Total Recall: Dinosaurs!

With the re-release of Jurassic Park hitting theaters this week, we run down some of cinema's most memorable prehistoric beasts.

by |

The Land That Time Forgot


World War I was pretty terrible, what with the trench warfare and the mustard gas and the screaming death -- but for the unlucky survivors of a sunken British merchant ship who were taken captive by a German U-boat, the war ended up seeming like a vacation. For these poor folks, whose adventures were immortalized in Edgar Rice Burroughs' 1918 novel and adapted for the screen in Kevin Connor's 1975 The Land That Time Forgot, becoming prisoners of war was just the beginning of a journey that ended up taking them all the way to Antarctica -- where they discovered a menagerie of supposedly extinct creatures, including dinosaurs and Neanderthal humans. Of course, the dinosaurs looked a heck of a lot like puppets -- and the boat, for that matter, looked an awful lot like a model -- but unless you've been to Antarctica yourself, who are you to judge? Audiences were only too happy to make the journey to this Land, making it one of the year's surprise hits, and though most critics rolled their eyes at its low-budget effects and hammy performances, others appreciated its throwback matinee vibe. Time's Jay Cocks, for one, promised that "instant second childhood is guaranteed in less than 90 minutes."

Planet of Dinosaurs

No Score Yet

Forget about traveling into the distant past or wasting time resurrecting a few measly velociraptors. For 1978's Planet of Dinosaurs, director James Shea and an army of low-wage effects engineers cooked up a story about a spaceship crew crash-landing on a distant planet that just happened to be covered in dinosaurs. Shea didn't have any stars in his cast or much money to work with (as the movie's Wikipedia page politely puts it, Planet "was filmed on a significantly limited budget"), leaving his film to suffer an ignominious fate at the box office, but it's developed something of an ironic cult following among the Rifftrax crowd -- even if, as critics like Cinefantastique's Steve Biodrowski caution, "Although set in the future, Planet of Dinosaurs is pure 1970s camp, with hairstyles and jump-suits that evoke unpleasant memories of the horrible disco era."

The Valley of Gwangi


Long before Cowboys & Aliens blended Westerns & sci-fi, The Valley of Gwangi imagined what might happen if a traveling Wild West show had its tiny horse stolen by a pack of gypsies and, in the process of trying to get it back, unwittingly unleashed stop-motion dinosaur havoc. While perhaps not objectively a "good" movie, Gwangi is notable for employing special-effects titan Ray Harryhausen, who brought his singular animation style to bear on the movie's array of rampaging prehistoric creatures. "How can a dinosaur fan of any age not love Gwangi," queried Commercial Appeal's John Beifuss, "in which the title Allosaurus makes his public debut with the unscheduled addition of a screaming dwarf between his jaws?"

We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story


1993 turned out to be the year of the dinosaur for Steven Spielberg, who executive-produced this animated adventure through his Amblin imprint -- and sent it to theaters just a few months after unleashing Jurassic Park on throngs of suitably impressed filmgoers. The reaction to We're Back! A Dinosaur's Story turned out to be quite a bit less enthusiastic, in spite of a family-friendly story about dinosaurs popping up in modern-day New York City and a bizarrely eclectic voice cast that included everyone from John Goodman and Rhea Perlman to Walter Cronkite and Jay Leno. "We're Back is an exercise in endurance," groaned James Berardinelli of ReelViews. "Not only is it dull, but it has such an overwhelming sense of sweetness that it threatens to become nauseating."

Take a look through the rest of our Total Recall archives. And don't forget to check out the reviews for Jurassic Park: An IMAX 3D Experience.

Finally, here's one of the earliest depictions of dinosaurs on film -- Gertie the Dinosaur, from 1914: