Dinosaur 13 Is 2015’s First Great Documentary

Courtesy:  CNN Films/Lionsgate

Courtesy: CNN Films/Lionsgate

CNN Films and Lionsgate released their new documentary Dinosaur 13 last week.  The documentary, which focuses on the real life fight between a group of paleontologists, an unscrupulous land owner, and the federal government, is the first great documentary of 2015.  The story presented here is a real life story.  Yet it is so gripping that it could just as easily have come right from a Hollywood script.  It is the central reason for the documentary’s success and enjoyment.  The legal information that makes up so much of the case is another reason for its success.  Audiences aren’t left scratching their heads trying to make sense of why Sue’s bones and those of so many other dinosaurs were taken from the Black Hills Institute.  The end result is a powerful, eye-opening look at government over reach and greed.  Rounding out the reasons for the documentary’s success is its bonus featurette “The Continuing Story of Sue.”  This featurette takes audiences behind the scenes of the preparations taken by those at Chicago’s Field Museum.  It is good to see that despite the events of Dinosaur 13, those at The Field Museum took care of Sue in preparation for her debut.  It’s bittersweet to think that Pete Larson was not invited to Sue’s debut.  But it is good to see in this featurette the level of care taken to give her the proper debut as perhaps Larson would have wanted.  The combination of this bonus featurette, the legal explanations throughout the documentary and the documentary’s story itself collectively show why Dinosaur 13 is a documentary that everybody should see at least once.

Dinosaur 13 is the first great documentary of 2015.  The documentary’s story is a real life story.  But there is no denying that its David versus Goliath style story plays out like one of Hollywood’s classic David versus Goliath style works.  It follows the battle between the Black Hills Institute, a conniving landowner named Maurice Williams, and the federal government for the institute’s dinosaur remains.  At the heart of it all is the battle for Sue the Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Sue is known to be the most complete T. Rex skeleton ever discovered.  When Pete Larson and his co-workers at the Black Hills Institute thought that they had legally bought Sue from Williams, they dug up her remains—which proved to be roughly eighty percent complete—and took them back to the institute.  From there things take a bleak turn very fast as the federal government swoops in with a large force of FBI agents and soldiers.  The agents and soldiers take away Sue and many other remains kept at the institute claiming that they were all recovered illegally yet never fully proving its case.  The story that follows is told clearly and concisely right to its bittersweet ending which ultimately sees Pete Larson—who headed up the expedition for Sue—and the institute win out, unearthing no fewer than nine more T.Rex skeletons after Sue.  The story in whole is gripping both for its content and its emotional impact.  It will have audiences fully engaged from start to finish and rooting for the underdog Black Hills staff even through its trials and tribulations.  It’s just one way that Dinosaur 13 proves to be such an impressive work.

The story presented in Dinosaur 13 is itself more than enough reason that it succeeds so well.  The story is told in a clear, concise, and timely fashion.  It makes the story easy to follow and in turn gripping both in itself and emotionally.  Helping to make the story even more impressive is the fact that much of the legal jargon used in the court cases is explained in layman’s terms.  Audiences get simplified explanations of why the feds thought that Pete Larson and the rest of the Black Hills staff illegally unearthed not only Sue but other remains that were stored at the institute.  The discussion on public land versus private land and land held in trust helps audiences understand the government’s view of things as well as that of the institute in regards to where they dug.  The catch is that as much as these concepts are clarified, it goes to show the greed and overreach of the government at least in the case of Sue.  It definitely doesn’t support the government’s argument claiming that Sue was essentially “real estate.”  If anything those explanations alone show the ambiguity of the government’s definitions and how it abuses that ambiguity to this day to take people’s land at its own whim.  The circular explanation of how the court came to its sentencing of Larson and his fellow staffers makes even more of a case in support of the institute.  It shows even more how ludicrous the charges against Larson and company were then and still are to this day.  It’s one more way that the legal explanations offered throughout Dinosaur 13 add to its enjoyment and prove yet again why it is the first great documentary of 2015.

The clear and concise story presented in Dinosaur 13 and the legal explanations offered throughout go a long way toward proving why it is the first great documentary of 2015.  The bonus featurette “The Continuing Story of Sue” is the presentation’s anchor. It rounds out the presentation proving once and for all why everyone should see this documentary at least once regardless of their interest in dinosaurs or lack thereof. “The Continuing Story of Sue” presents to audiences the painstaking efforts to get Sue ready for her debut at The Field Museum in Chicago. It is something of a fitting finale for the story as it shows the delicacy and seriousness with which those at The Field Museum took their task. At one point in the main program, Peter Larson made note that he was glad to see Sue go to The Field Museum so that she could be seen and cared for by those at the museum. Larson would be proud to see the care taken by those at the museum to prepare her for her debut. In a sense, it sort of indirectly pays tribute to Larson and his group as it shows that those at the museum carried on what he started. It’s just too bad that Larson was not invited to Sue’s debut. That aside, that final statement makes, again, for a fitting postscript to a documentary that is destined to be on any critic’s list of the year’s best new documentaries by year’s end.

Dinosaur 13 is on the surface a documentary about the fight for a dinosaur. But beneath that, it is so much more. It is a story about one small group’s fight against a seemingly immovable object that is the federal government. It is a story about one man’s dream realized and denied all in one thanks to that immovable object. Thanks to clear, concise storytelling, clarifications of all of the case’s legal terminology, and the postscript that is “The Continuing Story of Sue,” Dinosaur 13 proves to be one of the most gripping and in-depth documentaries and human dramas to come along in some time. It is without a doubt, one of the best new documentaries of 2015 and a must see by everyone regardless of their interest in dinosaurs. It is available in stores now on DVD/Digital combo pack and Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack. The Blu-ray/Digital combo pack can be ordered online direct from Lionsgate’s online store at http://www.lionsgateshop.com/search_results.asp?Search=Dinosaur%2013. More information on this and other titles from Lionsgate is available online at:

Website: http://www.lionsgate.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lionsgate

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