Saturday, March 23, 2013

Top 5 Movie Guide: Prehistoric Cultures & Creatures

For this edition of the Top 5 Movie Guide, in light of this weekend's "The Croods", we decided to compile our lists below on some of our favorite films centering around prehistoric cultures and creatures! "The Croods" is the latest animated feature from DreamWorks that tells the story of the world's first family road trip. When their cave is destroyed, the Crood family must embark on a comedy adventure into strange and spectacular territory in search of a new home. With a voice cast featuring the likes of Nic Cage, Ryan Reynolds, and Emma Stone, the Croods conquer their fear of the outside world and discover that they have exactly what it takes to survive - each other.


So the movie above is ultimately about cavemen, dinosaurs, and the earliest humanoid civilizations. Those are basically the themes we went for below; let's not dig too much into the technical wording of "prehistoric". We began our research of this category by first only focusing on films taking place before advanced civilizations - something more in line with this week's film. But to give everyone a bit more range with their picks, we opened it up to include simply elements from those times that maybe take place is other times. This provided quite a few more options, and allowed us to really dig into some different themes for our own lists.

All in all, we ended up with a pretty great variety below. So hit the jump to see which films made each of our lists!


Alex Schopp -
I just want to preface this list by noting that for current standards, many of the films below do not hold up visually (the others are still some of the best ever). Don't get me wrong, I love the stop-motion techniques used - there are even some Academy Award nominations in there - but for those who don't appreciate them, they could easily come off as cheesy. You have to embrace the style.

     1. Jurassic Park (1993)
I still cite this as my favorite movie of all time. While easy enough to rule out if you want for this category, there was no way I was leaving it off this list. When you think of prehistoric creatures, you think of dinosaurs. And when you think of dinosaurs, you think of "Jurassic Park".
     2. Journey to the Center of the Earth (1959)
I really love late-1950's, early-1960's science fiction. The imagery is so great, and everyone wanted to portray such grand and fantastical scenarios. Exploration of the unknown has always been fascinating to me, and watching this film - even though imaginably unrealistic - I wanted nothing more than to be accompanying them on their journey.
     3. One Million Years B.C. (1966)
Another great sci-fi classic. While this film is a bit cheesier than the one above, some of the effects are done a bit better. Overall, I just wasn't nearly as drawn to this film as the one above. I still think it's an iconic piece of cinema that everyone should experience at least once. And I don't think I even need to tell you how great Raquel Welch was looking in this.
     4. King Kong (2005)
Honestly I don't love having this here. The CG work is amazing, and I think there are enough enjoyable parts to warrant inclusion (maybe more than any of the other King Kong adaptions), but overall I just never fell in love with this movie. Maybe it was too long; maybe the Jack Black casting didn't work very well for me, I don't know. Maybe it will connect better with you though.
     5. The Lost World (1960)
Here is an example of when 60's fantasy stylings are not at their best. I still enjoy the story and the exploration plenty, but I constantly wonder if I'd love this movie more if it were done with better visual techniques. I'm still positive this is worth a watch, but if you don't love it, I would understand.

Ben Foutch -
As I'm not a big fan of the prehistoric genre as a whole, the philosophical and scientific ramifications brought from the following scenarios gave me inspiration and a new perspective in forming the list. What would happen if life forms from different distant eras came into contact with one another? What would it be like to experience both our prehistory and current times? And, does our subconscious reflect the evolutionary gap that exists between these eras?

     1. Jurassic Park (1993)
For me, this hasn't held up very well in terms of watchability, but the nostalgic value cannot be ignored. I remember reading the novel after watching this, and while it is preferable, the film still opens the imagination to scientific possibilities and is still a visual marvel.
     2. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)
Personally, I think the art direction and cinematography beat the crap out of modern space films. While the prehistoric element is rather limited in run time, it's context is integral to the narrative and philosophical ideas. I can see where the methodically sluggish pacing would deter some, but keep in mind that the intent is to allow the audience to process the visuals, which if you are familiar with other works from Kubrick, should be aware that most of what you see carries great symbolic significance.
     3. Altered States (1980)
Extremely dated by this point, but fascinating nonetheless. Call me crazy, but I would love to sign up for sensory deprivation experiments. As long as I wouldn't transform into a man-ape; that would be both unfortunate and cheesy...
     4. The Man From Earth (2007)
This is an indie gem that represents the last work of science fiction writer Jerome Bixby. For those that hate watching movies consisting of only dialogue will hate this one, but those that find the story of a man who started life as a Cro-Magnon and has since lived for 14,000 years, should find this a delightful treat that stands out from most of the heavily marketed garbage that gets shoved down our throats.
     5. Quest for Fire (1981)
I can't imagine from an actor's perspective how difficult this was to pull off, but they must have been pleased because the end product is compelling. Sure, the idea of actors in full makeup running around as cavemen is a little silly, but the film manages to portray the harsh realities faced by early human tribes without many unintentional laughs.

Derek Clem -
To tie in as close as possible to the inspiration for this list, mine is more a Top 5 Caveman Movies list.

