Sunday, December 29, 2013

Paleontology Wish List for 2014

Everyone has a wish list for their friends or their family to give them.  Some people have political wish lists, or try to get in touch with their spirituality through goals. I myself have wish lists for Christmas and my birthday. However, this is a paleontology wishlist, a list of all the discoveries and insights I hope will happen in 2014.   I know most paleontology is based on the combination of persistence and luck, but here’s hoping at least one of these will happen in the next year

Monday, December 23, 2013

Documentary Review: Walking With Beasts 2001

You know, I reviewed Walking With Dinosaurs for two reasons. One was to prepare for the upcoming movie. The other, however, was because of a very happy holiday. I believe it was 2001 that it happened. Every year, usually two weeks before Christmas, I visit my grandfather so we can put up his Christmas tree and celebrate my father’s birthday with a pizza. That year we went out, and enjoyed a pizza together at a nearby restaurant. There were televisions nearby, and they always take up some attention. I had watched Walking With Dinosaurs in the past year thanks to an uncle with cable. Suddenly, when I looked up, I saw a Basilosaurus. Then brontotheres. A giant predatory mammal ate a turtle. Ancestors of elephants swam by. I was transfixed. Throughout the evening I watched the rest of the episode, and then the next happened. A giant piglike animal snarled. A Baluchitherium marched across a dry plain. A Hyenodon savagely killed another strange-looking mammal.  I stopped paying attention to the pizza or my family. It was just me and the fantastic mammals. I had to be dragged off just as a preview was shown featuring a giant prehistoric relative of the elephant chasing human ancestors.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

An overview of dinosaur exhibits, part 2: American Museum of Natural History, New York

I haven’t seen every dinosaur museum in the country. I haven’t seen every dinosaur museum in the world. I’ve only seen a dozen or so. Still, I would still argue that the American Museum of Natural History in New York City sets the standard. New York has always been about bigger, better, shinier and more expensive in everything, and the museum is no exception.  New York is full of beautiful attractions: Central Park, the Met, the Statue of Liberty, Times Square, the Bronx zoo, and so on, but the one I insisted on seeing when I was in the area was the American Museum.

The museum is fairly distinctive-part brick, part glass, part neoclassical, with a statue of Theodore Roosevelt adorning one entrance. The interior is well lit and absolutely huge. There are 4 levels, not counting the basement with a parking lot and food court. The top floor is the one we’re looking at today-yes, the entire floor is dedicated to over a century of fossil finding. Since New York has always been a playground for the rich, the museum has been able to afford many an expedition, and many of the world’s top paleontologists. 

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Movie Review: Dinosaur 2000

Time for another review, and like last week’s, it’s connected to the upcoming dinosaur movie next week. This one played a big role in my youth. I remember being a 10 year old and finding out that Disney, my favorite studio, was making a movie about dinosaurs. I remember checking the website daily. I saw the trailer before Toy Story that was basically the opening 3 minutes of the film, and I was in love. The breathtaking visuals, the lush epic score-how could this go wrong? After all, I was about to see a great Disney movie after the trailer, and I remembered how much I loved the Star Wars trailer. I fully expected the best. Sure enough, I loved both Toy Story 2 and the first Star Wars prequel. Things were looking up

After I finally saw it in theaters the next summer, I left the theater feeling pretty hollow. I didn’t hate the film, but felt truly disappointed. I learned not to trust a trailer. I learned that you could take a great premise for a film and ruin it. I learned that the movies in my mind were far better than those on screen. That’s why this one is personal. This review is going to add criticism even as I go. Each reviewer has a movie they single out for betrayal. Indeed, the Phantom Menace is one for many of them. I could easily bring up Hunchback of Notre Dame, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, or the Jurassic Park sequels are examples of ultimate betrayal of potential and missed opportunity. This one was my first real nemesis. I won’t say it’s a terrible movie (although here’s a great review on why it is:

