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THE 1980s

Producer Robin Bates and NOVA returned with ‘The Asteroid and the Dinosaur‘, narrated by Bill Mason, premiered March 10, 1981. The focus was on the former for the last half. We visit a dig in Colorado with paleontologist Jim Jensen, who describes Ultrasauros based on its femur, and sketches some nice but purely 1950s style renderings on camera, some of which turn into some very childish style animated dinosaurs by Jed Schwartz (including a Diplodocus alongside of a Tyrannosaurus). The film ran as a planetarium feature in subsequent years.

In National Geographic’s ‘Dinosaurs: Puzzles From the Past‘, two youngsters argue whether a wishbone they find at the edge of a stream actually belonged to a dinosaur, leading them to consult their scientist friend. Telling them how long the dinosaurs lived is not dramatic enough so they run through a field unspooling a giant paper roll representing Earth's time with different colors for different eras - the largest is of which of course, the Mesozoic. Anyone who has the August 1978 National Geographic issue may remember the artwork by Roy Anderson, and the ‘animation’ here by Lester Pegues is very reminiscent of that style. Phil Currie shows up during the visit to Alberta's Dinosaur Provincial Park and Jim Jensen proudly shows off some of his finds in his Utah lab. That wishbone proves not to be a dinosaur’s, but the kids get to see some real ones in Ottawa’s Museum of Natural Science. The classroom film was shot on 16mm and runs about 20 minutes.

Animator Will Vinton, who later had success with California Raisins Claymation characters, created Dinosaurs! in 1980. This was released to home video by Pyramid Films. The sculptures are mostly whimsical caricatures to be sure but the facts are rather well-researched. Children’s network Nickelodeon ran this occasionally in the early 1980s on its “Special Delivery” program. While not an educational program per se, it did have a fair amount of facts for the time. It is designed as if a child (heard but not seen) is reading to his classroom a very long report on dinosaurs. In 1987, Golden Book Video re-released it with an introduction serving as a set-up to the actual 15 minutes of the original program. Fred Savage (yes, pre-Wonder Years) is a kid awake at night trying to think of what topic to do the report on, all the while surrounded by various prehistoric toys in his bedroom. Magically ending up in some alternate dimension, he is spoken to by some unseen voice guiding him through the Mesozoic. Golden Book Video should have left the original video alone, for to pad the video out to 30 minutes, they also resorted to a “rock video” of animated dinosaurs singing and playing instruments.

Slightly more realistic claymation was produced in Canada by animator Bill Maylone. One unfamiliar with his short film, 64,000,000 Years Ago, would accuse Maylone of copying Phil Tippett’s work such as the lack of narration, the courting hadrosaurs or the egg stealing ornithomimus, and the lonely ceratopsian eating in a dense forest as it’s stalked by a tyrannosaur. But the opposite is true. Maylone did this in 1981 but it wouldn‘t see release outside of Canadian Television and no video distribution until the 1990s. Some of the dinos are on the cheap side of special effects, and do have a comedic expression, reminiscent of Jim Danforth’s in Caveman! which was released the same time.

British company Longman Video with consultant Dougal Dixon, produced a children’s video Dinosaurs: Fun, Fact and Fantasy in 1982 that had some more realistic claymation by Dixon - despite a theropod based more on imagination than fact. A crocodile puppet named Dill and silly songs make up most of the program, which also had a second volume made up of “The Lost World“ (1925) clips and some fallacies like “Tyrannosaurus was slow“. This was re-released several times, notably the Diamond Entertainment Corp.’s edition in 1991.

One episode of CBC’s The Nature Of Things, ‘Dinosaurs: Remains To Be Seen’ (aired May 17, 1985), made the fatal mistake of making paleontology seem dull. Despite a quick breakdown of how artist Ely Kish sculpts and photographs models before creating her anorexic dinosaur paintings, there‘s probably more footage of elephants, ostriches and crocodiles than her lush artwork - and she’s the only artist represented in the program. David Suzuki on-screen hosts mainly from Dinosaur Provincial Park, with Phil Currie and Dale Russell contributing commentary.