     1. Encino Man (1992)
One of my favorites growing up. This was the start of my Pauly Shore obsessed youth. When I was little my mom let me record our answering machine message with quotes from this movie.
     2. The Flintstones (1994)
My dad loves The Flintstones cartoon, so he made sure we saw this movie right away. We still have the McDonald's crystal mugs promotional tie-in. No longer on display behind glass...but we still have them.
     3. Iceman (1984)
This is basically "Encino Man" if it were a drama and Link (Brendan Fraser) would have been found by scientists instead of a High School student who desperately wanted to be popular.
     4. Quest for Fire (1981)
For obvious reasons, Ron Perlman is in this movie. You'd think all the grunting would grow tiresome, which it does, but the story is interesting enough to keep you watching.
     5. The Clan of the Cave Bear (1986)
The narration over the film is pretty hokey but Daryl Hannah is looking mighty fine as a Cro-Magnon chick, so you get over it really quick. It could just be because she's surrounded by neanderthals the whole time, but she's lookin' really good in this movie.

Nathan Hinds -
This was a tough list to come up with choices for. I feel like there isn't many choices outside of this list if you stay true to the category.

     1. The Flintstones (1994)
This for me is the film that embodies the category the most, and was a staple of my childhood.
     2. Encino Man (1992)
Now this is one hell of a comedy trio. I never knew when I was a kid how much I would come to love all three of the main actors in this film, and at the same time forget that there was a film that starred all three of them.
     3. The Land Before Time Series (1988 - 2007)
I put the series on here because it's been so long since I've watched these that I can't remember which one is my favorite. Most of them aren't that good but I remember the ones toward the beginning were some of my favorite films at a very young age.
     4. Ice Age (2002)
Even though I hate Sid, it's still a fun story and one of the few respectable non Pixar CGI films.
     5. Year One (2009)
Now just hear me out. I'm not saying this is the most amazing thing ever, but like myself, I think people will enjoy it a lot more than they expect. It definitely has some enjoyable bits, and Michael Cera is almost always funny to me. Maybe I'm wrong.

Tracy Allison -

     1. Jurassic Park (1993)
When I was a kid and dinosaurs were insanely popular, it was because of this movie right here. It’s still amazing and holds up well which surprises me as an adult. The last time I watched it, I couldn't believe how good the computer generated dinosaurs still looked. I've mentioned this before, but Sam Neill has an amazing skill that I notice particularly in this movie – he has the ability to look as if he’s truly amazed. Of course, I find this especially admirable because he was looking at nothing while pretending to look at dinosaurs.
     2. King Kong (1933)
This movie has some issues which were pretty typical for the time. Sexism and racism run rampant. But, even though a lot of the action, animals, and stop motion are outdated; it doesn't bother me, it still works in modernity. This film was a lot more disturbing than I thought it would be, but it really held my attention. Plus, who doesn't want to see dinosaurs fight a giant gorilla for a human woman? Authors and filmmakers have consistently been fascinated with the concept of having people and dinosaurs together in the same period, as it was obviously impossible in the real world.
     3. Fantasia (1940)
They would never make a movie for kids like this now. I loved dinosaurs as a kid and the dinosaur scene was scary and the music was powerful and the illustration was beautiful. It's pretty much exactly how you pictured dinosaurs in your head as a child. “Ominous” might well be the best word to describe this movie and it has some pretty heavy imagery as far as child viewers are concerned. Though, I loved it and it always amazed me.
     4. Cloud Atlas (2012)
The cavemen/cannibal tribesmen aspect was obviously just a facet of this multi-plot juggernaut of a film. There was certainly a lot going on here, but I had never seen Tom Hanks as a caveman type character before and I like his “team up with the future” in that of Halle Berry. Plus, who could ever ever forget Hugh Grant as an insane cannibal. I was so pleasantly surprised to see him do something so unlike himself.
     5. The Tree of Life (2011)
This movie definitely has its confusing bits, but it generally left me with a pretty great feeling. Sometimes instead of trying to figure out every aspect of a movie, I like to just let it sort of wash over me and see how I feel and what my immediate response is. The prehistoric aspect to this movie was a nice little added surprise.

And there we have it, folks. Overall, we managed to hit the 20-film mark this week, something that's always fun to do (it often happens when we feature odd categories like this that don't feature many sure favorites). Because of that, only four films earned multiple picks.

The big winner was easily Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park", which, with three picks this week, was the most recognized film above. Interestingly, on the three lists it was featured, it also landed in the #1 spot each time. This is a fan and critical favorite alike. Everyone's seen this film though, so we don't need to spend much more time recapping it's details; just let this serve as your reminder to how magical the film still is, now 20-years later.

Otherwise, three films managed two picks apiece: "Quest for Fire", "Encino Man", and "The Flintstones". "Quest for Fire" has to be the most respected of the bunch, and while it may not be incredibly exciting to watch at all times, it features an interesting style and fascinating characters. In "Encino Man" and "The Flintstones", well, it's just the nature of the beast that is a Top 5 list sometimes. Sometimes you're not exactly proud that certain films are of the few getting showcased at the end, but it is what it is; one of the side effects of the encompassing nostalgia that this site embodies. Nonetheless, if you're looking for a light 90's film capable of generating a few laughs, you could do much worse than these two.

That's it this week though. Plenty to go through above if trying to better acquaint yourself from some films from this category. As always, we hope that each of the selections above helps to expand your knowledge and appreciation of some of the best films that this genre has to offer, and guides you to better and more enjoyable all-around viewing experiences.

Happy watching!