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Film / Dinosaur! (1985)

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Dinosaur! is a 48-minute long (plus commercials) television documentary hosted by the late Christopher Reeve and featuring visual effects sequences courtesy of the then newly-formed Tippett Studio. Spun off from the studio's earlier animated short Prehistoric Beast, it features interviews with such eminent paleontologists as Jack Horner, Robert "Bob" Bakker, and Dale Russell alongside go-motion animated sequences reconstructing life in the Mesozoic era.


Includes examples of the following tropes:

  • After the End: The final scenes with dinosaurs are set in a heartbreaking view of the wasteland the Earth became after the asteroid impact. The sun is blotted out, decreasing temperatures and killing plant life, and even the last few dinosaurs left alive are slowly starving to death.
  • Anachronism Stew:
    • Some of the animated sequences show species from different parts of the Mesozoic era appearing together within the same scenes. Most notably, a Struthiomimus is attacked and devoured by a pair of Deinonychus despite the two species existing more than 40 million years apart. Possibly justified in that these scenes were meant to elaborate on points made in the documentary and thus may not have been intended to be taking place during the same time frame.
    • Discussed on several occasions where Reeve points out that, contrary to popular depictions, dinosaurs and cavemen did not co-exist, as the former died out over sixty million years before the earliest direct ancestors of humanity evolved.
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  • Aquatic Sauropods: It's brought up that Brontosaurus was once thought to be a swamp-dwelling animal that ate watercress, but it was later discovered to actually have lived on land and mainly eaten conifer needles.
  • Artistic License – Geography: Due to the use of stock footage from Meteor, the continents appear in their present-day configuration rather than appearing as they would 65 million years ago when Earth is seen in full.
  • Author Appeal: Reeve was an avid dinosaur enthusiast, and at one point remarks about having been fascinated with the creatures since childhood.
  • Colony Drop: One of the first forms of media to show the now-famous asteroid being the cause of the end-Cretaceous mass extinction.
  • Crippling Overspecialization: Struthiomimus was a fast runner but had very little in the way of defense, making it easy prey for other, more aggressive dinosaurs.
  • Dumb Dinos: Reeve discusses this trope when talking about popular perceptions of dinosaurs before it is thoroughly debunked by the paleontological experts.
  • End of an Era: The K-T extinction event brings about an end to the dinosaurs' 160 million year reign as the dominant life-forms on Earth, and signals the beginning of the age of mammals.
  • Everything's Better with Dinosaurs
  • Evil Egg Eater: A Struthiomimus stealing Hadrosaurus eggs from a nest while the mother isn't present. Its helped by having a snake-like appearance and movements, especially in its slit eyes. It does get its comeuppance, in a fashion, when two Deinonychus pursue it and bring it down.
  • Excited Show Title!: Dinosaur!
  • Family-Unfriendly Death: See Family-Unfriendly Violence below for what happens to the Struthiomimus.
  • Family-Unfriendly Violence: The scene where the Struthiomimus is cornered and killed by the Deinonychus is surprisingly gruesome for what was intended as a family-friendly primetime special.
  • Gaia's Lament: The K-T extinction event causes a catastrophic climate change that completely topples the dinosaurs' food chain in only a matter of months, leading to the destruction of 75 percent of all animal and plant life on Earth.
  • Living Dinosaurs: The possibility of such is mentioned at one point, citing such alleged examples as the Loch Ness Monster and the Mokele-Mbembe, although Reeve concedes that it would take something of a miracle for this to be the case. Later, he mentions that modern-day birds are the closest thing to a definitive example of the trope, having evolved from dinosaurs.
  • Meaningful Name: The word Deinonychus means "terrible claw", and it's not called that for nothing.
  • Misplaced Wildlife: Hadrosaurus is shown living alongside Struthiomimus and T. rex, and by extension Deinonychus. It actually lived on a seperate landmass entirely, specifically eastern North America, then a large island called Appalachia bordered by a large sea that divided cretaceous North America at the time, and the latter three lived on the other side in what's called Laramidia. Though as stated under Anachronism Stew, the animated sequences were meant to elaborate on points made in the documentary, so it's possible these scenes were not meant to be taking place within the same geographical location.
  • Papa Wolf: While a juvenile Hadrosaurus is out searching for food with its parents, it is sighted and nearly attacked by a Tyrannosaurus rex. Luckily, the parents hear its cries and come to its defense, with the father facing the theropod and knocking it over with its powerful tail.
  • Raptor Attack: Two Deinonychus show up and kill the Struthiomimus. All of their inaccuracies (including, of course, their complete lack of any feathers) are justified due to the fact that the documentary was made in 1985.
  • Riddle for the Ages:
    • Calculations show that Supersaurus (then known as Ultrasaurus), one of the largest known dinosaurs, would've had to have eaten more than five tons of foliage daily in order to survive. Whether it would have actually been able to do so is a mystery
    • Similarly, it is unknown how long it would have taken for an Hadrosaurus eggs to hatch (or any dinosaur's, for that matter).
  • Science Marches On:invoked Discussed during a segment where Reeve, along with paleontologist Bob Bakker, talks about how our knowledge of dinosaurs has evolved over the previous 150 years. While they were once thought of as slow-moving creatures that dragged their tails along as they moved, it is now known that they were quite agile and did not drag their tails, instead mainly using them for either balance or defense. Similarly, it was once believed that Brontosaurus (then synonymous with Apatosaurus) was a swamp-dwelling animal that fed on watercress plants and that it was the largest dinosaur in existence, when it is now known that it was a land-dweller that fed primarily on conifer needles, and its status as the largest was upended following the discovery of the Supersaurus before that genus' status was in turn upended by sauropods from Argentina. On a meta level, the special itself runs afoul of this trope with regards to its portrayal of the smaller theropods, who are now believed to have had feathers.
  • Seldom-Seen Species: Hadrosaurus is the genus that the film's hadrosaurs belong to according to promotional materials, which besides being the namesake of the group and the first of its kind to be discovered, and the very first dinosaur named in North America, isn't all that well known among the general public.
  • Speculative Biology: Paleontologist Dale Russell speculates that if the dinosaurs had not died out, they would have eventually evolved larger brains and an upright posture similar to humans.
  • Stock Footage:
  • Stock Dinosaurs: Most of the genera featured in the documentary are fairly well-known to dinosaur enthusiasts, including Brontosaurus, Tyrannosaurus rex, and Deinonychus.
  • Stop Motion: The method used to realize the various dinosaurs.
  • Tail Slap: How the father Hadrosaurus defeats the Tyrannosaurus rex, by using his tail to knock the predator to the ground. The tail of the Hadrosaurus, by the way, weighs 2,000 pounds!
  • Would Hurt a Child: A Struthiomimus is seen breaking into a Hadrosaurus nest and eating all but one of the eggs.