Monday, December 9, 2013

Documentary Review: Walking With Dinosaurs 1999

Today’s review should be compared with the previous documentary review. Of course, this television program was made 10 years later. In the late 90s, with the dinosaur enthusiasm produced by Jurassic Park still strong, documentary producer Tim Haines wanted to make a cinematic style documentary about prehistoric mammals. Dinosaurs proved to be more popular, however, and Haines was told he could make a mammal program if and only if he could make a dinosaur program first. In 1999, the BBC produced a high concept, highly expensive, ambitious 6-part miniseries: Walking With Dinosaurs. Suffice to say, it was a hit. Its imaginative style of prehistoric drama with overlaying narration, based on nature documentaries, set the paradigm for all paleontology documentaries since.  So today, I’m going to cover all 6 episodes, and see how they compare today. Why? Well,  this winter the BBC’s nature film company will release a dinosaur epic under the same title, continuing the legacy of their megahit 14 years before.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Movie review: Lost Continent 1951

Well, it’s time for another movie review, and time for one of the bad movies. This week is a pretty obscure one, known mostly to only Mystery Science Theater fans.  Just say the phrase “Rock Climbing” to a MSTie and they’ll know what that means.  The film is the 1951 film Lost Continent.  It is one of the many 1950s science fiction films, but with strong influence from the Lost World genre of fiction.  It was one of the many collaborations between brothers Sam and Sigmund Newfeld and executive producer Robert Lippert (who also produced King Dinosaur).  Cesar Romero, already a star and only a few years after his service in the US Coast Guard, was chosen for the lead, with Hugh Beaumont (several years before Leave It To Beaver), John Hoyt  (before most of his film work), Sid Melton (part of a long series of minor comedy parts in Lippert films), and Whit Bissel (in his most prolific period of movie and TV work).  This was an ambitious film, not only with a large colorful cast, but also with expensive stop motion animation effects by Augie Lohman (who would later create Moby Dick for the John Huston-Gregory Peck adaptation and the effects for Soylent Green).

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Species that don't get publicity #4: Pristichampsus sp.

This featured genus is not a dinosaur. It’s been mistaken for one in terms of teeth, but it is not a dinosaur.  It did live in the same ecosystems as a big terrifying theropod, but not a dinosaur. I wouldn’t call it entirely obscure as it has appeared in some reference works and even a TV show, but no documentaries yet, let alone films. This is really too bad, as it’s a pretty terrifying concept: a crocodile with long legs and curved, serrated teeth.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Documentary Review: T. rex Exposed 1991

Today is usually a movie day, but I do like to change things up. That’s right, this week I’m doing a documentary. This one I remember a long time ago, catching it as a re-run when I was six years old. I watched it on VHS over and over, and it can only be found today in VHS form or on Youtube from a grainy transfer. This is a Nova Episode called T.rex Exposed. Nova continues to be one of my favorite shows, exploring scientific concerns while most other shows prefer sensationalism or are replaced by reality TV. In the 90s, even before Jurassic Park, dinosaurs were popular enough for their own episodes.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Species that don't get publicity #3: Barosaurus lentus

Some dinosaurs are just unlucky. Take this week’s species;  while it’s part of the richest fauna of its age and continent, it’s overshadowed by the other members of its family. It’s huge, but smaller than the others. It’s featured at the American Museum of Natural History, but plays second banana to the older mounts. It was once famous for being intercontinental, but turns out the African species has its own genus.  It’s headless and footless so far.  What does it have in terms of unique features, however, is a giant neck and an example of sauropod diversity at their height.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Movie Review: The Lost World 1960

Friday again, and again it’s a terrible movie we’re talking about. In 1960, producer-director Irwin Allen, having made very successful, spectacular documentaries, decided to cross over into thrillers, science fiction, and fantasy with two star-studded films. One was the circus thriller The Big Circus, and the other was a very loose adaptation of the Lost World. I would have skipped a lengthy plot recap if the film even remotely resembled the novelization, but this was not the case. After the recap I’ll go more into the devastating changes in the plot. Suffice to say, I can sum up what went wrong here pretty easily-

Monday, November 11, 2013

Musing on Jurassic Park

You may have noticed that I was supposed to put up a movie review on Friday, but the good movie I considered reviewing, Jurassic Park, has been reviewed to death. It’s a fun movie. Spielberg did an excellent job translating Michael Crichton’s trudge of a novel into an endlessly rewatchable movie that brought dinosaurs back into the public eye. The flaws have all been talked about-dated science, poor logic, underdeveloped characters, etc. The strengths have also all been talked about-the likable performances, the masterful editing and directing, the beautiful music, and fantastic special effects.  The sequels are horrible, but I will deal with them eventually. 

