Use your lizard brain: The best giant reptiles on film
The cinematic love affair with giant reptiles has been going on for about as long as film has, and it won’t stop any time soon, because – what can we say? – people just love giant lizards. Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom and Rampage stormed through the box office last year, and Godzilla: King of the Monsters roared into cinemas in May.
A solid chunk of low- budget sci-fi and horror seems to involve angry lizards. With this in mind, here are a couple of the best giant reptiles on film.
Gamera from Gamera
In 1965, the world met what may be the greatest kaiju in Japanese cinematic history – a giant turtle that can shoot rockets from its butt and has tusks. Gamera was ever the D-list version of Godzilla, never quite achieving the fame of the terrible radioactive lizard from the sea but still being memorable if for no other reason than he was a giant turtle with a rocket butt.
Gamera’s been no slouch – there have been twelve films featuring the turtle in just over 50 years, which is not a bad average overall. The fact that most of these films are nearly unwatchable without a healthy dose of irony or schnapps means nothing because – and forgive us for pointing this out yet again – he’s a giant turtle with a rocket butt.
Filmmaker Shusuke Kaneko discussed the challenge of presenting Gamera in a frightening light. “We didn’t consider them science-fiction movies. We didn’t have that kind of an idea,” he told Vantage Point interviews. “But ever since the Godzilla movies in the 1950s, many kaiju movies were made after that. They became their own genre. They are kaiju movies rather than science fiction. In kaiju movies, some have science-fiction tastes. But the genre itself is not science fiction.”
Kaneko also talked about the ways that Gamera can fit into different genres. “It’s its own genre. Within the genre, there are science-fiction leanings, there are fantasy leanings, but the kaiju genre is a genre in and of itself”, he added. “So the first Gamera was science fiction. Gamera 2 was a war movie. Gamera 3 was a little supernatural. GMK had a supernatural taste with a war movie combination.”
T. Rex from Jurassic Park
They say everyone likes a bad boy or girl and few characters in cinema will ever embody that idea better than the T. Rex. This is both due to its surly yet opportunistically heroic nature and the fact you’re never sure if it’s a boy or a girl from one movie to the next. What you can be sure of is that the T. Rex will show up when it’s clear the human protagonists have no chance of surviving, and it will pause for a perfect selfie pose before or after doing so.
Steven Spielberg, the director of the first two Jurassic Park films, discussed the role that the dinosaurs played in the success of the franchise. “The very first CGI ever used in a commercial movie was in a film that I produced and Barry Levinson directed, called Young Sherlock Holmes“, Spielberg said. “ILM had generated a stained glass window of a knight that comes to life, jumps out of the stained glass window and threatens our cast. That was maybe the first commercial use ever of a digital effect.”
Spielberg went on to discuss the digital effects arms race that was going on between him and director James Cameron. “Of course, the second effective use was when Jim Cameron made The Abyss and he had the water tendril and that was an extraordinary digital effect”, Spielberg recalled. “But a digital dinosaur, a main character, had never been done before for the movies. So, in a way, Jurassic Park was the first movie where the entire success or failure of the story was dependent on these digital characters.”