The Amblin Age: The Land Before Time (Don Bluth, 1988)

Before Jurassic Park, there was The Land Before Time. Produced by Spielberg and George Lucas, and directed by legendary animator Don Bluth, the film can’t really be considered a dry run for the Jurassic series (it’s tonally, visually, and thematic different), but it does highlight Spielberg’s interest in dinosaurs prior to his trip to Isla Nublar, and remains one of the most defining Amblin efforts of the 80s. Imperilled children, absent parents, a death-defying adventure… everything that made Amblin so special is all here - and all beautifully conveyed.

Land Before Time focuses on Little Foot, a young Apatosaurus whose mother is killed by Sharp Tooth, a feared Tyrannosaur who roams the land. Missing his mother, and with the land around him dying, Little Foot searches for one of the last few areas of green food armed only with his wits, a leaf left to him by his mother, and four friends: an obnoxious Triceratops called Cera, Ducky, an excitable Saurolophus, a Pteranodon called Petrie who’s unable to fly, and a slow and sleepy Stegosaurus called Spike. Together, they venture towards the Great Valley, but must battle Sharp Tooth along the way.

Amblin films always nailed the dynamics between children, and Land Before Time is no different. Dinosaur names are hard, and rather than having the characters address each other with those names, Stu Krieger’s screenplay uses nicknames. Apatosauruses become Long Necks, Pterandodons become Fliers, Tyranosaurs become Sharp Tooths. Such clever flourishes make the characters themselves more believeable, but also, more importantly, help the young audience relate to them. I for one struggled with dino names when I was young (the Dilophosaurus from Jurassic Park was always simply the ‘Spitter’) and when I watched Land Before Time, I found characters who didn’t just act the way I did, but also spoke like I did too. It made a huge difference to my young mind.

Empowerment of children is also apparent in the plot, which gives our heroes a gigantic foe to battle, stacks the odds against them, and helps them emerge triumphant. Sharp Tooth is every bit as terrifying as Jurassic Park’s T-Rex, and Bluth does impressive work in building the dinosaur as a terrifying threat who is much bigger and much more dangerous than our heroes. It’s real David versus Goliath stuff, no different than the Goonies vs the Fratellis, or E.T. and Elliott versus the governent agents. They’re small, powerless, and almost certainly destined for defeat. And yet, through bravery, teamwork, and their uniquely outhful qualities, they emerge triumphant. We, as young audience members, feel a part of that triumph and believe we can go out and defeat our own Sharp Tooth.

Finally, a word must be given to the film’s composer, the late, great James Horner. Spielberg and Lucas were inspired by the Rite of Spring sequence in Fantasia and originally envisioned the film as playing without any dialogue, powered instead only by music. They later abandoned the idea to make the film more child-friendly, but the importance of score remained and Horner’s work stands as some of his most eloquent and moving. Certainly it’s impossible to think of the film without Horner’s mournful strings and soaring melodies. It’s a score, like those created by John Williams, that stays with you and automatically conjurs vivid memories of the film when heard in isolation.

Land Before Time would go on to become one of the most absurdly franchised films in history, with video games, TV series, a a miraculous thirteen sequels emerging in the years following its release. The property eventually became synonymous with Hollywood regurgitation, and this first effort was tarnished as well. But if you, like so many, regard the film with a snort of derision because of those sequels, please revisit it. This is film-making at its finest: visually stunning, character-driven, and deeply moving. It’s also Amblin at the the absolute peak of its powers.

Let me know your thoughts on The Land Before Time. Are you a fan of the film?

anonymous asked:

Do you think all dinosaurs had feathers? Or just some groups like theropods? I got used to imagine the theropods feathered ( even big tyranosaurs ) but it'a still weird to me picturing an hadrosaur or sauropod with feathers

I do not think all dinosaurs had feathers. However, given Kulindadromeus, I do think any dinosaur COULD have feathers* until proven otherwise (ie, we find skin impressions with no signs of feathers or structures supporting feathers, like on Carnotaurs.) Are there groups that I find highly unlikely to have feathers? Definitely - large sauropods, for one. Most larger ornithischians as well, though I wouldn’t be surprised by quills on groups like ceratopsians & hadrosaurs (quills meaning long, well, quills on their tails). But most smaller dinosaurs across the board I support having feather like integuments of some kind. I also fully support universal baby dinosaur floof that falls off during growth (though that’s complete conjecture and not supported by any fossil evidence, only potential phylogenetic evidence, so that is not something you have to agree with by any stretch of the imagination). 

Basically Kulindadromeus only really makes two things certain: 1) The most basal dinosaur had feathers, and a good number of the other earliest ones did too, and 2) Any dinosaur could have had feathers, again, until proven otherwise. So what you think really depends on how you interpret that statement. 

*Please note I’m using the term feathers much too liberally. Technically, what we think of as full-blown feathers [pennaceous feathers] are not ancestral to dinosaurs; but their evolutionary predecessor, protofeathers, were; and thus I use the term feathers to mean both, even though that’s innacurate, simply for simplicity of communication. I’m using feathers as an umbrella term for all integuments in the same evolutionary line as pennaceous feathers for the purposes of this explanation (and the purposes of this blog as a whole).