March 2nd

On this day in dinosaurs, we’re taking a trip to the movies!

1933 – King Kong Premieres on Willis O’Brien’s Birthday

One of the greatest motion pictures of all time roared onto screens in New York City on this day in 1933. During the worst days of the Great Depression, King Kong became one of the great blockbusters of all time, with movie houses showing the film around the clock. The movie revolutionized sound design and introduced a new way of scoring films musically. But the movie’s special effects are its most astounding achievement–not only for making the audience frightened and later, sympathetic toward a gorilla puppet made with rabbit fur, but for the film’s depiction of enormous prehistoric creatures.

Wikimedia Commons

Willis O’Brien took his stop motion animation to the next level in King Kong. Producers Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack saw test footage for O’Brien’s film, Creation. The budget for Creation (a Edgar Rice Burroughs-esque story of people being marooned on a dinosaur-laden island) was spiraling out of control and RKO Pictures was forced to pull the plug. But Cooper realized that his story about a giant ape, which he was calling The Eighth Wonder, could be brought to life by O’Brien’s special effects techniques. Out of this perfect marriage of concept and artistic achievement, King Kong was born.

Willis O'Brien animating / Monster Minions
Willis O’Brien animating / Monster Minions

While The Lost World in 1925 was the first big break for dinosaurs (and O’Brien) at the box office, their silent film debut was nothing compared to the deafening screams they would induce from Fay Wray several years later. The public was fascinated by these gigantic creatures that stampeded through what I consider to be the best movie jungles of all time. To analyze every wonderful scene of dinosaurian bliss in the movie would require the space only a book or a blog solely devoted to the topic could provide. But the iconic dinosaurs in the film and their breathtaking interactions with the stars of the film (gas bombs being thrown at a Stegosaurus, a scientifically inaccurate Brontosaurus snorkeling beneath a raft of sailors and then eating them, and the famous Tyrannosaurus/Kong fight sequence are still exciting today.

That the film premiered in New York (where many of its most memorable scenes occur) on Willis O’Brien’s 47th birthday is a happy coincidence that makes this day in dinosaurs even more interesting. King Kong, in all its cinematic glory, must have been one of the most extraordinary birthday gifts ever.


1981 – Happy Birthday Bryce Dallas Howard

The most recent dinosaur blockbuster, Jurassic World, featured Bryce Dallas Howard as Claire Dearing–a character who begins the story devoted to work (infamously sporting high heels in any situation) and transforms into a character willing to face any of the wild creatures she once referred to as “assets.”


Here’s to a T. rex–free celebration, Bryce!

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