DRAGON TEETH (Book Review)

Written by: Michael Crichton

Released in the UK by: HarperCollins, 1st June 2017

285 pages


 

BARE BONES

Following buccaneering adventure Pirate Latitudes and shrink-ray techno-thriller Micro, Dragon Teeth is the third posthumously released and previously undiscovered novel from prolific author, screenwriter and director Michael Crichton since his 2009 passing. Despite exhibiting a wealth of research, this historical Western archaeology lark is – by some degree – the least accomplished of the three, and a far cry from the bestselling scribe’s other dinosaur adventures.

… Keep Scuttling!

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The Land Before Time V: The Mysterious Island (DVD Review)

U – 74mins – 1997


 

TURN OF THE TIDE?

A triptych of cute-if-repetitive straight-to-video sequels in as many years was obviously enough for writer Dev Ross and director Roy Allen Smith. Both departed the Great Valley prior to this fifth diddy dino-delight, and most of the voice cast followed suit.

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Ice Age: Collision Course (Cinema Review)

U – 91mins – 2016 – 3D


 

EXTINCTION IMMINENT?

In his never-ending quest to secure his elusive acorn, single-focused sabre-toothed squirrel Scrat (Chris Wedge) scampers where no prehistoric rodent has scampered before, inadvertently setting in motion a cosmic calamity which means this might well be the final frontier for our furry frost-dwelling friends…

14 years, 5 feature films, 2 TV specials (including this Easter’s Great Egg-spcade), countless supplementary shorts and even a skating spectacular live show and through it all it’s still true to claim that Sid (John Sisters Leguizamo), Manny (Ray Romano), Diego (Denis Leary) and their “fro bros” have consistently remained true to themselves – even when the sequels’ storylines starting to strain credulity (Dawn of the Dinosaurs, I’m looking at you).

Despite this latest and most extreme  case of universe-building (or should that be flattening?) being the “dumb”-est (their words) and closest to shark-jumping yet, my previous statement still remains true for large stretches of Ice Age: Collision Course. Once again the screenwriters have perfectly balanced slapstick silliness with witty banter only adults will appreciate (“I’m bored of hashtags now!”).

It’s a shame, then, that a third act reveal that a community of new – and frankly rather goofy – meteor-squatting, eternally-youthful colourful critters threatens to thaw out my immense goodwill for this fast and furry-ous four-quel. Writer Michael J. Wilson’s penchant for wackiness, surplus of surreal “far out” spiritualism and stubborn insistence that rapid kineticism equals humour (it doesn’t) is as disappointingly tiresome as rubber-limbed let-down Chester V from Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2.

Mercifully, elsewhere a far more harmonious balance is struck between plot, character progression and pleasing pay-offs, with the ever-ballooning herd following one-eyed action weasel Buck (Simon Kill Me Three Times Pegg) on a seemingly impossible mission to divert a deadly meteor from wiping out all life as they know it. There’s a strong sway towards coupling up (must be an age thing), with even kid-of-the-group Peaches (Keke Palmer) engaged to clumsy cutesy Julian (Adam DeVine).

Retaining its heart with a touching family-affirming finale, Collision Course pulls itself back from the brim and confirms that character cut-backs, simplified storylines and less high-concept catalysts are the way forward for the extinction-evading Ice Age-rs. Long may they continue to roam the arctic plains.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

The Land Before Time IV: Journey Through the Mists (DVD Review)

U – 71mins – 1996


 

STRONGER TOGETHER

“Everywhere things are changing,” so warns the opening narration as we are re-introduced to our weather-wracked prehistoric planet where profuse precipitation is introducing new amphibious species into the dino-dominated eco-system. The earth now too soggy to be lived on, anxious herds are forced to migrate to the as-yet-untouched paradise of the Great Valley.

Yep, that’s right – with none of the calamitous climate-controlled changes yet to affect Littlefoot (Scott McAfee) and co., it is morally-virtuous business as usual for our reliable band of affectionate amigos in this fourth template-aligning Land Before Time adventure, which once more celebrates growth, embraces change and promotes teamwork through a mixture of colourful characters, fun adventures and sing-a-long songs.

Everyone has a part to play and a time to shine – even a not-so-silent Spike (“You talk-ted, yep, yep yep!”) and a furry micro-scamp christened Tickles – when Grandpa Longneck (Kenneth Mars) falls ill. It is up to our brave band of plucky plant-polishing protagonists to set off into the dangerous unknown to find and bring back the golden petal of the medicinal nightflower to save Littefoot’s beloved guardian.

Stubborn Cera (remaining original voice artist Candace Hutson in her final franchise appearance) is forced to overcome her jealousy when a new longneck playmate, Ali (Juliana Hansen), grabs Littefoot’s attention, while our innocent explorers must escape a bickering pair of dependant-yet-uncooperative famished foes in a treacherous overlong cavern setpiece which expands the backdrop but dissipates the pace from this short-but-sweet adventure where even the carnivorous critters are cute in the sunshine.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

The Land Before Time III: The Time of the Great Giving (DVD Review)

U – 70mins – 1995


 

IRRATIONAL RATIONING

“There is no ‘fair’ when it comes to survival”

When the Great Valley’s watering hole of Thundering Falls begins to run dry, even drinking the morning dew from the tree-stars and rationing the depleted remaining supply cannot stop infighting from causing clashes between the various dino-herds who had learnt to live harmoniously in this once verdant sharp tooth-secluded paradise.

“We don’t share with anyone!”

Can virtuous long neck Littlefoot (Scott McAfee) and his band of dynamic friends help find a new water source before the Valley is decimated, or will the increasing threat of fires engulfing the parched land become a dangerous reality?

