Note: This essay was written in early 2016, before the release of Jurassic World.
It may come as a surprise to learn I have mixed feelings about news that another Jurassic Park film is in the works. How can a guy who writes about prehistoric fiction not be excited about a big-budget dinosaur film? That’s because I’ve never really cared for any of the Jurassic Park movies, seeing them as pale imitations of the original novel. Add the fact that the film’s director has dismissed pleas to update his dinosaurs to reflect current scientific thinking, and I can’t see myself in line on opening day.
Another reason for my lack of enthusiasm is that as a reader of paleofiction, I know there are many other works of literature that would make excellent dinosaur films. Jurassic Park has had its run, and most people would say it has been a good one. It’s time for Hollywood to look for the next dinosaur movie franchise.
Of course, I have some suggestions. Six of them in fact. If there are any movie producers reading this, take notes.
Xenozoic Tales, aka Cadillacs & Dinosaurs
The pitch: Indiana Jones meets Jurassic Park in the jungle-shrouded ruins of the 26th century.
Summary: Cadillacs & Dinosaurs is a comic book series set in a future where every species that has ever lived has been mysteriously resurrected, and mankind shelters in the ruins of the modern-day world. Jack “Cadillac” Tenric cruises the countryside in retrofitted 1950s Cadillacs, defending wildlife from poachers and keeping an eye on ancient technology dredged from the ruins. His love interest is the beautiful Hannah Dundee, an ambassador from a neighboring tribe of humans. Despite the post-apocalyptic setting, the tone of the comic is more Indiana Jones than Mad Max, drawing inspiration from the adventure comics of yesteryear, such as Tarzan. The comic’s creator, Mark Schultz, has penned multiple stories set in the world of Cadillacs & Dinosaurs, so it could easily sustain a movie franchise.
Would work best as: A PG-13 live-action adventure flick with plenty of opportunities for spectacular CGI: Besides the dinosaurs, much of the comic is set in a city half-submerged in the ocean.
I would settle for: A direct-to-video cartoon that doesn’t tone down the violence of the comic. The 2006 film Turok: Son of Stone is an example of how it could be done.
The pitch: A young boy lives the adventure of a lifetime when he and his father are stranded in a lost world of dinosaurs.
Summary: Dinosaur Summer is a young adult novel by Greg Bear about a boy who accompanies his father on an expedition to return dinosaurs from a circus back to the wild. The two end up stranded on a plateau in Venezuela where prehistoric beasts still roam. Film buffs will appreciate the story, as it features the legendary creators of King Kong and special effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen as characters. There also is plenty of dinosaur action, particularly in the second half of the book. Given the central character is a child, this story will appeal to many younger audience members.
Would work best as: A PG movie in the spirit of the type of family adventure films Disney used to make.
I would settle for: A two-part TV miniseries, with the first half focused on returning the dinosaurs and the second half about escaping the lost world.
The pitch: A horror-comedy about a menagerie of genetically engineered dinosaurs that go on a bloody rampage across the English countryside.
Summary: Carnosaur was made into a movie by Roger Corman back in 1993, but the entire plot was thrown out. Also thrown out was much of the dark humor of the original novel. While not a comedy per se, the comedic elements could be played up in the novel’s next translation to the big screen while still retaining plenty of scares. Think Shaun of the Dead or The Cabin in the Woods. The story concerns a British journalist who investigates the mysterious – and very gory – deaths of several of his neighbors. He soon learns that a madman is breeding dinosaurs. When the creatures escape, all hell breaks loose.
Would work best as: An R-rated gore fest that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
I would settle for: This one would pretty much need to be a big-screen adaption to do the book any justice.
The pitch: Five teens must protect a gateway to a wild, untamed world from greedy government villains.
Summary: After the above titles, it is nice to throw in novel that doesn’t involve dinosaurs, but Ice Age mammals. Five teens find a tunnel leading to a parallel Earth where humans never evolved, meaning that extinct animals like mammoths and sabertooth cats still roam. Unscrupulous government officials soon learn of their discovery, and it is up to the teens to keep the Wildside from being exploited for its natural resources.
Would work best as: A PG-13 teen flick mixing adolescent melodrama with prehistoric thrills.
I would settle for: A TV series about the teens exploring the Wildside while working to keep it secret from the outside world.
The pitch: Walking with Dinosaurs the TV show, but with a Utahraptor as the protagonist.
Summary: Raptor Red is a slim novel by paleontologist Robert T. Bakker concerning the adventures of a Utahraptor in Mesozoic North America. The animals don’t talk, but there is plenty of anthropomorphizing through their behavior. Raptor Red must find love (yes, really) while surviving in the prehistoric wilderness and protecting her sister’s hatchling.
Would work best as: A PG-rated faux nature documentary, but with no human voiceovers. The recent Walking with Dinosaurs movie is an example of how NOT to adapt the book.
I would settle for: A made-for-TV special, like the original Walking for Dinosaurs series.
The pitch: A movie about a boy and his dog, except the dog happens to be a 40-foot-long Tyrannosaurus rex.
Summary: Tommysaurus Rex is a children’s graphic novel with a lot of heart. After Tommy loses his dog, he finds a T. rex that behaves just like his deceased mutt. There is no keeping the dinosaur a secret, and soon Tommy and his T. rex become celebrities. However, good times rarely last forever…
Would work best as: A G-rated animated movie for the younger crowd.
I would settle for: An animated made-for-TV special.