Dinosaur 13 Review – An Poignant Story of Love, Hate, Jealousy and The Law

"Dinosaur 13," from Lionsgate, CNN Films and Statement Pictures production, presents a stunning, incredible, epic story of perseverance, hope, love, elation, disappointment, an emotional roller coaster 16 billion years in the making.


Based on the book Rex Appeal: The Amazing Story of Sue, The "Dinosaur 13" That Changed Science, The Law and My Life written by Peter Larson and Kristin Donnan. "Dinosaur 13" is produced, directed and edited by Todd Douglas Miller. Thomas Petersen serves as Director of Photography and music is by Matt Morton.

A documentary lover's dream, "Dinosaur 13" is a David and Goliath drama, unlike any other. The find, love, and devotion even the 500 residents of the tiny town of Hill City, South Dakota, called it an amazing story, one that if you did have to live, like the Larson's, would certainly make you stand up and take notice. It is the story of stories.

In 1990, Peter Larson, Neal Larson and Susan Hendrickson, all devoted, dedicated and, at the beginning of our tale, brilliant but unknown paleontologists.  A group of young and somewhat naïve paleontologists from Black Hills Institute of Geological Research were wondering around the Badlands in South Dakota which is known to contain the largest deposit of pre-historic mammals in the United States.

We met Peter Larson, Chief Paleontologist, early in the doc he begins to recall the day – the day in which Susan, a volunteer paleontologist, discovered T-Rex 13.

The day, and anyone who has had this type of day, in whatever one does,  will understand as he recalled the sky, the unusual, the memories almost 25 years later, all vivid, sharp even the smallest details. His brother Neal, also recalls the moments, each leading to the biggest find of their lives.

By day's end the group, quartet of excavators would be unearthing the most intact T-Tex in history, named traditionally after the individual who made the initial discovery, which in this case was Susan Hendrickson.

The emotional attachment to T-Rex Sue is still so present. All these years later, this group of dedicated scientists speak with genuine loss, all very emotional over the theft initiated by the U.S. government, and the subsequent custody battle over "Sue." The systemic corruption of the judicial system, arrogant abuse of power, that permeates those sworn to uphold the law to act with blatant disregard, allowing emotions instead of the law to guide the decision making process.

But that is getting ahead of our story as we return to the day, the day the work, the sweat, the dreams were validated. The day when this incredible, mind-blowing, extraordinary find, an 80% complete T-Rex was unearthed.

Thus begins the next phase of our story – Sue the T-Rex, was discovered with fabulous bone structure, a jaw line that would grace the cover of magazines, the elongated bones, vertebrae, it made men drool as they prepped our girl, cleaned her up and prepared her for show, life couldn't have been better.

Hardly a minute went by, an obsession was born, Sue and the Larson's, the pre-historic mammal, billions of years ago still holding the attention of these men. She was one good looking girl!

It seemed the hard work of the Larson's did not go unnoticed by local, state and yes even federal officials and someone somewhere else also noticed.

One day an invasion of federal authorities descended upon Hill City armed with a warrant and a trailer prepared to haul Sue away like yesterday's garbage.  The rough shod tactics, muscling the Larson's, manhandling their girl, all tactics to ensure the fossil was packed and handled properly as the feds knew the Larson's would never let them toss those old, good-for-nothing, bones into garbage bags.

As "Dinosaur 13" continues we understand, a find this size, this exceptional, comes but once in a lifetime and as savvy as the Larson's were with picks and shovels they were indeed naïve to the excitement and power of those who would take their work, manipulate the law, fight with immeasurable power, take the town, stream roll the mayor, the senators, basically through any means necessary in the fight for dominance, power and ownership of this lovely, extinct, one in a million lady.

As no one admits to any back room deals, any judicial pay offs, any quid pro quo opportunities with prosecutors or others to wrestle Sue, in the legal arena, away from the rightful owners into the hands of a more malleable and greedier intermediary, these scenes are left to the belief  of the audience.

Sue was returned to Indian Joe who agreed to a Sotheby's auction. In 7minutes Sue, over 15billion years old sold for 7.4million dollars and found a new home, devastating a town, a state, and more so the Larson's. She ended in permanent display at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago purchased by Disney and McDonalds, long time partners in many endeavors.

And Peter Larson, Neal and the others . . .well the Feds have a way of creating diversions to keep one's attention away from the facts and the ability to think clearly.

But during a ten-year battle with the U.S. government, powerful museums, Native American tribes and competing paleontologists, they found themselves not only fighting to keep their "Dinosaur 13" but fighting for their freedom as well. With a warrant, an acting federal prosecutor with ambition on his mind, a trial was imminent.

"Dinosaur 13" weaves together archieval footage, and interviews with the players including Stan Adelstein, a self made man and South Dakota Senator, who with his own money attended the auction with the hopes of winning Sue back, he states "two lifts of his paddle and he was out" his million dollar plus budget was history.

"Dinosaur 13" also contains interviews with Lanice Archer, Robert Bakker, Philip Currie, Kristin Donnan, Patrick Duffy, Bruce Ellison, Densie Etzkorn, Bob Farrar, Bill Harlan Susan Hendrickson, Lynn Hochstafl, Jack Horner, Timothy Larson, Phil Manning, Marv Matkins, Carson Neff Murdy, Keith Nelson, Louie Psihoyos, David Redden, Vincent Santucci, Dennis soule, Harold Sykora, Terry Wentz, Marion Zenker.

"Dinosaur 13" is truly a rare find! In film-making, in scope, "Dinosaur 13" is a documentary lover's documentary. It is a must see.

"Dinosaur 13" is playing in select cities.

Haute Tease