About those dinosaurs … It all started with “Fantasia”

This conversation started because my husband, unlike me, is not fascinated by dinosaurs. He seemed a bit baffled as to why I’d include a big story about dinosaurs when I didn’t write it or take any of the photographs. Note: Should a dinosaur wander through my back yard, be assured that I will be out there taking pictures until either the huge reptile ambles away or eats me, whichever comes first.

Unlike many things which have adult origins — technology, philosophy, history — all the “ologies” and “osophies” that attended my education and subsequent research — my passion for dinosaurs goes all the way back, back, back in time to when I was four or five years old and my Aunt Ethel took me to see “Fantasia,” the original, not the later remake.

Who remembers in “Fantasia” the history of the earth, starring the rise and fall of the dinosaurs? It is set to Igor Stravinsky‘s brilliant “The Rites of Spring.” The music itself might be enough, but with the Disney artists on their best game, it was something else and embedded itself in my mind for a lifetime.

In case you’ve forgotten or have by some oversight never seen it, here it is. I wish it were a little brighter but the sound is excellent and it is still as extraordinary as ever it was:

None of these graphics were generated by computers. All of it … each frame … was drawn by human artists. The music was played live by an orchestra full of real musicians. Contrary to popular opinion, special effects were not invented by Steven Spielberg.

I was just a little kid and it scared the bejeezus out of me. I had nightmares for years about dinosaurs hiding under the bed, in the hallway, in my closet. I couldn’t sleep without a nightlight because I was sure there was a dinosaur lurking, ready to grab me in giant jaws with teeth 9 feet long. I was a child of great imagination and excessive sensitivity.

As I got older, I began to read books and discovered lots of really cool stuff about dinosaurs, most important (to me) was that North America — what is now the middle of the United States had been giant reptile central, the heartland of the Brontosaurus, Velociraptor and other astonishing creatures. Where now stand cities like St. Louis and Kansas City, Tyrannosaurus Rex ruled. Perhaps their legacy lives on in corporate boardrooms and Washington D.C., but I digress.

When this was made, the whole asteroid thing was yet unknown, so the history of the earth is missing that piece of information, but I’m sure Disney’s artists would have happily included it had they known. Meanwhile, I’m totally whacked at the idea of earth getting hit by an asteroid. I always have a good laugh when someone in some space lab mentions, casually, that there’s an asteroid headed our way, but not to worry, there’s no better than a 50-50 chance it will really hit us.

That we pathetic creatures, crawling around the surface of the earth, believe we are all-powerful and can control our destiny by technology is funny. Not only has this planet been hit by asteroids — not once but many times — but each time, the event precipitated the extinction of Earth’s dominant species. The dinosaurs lasted a lot longer than we have. Should one of those big hunks of space debris smack into us, I think it unlikely that all the computers, weaponry, technology or prayers we can muster will be of any use at all. Our collective ass will be grass without even the opportunity to text our best buddies about the impending big bang.

We will be gone, quite likely having had even less effect on our planet, in the final analysis, than did the dinosaurs.

Humankind has always suffered above all from the sin of pride. Hubris, as the Greeks called it. We think we are creatures of God and perhaps we are, but who said we are the only creatures of God or that He gave us a permanent free pass from extermination?

map-dinosaurs-1993

And this is what so fascinates me and probably always will. That these creatures, these huge, powerful creatures who ruled this planet for more years than we can comprehend were, in a single calamitous event, exterminated. Eliminated from the earth leaving just their bones by which to remember them. And we think we are so all-powerful. I bet they thought so, too.

“Lincoln” is amazing on so many levels.

Lincoln movieIt’s exactly what you hope for in a historical movie … and so very rarely get. Spielberg not only made this wonderful movie well, he made it smart. Instead of trying to cover the entire Lincoln saga or perhaps myth, he focuses on the President’s last months on earth, the period following his reelection during which he pushed through the 13th amendment that finally eliminated slavery in the United States, and ended the war. You will see more about the man Lincoln than in any previous movie or documentary about Lincoln.

The performances are universally brilliant, as you would expect. This is the Hollywood A Team where the magic comes together. Everyone is in this movie — some not even credited but you will recognize them — even if only for a tiny cameo, as if being part of this movie was an honor.

