Dinosaurs at the Movies
Since motion pictures were invented, dinosaurs have been cinematic blockbusters. In 1925, audiences were so convinced by the stop-motion special effect sequences in The Lost Worldthat they thought the film was shot on location on a prehistoric plateau–with real dinosaurs. In 1933, during the worst of the Great Depression, lines to see King Kong stretched around city blocks. Jurassic Park became the highest grossing film of all time in 1993, and its sequels continue to top box office charts today.
So why are dinosaurs such a success at the movies? It’s obvious that dinosaurs make excellent monsters on the silver screen, and even moreso because they really existed unlike dragons and other cinematic beasts. And although dinosaurs are often cast in the role of monster, or as the perfect foil to humanity, I don’t think that’s the only reason generation after generation of moviegoers purchase tickets to see them.
Most of the dinosaurs we see on a daily basis are static–museum skeletons, plastic toys, roadside statues, and illustrations in books or online. Only the movies can make the dinosaurs really move–hunting, chasing, fighting, and courting. While many documentaries intend to bring dinosaurs to life, they do so with an educational touch. In the movies, unfettered by scientific accuracy (for good or ill), dinosaurs become living, breathing animals again.
Movies begin conversations and plant the seeds for an interest in dinosaurs and science at large, but they do more than that. They are a bridge for the imagination, informing our societal constructs of dinosaurs and their behavior. Through this experience–which is fundamentally different from learned knowledge–we understand these great animals in a more substantial and unique way.