Sunday, November 5, 2017

Species that don't get enough publicity #13: Bison

Today’s overlooked species is rather paradoxical; it’s not really overlooked as the genus has become a symbol of an entire continent. People of that continent can recognize one instantly. Empires have risen and fell because of them. Their meat is expensive but delicious. Their herds range over thousands of miles, and only centuries before covered the entire continent in a thick swath. They are the last American megafauna, and they escaped the fate of their neighbors by the skin of their teeth. That’s right, we’re talking about American bison. Yesterday was Bison Day, and I’m going to celebrate our last great mammal before it too is lost to human hunger and short-sightedness.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Prehistoric Warfare Episode 6: Carcharodontosaurus vs Spinosaurus

Now for something different. In 2004, Animal Planet showed as new series called Animal Face Off, a series reconstructing conflicts between coexisting animals. While the execution was clumsy and lacking, the concept is strong and I think easily applied to prehistoric fauna.  Ideally, there would be professionals discussing the situations, but unfortunately, you have only me. First I will compare the animals, and then depict their behavior, before concluding with the final battle.  The outcome will be my personal opinion; and there would be many times when the outcome would be decidedly different. This is not a scientific consensus, but one researcher’s opinion.

We all love dinosaur battles. They’re always a high point in a film. It’s childish, but it’s just plain fun. So, I’m hoping to use this opportunity to use this almost-universal appeal to get people thinking and talking about ecology, biomechanics, and behavior. Only one or two of these stories will be based on actual fossils-the rest are likely possibilities that must have happened sometime or another. In real life, animals usually don’t fight on even terms, but it does happen. Sometimes prey turn the tables, sometimes predators quarrel between themselves, but it can happen. I hope you enjoy this. Again, first I will have two scenes, one for each animal showing them in their habitat and showcasing their particular skills, then finally concluding with a battle between the two.


Monday, April 24, 2017

Paleofest Report 2017

It’s time for my annual report of Paleofest in the Burpee Museum in Rockford. Last year I skipped the report considering the high amount of unreleased data as part of it, which is a shame since it was quite good. This year there are fewer spoilers, but I did wait a month after the event. For more on Paleofest itself, please check out my first report here:

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Movie Review: Gorgo 1961

I’ve featured the first two of Eugène Lourié’s “Sea Monster” films, so it’s time to talk about the last and most spectacular of them. It’s the one with the biggest budget, but surprisingly the most kid-friendly of them. While not a stop motion film, it made up for it with one of the most elaborate suitimation monsters and sets. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you 1961’s British kaiju epic Gorgo.
Gorgo was not only third and last of Lourie’s directorial efforts, but also the last and third time a dinosaur wrecked London.  The transition from stop-motion to suitimation didn’t phase Lourie’s eye for art, but it was a sign of the times. While King Kong’s re-release and the Beast From 20,000 Fathoms ignited Ray Harryhausen’s career, their progeny Godzilla’s success showed that it could be done with a smaller budget with the right kind of effects team and director.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Paleoanthropology vs Sasquatch: the obligatory cryptozoology post

Two of my inspirations for this little blog are Dr. Darren Naish’s Tetrapod Zoology  and youtuber Treytheexplainer  If you follow them (and you really should), you’ll notice they’re interested in the quasiscience of cryptozoology. Cryptozoology is the analysis and speculation on evidence of previously unknown species of organisms. It can also apply to the study of out-of-context finds of known taxa in new times and places.  “Cryptids”, known from all forms of inconclusive evidence, include everything from mythical monsters to prehistoric survival speculation to simply animals of known clades that can’t be verified as a specific taxon.  Like the aforementioned personalities, I think cryptozoology does deserve attention, albeit critical. In college, I was trained in anthropology, and that combines with my knowledge of zoology and paleontology to provide a pretty unique perspective I would say. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Pictures At An Exhibition 3

Today I’m returning to my Pictures At An Exhibition. In case you haven’t read part 1, here’s the link

The mural discussed this time is off-exhibit, as the space in both the Paleozoic and Cenozoic sections of the Evolving Planet exhibits is limited. It’s not a very spectacular mural, but it’s a big one that requires a lot of space. The corresponding gallery is relatively small, forming up part of a larger room transitioning to another gallery. This is too bad-there’s not much in the mural itself, but it’s still a haunting piece by a master artist. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Movie Review: Behemoth the Sea Monster/The Giant Behemoth

One of the most interesting filmmakers when it comes to dinosaurs was Eugène Lourié. A Franco-Ukranian who fled the country after making the anti-Revolutionary film The Black Crows,  he revived his career in France as an artist for the film industry, acting as production designer for directors Jean Renoir and Rene Clair, and art designer for Rene Sti, Georges Marret, Jean de Limur, Marcel L’Herbier, Georges Lacombe, and fellow exile Viktor Tourjansky. As a director from 1953-61, he dabbled in American television, the high concept sci-fi film Colossus of New York, and three films about prehistoric sea monsters.  After his brief directorial stint, he returned to art direction, this time in Hollywood, doing such films as The Battle of the Bulge, Crack of the World, Confessions of an Opium Eater, and more TV work. His interest in special effects led him to work in the spectacular Krakatoa, East of Java. He retired after 1980’s Bronco Billy, and his only speaking role was as a doctor in the 1983 erotic thriller Breathless. He died in LA in 1991. 

His first, best, and most successful of the three Sea Monster films was The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. I’ve already discussed it but needless to say, his excellent eye combined with amazing effects by the master Ray Harryhausen to make a blockbuster. Godzilla was born of both the Beast and King Kong (the favorite film of both Harryhausen and his Toho counterpart Eiji Tsuburaya), proving to be just as successful as his parents. Both Godzilla and his Beastly progenitor proved to be decisive for Lourie’s next films.

The epic producer Ted Lloyd partnered up with thriller-focused David Diamond with Lourie to make a new science fiction epic. The rising interest in science fiction about atomic radiation prompted writers Allen Adler (who also wrote Forbidden Planet) and the obscure playright Robert Abel  to consider making a film about an amorphous bloblike being resembling a flying, glowing ball of light, that ravaged London with horrifying radiation. However, the distributors Eros Films and Allied Artists knew of Lourie’s dinosaur blockbuster, of course, and the 1956 Godzilla was an international smash as well. So, they insisted to change it to the more visually interesting, kid-friendly, ever popular dinosaur.