Reminiscing Over Dinosaurus!
Prehistoric Times|Winter 2021 #136
“Alive! After 70 million years! Roaring! Walking! Destroying!” (Ad line for Dinosaurus!)
Allen A. Debus

Sometime in the early 1960s (post- September 1961), our dad began a semi-regular ritual that continued through the next decade—taking my brother Rick and I to see the early Saturday afternoon prehistoric monster movie at the show. One of the earliest of these was a delightful and masterful—that is, to my then 2nd or 3rd grade psyche—movie titled, Dinosaurus! (Fairview Production/Universal-International, 1960). I departed exuberantly from the theater that day, in a daze thinking I’d just seen the most utterly fantastic special effects projection of ‘real’ dinosaurs since those witnessed in RKO’s King Kong, (which by then I’d seen televised two or three times). As was common back in the day, one had no way of knowing when you might have the opportunity to see a movie released at the cinema ever again— televised (unless you went back to the theater for the next matinee). In my case I didn’t see the film again until over half a century later when it was broadcast on horror movie host Svengoolie’s Chicagoland program one Saturday evening (e.g. during the mid-to late 2000s), with occasional repeated airings over the next decade.

By then I had read about the movie in two books published between 1999 and 2002 (Neil Pettigrew’s The Stop-Motion Filmography, and Mark F. Berry’s The Dinosaur Filmography, respectively). So I had re-acquainted myself with the movie … twice … without having actually seen it again … yet. But reading their written summaries only whetted my appetite for that exalted day when Dinosaurus! might air again someday, which then did happen only a few years later when Rich Koz (e.g. Svengoolie) must have ‘telepathically’ received my urgent alpha-cerebral transmissions pleading for its broadcast.

My adult reaction to Dinosaurus!? Well, on the positive side it still held charm. Remorsefully, anticipated feelings of nostalgia were swept asunder by harrowing regret for all the years gone by in between—quite a contrasting kind of perspective relative to my first viewing! For if I felt that differently about this once beloved film, then how drastically had my mindset changed over the years? The answer should have been glaringly obvious, but had eluded detection. I was beguiled not realizing as I should have known that few fondly remembered ‘children’s movies’ remain as enchanting for us in maturity. That evening watching Svengoolie’s Dinosaurus! broadcast I could finally declare, ‘lesson learned.’

Dinosaurus! is largely ignored today too. Few would consider it to be a ‘classic’ movie. Why? The story (i.e. screenplay by Dan E. Weisburd and Jean Yeaworth—from an original idea by co-Producer Jack H. Harris) isn’t too far-fetched for this genre, and actors perform reasonably. Authorities concur that actor Gregg Martell’s characterization of the resurrected Neanderthal Man is rather exceptional. But the movie’s special effects pale beside magnificent cgi-animation inaugurated in 1993’s Jurassic Park (and many fantastic films thereafter). Therein lies root of today’s problem. Dinosaurus!’s two dinosaurs—Tyrannosaurus and Brontosaurus just don’t cut it anymore. So is such disregard tantamount to a ‘referendum’ against old-school stop-motion animation?

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