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IN SHORT: Can we all say "ooo"?
It's kind of like watching the powers that be draw lines in the sand and egg each other on with one technical achievement after another. Steven Spielberg and George Lucas pushed ILM to the limits to create and integrate live action and CGI animation with both Jurassic Park films and Star Wars Episode One. Dreamworks SKG and its partners cracked the problem of CGI'ing realistic water in Antz. The Disney folk built a digital studio from scratch to deliver Dinosaur, the most perfect integration of animation and "live" film since the Georges Méliès came up with the idea about a hundred years ago [A Trip To The Moon, in 1902], or since Winsor McCay stepped from the vaudeville stage into his animation of Gertie the Dinosaur (1914), and rode off into the sunset on her back. I know it's the most perfect because I sat watched Dinosaur from a seat dead center of the theater thinking, "nice water" before I realized that I was watching "live" footage of water with animated splashes and dinosaur feet in the middle of it. When you totally lose the idea that you're looking at something created in thousands of mega-gigabytes of computer memory, that's kind of transcendent.
While I catch my breath, I'll point to the West Coast where our Paul Fischer sat down with directors Eric Leighton and Ralph Zondag, and the voice cast, to explain how they done it. Click here.
I admit to being swayed by the technology, whose soul is the work of hundreds of animators and technicians and the equivalent of 70,000 CD-ROM's worth of CGI power. At it's heart, Dinosaur is a simple "get from point A to point B" story, one with a couple of moments of where those of us of parental age shuddered to think that there were four year olds in the audience. The four year olds next to me had no such problem. More on that below. And while some of the classifications and names of dinos have changed over the years, I'm sticking to the old ones 'cuz I think most of y'all would have a better mental image of a Brontosaurus than a Bracchisaur, which looks pretty much the same to me. So . . .
With a camera point of view that moves around, below and above a herd of leaf-eating, egg-laying Iguanodon munching in a meadow. Other species of dino flitter and fly about until a meat chomping T-Rex comes crashing out of the bush, stomping on nests of eggs and making a quick breakfast of a not too fleet of foot beastie. Other scavengers sift through the wreckage, carting off an egg, which will be tough enough to withstand several new owners, a river dunking or two, a flight through the air in the jaws of a pterodactyl and a long plummet to earth. Discovered by a tribe of lemurs led by Yar (Ossie Davis), whose initial reaction is to order the death of the new hatchling, though the calmer view of his mate, Plio (Alfre Woodard) prevails. Raised to adulthood, Aladar (D.B. Sweeney) and his lemur pals frolic in the pre-historic forests and watch with wonder as meteors come plummeting through the atmosphere to wreak havoc on the Earth.
That's two sequences that'll have you going "oo" and we're only twenty or so minutes into the flick.
Barely surviving the nuclear level detonations nearby or the churning waters drowning most of his pals, Aladar and his "family" make it to the barren mainland, where a herd of a similar species plus remnants and stragglers of stegasorauses and brontos (and so on) is being led to their equivalent of a Promised Land, a verdant nesting ground whose image is lovingly maintained in their memories. At the head of the pack is Kron (Samuel E. Wright) a marine seargent of a dino who prefers to leave the stragglers behind so the trailing 'raptors can pick them off. Only the strong survive in Kron's world, and his second in command, Bruton (Owen Klatte), is quick to make the cut of the old and weak. Behind the 'raptors, though, is something much, much worse and much, much larger. They're called "carnotaurs" which, for purposes on old folk like me, means more pumped up than T-Rex, and a lot nastier. Rounding off the story is Aladar's love interest, Neera (Julianna Marguiles), sister of Kron. You know that's gonna mean trouble somewhere down the line.
Aladar, though, has been raised to be cooperative and kind. Cut from the herd 'cuz he's helping the strays, which include an elderly stegosaurus named Eema (Della Reese) and equally old brontosaurus called Baylene (Joan Plowright). Aladar, with best friend Zini (Max Casella) and the rest of his mini-herd learn the meaning of teamwork and find their own route to the promised land . . . and then head back to help the rest of the dinos and teach them to cooperate with each other to defeat the carnotaur. This is where the battle sequences made this old wimp a wee bit antsy. As for the two four year olds sitting in the adjacent seat, one turned to the other and said "This is the scarey part" and the other said "OK". So, parents note, if your kid made it through either of the Jurassic Park flicks, and to this day I still cannot watch the first one on my big screen TV, this Dinosaur story should pose no problem.
Were it not for the perfectly matched sound effects that accompanied the battles between the lead beasties of each group; the battle for control of the herd; the battle against nature just to stay alive, this simple story could have sunk for the reason that it is just too simple. I have no problem with teaching kidlets that cooperation is a good thing. The Dinosaur story felt like a back to school kind of experience for this man two score beyond first grade. No big deal. I could watch the CGI all day, even if the furry lemurs look more like Muppets than monkeys.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Dinosaur, he would have paid...
Dinosaur was a pretty satisfying sit. I didn't walk out feeling pumped but I sure did enjoy it.
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