And perhaps so.  I suspect actors volunteered for the privilege of being included. The script is intelligent, elegant, somehow managing to convey both the greatness of the man and his pained humanity. There is no reason for me to go into the details of the cast, writing, history, and so on. The  review published in the New Yorker covers those bases well and you can read it here or on its original site.

“Lincoln,” was written by Tony Kushner, directed by Steven Spielberg, and derived in part from Doris Kearns Goodwin’s “Team of Rivals.”

Daniel Day-Lewis has gotten the role of a lifetime and gave a performance that will probably define his career. Tommy Lee Jones, James Spader and so many others … literally too many to name … are all brilliant. There are not many big roles for women in this story, but I’d like to make a special mention of Sally Field as Mary Todd Lincoln. Her performance as First Lady gives this suffering woman the first real depth and three-dimensional portrayal I’ve ever seen. Mrs. Lincoln has in cinema and history been given short shrift, labeled a crazy lady, then dismissed.

That she was not quite “right” after the loss of her son is well-documented and disseminated, but she was more than a mere wacko. She was politically savvy and highly intelligent, albeit emotionally unstable and in great pain. Perhaps a more stable, supportive mate would have been able to provide some rays of light in the dark world of President Lincoln … but given the dreadful times through which they lived and were destined to play major and tragic roles, this couple was probably doomed to misery, even had Mary Todd been the incarnation of Pollyanna.

Cover of "Team of Rivals: The Political G...

Cover via Amazon

The enormity of their personal tragedies combined with the responsibility of being the nation’s leader at this particularly desperate historical turning point would have crushed anyone. Lincoln was a giant, but also a man with a wife, children and more than his share of family drama.

The movie is mesmerizing. The way it’s shot, moving from panorama to private moments keeps you on the edge of your seat. Even though the outcome is a foregone conclusion, you live through the battles on the floor of the House of Representatives and in the back rooms where agonizing bargains are struck as if you’ve never seen it before. It’s a painfully accurate and timely look at the real process of getting legislation passed, the viciousness, ruthlessness, chicanery and all else that goes into a process that hasn’t significantly changed over the past 150 years or more. Great cinema and a Real Politik civics lesson for young and old.

Most of the reviews I’ve read have emphasized the historical importance but failed to mention that this is a really compelling movie that makes you feel you have traveled back in time. It’s great drama with more than a dollop of wit and humor. Watch and chew your nails while Lincoln and his carefully picked team somehow push through an amendment to the constitution against staggering odds while simultaneously ending the deadliest war in American history.  It feels like you’ve never heard or seen it before. Spielberg manages to inject a level of tension and excitement that should be impossible. There are surprises, some of them very funny.

Given the subject matter, it’s amazing how often film will make you laugh. There are wonderful scenes, small and intimate, revealing of magic and myth. There are the mandatory “big scenes,” of  battlefields heaped with corpses, but most of the story takes places in small places, in sheds and basements, back rooms, parlors and hidden corners where the light is always dim. Everyone always looks cold … in the most literal sense. It’s winter without central heating and while no one mentions it (why would they? that was the way their world was), men and women alike constantly wrap themselves in blankets and shawls to fend off the chill. It makes you grateful for electricity and radiators, not to mention thermal underwear.

abraham-lincoln-tadLincoln is too tall for the world in which he lives. It can barely contain him or the sorrow he carries. He stoops, bent under the weight of impossible choices and ducks through doorways never high enough.

Go see this movie. Take your kids. Take the grandchildren. Then buy it on DVD and watch it again. Let it remind you of how painful it is to have a free nation and how heavy is the price we pay for the privilege.

This is grand entertainment, history, civics and drama wrapped in a story so insane it could only be true. To quote a familiar phrase, “you can’t make this stuff up.” You rarely get to see movies this good. It’s a treasure that will be even more appreciated in years to come.

Regardless of how many Oscars it wins … or doesn’t win … this is destined to be a classic. It can’t help it. It’s just got classic written all over it.

One more interesting note. When the movie ended and the credits started to roll, no one got up and left. No one at all. Every single person in the theater sat there and watched the credits until the screen went dark. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that happen before.

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