‘Dinosaur 13’: Some bones to pick with T. rex documentary
By BILL STAMETS For Sun-Times Media August 14, 2014 6:54PM
Peter Larson plies his trade in “Dinosaur 13,” a documentary exploring the controversy surrounding the ownership of Sue the T. Rex. | LIONSGATE
‘DINOSAUR 13’ ★★1⁄2
Lionsgate and CNN Films present a documentary directed by Todd Douglas Miller. Running time: 105 minutes. Rated PG (for mild thematic elements, language and brief smoking). Opens Friday at local theaters and available on demand.
Updated: September 16, 2014 6:16AM
‘Dinosaur 13” — titled after the 13th specimen of its kind — chronicles the excavation, confiscation and auction of a storied dinosaur. Relocated from South Dakota, the fossilized skeleton of this Upper Cretaceous theropod now resides in Chicago: “58 Teeth and a Killer Smile” is the come-on to “Come Face to Face With Sue the World’s Largest T. Rex” at the Field Museum.
Filmmaker Todd Douglas Miller unfortunately adopts the format of prime-time docu-tainment when adapting the 2002 book “Rex Appeal: The Amazing Story of Sue, the Dinosaur That Changed Science, the Law, and My Life” by Peter Larson and Kristin Donnan.
Larson emerges as Sue’s most ace champion. After displaying the 80-percent-complete dinosaur at his Black Hills Institute in South Dakota, he does time in a Colorado penitentiary. “Failure to fill out forms,” reads his paperwork when he checks in. Donnan is a researcher from the NBC series “Unsolved Mysteries” who covers the federal case and marries Larson along the way.
The PG-rated “Dinosaur 13” may let down kids seeking fun facts. Paleontologists mostly defend commercial bone collectors against academic naysayers. Larson only has a bachelor’s degree from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology. High school dropout Sue Hendrickson, who found the T. rex in 1990, later got an honorary Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Sensational touches include onscreen titles like “Sue’s confinement: 961 days” to mark the duration of FBI storage. Among unneeded re-enactments: a night scene outside a warehouse where an actor playing young Larson coos to his dear dino in crates. Where is Werner Herzog when you need him?
Thomas Petersen’s slick cinematography and Matt Morton’s overdone score package Sue’s finders as heroes, then as victims. Miller never uncovers the agenda of the government. One puzzle: Why could no one could utter the name “Sue” during the 45-day trial?