How My Dinosaur Fascination Began

I can’t really remember when I first liked dinosaurs. I was young, that’s for sure.

It must have started when I was three years of age. Back then, both of my parents worked at the same school, my mother teaching kindergarten and my father teaching second-grade. This was also the time when my sister started kinder there as well, so it felt like a very unfair situation to three-year-old me. Every member of my immediate family got to go to School except for me. I was sorely jealous of my sister. It was the deepest of betrayals for her to go to School without me.

(I know. Back then, I was such a fool.)

Instead of getting to go to School with my family, I was left at a babysitter’s for the day. My babysitter was a kindly older woman who had a dog and liked to do her ironing early in the morning. I was not the only kid she was looking after. Eddie came from another family with no connection to mine, but the two of us got to know each other through the power of playtime (and being toddlers).

I don’t remember much about Eddie anymore, but I do remember that he always got to pick our afternoon movie. His top two choices were Small Soldiers and, you guessed it, Jurassic Park. 

While none too pleased that I had been allowed to watch a PG-13 movie at the ripe old age of three while not under their watch, my parents were more than happy to encourage my growing admiration for paleontology. My mom showed this by getting me dinosaur toys (screw dolls, am I right?) and throwing me dinosaur-themed birthdays.

(One time, during one of these dino b-day bashes, they bought a Stegosaurus piñata that we just could not break open. My dad had to pull it down and break it with a sledgehammer.

My dad bought me dinosaur flash cards and educational CD-ROM games about dinosaurs. (CD-ROMs. Remember those? In case you’re curious about what these “games” looked like, here’s a link to a YouTube video that showcases one of the games I played.)

My love for dinosaurs only grew as the years passed. I knew all the names of my favorite dinosaurs. Adults would gape in astonishment at this little tyke (aka me) rattling off names like Plesiosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, or Dimetrodon. My parents took me to Dinosaur museums, and my extended family got in on the dino craze too. My tias on my mom’s side gave me glow-in-the-dark raptor toys, and my Uncle Dwight, on my dad’s side, gave me a Dinosaur Encyclopedia for a Christmas gift.

I even roped my sister into playing dinosaur games with me. We loved to pretend to be Iguanodons on the run from a Tyrannosaurus Rex. One time, in order to simulate being eaten by this carnivore, my sister and I decided to throw ourselves onto my mom’s recliner, imagining it was the giant mouth of a T. Rex. Unfortunately for us, the momentum of our leap into the jaws of death flipped the recliner over onto the backyard’s sliding glass door.

Anyways, as you can tell by now, I’m really into dinosaurs.

As time has gone by, while I don’t play with dinosaur toys anymore, I still have an abiding love for them and I gather what tidbits of information is available about them. If I could, I would go back in time just to catch a glimpse of these creatures in the flesh. Sure I’d have to adjust to the low oxygen levels that accompanied that time period, and sure I’d probably get eaten by a dinosaur myself before acclimating my lungs to said breathing conditions, but it would be glorious and oh so totally worth it.

Any dinosaur fans out there besides me? I’d be happy to hear

But the Book Is Totally Better

I don’t know how many times I’ve heard myself say that after stepping out of a theater.

But come on, it’s totally true 99.99% of the time.

The majority of movie adaptations based on books would have been better off left as words on a page. For a number of reasons, these attempts to capture the complexity and goshdarned wonderful-ness of the original books simply fail to captivate me.

My number one example of this phenomenon is the Harry Potter series.

No collection of books is so beloved as J.K. Rowling’s magical masterpiece. The world she crafted was impeccably alluring, and her characters were relatable (well, as relatable as teenage wizards could be). And while it was nice to see Harry’s world brought to life through the prowess of different filmmakers, the films still left much to be desired.

I’m okay with the first three films. I was practically a child when I saw The Sorcerer’s Stone and The Chamber of Secrets. I went to go see the movies on a class field trip. (Isn’t that neat? We saw a movie for our class field trip.) I had read the books, and the movies were more or less as enjoyable as the books were.