CBS made a primetime event on Nov. 5, 1985 out of hour-long Dinosaur! hosted by the late Christopher (Superman) Reeve in the dinosaur hall of the American Museum of Natural History, was memorable for its Phil Tippett stop motion (in turn inspired by Doug Henderson and the latest paleo paintings). In fact, the program won an Emmy for best effects - even though they were extracted without any mention of his 10 minute Prehistoric Beast, produced over a year period with a crew of 10 with $15,000 worth of equipment. When Phil was hired by CBS to do additional scenes (i.e. Apatosaurus footage) it took six months alone. It remains immensely re-watchable and its brisk pace will still hold the attention of kids of all ages. The stop motion footage itself is also still impressive today, especially of the hunting Deinonychus pair (beating Jurassic Park to the punch by 8 years). For many, this was the first program to reveal the personalities behind the names Bob Bakker (“that’s total complete bunk!“) and Jack Horner (“I don’t care what killed the dinosaurs!“) It’s got it all: old dinosaur movie clips, Jim Gary’s auto part dino sculptures, kids talking about their favorite dinos, Herman Regusters’ mythical witnessing of a live dinosaur in the Congo, and more. The show ends with Dale Russell/Ron Seguin’s speculative dinosauroid model. Recommended if just for nostalgia - you can find the original VHS on Vestron Video or Family Home Entertainment‘s 1993 edition. And in case you're wondering, none of the models and sets survived.

While Dinosaur! aired on public and syndicated television, another program was being produced by Midwich Entertainment and broadcast on The Disney Channel during the summer of 1987. The first airings were called Dinosaurs, hosted by Gary Owens and Eric Boardman. The original program could not be released to video due to some rights concerning "Fantasia" clips, so the program was re-edited and re-titled as More Dinosaurs (1985). Gary wants Eric Boardman to find a live dinosaur and bring it back, and clips from the silent "The Lost World" and "Baby: Secret of the Lost Legend" movies to fill out where "Fantasia" was. Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs finds Gary slowly turning into a dinosaur, so Eric is told to collect water from England’s Crystal Palace to stop it before it’s too late. Prehistoric World (1986) concerned extinct mammals of the Cenozoic with a visit to the La Brea tar pits and a meeting with Dougal Dixon to show off his hypothetical extinct mammals.

Gary and Eric get back to the Mesozoic in 1988’s Son of Dinosaurs, stuck with a dinosaur egg and its living embryo from an evil villain. Awful as it gets, with more forced humor sketches than dino content (I counted about only ten minutes of dinosaur footage in the first 30 minutes). The two ride in Kingdom of Dinosaurs at Knotts Berry Farm (long closed since) and a brief tour of Dinosaur Provincial Park are the only events keeping with the theme. A Jimmy Stewart cameo opens the next half and random Loch Ness Monster witnesses are given too much time. What’s worse are the careless myths abound such as “duckbills have 1500 teeth” and errors like “Struthiomimus, a Triassic dinosaur”, “Ceratosaurus is in the same family as Tyrannosaurus“, “Stegosaurus using plates as radiator”, even a reference to “Dynamosaurus being a T Rex cousin” (it was a T Rex synonym).

The first three were released on video by Twin Tower Enterprises in the 1980s. In 1991, MPI/Videosaurus released the rest as well as reissues of the first 3. Dave Spear's soundtrack was released on LP and Cassette in 1987 by Cerberus Records, and CD in Germany with additional tracks. Should you find something called The World's Greatest Dinosaur Video you will see it is simply MPI’s repackaging of "More", "Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs, Dinosaurs" and "Prehistoric World".

The final installment in the series came in 1993. The Chiodo Brothers stop motion sequence opens The Return of Dinosaurs, where Gary and Eric attend a dinosaur slumber party (the Dino-Snore) at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles during a Kokoro animatronic exhibit. They also visit Canada’s Museum of Paleontology and explore the dinosaurs of Antarctica with an interview with Bill Stout. Midwich finally got all of these episodes on DVD in summer 2012.

Other children’s shows had at least one dinosaur episode in their series. ‘Digging Up Dinosaurs’ was a season one Reading Rainbow episode, first aired on PBS on June 13, 1983. The highlight of the episode is host LeVar Burton’s Dinosaur National Monument visit. Jerry Stiller voices the animated dinosaur comic telling jokes out of the book Tyrannosaurus Wrecks. Canadian children's television series Polka Dot Door released the same year later had the video released by Morningstar Entertainment. Witness grown-ups playing with rubber Chinasaurs in a sandbox. A Dimetrodon lumped in with dinos. Inanimate stuffed animals "talking" telepathically to said grown ups. Their uninformed guest "geologist" Hedy Hobberlin claiming Albertosaurus didn't have lips then calling Maiasaura "Maiasaurus". A man in a purple kangaroo outfit is chased through Dinosaur Valley Park by another man in a laughable dinosaur costume. As nightmarish as a Barney episode. It's not as bad as you think. It's worse.

