressive live-sized animatronic contraption (its parents look cooler), but this is notable as probably the only man vs dino film where the dino is the underdog.
In a move that only really led to confusion, Jurassic Park novelist Michael Crichton borrowed the title of Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 dinosaurs-in-the-Amazon novel for the follow-up to his 1990 bestseller. The movie sequel followed suit (but not much of the novel), and is on this list over the first film because 1: it’s massively underrated and one of the great creature features of all time, and 2: while the original film sparked a huge uptick in interest in man/dinosaur relations, on a certain level, it’s not until the sequel that we get actual man vs. dinosaur action.
The humans were mostly just running and screaming (and being eaten) in the first film, but here, we get Pete Postlethwaite as a great white hunter who leads a group that takes down a T-Rex. The upperhand is short-lived, of course.
The dynamic got more complicated in later Jurassic sequels.
None of usWe all remember the ups and downs of the relationship between the velociraptor Blue and Chris Pratt’s character.
A Sound of Thunder (2005)
Between the publication of The Lost World in 1912 and Jurassic Park in 1990, one of the most beloved man/dinosaur adventure stories was Ray Bradbury’s short item A Sound of Thunder, first published in 1952. It follows modern-day tourists who travel back in time to hunt dinosaurs as big game, but mess up the timeline when one of them steps off the trail and accidentally squishes a butterfly—it’s where we got the term ‘The Butterfly Effect’.
The mega success of the Jurassic Park movies inevitably lead to an adaptation of Bradbury’s short story in 2005, and it’s unfortunately a huge turd with Playstation 1-level CGI. But still notable.
Land of the Lost (2009)
The tinny 1970s children’s TV show about a family who gets transported to a fantasy prehistoric land utilised ropey stop-motion for its dinosaurs, but the self-aware 2009 film adaptation employed large amounts of slick CGI for its dinos. The most prominent, a smart T-Rex named Grumpy, tussles with Will Ferrell and then later shits him out. Not a great film, but historic in the ongoing bid for supremacy between man and dinosaur.
Cliff Beasts 6: Battle for Everest: Memories of a Requiem (2022)
The film-within-a-film from Judd Apatow’s Netflix comedy The Bubble, this has dinosaur(ish) creatures tamed by a TikTok dance. This is where the Man Vs. Dino battle currently stands. Come in, 65, we need you.