Dinosaurs have always been one of the most exciting and intriguing parts of history. For centuries mankind has been amazed by the incredible beasts that once ruled the earth.
In 1990, outside a small town in South Dakota, one of the most remarkable paleontological discoveries was uncovered: a huge T-Rex fossil, the largest specimen ever found. Excavated by brothers Peter and Neal Larson and nicknamed Sue after the volunteer who found it, the fossil was proudly taken to their own research institute, open to display to the general public. However, before long Sue and the rest of the brother’s specimens were seized by the FBI, starting a ten-year legal battle regarding the fossil’s ownership.
What should be a compelling glance into the world of natural history and discovery turns out to be a slow-paced legal drama about the rift between commercial and academic fossil collecting.
The main story follows Peter Larson as he gushes about his seemingly romantic connection to the fossil in question. What was obviously an emotionally charged event for all those involved is unintentionally humorous on screen. “He was in love with that dinosaur” one witness laments with tears in her eyes. However this passion very much stays in South Dakota, those in the audience merely working out the mechanics of the suggested inter-species relationship.
The greatest sin for this documentary are missed opportunities to explore some really interesting topics. The Larson brothers’ lives are shattered due a very messy legal system regarding land ownership: invisible lines drawn in the ground are what stands between a free man and time in prison. The film shows a lot of potential to delve into the hypocrisy of these laws but focuses instead on less interesting issues and over-sentimental aspects of the case.
Dinosaur 13, though, is made up of an impressive assortment of archive footage and some outstanding landscape shots that would make Ang Lee proud. The film is well-meaning, fair and well researched. Both sides of the legal battle are represented and even the heavy legal issues are accessible and well explained.
Director Todd Douglas Miller states he wanted the film to be “a celebration of fossils”, but if the leading lady in his film is a 20-foot lizard and it’s still dull, he may have missed the mark.
Dinosaur 13 is released nationwide on 26th April 2014.
Watch the trailer for Dinosaur 13 here: