100 Years of Dinosaur Movies: Gertie the Dinosaur

People love dinosaurs.

People love dinosaur movies.

Almost as much as they love political espionage movies and romantic comedies.

Since the invention of cinema, dinosaurs have been featured on screen. They pre-date both John Cusack and Nicholas Cage. One of the first animated films (“the first cartoon to feature a character with an appealing personality” according to Wikipedia) ever made was made for the vaudevillian stage show of popular performing artist, Winsor McCay.

Gertie the Dinosaur was first shown in Chicago in 1914 (almost 100 years ago) during one of McCay’s performances. McCay interacted with the film as it rolled, appearing to catch an animated apple tossed by Gertie on the screen, and disappearing behind screen as an animated version of himself appeared on screen atop Gertie’s head.

Eventually McCay’s whole performance was remade into a 12 minute film by William Fox, which you can watch here:

Gertie the Dinosaur

I came across this film a while ago when I was watching a lot of obscure art films on youtube (like this one).

Gertie is a fantastic technological achievement, but she’s also a cute, loveable monster lovingly drawn, filmed and presented by McCay. Gertie isn’t a traditional cartoon, there’s no linear story, so it’s hard to give the film a rating against the entire collection of dinosaur movies.

But I love this little film. I’m completely convinced that it is one of the best dinosaur movies ever made.

So it gets the Utahraptor of Fierceness from Pterodactyl Samurai.

(The Dorchester Dinosaur Museum calls the Utahraptor the fiercest of all dinosaurs: “the Utahraptor measured about 7 metres, and was a very powerful, agile and intelligent predator.” I know Robert Bakker, the author of Raptor Red, would agree.)

In the 1940s and 50s, dinosaurs became one of the most popular movie monsters. Whether portrayed as a mysterious evil, a huge natural force or as cunning, malicious antagonists, dinosaurs (unintentionally or deliberately) are usually always set against the brave bands of primitive humans/law-abiding citizens of New York/innocent bystanders in Tokyo that viewers are cheering for.

The history of sympathetic dinosaur films basically begins and ends with Gertie until the first of nine hundred million Land Before Time movies in 1988.

They do make good movie monsters but I, personally, always wanted to be friends with a dinosaur.

In the near future, I’ll talk about some other dinosaur movies you should invest some time in.


About pterodactylsamurai

Author of Love in the Time of Dinosaurs (2010), Chiaroscuro (2009) and editor of Unicorn Knife Fight Webzine
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