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Belated Halloween post: Top Ten Scariest Prehistoric Environments

Sorry this took so long!  I was hoping to get this done by Halloween, but it took a week to get this one out. Next time I’ll do monster posts like this one in installments. Today we’re going for another lighthearted one-yes, we’re going to do a top ten list today. This one’s been inspired by the documentary series Sea Monsters, where host Nigel Martin took the audience through the “top 7 deadliest seas”. In the same spirit, I’ve chosen the top 10 Deadliest Terrestrial faunas, based on the number of large predators. If I missed any that deserved to be on this list, please let me know. This isn’t based on any particular grade, but based on the number of large predators present in the fauna.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Movie Review: Monster On the Campus (1958)

Well, it’s another Friday, and thanks to problems in my personal life, I haven’t had a chance to do any blogs this week. However, I’m working on that, and I’m breaking my week-long hiatus.  The good news is that Fridays are movie days. The bad news is that every other one is going to be a bad movie. This week’s bad movie has no dinosaurs per se, but some prehistoric “monsters” and some typically terrible science. Today, we’re looking at 1958’s Monster on the Campus, directed by Jack Arnold and starring Arthur Franz in his last major film role.  It’s a fairly obscure film, neither revered classic like Arnold’s It Came from Outer Space or Creature from the Black Lagoon, nor a cheesy disaster like King Dinosaur or The Beginning of the End.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Movie Review: Fantasia (1940)

It’s Friday, and time for another film review! This week is a return to good movies, and this one is one of my first, and one of my favorites. My dad introduced me to Classical Music at a young age, and decided to nourish it with the 1940 Walt Disney animated classic Fantasia. The dazzling colors and shapes set to Bach’s toccata and fugue in D minor, the antics of Mickey Mouse set to Paul Dukas’ The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, the classical majesty combined with colorful creatures of classical myth set to Beethoven’s 6th symphony, satirical slapstick animal ballet of Ponchielli’s Dance of the hours and the nightmarish demonic revelry in Modest Mussorgsky’s Night on Bald Mountain all made impacts on me, but it was the prehistoric epic of the Rite of Spring that impressed me the most. It was at the time I loved dinosaurs thanks to this film, The Land Before Time, and trips to the Field Museum’s dinosaur hall. Thanks to Fantasia, my love of dinosaurs increased and my love of classical musical blossomed. It’s still one of my favorite movies and Stravinsky is one of my favorite composers.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Species that don't get publicity #2: Teratosaurus suevicus

The species for this week is one that seemed to be popular for a brief time only, and was misunderstood even then.  From around 1950 to 1990, dinosaur books featured this species; Never before, and never again. It has never appeared in a book in its real form. It has never been featured in films or documentaries.  Only one, cheap toy from the series Monsters In My Pocket has been made of it-nothing from Safari or Bullyland or Papo or even any model kits.  This is all too bad-this animal was the Tyrannosaurus of its time, and one of the three genera of giant predator that ruled central Europe in the late Triassic. The first large dinosaurs were its prey.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Blogs you should check out!

Hi! Today I've got nothing big planned, but I do want to share with you my inspirations and favorite blogs (that are still extant). If you like my blog, you'll love these far superior natural history blogs!

Science Writer Brian Switek's Laelaps:

Palaeontologist Darren Naish's Tetrapod Zoology:

Palaeontologist Dave Hone's Archosaur Musings:

Artist James Gurney:

Artist Luis Rey:

Artist Tricia Arnold:

Cameron McCormick's Lord Geekington:

Love In the Time of the Chasmosaurs by David Orr, Marc Vincent, and Asher Elbien

The Dinosaur Toy Blog

Friday, October 18, 2013

Movie Review: King Dinosaur (1955)

It’s Friday! Movie night! I’ve decided to alternate a good movie with a bad movie in terms of reviews, and this one might be familiar to the viewers of a certain television show. You see, my favorite program is Mystery Science Theater 3000, a well-written comedy series dedicated to making humor with terrible movies. A memorable episode in Season 2 was based around this week’s film: Robert L Lippert’s first science fiction disaster, King Dinosaur. Joel and his robot friends had a great deal of difficulty with this one, and it’s easy to see why.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Here's something I made before I started blogging: Top Ten Megafauna That Made Prehistoric Australia Even Scarier

