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).