King Dinosaur

Director: Bert I. Gordon

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl

King DinosaurTypically when a film has virtually nothing in it that would make an interesting visual ad, the poster & dvd box art is increasingly apt to be a painting. In the case of King Dinosaur (1855), nearly all ads, contemporary & modern, show a painting of Tyrannosaurus rex threatening some humans, though there is no Tyrannosaurus in the film.

But I happen to feel there are some good images in this film of petshop lizards posing as dinosaurs, & if I were advertising this product, I wouldn't attempt to hide what a silly film it is. I'd brag what a silly film it is.

The photogenic lizards, being real animals after all, do have very convincing physical movements, so some of the cinematography is fun despite its cheapness. Much the "best" of this footage is recycled from One Million Years B.C. (1940) & can also be seen re-used in Two Lost Worlds (1951) & Valley of the Dragons (1961).

Given the high percentage of recycled footage & stock footage, there's probably less than half an hour of new film shot. The film's not much longer than an hour total & the good stuff doesn't really start happening until forty-five minutes in. The slow build-up is occasionally imaginative if always unconvincing.

King DinosaurBy voice over narration to stock footage we learn the planet Nova has entered the Sol system & established itself in an orbit near earth. Indications are it is an earthlike planet despite that it would've been travelling through the cold of deep space for thousands or millions of years. We can write our own scenario for how this could be possible, like maybe when the quick-frozen planet thawed out around our own solar system's star, all its native beasts & forests were perfectly preserved & healthily alive. Sure, that's it.

There is an immediate space race to colonize the new planet. Indeed the colonization race is done in such haste that the first pioneers arrive before knowing for sure the air is even breathable. The advance colony consists of two men & two women, but giant spaceships are being manufactured by several countries, so if all works out for the initial four, colonists will soonafter be sent in larger numbers.

After landing on Nova in a cheezy space ship that makes Buck Rogers look like state of the art FX, one of the girl colonists is threatened by a baby python & starts screaming. Never fear, the two guys brought their hunting rifles & one of them blasts the harmless snake to kingdom come. Next there's a wrestling match with an alligator which appears to be borrowed from some jungle film. When everyone wakes up the next morning by the campfire, there is a slightly bigger python probably from the same petshop.

Cuts to stock footage inform us the place is populated with birds & mammals. There's an owl & young pair of vultures & a few other roadside attraction beasties, such as a glimpse of a half-grown sunbear (Earth's smallest bear) such as were sold as cubs in petshops in the 1930s through 1960s even though they grew up to be mean little bastards needing to be fobbed off on zoos or put down.

Most but not all these animals are revealed in the manner of "look over there!" & not well integrated with the story. But there is a kinkajou or "honeybear" that the colonists find pre-tamed & carry it around for much of the rest of the film, calling it Joe, willing to risk their own lives to keep Joe safe. He even gets his own byline in the credits.

King DinosaurIt's half an hour before we see anything giant, & that's a cricket big as a Mac truck but easily shot dead. Then two of the colonists go across a lake in a rubber raft to reach an island where they find themselves surrounding by big critters. Fifteen minutes after the appearance of the giant cricket we see our first "dinosaur," a dewlapped iguana so thin & malnourished it was obviously starving to death in the petshop.

Anyone who has had a dewlapped largish green iguana, rather than just a harmless baby one, knows how short tempered they can be; they've been known to bite off the noses of their foolish adoring owners. So the filmmakers had no trouble getting it to fight with a young caiman crocodile, caimans being even more short-tempered no matter how small. The iguana also fights with a South American tegu lizard & kills it. These animals are getting very injured; the SPCA would not have approved.

One of the colonists gets bit by a giant iguana while rushing out of a cave to save Joe the kinkajou, but it was only a flesh wound on the shoulder. This happens off-screen because we rarely get to see the giant lizards & the humans on screen at the same time.

Mainly the characters just stay hunkered down out of sight & look at the monsters. There's a cut to a Nile monitor lizard, but those must've cost twenty bucks at a time when the caiman & iguana cost as little as ninety-nine cents each, so no one risked the monitor lizard in a fight.

Besides petshop lizards posing as dinosaurs, they also encounter a gigantic Texas shell cat (armadillo). It's bothering nobody but is digging itself a hole, so our colonists scream, shoot it, & run away.

The coolest encounter lasts about four seconds when they encounter a zoo elephant all tricked out in carpets & semi-circular phony tusks to look like a wooly mammoth. That was far too cool for this film & if they had really gone to all the trouble & expense to dress up an elephant, they'd've kept it on screen more than four seconds. But when recycling footage from older films, sometimes only very short clips can be fudged to fit.

As the short feature is approaching its end, one of the guys mentions in an off-hand manner, "I brought the atom bomb," which is smaller than a breadbox, & concludes, "I think it's a good time to use it."

They set the A-bomb to go off in half an hour then get back in their rubber raft & paddle away very slowly through some muck. There was magically no longer any giant animals to force them to hunker down somewhere & get blown up with the whole island; they luckily encountered only one small matamata turtle before jumping into their lifeboat.

They nuke the lizards & the stock footage of mushroom clouds would indicate they couldn't possibly have paddled to safety in half an hour. "We've done it. We've brought civilization to planet Nova" says one of the guys with deep irony just so poignant doncha think.

So, they came, they saw, they killed everything. The hopeful closing line, "Let's go home," may mean let's all go back to the crappy shack they patched together near their rocketship, or may mean they decided not to be colonists after all so are going back to earth. But the filmmakers don't bother to run the rocketship footage backwards at the end, leaving me uncertain if they regarded Nova as their home or not. In either case I would presume radioactive fallout killed them.

Apart from the quaint amusement of seeing common lizards posed as dinosaurs, King Dinosaur is marvelously constructed with one thing in mind: Pad it out to an hour & three minutes striving to make it look like something actually happened despite a budget that wouldn't cover the cost of a box of Crackerjacks. It's fun to observe how they did manage to give this thing the general impression of almost being a movie.

For more dinosaurs, see:
Planeta Burg (1962)

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl

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