Streaming spotlight: dinosaurs

Prehistoric monsters bare their teeth

by Jennie Kermode

An argument over a girl gets nasty in Peter Jackson's take on King Kong
An argument over a girl gets nasty in Peter Jackson's take on King Kong

With the heat building up this summer, it's good weather for reptiles. If you're still spending a lot of time at home, why not check out some of the dinosaur films available to watch online? There are thrills and spills here for all the family to enjoy, along with bold explorers, mad scientists, true love and deadly asteroids - plenty to get your teeth stuck into.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Netflix

Despite being the biggest player in the room when it comes to dinosaurs, the Jurassic Park series has never quite lived up to the hype, with early technical problems giving way to increasingly weak plots, and the latest instalment to become available for online viewing is no exception - but don't let that put you off. One of the great things about watching online is that you don't have to sit through the whole film, and by skimming the bits with the boring humans - most of the first 40 minutes, after the spectacular opening sequence has been and gone - you can enjoy over an hour of jam packed dinosaur action. The human child is actually quite good and there's an amusing turn by BD Wong, Gotham's Dr Strange, who has clearly moved on to bigger things in the genetic engineering department, but this time around the writers clearly understand who the real stars are, with velociraptor Blue taking centre stage and a new extra-villainous reptilian beastie, screwed up due to the absence of a mother (don't ask) chomping its way through a series of deserving bad guys before the big showdown. With the oft-neglected herbivores also getting a bit more to do than usual, there's plenty of fun in store, and you'll even get to see a dinosaur leaping away from a petrol explosion (though without holding an AK-47 - give it time).

King Kong (1933)
King Kong (1933)

King Kong and King Kong, Amazon Prime

If Jurassic Park dinosaurs thrill you today, just imagine what it felt like to watch some of the first and most spectacular creatures of their kind grace the silver screen back in 1933, when Merian C Cooper and Ernest B Schoedsack first took cinemagoers on a tour of Skull Island. It's true that they don't get top billing, but the dinosaurs there really give Kong a run for his money as they stomp and snack on helpless extras, trying to get their teeth into Fay Wray. When Peter Jackson came to remake the film in 2005, he knew that this was a key part of the experience, and pulled out all the stops to pit stars Naomi Watts and Adrian Brody against similar terrors. From a technical perspective, Jackson's dinosaurs are probably the best you'll see on the big screen, and really deserve a film of their own, and they're much more exciting than Kong: Skull Island's loser lizards, but when one considers the impact of the original, it's difficult to choose between these two saurian-studded classics.

Dinotasia
Dinotasia

Dinotasia, Amazon Prime

If you're looking for a dinosaur experience with a difference, you won't find one much stranger than David Krentz and Erik Nelson's 2012 docudrama. Though the cute characters and carefully paced vignettes suggest it's aimed squarely at children, it's narrated by Werner Herzog, and that should tell you all you need to know. This is a story about the dangers of leaving the nest for the first time, the risks of becoming separated from one's herd, the terror of predation and, on top of it all, the existential horror of seeing one's whole world devastated by an asteroid impact - which, those studiously dry tones remind us, could happen again at any time. If you can prise your children out from behind the sofa, there's also an educational section about psychedelic drugs, with full on Seventies style effects work. It's not clear who the producers of this film imagined their target audience to be, but if you're looking for an introduction to that difficult talk about the inevitability of death, this is the film for you.

One Million Years BC
One Million Years BC

One Million Years BC, iTunes, Amazon Prime

They might not equal today’s dinosaurs for realism, but in light of the work it took it create them, nothing can match the sheer brilliance of Ray Harryhausen’s stop motion creations. This 1966 caveman classic features some of his best work, from ferocious sauropods to pterodactyls trying to carry off Raquel Welch (not how they hunted in real life, but that would be far too scary for a mainstream audience). Its ridiculous love triangle plot is one of few human dramas to successfully compete with the scale of the accompanying dinosaur action, but the creatures remain the main attraction – alongside that famous fur bikini – as it delivers a series of battles between feeble extras with pointy sticks and big beasts with nasty sharp pointy teeth.

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec
The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec

The Extraordinary Adventures Of Adèle Blanc-Sec, Amazon Prime

If the pterodactyls in One Million Years BC seem to be behaving oddly, that’s nothing to the one we meet here, which is hell-bent on attacking Paris – in 1911. Clearly something is amiss, and plucky journalist Adèle Blanc-Sec, who combines the wide-eyed charm of Amélie with the adventurous indefatigability of Indiana Jones, is determined to get to the bottom of it. As it turns out, the dinosaur is only a test subject in an altogether more fiendish plot, but as this tangled thriller evolves it remains a significant player, and one to whom Adèle cannot help but become attached. Luc Besson’s reliably vivid, colourful style adds extra excitement to the already exotic setting and the story is full of energy throughout, though some of the humour is more primitive than its prehistoric star.

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (1959)
Journey To The Centre Of The Earth (1959)

Journey To The Centre Of The Earth, Disney, Amazon Prime, iTunes

The Fifties and Sixties saw a slew of great adventure movies involving travelling to secret or forgotten worlds, several of which featured dinosaurs, but Henry Levin’s take on this Jules Verne classic is one of the best. Following James Mason’s ambitious professor as he explores a hidden subterranean realm, it features one of the best human-dinosaur battles of the era, as the professor’s party stumbles into the territory of hungry dimetrodons. These may be played by dolled-up lizards but they still deliver some scares, and they probably provide the closest thing to natural dinosaur movement that you’ll see onscreen. The use of forced perspective and clever model work really bring the conflict to life, and there’s much mo to enjoy besides, with a volcanic finale and a Bernard Herrmann score.

Tammy And The T-Rex
Tammy And The T-Rex

Tammy and the T-Rex, Shudder, Amazon Prime

If you don’t have the budget to make your dinosaurs look natural onscreen, why not make a film about an animatronic dinosaur? That’s what happens in Stewart Raffill’s 1994 cult classic, which sees teenager Michael (played by the young Paul Walker) beaten up by jealous rivals and mauled by lions only to be recovered by a mad scientist who transplants his brain into the aforementioned giant model dinosaur. This proves useful for getting revenge, but what about love? As Michael struggles to get back to Tammy (Denise Richards), with simple things like making telephone calls now much trickier, he also has to deal with having the cops on his tail – things the average dinosaur never had to worry about. It’s a rip-roaring ride.

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