A Land Before Time

3

I loved dinosaurs when I was little. Most kids go through a dinosaur phase, no doubt because of the prevalence of dinosaur toys; every kid has a plastic T. rex or stegosaurus at one time. But I had a specific love of dinosaurs. I loved learning about all the different species, their names, where they came from and what strange and uncanny forms they took.

Sometime during the very early nineties, dinosaurs came back in a big way thanks to the upcoming Jurassic Park. I remember my parents sent off for a big poster and sticker set. It depicted a typical prehistoric scene – sauropods wading in lagoons, winged pterodactyls silhouetted against a blazing sky thick with clouds of volcanic ash. I loved it! I had quite an imagination back then, and looking at that scene transported me back to the ancient past.

Being something of an expert, I can name them all. Left to right we have stegobeast, Smaug, dippydocus, monstro-swan and spikeface.

Being something of an expert, I can name them all. Left to right we have stegobeast, Smaug, dippydocus, monstro-swan and spikeface.

There was also a long-running magazine series, creatively titled Dinosaurs!. It was awesome – full of wonderful watercolour paintings, photographs of skeletons and all sorts of information on paleontologists and their methods. There was a trading card set to collect and early issues came with pieces to build a glow-in-the-dark T. rex skellington, and later, a fleshy carapace to contain the bones. I bought almost every issue.

Domestic violence! Not cool!

“Why you little…!!”

It’s funny that, even then, dinosaurs were often depicted as ‘tail draggers’. This rather Victorian view of dumb, awkward beasts has faded from the public consciousness thanks to films like Jurassic Park and the ease of access to  more modern research and information. But when I was a kid, it was still widely reported that dinosaurs were cold-blooded, stupid creatures. Descriptions often went out of their way to portray the animals as primitive, handicapped or just plain broken. They said that brontosaurus had to wade in water lest it be crushed by its massive bulk, for example. A ridiculous idea, but I bought it wholesale at the time. Thankfully in later years I was quickly brought up to date with the most modern information and theories, although part of me wonders what that information will look like in thirty years time.

SO LIFELIKE

SO LIFELIKE

Anyway, back to toys. I remember one Christmas I was given a shiny new Transformer. It was Snarl, a Dinobot. He turned into a stegosaurus, and was a thing of beauty. He was part die-cast metal, and covered in gleaming gold plates and spikes. My brother was given Sludge the diplodocus. We both cherished those toys, and I’m pleased to say that old Snarl is doing pretty well for his age!

Actually older than me.

Actually older than me.

A few years later Power Rangers came out, and I was immediately obsessed with it, thanks in no small part to the giant robot dinosaurs that featured heavily in the show. That Christmas I was given “Titanos”, a huuuuuge white brachiosaurus. He had wheels and ran on two C batteries, so he could walk across the living room floor and make the TV go funny with the interference generated by the motor. Of course, I still have the whole set of Power Rangers toys and bust them out of storage every now and then. I’ve always taken good care of my stuff, so they’re in good nick. Titanos has gone a jaundiced yellow colour though, thanks to the bromine leaking from the plastic.

If she doesn't know what this is, she's too young for you. Or too old.

If she doesn’t know what this is, she’s too young for you. Or too old.

I was never really in to board games much, mostly because we didn’t have any, apart from an old Monopoly set that I had no interest in whatsoever. But at some point my parents bought Waddingtons’ Lost Valley of the Dinosaurs, a sort of RPG game. It was pretty awesome; it had a volcano with plastic lava pieces, little rubber tyrannosauruses and a neon-green pterodactyl that you’d use to snatch up the players’ little men, and it also came with a deck of illustrated cards to dictate gameplay.

4116713313_22854cff02

Some dobeck has put the T. rex in the swamp. That’s against the rules, and historically unlikely.

Also included were cardboard bullets, used to keep track of each player’s ammunition. I didn’t know what they were, at the time. They just looked like odd golden tubes. How I wish for that kind of innocence!

A couple weeks ago, I dug the game out of the cupboard and played with my brother and cousin. It was nice, although we all knackered our knees playing on the floor. A couple of the playing pieces were missing so we decided to replace them with Transformers, Pokémon and My Little Pony figures. It made it visually interesting, to say the least. Although I did feel a wave of pity when poor Pinkie Pie was eaten by a T. rex.

Not as good as Crealy Farm. The goats don't get eaten at Crealy. Uh, at least, not right away.

Not as good as Crealy Farm. The goats don’t get eaten at Crealy Farm. Uh, at least, not right away.

I was too young to see Jurassic Park in the cinema. My parents were very strict about what films I was allowed to watch, so back in 1993 there was no way in hell they would take me to see it. Because of all the dinosaur-related violence, it was added to the blacklist of films along with Predator and Terminator 2.

After watching Predator and Terminator 2 at a friend’s house, we decided that we’d get together and watch JP when it came out on video… and I still have nightmares about dinosaurs to this very day. Which is odd, really, as I love dinosaurs but hated the Predator. I think the universe just wanted to get Stan Winston in my dreams one way or another.

Gah! Nightymares!

Sleep tight!

I went to see the sequel, The Lost World, in the cinema, and I loved it more than the first. I had even worse nightmares about that one, though. It didn’t help that the experience of watching the film was slightly traumatic – the sound engineer had obviously been fiddling with his knobs, and the whole audience pretty much had their eardrums burst by the concrete-cracking sound. Imagine that bit at the beginning of Back to the Future and you’re halfway there. It’s alright, though. Two or three days later the ringing stopped.

EEeeeeEEEEEeeeeeEEEEEeeeeeEEE

EEeeeeEEEEEeeeeeEEEEEeeeeeEEE

I’ve read both of the books, by Michael Crichton. Frankly they’re pretentious science-fiction bullshit. The characters are dull and unrealistic, and the books read more like a thesis. However, there are some rather wonderful scientific ideas put forward. All sorts of things like chaos, fractals, non-linear equations, theories about evolution and extinction. It’s really food for thought, and I had to grow a little billy-goat beard so I could stroke it thoughtfully as I read.

I’m no scientist, of course, and it’s presented in such a way that even normal plebs like me can understand it. That said, both books are so long and taxing that you feel Jeff Goldblum should turn up at your house and hand you a sheepskin once you’re done. I’m pretty sure the hardback edition folds out into a mortarboard.

"Uh, you're, um, probably reading this in my voice"

“Uh, you’re, um, probably reading this in my voice”

Well, that’s everything I care to say about dinosaurs. They were a large part of my childhood. In fact, it’s only now that I realise just how large a part they played. I hope you enjoyed the trip down memory lane, even if the memories were not your own. Were you obsessed with dinosaurs as a kid? Did your hobbies or fascinations shape who you became? Let me know about it in the comments!

“Portray the animals”

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3 comments on “A Land Before Time

  1. My hobbies never shaped who I am, I have always been the Batman!!! …

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