2013 – Think Jurassic Park, but with… um… Well, no. It’s basically Jurassic Park.
A blatant rip-off of a movie from 1993, and featuring a cast that would make 1983 green with envy, Age of Dinosaurs is a perfect way to kill a lazy Saturday afternoon. This, my friends, is a must-see bad movie. I wanted to do a scene-by-scene breakdown, but you really need to enjoy it for yourself. I’ll just hit the highlights.
Our hero is firefighter Gabe Jacobs, played by a haggard-AF-looking Treat Williams:
Gabe is a firefighter. In the universe of this movie, that means flashing his ID and declaring, “I’m LAFD” grants him instant access to the highest levels of city government. At the start of the day nobody has a clue who he is; by the afternoon, he’s on a first-name basis with the Chief of Police and cops are randomly tossing him shotguns. His daughter is Jade Jacobs (Jillian Rose Reed), who is of college age but doesn’t know what “Jurassic” means (she thinks it’s the name of a vegan restaurant). She’s the “always on her cell phone” type. Gabe and Jade do a lot of awkward father-daughter heckling: “Mom would have wanted you to go to college.” “Mom’s dead.”
Ronny Cox of RoboCop and Total Recall fame plays the head of the Geneti-Sharp company, Justin Juarisco. His wheelchair has weird “construction zone” stickers all over it and looks like a complete heap of shit:
I don’t think I’m giving too much away when I say that Juarisco doesn’t survive the catastrophe of his dinosaurs escaping to run amok in Los Angeles. Can you guess whether or not he is killed by the very monsters he created? You’ve got at least a 50/50 shot at this. Juarisco’s chief lieutenant is the cowardly Doug Donovan (Jose Rosete). We know Donovan is evil because he talks about “schedules” and “budgets” and bears a striking resemblance to ex-Phillies General Manager Reuben Amaro, Jr:
Donovan and his do-gooder assistant Dr. Craig Carson (Joshua Michael Allen) form a very effective cliche-exchanging duo. Carson provides warnings; Donovan ignores them. “The levels aren’t stabilized!” “I’m asking you one last time: don’t do this!” “We have to stop!” So just to review, we’ve got Gabe and Jade Jacobs, Justin Juarisco, Doug Donovan, and Craig Carson. Somebody got real creative on these names, obviously.
“Uncle” Leo, a Geneti-Sharp security guard and friend of Gabe, has “dead meat” written all over him. Police Chief Dawson is my personal favorite character, tossing out lines like, “How long ’til we can get a SWAT team in here?” “About ten minutes.” “MAKE IT FIVE.” And finally there’s the helicopter pilot, who rises from obscurity to become one of cinemas’ most bad-ass tertiary characters.
Our story begins in Japan, where Donovan’s frequent flaunting of common sense leads to a dinosaur slaughtering his entire medical staff. To contain the beast, he orders the operating room locked down. One of the doors that “locks,” accompanied by a high-tech schwoosh sound effect, is this one:
In the good ol’ USA, Gabe takes Jade to a presentation at Geneti-Sharp headquarters. Juarisco reveals his genetically engineered dinosaurs to the underwhelmed audience, and outlines his plans to market them to sporting events, parades, and “children’s parties.” This seems like the world’s worst business model. He also remarks that they created meat-eaters first because they’re “the cool stuff.” When he pulls a Wonka and reveals he can walk, the audience stands and cheers (which they didn’t do for the dinosaurs).
The dinosaurs are controlled by a “sonic pulse,” but in about two seconds the system fails and we’re told that “the pulse is irritating the other dinosaurs.” Seems like they should have planned this out a little better. The creatures break out and run amok and Donovan locks the building down so no one can escape. Jade gets locked in a glass-front cabinet in the basement; Gabe finds Juarisco, Donovan, and Carson, who tell him that the cabinet can be unlocked with a key kept “one floor below.” Then they find a panic room with people trapped inside; this room, of course, can only be unlocked via a control in the basement. What the hell kind of building is this?
Eventually the dinosaurs escape from the building and begin a rampage through downtown Los Angeles – and by downtown Los Angeles, I mean a shopping mall located right next to a number of abandoned warehouses. People get massacred as the authorities exchange lines like, “One hell of a mess, sir,” and “Damn shame.” Conveniently, all of the dinosaurs converge on the warehouse where Gabe and Jade have holed up. The military bombards the place, almost all of the minor characters are killed, and Gabe has to rescue his daughter from a surprise Pteranodon attack. Safe at last (I guess), they share a nice family moment as they gaze out over the burning city. THE END.
The dialogue in Age of Dinosaurs is always just a step to the left of coherent, and that’s what makes the movie such a joy. Jade greets Gabe with a casual “Hey,” and he responds with “JESUS!” like he’s shocked and horrified to find her in his own living room. In the midst of the crisis, Juarisco asks, “Dr. Carson, you’re a vet – can dinosaurs climb?” During one sequence, our heroes try to escape from a dinosaur in their car. “FASTER!” Gabe screams. “They didn’t teach me this in driving school!” Jade replies. “This IS driving school!” says Gabe. Huh?
In the end, the somewhat-crazy-somewhat-noble Juarisco sacrifices himself so our heroes can escape. As a dinosaur approaches he mutters, “And his final words were… final words… Heh… Of course. Rock and roll.” It doesn’t really make sense, but I guess it’s better than nothing. Then we cut upstairs to hear him pathetically wail, “Oh no, NOOOOO!” which is far less cool than what he said a second ago.
Juarisco’s helicopter pilot, who picks Gabe up from the warehouse roof, becomes a key hero out of nowhere and vanishes again just as quickly. “Your boss is dead! Follow that Pterosaur!” Gabe tells him, which may be the best line in movie history. “You’re good,” Gabe tells the pilot at one point. “I KNOW,” he replies. Then his chopper crashes and he presumably dies, so he couldn’t have been that good.
Characters love locking things down. Donovan locks down the operating room and, later, the Geneti-Sharp building. Jade gets locked in a cabinet. People are locked in a safe room. Chief Dawson locks down the entire city.
Jurassic Park, made 20 years earlier, featured better computer animation than this.
90% of the time the dinosaurs are completely animated, but in a few scenes they use a dinosaur head puppet that looks like it was thrown away as being too fake-looking for Gremlins II: The New Batch. They apparently blew their entire budget on these effects, because they blatantly skimp on others. When characters fire their guns, for instance, they just wiggle them around with the barrels off-camera. It looks like a bunch of kids having a fake gunfight.
Age of Dinosaurs is way too ambitious for its obviously shoestring budget. The scenes in the Geneti-Sharp building look like they were filmed in a vacant office over the course of a single day. Ladders and old propane tanks litter the hallways. If you look at the exterior, you can see where it looks like they painted over the street number or unit name:
When the movie ups the chaos ante and the dinos start to overrun the city, there’s a brief montage of the chaos. In one shot, a dinosaur has somehow scaled a huge skyscraper and is roaring at a helicopter. It’s a particularly ludicrous moment – how’d it get up there? WHY would it go up there?
The only way that Age of Dinosaurs fails is that there is no post-credits shot of an egg hatching, a dinosaur emerging from the rubble, or anything that suggests a welcome sequel might be on the way. Because the world needs more of this. Much, much more.