Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What about Dinosaurs?

If you were to make a list of giant monster movies, would you also include films which feature dinosaurs? One could argue that a dinosaur put into a modern setting could be considered a “monstrous” creature. Many consider the original Lost World film from 1925 to be a pre-cursor of the giant monster genre as it was the first to feature an enormous beast (in this case, a brontosaurus) wreaking havoc in an urbanized environment. Even Godzilla in his first movie appearance was treated more as an ancient dinosaur of a previously unknown species verses a wild mutation.

Personally speaking, I am hesitant to categorize dinosaurs- even within the framework of causing mayhem in current day- as giant monsters. The very definition of the word ‘monster’ refers to something that is unnatural or abhorrent; dinosaurs, while definitely strange in appearance, are still members of a once naturally-occurring animal species. An elephant is a large and odd-looking creature too, but I would similarly never classify a movie about a rampaging elephant as a giant monster film (that is, unless it was an undead, alien-possessed elephant).

This seems like an odd position for me to take considering that a little while back I committed a post to the Dinosaurs Attack! Trading cards; but as said dinosaurs were mostly portrayed with zero scientific correctness and fantastical exaggeration, it gets around my “animals verses monsters” stipulation. Understandably, most portrayals of dinosaurs in film outside of documentaries are often inaccurate to some minor degree, but I’m referring here to wild, science-defying embellishment that treads into the realm of the fantastic.

This also extends to fabricated dinosaurs like the Rhedosaurus from The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Even though the creature is supposed to be a member of a “real” species in the film’s story, the Rhedosaurus is clearly an imaginative creation despite its context.

I suppose that the bottom line here is that (for me, anyway) giant monster concepts need some sort of fantasy/sci-fi component in order to properly qualify as such. Dinosaurs are ultimately too grounded in reality to count, but that’s just my own little opinion.


Chris Well said...

You are absolutely right that a "dinosaur," in its pure context, is simply another animal -- but most "dinosaurs attack" movies are driven by the same visceral thrill as giant monster movies. When we see them in a modern context, they feel as out of place as any sci-fi creature. Whether or not JURASSIC PARK is a monster movie, audiences tend to watch it *as* a monster movie. (If that film had been about a regular zoo, I cannot imagine it doing the same at the box office.)

Of course, my answer may be colored by the fact that as a small child I called dinosaurs "monsters" -- no matter how many times my mother corrected me.

Mysterious Pants said...

Yeah, I suppose that Jurassic Park wouldn't have made near the amount of money it did if it had been Giraffic Park instead. ^_^

Part of my reasoning is due to my hyper-obsession with categorizing stuff, and got to thinking that if dinosaurs counted as "giant monsters", then technically ALL movies with dinosaurs should qualify to some degree... which really shouldn't be the case.

Conversely, can movies like Rodan or Beast From 20,000 Fathoms be included on a list of dinosaur movies? Probably not- even though that, contextually speaking, the creatures in said films are supposed to be dinosaurs reawakened into modern day.

I'm probably over-thinking this...

David Lee said...

I figure if the dinosaur is interacting with "modern" humans I'm watching a giant monster movie. If it's interacting with cavemen then I'm watching a prehistoric fantasy.

Categorizing is fun.

Mr. Saflo said...

I don't think they're in the same "giant monster" category as Godzilla and its ilk, but I definitely consider Jurassic Park, The Lost World (both), etc to be monster movies, and indeed horror movies in a manner of speaking. Chris Well had it right - something like Carnosaur, about "real" dinosaurs of realistic size, is also something of an atomic-age style monster movie. Am I blowing your mind?

cultistofvertigo said...

Good point, but I really need to clear something up here, so bad that I'm posting this on a... two year old thing? whatever.

First off, a monster is a fictional lifeform, meaning as long as it is fictional by at least more than it being an unreal individual makes it a monster. A two headed snake isn't a monster, but a GIANT two-headed snake is.

Which means JP is clearly a movie. Almost every dinosaur and pterosaur (wait, all pterosaurs) in those movies have a severe case of mange as well as a host of other unatural mutations, such as the frilled-poison spitting "Dilophosaurus" and the giant, featherless "Velociraptor."

Normally, one would consider that if a dinosaur was "at the time" portrayed in a realistic manner, then it technically isn't a monster. JP ignores this too, as the first one came out in 1993, and we were not stupid enough to do that on purpose back then.

Also, Brontosaurus is not a real animal, and therefore a monster. Moreover, it is both the monster in the King Kong series and the Lost World. So while the depictions of Allosaurus et co. may have been considered accurate for the time, the Brontosaurus is still a monster.

And really, the Allosaurus was dragging it's tail... I can't even come up with a way to justify that.

P.S. Rodan is a pterosaur, not a dinosaur. The Giant Claw, however, is a dinosaur. So there's that.