Ah, Australia. It's a running gag for biologists that it's one of the scariest countries. Sure, the climate doesn't sound that bad, the native peoples didn't have the complex military societies that us Yanks had to deal with during our own hostile takeover, there's never been a civil war, and while there's a lot of ethnic groups (and accompanying oppression), there's not enough guns to make it as dangerous as the average US city. I do plan on going there, and it looks a lot nicer than, say, Israel or India (other places on my list, but I'll get to them later)

Friday, October 11, 2013

Movie Review: The Lost World (1925)

It’s Friday and that means it’s movie night! Yes, today we’re going to look at a dinosaur movie, and this time we’re looking at one of the first. Today’s film is from 1925-yes, dinosaurs not only were before people, but before talkies. This is Harry Hoyt’s adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s the Lost World. Before Harry Potter and its trend of having films made of recent popular books, this film was made only 13 years after the original book was published, and proved more popular.  Every dinosaur fan has  seen this, every fan of special effects owes it to themselves to see it,  and the bizarre history of this film makes it special among even silent films.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Book Review: In the Presence of Dinosaurs

The book this week is In the Presence of Dinosaurs, written by John Colagrande and Larry Felder and also illustrated by Larry Felder.  This large hardcover book was published by Time Life books in 2000, and should be available if you look hard enough. It should be found in the section on dinosaurs in a bookstore or library, and although there are narratives and not talk of actual fossils or palaeontologists, it is firmly a nonfiction book.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Species that don’t get enough publicity #1- Diadectes sideropelicus

Ah, Dimetrodon. The only nonmammalian synapsid  (basically the ancestors of modern mammals) ever to become an honorary dinosaur.  It’s ubiquitous in art, toys, and museums. It’s better known than hundreds of dinosaurs, let alone members of its own group. Sometimes Dimetrodon lies right between lobe-finned fish and Stegosaurus in a march of history. That sail overshadows the Triassic, Permian, and Carboniferous periods. Sometimes other Permian animals show up in popular culture-Eryops, looking like nothing else but a crocodile frog, or Edaphosaurus, which is just the plant eating version of Dimetrodon (And so, not as popular), but it’s all Dimetrodon.
That’s why I’m not going to talk about Dimetrodon anymore.  Instead, I’m going to talk about an animal I find actually more interesting.  It was probably harmless (on the other hand, even Dimetrodon probably wouldn’t be any more dangerous than an alligator, Nile Monitor or Tasmanian devil), about the size of a large dog, and people have struggled for years whether it’s a reptile of an amphibian. The American, Field, and Harvard museums all have one right next to their Eryops, Dimetrodon, etc, but it’s probably overlooked by most visitors.

Monday, September 30, 2013

An overview of dinosaur exhibits, part 1: The 19th century universities

Since age 4, I’ve been a museum fanatic. I still have dreams about museums that exist only in my mind. Of course, the best museums are the natural history museums and their highlights are always the dinosaur exhibits. Dinosaurs are big business for these museums, so every natural history museum has a fossil exhibit of some sort. However, there’s more than one way to make a fossil exhibit, and not only does the format depend on the fossils involved,  but the artistic style, the fashion of the period, and the overall scheme of the curators.

I never go on vacation without seeing a dinosaur-if there is a museum, I will visit it. Some vacations I’ve based solely on museums. Still, I haven’t seen some in years, such as the Los Angeles Museum or Royal Ontario Museum, and since they have since been renovated I will omit them from the list. The following are a list of museums I’ve visited and the structure of their dinosaur exhibits, in the order of the age of the institution.

Friday, September 20, 2013

I'm on the air!

Hi everyone! My name's David Prus. You may know me already, but 99.99999% of you won't. I've decided to make a blog for myself. I'm a anthropology student who has returned to his original passion for palaeontology. Ever since I was little, I've been fascinated with the weird and wonderful animals that have inhabited our planet and I've made this blog to keep this in my mind and hopefully in yours. Most people blog about their interests, and while I've got a range of interests-see history and anthropology above, not to mention zoology, astronomy, art, cooking, science fiction and fantasy films and literature, and a myriad of others, the one I want to do for a living is the study of Earth's ancient past.

On this blog I'll review papers, talk about fossils, museums, and taxa, review art, film, literature, and our culture's view of paleontology, and share memories and insights. I've been inspired by the far better blogs of professional palaeontologists, and I'll share them as time goes on. I'm also open to requests and questions of opinions, the latest palaeo news, and discussions with other fans informal and professional.

I think this is going to have fun, and I'm hoping my readers will have just as much fun.