Children’s Television Workshop’s 3-2-1 Contact first covered Dinosaurs in a Big/Small episode (Feb. 27, 1980) with a character discovering a femur believed to be a dinosaur’s but turning out to be only from a horse. Jim Adams, a Dinosaur National Monument preparator appears in this one. Seven years later, the series visited sculptor Stephen Czerkas working on Deinonychus, in an episode on ‘Dinosaur Detectives‘ (aired Oct. 22, 1987), as well as witnessing the moving of Czerkas‘ Allosaurus model into a museum for the 1986 Dinosaurs Past & Present traveling exhibit. The same season brought us on the wing with AeroVironment’s Quetzalcoatlus (episode ‘In the Air: Unbelievable Flying Objects‘ aired Nov. 20, 1987). NOVA’s juvenile series Knowzone, hosted by David Morse, re-edited their 1981 special to half an hour as ‘The Dinosaur & The Cosmic Collision’ (aired Feb. 28, 1987).

On The Wing, a 1986 IMAX feature on the evolution of natural flight, showed the QN (a half-sized Quetzalcoatlus model) in its Death Valley flight tests by AeroVironment. Even the New York Times' movie review agreed the super pterosaur was the 30 minute film's true star. Just a year before, a similar Pteranodon soared above England in the BBC's Pterodactyls Alive! hosted by David Attenborough. Noteworthy is a creepy but effective stop motion Dimorphodon and almost no artwork cutaways. Attenborough postulates that pterosaurs may have hung upsidedown like bats. Lots of seabird footage. Quetzalcoatlus is mentioned, but the old Smithsonian museum model is shown.

 Volume 12 of the children’s video series distributed by Paramount Video, Tell Me Why, was devoted to Pre-Historic Animals, Reptiles and Amphibians. Only the first ten minutes of the half hour are actually of dinosaurs, with shots of Invicta’s famous plastic figures and poster artwork. Leonard Bendell produced and directed the series, narrating under the pseudonym Ben Leonard, and he is responsible for the multitude of mistakes, like the Glyptodon from the poster being shown during a discussion on the first reptiles.

PBS’s Sunday morning Innovation program focused on ‘Dinosaur Chic’ (Sep. 20, 1987) with a final comment by paleontologist Peter Dodson: “Had dinosaurs not existed, we would have to invent them. In fact, we did invent them…” In just 26 minutes, most of paleontology’s more important aspects are discussed mainly in memorable soundbites from Robert Bakker at the Denver Museum of Natural History. Adding credibility that the producers did their homework is art by Steve Czerkas, Mark Hallett, Doug Henderson and Greg Paul. Available on home video from Films For the Humanities with a retitling of The Last Word In Dinosaurs.

PBS Home Video released the Philadelphia Academy of Science’s Digging Dinosaurs (produced by WHYY-TV and aired on Pennsylvania public stations) with on-site narrative by Jack Horner at Egg Mountain in Montana - lots of Doug Henderson’s Maiasaura paintings here - and at another site, Peter Dodson is our guide as they uncover a new species of ceratopsian. This 30 min. video is one of the snoozers of the ‘80s, although it depicts the ennui of a fossil dig. I don’t think anyone should bother digging this one up…

In the same vein of tedious is A Whopping Small Dinosaur, filmed on location in 1985 in Petrified Forest, Arizona, which followed Robert Long and his team of fossil hunters as they tell the press about a new species of dog-sized prosauropod. While portions of it aired on National Geographic Explorer, the full 27 minutes was released by Coronet Video and aired on Discovery Channel a few times in the late 1980s-early 1990s. Rob Long incidentally was a guest on an episode of Newton's Apple in 1985 alongside of an animatronic triceratops.

Also from 1987, Hollywood Dinosaur Chronicles incoherently hosted by Doug McClure (in case you forgot he was in The Land That Time Forgot movies) was the first program (at just 40 minutes) to cover the history of cinematic dinosaurs beginning with the animated Gertie (1909) and was the first program to feature excerpts from then-rarely seen Willis O‘Brien early films and the abandoned Creation movie (1931). King Kong, then on to Reptilicus, no 70s-80s except Baby (1985). This is one pitifully bad production by James Forsher. On Rhino Home Video’s cover we have Godzilla yet the program does not covered him all. Likewise, effects legend Ray Harryhausen and his Beast From 20,000 Fathoms, Valley of Gwangi, One Million Years B.C. etc. are nowhere to be found. We have George Callison miscredited once on screen as "Jim Callison". Features Jim Danforth, Forrest Ackerman (showing off King Kong props) and Donald Glut on-screen soundbites. In fact, The Discovery Channel broadcast on Oct. 3, 1989, replaced the “Dinosaur Movies” opening song by Donald Glut with Was Not Was’s “Walk the Dinosaur”.   Movie Magic was a Discovery Channel series focused on movie special effects in the 1990s. A 42 minute "Dino Mania" episode was dedicated to all dinosaur movies, basically leading up to Jurassic Park with interviews with Ray Harryhausen, Phil Tippett and others. This special was issued on Parade Video VHS tape in 2000.