Having already collaborated just 12 months prior on The Great Valley Adventure, the same creative team – headed by director Roy Allen Smith – really started to find their feet with this second saccharine-sweet sequel to Don Bluth’s classic original.

Watching these family-friendly films in such close proximity, the shared moral sentiments – prejudice is bad, teamwork is good – and stringent structural framework – grandiose evolutionary montage, opening narration, status quo disrupted, status quo restored, closing narration – are beginning to become eye-rollingly repetitive, but that doesn’t mean I am blind to the fast-growing franchise’s merits.

The Time of the Great Giving is actually a far more worthy, confident and cohesive Jurassic jaunt than its patchy predecessor. Michael Tavera’s edifying songs are still unsubtly twee, but they are catchier and more palatable this time around, while the animation is noticeably sharper and more adept than the flat and rushed efforts of 1994’s Valley.

There’s still a predictability to the characterisation and events – a bullying band of antagonists are insipidly goofy (“bigger is better”), while three horn Cera’s (Candace Hutson) stubborn father (John Ingle) is so unreasonable you just know he is bound to come unstuck eventually (“sometimes fear makes adults act differently”) – but this is still harmless and heart-warming fare which promotes propriety in a way which is not only appealing to hatchlings.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

The Land Before Time II: The Great Valley Adventure (DVD Review)

 U – 72mins – 1994


 

ESCHEWING THE MYSTERIOUS BEYOND

“If this was a game I’d never want to play again.”

In the aftermath of the Jurassic Park dino-boom, and six years after the little foot with the big heart stomped to a brontosaurus-sized box office bow, the loveable long neck and his assorted leaf-licking playmates herded back to the screen for a second profound and plucky prehistoric romp.

The Land Before Time director Don Bluth, executive producers Steven Spielberg and George Lucas and composer James Horner all stayed away from this cinema-skipping Great Valley Adventure (as did all but one of the voice cast), but some nauseatingly twee musical numbers attempt to inject some buoyancy into the competent-but-noticeably-flatter animation.

And yet, once you have lowered your expectations and conceded this is a cheaper affair in a lower league than the iconic original (the kidified modification of the Universal logo keys you in to this mind-set from the off), there are still the fossils of an endearing story to be unearthed beneath the superficial chaff.

Apatosaurus Littlefoot (Scott McAfee) and his friends all retain their distinctive and charming personalities as they learn that as hard as it is to be little, “acting grown up is hard. It is, it is.” Chasing down two egg-napping raptor-like foes (one of whom sounds a lot like Tim Curry), the brave band decide to hand-rear the rescued hatchling themselves – until it transpires to be a sharptooth whose parents are desperate to track it down!

There are astute allusions to peer pressure, and carry-overs from The Land Before Time of prejudice against other species (“a sharptooth can never be one of us!”), while the sundry life lessons converge in a climatic solution which overcomes the gang’s adversities and saves the day – hooray for teamwork!

In a film which bestows the virtues of enjoying your youth and not growing up too soon it seems somewhat miserly and incongruous for me to be too hard on this colourful and virtuous little scamp, which will undoubtedly delight the undemanding diddy-demographic it is aimed at.

CR@B Verdict: 2 stars

The Land Before Time (Netflix Review)

U – 69mins – 1988


 

A LESSON IN DINO-VERSITY

“Some things you see with your eyes, others with your heart.”

After a busy weekend, I was ready to collapse on Sunday evening but aware it was far too early to sleep. Eyes aching and just after something nice and simple, I trusted myself to a scroll through Netflix to see if anything fit the bill…

I watched The Land Before Time – as well as another 80s Don Bluth classic, An American Tail  – repeatedly on VHS as a child, completely unaware it was produced and “presented” by Steven Spielberg and George Lucas. My curiosity over the involvement of such legends, coupled with the chance for some warm reminiscences (not to mention the stubby runtime!) sold me on this cute dinosaur animation as I drifted off to sleep.

For those who haven’t had the pleasure, it sees a herd of passive ‘long necks’ (AKA. Brontosaurs) escaping devastation and migrating towards the Great Valley in search of edible vegetation, only for the herd to be divided by a “clash of the continents” (an earthquake) and attacked by a carnivorous ‘sharp tooth’ (AKA. T-Rex), leaving youngster Littlefoot (Gabriel Damon) all alone.

“I’ll be with you, even if you can’t see me.”

As the mourning orphan strives to overcome his depression, flee famine and complete his departed mother’s (Helen Shaver) quest of hope, he befriends four diverse companions in stubborn ‘three horn’ Triceratops Cera (Candy Hutson), cute Saurolophus Ducky (Judith Barsi), mute Stegosaurus Spike and plucky Pteranodon Petrie (Will Ryan), who join Littlefoot on his journey.

“At least we wouldn’t be alone!”

Mixing The Lion King’s inspirational coming of age story with Zootopia’s morality and Bambi’s touching sentimentality, The Land Before Time is a far deeper and more rounded experience than my memory recalled, successfully managing to be cute, careful, comical and cultured in its short-but-sharpshooting duration.

Through such likeable, defined and relatable characters, the film delivers crucial and pertinent life lessons on mature social issues such as racism (“Flathead” is used as a derogatory term for the long necks), prejudice (“three horns never play with long necks,” “Well, why?!”) and bonding through the tragedies the great circle of life throws at even the most innocent of individuals.

The pace is surprisingly tempered given the film’s length (taking away the sumptuous slow underwater opening crawl and the closing credits played to Diana Ross’ theme song it weighs in at under an hour), but nearly 20 years on The Land Before Time remains as colourful, engaging and timeless as the dinosaurs themselves. Am I tempted to now binge-watch the gazillion straight-to-video sequels? Yep, yep, yep!

CR@B Verdict: 5 stars