I finally saw the newest Jurassic World movie. Fallen Kingdom. Yeah, sure, it’s like the real fallen kingdom is all the dead rich fellers. Killed by their own hubris. Death, uh, finds a way. Sure, sure.
Look, I love dinosaurs. The Jurassic Park franchise, from the first movie on, has provided me some pretty nifty visuals. Regardless of if they are accurate to current scientific consensus or not, I like those dinos.
But the stories are just ridiculous and bordering on boring at this point.
What do we get this time? – big corporate avarice, sleazy men of power, a child key to the plot, dinosaurs whose exuberance can’t be contained, lessons never learned. They did add an explosive volcano and a dino pet show/auction this time, but neither added much.
People can still outrun dinos in this one, and now falling ash too, because we are indomitable! Except when it comes to figuring out a way to pen in large animals. Then we’re utter shit.
So, let’s turn back the clock to 1969, dude. A simpler time. When dinosaurs were stop-motion animated and horses did their own stunts. When we still weren’t successful at penning in dinosaurs for the amusement of the masses. Pan y circos.
The Valley of Gwangi isn’t a great story, but it’s got as much oomph as Jurassic World. A sketchy old flame (James Franciscus as Tuck Kirby) reconnects with the ex he left (Gila Golan as TJ Breckenridge), who runs a cowboy show in Mexico.
Fun(ish) Fact: Gila Golan had such a strong Israeli accent that her lines are dubbed by a voice actress. This is noticeable the first time you hear her speak. Noticeable enough that people like me immediately go look for an explanation. I got over it, but I bet it was annoying for 1969 audiences.
A tiny horse named El Diablo leads them to a secret valley of dinosaurs. Called an Eohippus, but shown to be about the size of a cat. They tried. It still looks cool.
They built it a tiny barn, with a tiny fence, and a tiny trough of hay. Star of the show type treatment. If only the little guy knew how quickly they would toss him aside for something with better box office potential.
Naturally, a serious of ridiculous events ends in the capture of a giant lizard (supposedly an allosaurus, but you know how that is), which they plan to put in a new, more spectacular show. It doesn’t work out.
The gang is filled out by Lope – a local boy acting as Tuck’s guide for a few pesos, a crank paleontologist, Carlos – TJ’s handsome second in command who certainly has some unrequited and unspoken love issues, and guys named Champ, Rowdy, and Bean.
They are opposed by a crazy, blind, old witchy woman (living out in the desert in some sort of Romani campsite with blazing fires, dancing women, and caravans), a dwarf (uncredited and called The Dwarf), and some locals directed by the old witch who are trying to prevent the curse of Gwangi. They do so by releasing Gwangi from his cage while the whole town is in the arena. Because the resulting disaster is obviously better than whatever else might have happened.
The greatness of this movie is in the Ray Harryhausen stop-motion effects and the horses.
Sure, a ten-year-old today would scoff at these jerky looking plastic dinos, but I love them. The sword-wielding skeletons of Jason and the Argonauts were a revelation to me as a youngster. I rooted so hard for those boney troops. Besides El Diablo and Gwangi, Harryhausen gives us a pteranodon, an ornithomimus, and a styracosaurus. Gwangi even fights an elephant.
Those special effects took a year. That’s some serious work. The scene of Gwangi grabbing the ornithomimus was even rehashed in Jurassic Park with a tyrannosaurus and a gallimimus.
The horses did an amazing amount of stunt work. They ran, stumbled, and tumbled over backward through the landscape. Tossing the cowboys all over the place. Hell, the OG stunt in TJ’s act is the old horse jumping into a pool bit (that part was special effects). Every major character has their own color horse, which pleased me more than it should have.
The story itself is nothing unusual for monster flicks.
We see poor TJ in financial distress and heart-broken by Tuck, but willing to take him back. She agrees to shack up at some homestead in Montana as soon as Tuck busts out his flimflammer’s smirk. To be fair, Tuck is the Liberace of fancy cowboy outfits and probably counts for debonair in the Mexican desert – even if Carlos is a smoldering Latin lover who can match any heroics Tuck gets up to. Until he gets eaten. Sorry, Carlos, it just wasn’t in the cards for you.
The great “twist” in this dynamic is that TJ bags out on Tuck when it seems like the dino in a cage will save her show. Turns out, she didn’t really need no man. Just a big lizard in a cage. Same thing, really.
As I mentioned, Gwangi doesn’t stay in his cage. He tramples and roars and eventually ends up in what must be the largest church in the land. The church burns with some help from Tuck and it all comes down on poor Gwangi.
Tuck, TJ, and Lope make it out of the burning church alive, but feeling a bit forlorn and definitely suffering from smoke inhalation.
There is no happy ending. For anyone. As is proper. Especially not for Carlos, who became allosaurus turds. Poor, Carlos. He was my favorite.