Where Did They Go?: A Dinosaur Update (1987) is 20 forgettable minutes produced by the Philadelphia Academy of Sciences for Rainbow Educational Media for kids. Peter Dodson is nowhere to be found and that’s good as this is one to leave off the CV. The screen tells us mosasaur Platecarpus was a dinosaur, and the narrator tells us the dinosaurs were cold blooded over some old Bob Walters artwork.

A video adaptation of the Doug Henderson-illustrated book Maia: A Dinosaur Grows Up released in 1988 was word-for-word, narrated by Judd Hirsch. Some have described this as animated, but it is actually only the same paintings in the book throughout a half hour with a few objects in basic movement, such as an egg shaking as it‘s about to hatch. The plush dino you see in the opening shot is a souvenir sold with the book as a gift set four years prior. Maia’s publisher must have had a good deal with video distributor Star Classics but their quality was among the worst in the industry. Various copies seem to be re-used cassettes with other Star Classic titles under the top label. None seem to play well on the best VCRs so if you must, prone to tracking problems, I’d suggest you look for a DVD dub if possible.

Denver Museum of Natural History produced Search For the Thunder Lizards in 1988. Robert Bakker carries the half hour with his commentary of factoids never before heard in dino documentaries before (“we only know of 1 percent of all dinosaurs”). George Edmund Lewis guides us through Morrison Formation’s history. The prime problem is a lack of current visual aids as evidenced in the constant use of Rudy Zallinger’s outdated Age of Reptiles mural when Bakker describes how dinosaurs were dynamic, active creatures that did not live in swamps. Bakker’s own renderings from his Dinosaur Heresies would have done the trick!Newton’s Apple had several subjects per episode, ‘Dinosaurs’ (aired Oct. 19, 1985), ‘Movie Dinosaurs’ (Nov. 13, 1994) and ‘Lost World Dinosaurs’ (Sept. 30, 1997), ‘Dinosaur Extinction’ 1287 (Nov. 27, 1994). The basics are covered in these shows, which never devoted entire shows to dinosaurs except ‘Dinosaur Special’ episode 906 (Nov. 16, 1991). Answers to questions like “how do I know if a bone in my backyard wasn’t just a bone my dog buried?” and responses from the host like “You can tell about a dinosaur bone by dissecting chickens!?” The brief “Dinosaurs” segment is available on a 1988 collection from PBS Video.

Learning About Dinosaurs (1987) is just a lousy repackaging of Wah Chang’s 1970 Dinosaurs: The Terrible Lizards. Re-issued by Diamond Enterainment at the height of the Jurassic Park craze in 1993. A slideshow rounds out the tape, mostly of American Museum of Natural History skeletons and Charles R. Knight-copy paintings. Concord Children’s Video Encyclopedia’s Dinosaurs & Strange Creatures Volume One is another repackaging of the animation portion from Apollo Educational Video but in washed out color. A puppet called Mr. Know It Owl is the program’s “host”, introducing the program then interrupting after about 15 minutes to introduce the Age of Mammals. So what are the titular “Strange Creatures”? Live footage of the extant Anteater, Chameleon, Platypus, Sloth, Mudskipper, Armadillo, and Spiny Anteater. A second video from Apollo (released on United American Video) is called Dinosaurs & Prehistoric Mammals is almost identical except the video transfer is much better. United American also packaged this as Dinosaurs of the Jurassic Age in 1991.

Invasion of the Robot Dinosaurs (1988) is a half hour kiddie program of all Dinamation International animatronic dinosaurs seen through the eyes of a boy visiting Dallas Museum on some class field trip. The first three minutes are pure cornball effects of bad line-drawn dinosaurs floating in outer space. Bizarrely, the main title appears on a tombstone graphic. Someone’s classic convertible car collection gets more attention in the first ten minutes with kids in corny 3-D glasses riding in the back. And the boy seems to be preoccupied with the cute girls also in the museum. Animals covered: Parasaurolophus, Ankylosaurus, Pachycephalosaurus, Triceratops, Tyrannosaurus, Pteranodon, Apatosaurus, Stegosaurus. The boy even imagines the cute girl to be Mary Anning and one of the bullies to be a rival paleontologist - At one point, the discovery of Ichthyosaurus was referred to as a “marine dinosaur”. If you have silly kids, this Rhino Video release may be for them. For adults, it’s probably almost unwatchable; it never aired on television fortunately. The same program was retitled four years later by Solar Video and issued as Dinosaurs: A Journey Through Time.