By the time the fourth Harry Potter movie came along, I was spotting flaws right and left. The vast and detailed plot of The Goblet of Fire did not fit well into two hours and thirty-seven minutes. Contradictions began to run rampant with no explanation offered for them, and the lack of development for some secondary characters (and even some primary ones) physically hurt me.

That is what happens when books are made into movies. It’s like playing Russian Roulette. Occasionally you’re lucky, and the movie ends up being everything you hoped for. Other times…

There are three movies I love (technically five, but I’ll get to that later) that equaled or exceeded the books they were based on.

  • The Lord of the Rings (made up of three movies)
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Jurassic Park

I was very young when I read The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I think I was about six years old (I liked to read, sue me). However, my parents did not think it was appropriate for me to see a PG-13 fantasy movie at such a young age. So they waited until The Fellowship of the Ring came out on DVD, and then my father watched it alongside my sister and me, supervising us to make sure we were not unduly influenced by fantasy violence. (We had so much fun; we pretended to be Ringwraiths for the next couple of days. We’d grab the pillows from our living room couch and imagine they were our horses. Then we would shriek the highest note we could reach and run around the house. Just like the Nazgûl, get it?)

J.R.R. Tolkien’s incredible work of fantasy was a deeply written collection of lore. As such, the descriptions of places and events were extremely wordy. Entire chapters could have been devoted to describing the city of Minas Tirith. Tolkien gave every race a history, and those histories went back generations. I believe that the movie captured that fantastical history and made it engrossing as hell. Instead of reading paragraphs about, say, the customs of the Rohirrim, we got to observe them in action and learn their customs through their wardrobe and behavior. Not every person could pick up the books and get into them. But the movie delivered the same content, while making it easy to understand and enjoy.

The story of how I got into Cloud Atlas is hilarious. Well, to me, at least. I was in my college computer lab working on a paper. I was listening to music through Youtube, and the trailer for Cloud Atlas came on before one of the videos . Intrigued, I paused my essay-writing to watch it. And just the initial concept of the trailer floored me. It was so cool! It’s almost indescribable. Don’t believe me? Check it out here.

Upon finding out that it was also a novel, I went to Barnes & Noble first thing that weekend and got myself a copy of the book. It was fantastic. I then only had a couple of months to wait before I could see if the movie lived up to its progenitor’s greatness.

And it did.

Some people may not agree with me. I know that a lot of film critics did not look too kindly on the movie. But I’m no film critic. I loved the book, and I loved the movie.

The interesting thing about the book version and movie version of Cloud Atlas is that they feel like different animals. The book is a ziggurat. You climbed up the first half of the story, with each timeline representing a step forward. Then you climbed down the ziggurat, each story-line getting resolved into a graceful denouement. The movie version was more like a tapestry. We got to visit each timeline one after the other, like threads interwoven together to make an intricate weave. The story feels kind of spiritual without being overly preachy. It stimulated my heart and my mind at the same time.

So, while the book and the movie feel dissimilar, they’re both equally enjoyable and, more importantly, equally meaningful. I would highly recommend both to anybody.

I was a total dinosaur kid (and am now a dinosaur adult), so it’s no wonder that Jurassic Park made it onto my list of favorite books turned into movies as well. I have nothing against the Michael Crichton novel. I think he’s a great sci-fi writer with the ability to ramp up tension like nobody’s business. But Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park had what Crichton’s book didn’t: heart.

That movie was made for people who loved dinosaurs. While the Tyrannosaurus Rex and the raptors may have been the antagonists of the movie, they were what made me sit straight in my seat with my eyes glued to the screen. Hell, anytime a dinosaur appeared, my heart skipped a beat. Alan Grant’s face when he rests his body on the triceratops is mine every time I decide to re-watch Jurassic Park. 

And that theme music! My soul sings that melody every time I go to a dinosaur museum. (Or whenever I’m doing something super majestic, which is, sadly, not often.)

So, it is possible to make a great movie based on a book. It’s just not something you see every day. If you have any recommendations for movies based on books that you like, let me know! I’m always on the look-out for fresh attempts.

What can I say? I’m a closet optimist.