One of the things we love here at Missile Test is a short running time. We praise filmmakers who are able to reign in their desire for epic grandiosity and who can tell their stories in a reasonable amount of time. Sure, we wouldn’t want Francis Ford Coppola to do any further trimming of The Godfather, but we’re still holding out hope that Paul Thomas Anderson will come to his senses and take a hacksaw to Magnolia. And then there’s shitty film auteur Bert I. Gordon’s first feature film, King Dinosaur.
Released way back in 1955, King Dinosaur clocks in at an astounding 63 minutes. That’s just over an hour in which Mr. Gordon must establish place and time, introduce the characters, develop them enough for the audience to care about them, set up the plot, introduce a giant monster, denouement, and finale. Did he succeed? Did he establish a new standard for motion picture efficiency? Oh, no. No, he didn’t.
It might be the near future, it might be the present day. I can’t tell. Either way, a very long stock footage montage with voiceover tells us viewers that a rocket ship is about to be sent to the newly discovered planet Nova. Four scientists will be aboard. They are Dr. Ralph Martin (William Bryant), Dr. Patricia Bennett (Wanda Curtis), Dr. Richard Gordon (Douglas Henderson), and Nora Pierce (Patti Gallagher).
The rocket ship lands, in one of the worst process shots one will come across in shitty cinema, on the planet Nova. It’s a lush place, covered in a meandering forest. There are deer and black bear galore, all brought to you by Gordon’s liberal use of stock footage. A viewer should get used to that, as Gordon was notorious throughout his directing career for using stock footage.
After a bit of wandering about and getting into some trouble that has no bearing on the film, the group wanders over to an island and there we finally meet the dinosaur of the title. I have no problem spoiling this for viewers. The dinosaur is not a stop motion model or other animatronic. It’s just an iguana. That’s all. There’s also a small alligator and what I think is a young monitor. I’m not up on my pet shop lizards, so I can’t be sure. What I do know is that these creatures are not dinosaurs, and the iguana is certainly not the Tyrannosaur that one of the cast claims it is.
Gordon tossed these lizards into a small set and let them have a go at each other. That’s pretty much the final act of the film. The humans cower in a cave while the lizards fight each other. It looked like they were really going at it, too. So, not only is this film a crime against cinema, it might also have literally been a crime against animals.
Despite the short runtime, this film is padded from beginning to end. First there’s the stock footage. Then there are multiple extended walking sequences, and other scenes where the main cast digs in the dirt doing science stuff. If there was an opportunity for Gordon to put anything on film except stuff that would move the plot along, he took it, and he still barely pushed this flick past the hour mark. That’s some shitty filmmaking.
King Dinosaur is such a bad film that it pushes into Ed Wood territory at times. The only thing that keeps it from being as bad as that gutter trash is that Gordon put people in his films who could actually speak lines. It makes quite a bit of difference.
This film is barely a monster flick. It’s barely a movie at all. It showcases all the cheap tricks Gordon would use throughout his career in film, so it’s an historical artifact, as well, I guess. Fans of monster flicks would do well to stay away and instead watch something that took a little effort to produce. Everyone else will probably know to avoid this thing without my help.
One final note. This flick was distributed by Lippert Pictures, a company that specialized in some of the worst films Hollywood had to offer. I couldn’t possibly write a review about this film and place all of the blame on Gordon. So, Robert L. Lippert, j’accuse! King Dinosaur is a much worse film than Alien: Resurrection.