Bob Bakker is seen advising Dinamation International engineers in ‘The Great Dinosaur Hunt‘, part of WQED’s short-lived The Infinite Voyage series, narrated by Fritz Weaver, saw home video release from Vestron Video after a January 4, 1989 PBS premiere. The program lacks a good script so there’s a noticeable lack of purpose and not enough compelling footage. Sure there’s one or two Mark Hallett, Doug Henderson, or Greg Paul painting, but it’s simply not a great dinosaur hunt or documentary for that matter. Phil Currie talks centrosaur river crossing, Jack Horner talks Hypsilophodon eggs and David Weishampel demonstrates the sound what he believes would come out of a Parasaurolophus’s crest. Dr. Stephen Jay Gould got the program's last word. The program was coupled with another episode “Unseen Worlds” on laserdisc by Image Entertainment in 1990.
   (The above press headlines were for the same show!)

Smithsonian Video’s Dinosaurs was released in 1989 on VHS. Narrated by ex-actor James Whitmore, the film opens with Mark Hallett‘s Mamenchisaurus crossing the flats painting, a sign of good things to come, as there‘s enough illustrations and displays to keep it visually interesting. In fact, writer/producer/director Louis Barbash did an excellent job, and this program is ten times better than The Infinite Voyage. The first part, in movie clips and in the appeal of dragon lore surveys “The Charisma of the Dinosaurs” chapter; the “Life of the Dinosaurs” gets into select genera as well as pterosaurs, with representative art by Gregory Paul, John Gurche and even Charles Knight! In “The Search For Dinosaurs”, Bob Bakker and Nicholas Hotton III (Smithsonian curator) debate in split screen, before we go “Digging For Dinosaurs” with Hotton in Proctor Lake, Texas. Michael Brett-Surman gives us a tour of some of “Smithsonian’s Bones” in their basement collection, “Extinction” has Walter Alvarez’s asteroid theory contested by William Clemons, but Alvarez’s acid rain doesn’t get a fair rebuttal by Bakker who would certainly argue how frogs and other pond life would survive. A clip from one of the late astronomer Carl Sagan’s lectures ends the segment. “The Living Dinosaur” has Dale Russell defending the dinosauroid model once again, and the dinosaur-bird evolution receives no refutation by scientists. The box says 60 mins, yet it’s at least 8 minutes longer. A laserdisc edition, issued by Lumivision, is subtitled Fantastic Creatures That Ruled The Earth.

Dinosaur: Fossils and Paleontology From Dinosaur National Monument was a half hour video souvenir sold in the monument gift shops in 1989. It’s more field work than dinosaurs, showing Ann Elder, Dan Chure and other paleontologists at work. A snoozer not worth the hunt unless you‘re a completist.

NOVA’s ‘God, Darwin & Dinosaurs’ (Feb. 21, 1989) is not actually about the natural history of dinosaurs but rather the age-old debate between creationists notably pseudopaleontologist Duane T. Gish and evolutionary scientists. Definitely a classic program.

From David Attenborough, who brought us the fascinating series Life On Earth (1979) and The Living Planet (1984), came Lost Worlds, Vanished Lives, each about 40 minutes. These were first shown in England in April 20 1989 - May 14 1989. Part 1 (Magic in the Rocks, aired Aug. 1991 in the U.S.) didn’t feature dinosaurs, just fossil marine life and petrified amber. Ichthyosaurs and pterosaurs - including extensive footage from “On the Wing” figure into Part 2, Putting Flesh on Bone. The third part was Dinosaurs, with Attenborough in the London Museum, under Brachiosaurus’ skeleton, then in New Mexico with David Gillette and Seismosaurus, Bob Bakker elaborates on how he clocks T Rex’s speed and Jack Horner on what else, eggs and maternal dinos. Most of the episode is shots of mounted skeletons. Part 4 was The Rare Glimpses, of evolution in the act, that is (i.e. Archaeopteryx) or the animal’s final moments (La Brea tar pits), the only mention of primitive mammals in the entire series. Of course it was produced in England by the BBC, so British artist John Sibbick’s illustrations are almost exclusively used.

 on to the 1990s